1/15/19 – Free of Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano is a Good Value Buy

Devin Shore grew to become a fan favorite over time. He was everyone’s kid brother running around with his tongue out getting extra hyped when he finally scored a goal. Yesterday the Dallas Stars sent him to the Anaheim Ducks for Andrew Cogliano and made a significant upgrade to the roster.

I can’t stress enough that Cogliano doesn’t solve the Stars problems. He isn’t the scorer they need. He’s a speedy winger with a respected defensive reputation, and presumably he is being brought in just as much for his leadership ability as the Stars try to find players capable of dragging teammates into the battle.

He is an interesting value pickup though. Cogliano hasn’t had a particularly great season. His three goals and eight assists aren’t going to wow anyone. His steady string of awful shooting percentages over a four year period isn’t inspiring either. He is however markedly better than Shore while only costing Shore plus an extra million in cap hit.

Cogliano has been skating with Ryan Kesler and Jakub Silfverberg mostly this season. The Ducks have used them in a heavy defensive role where they get only 36 to 37% offensive zone starts. They’re still putting up an impressive 47% Corsi % given the tough minutes, but the heavy defensive zone starts are a new development.

Join me for a deep dive of Natural Stat Trick‘s numbers, won’t you?

Going back to the 2014 season, Cogliano’s most consistent linemates were Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik. They got close to 50/50 offensive zone starts. In 2015 he began his run of playing with Silfverberg, but they were joined by Nate Thompson. This time they got 60% offensive zone starts.

During the Cogliano/Kesler/Silfverberg era they had a top notch three year stretch from 2016 through last season where they averaged 46% offensive zone starts and a 50-51% Corsi % while garnering Selke Trophy votes. This season the Ducks have pushed them into a heavy defensive role that has had a predictable impact on their numbers.

One thing that stands out, at least the last two years, is that the other two (and Kesler in particular) get a lot of support from Cogliano. Without him on the ice Kesler’s numbers take a noticeable hit. The chart below has Time on Ice, Time Without, and Corsi %’s with Cogliano, without Cogliano, and Cogliano without the player.

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Cogliano and his speed can still make an impact when he isn’t with Kesler. Kesler missed half of last season then had offseason hip surgery. There was at one point some thought that he might miss all of the 2019 campaign too.

“As of right now, there is no timeline whatsoever,” general manager Bob Murray told the Ducks website Friday. “He couldn’t skate [during the second half of the season]. No push-off on his right leg. He has to rebuild his glutes and quads. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. I’m hopeful to have him back before Christmas, but that’s all I’m going to say right now.”

Is it any surprise then, that with Kesler and Cogliano on the ice the Ducks have virtually no drive to the net? These are the shot heat maps from Hockeyviz with Cogliano on the ice in 2019 and 2017 (the last full year Kesler was healthy).

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That trio opened up a can against the opposition in 2017. 2019 has been a much different story. Kesler is essentially what Martin Hanzal has been for the Stars when healthy. Kesler was a possibility to miss games until Christmas this year, but as of January 14th he has 44 games played. There is no way he’s healthy, and at 34 even if he is he isn’t close to the Kesler of old.

Even when healthy, Kesler’s playmaking ability began taking a hit in the 2017 season. Using the passing data tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turturo it’s pretty apparent that his playmaking was in decline when you check out his pass quality stats.

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Looking at the Ducks 2019 tracked data, albeit only ten or so games, shows this even more clearly. Kesler appears done. Turturo updated the viz with the 2019 data. This is the Ducks shot contributions per hour for their forwards. The green bar is shots per hour. Each color after green refers to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shot assists, or passes that lead to shot attempts. Notice the top and bottom of the chart.

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Cogliano has been setting up a lot of potential offense in his minutes despite heavy defensive responsibilities and playing with a broken Kesler. Reportedly the Stars are going to use him with Jason Spezza.

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Say what you will about Spezza, but his ability to generate offense with his passing is still significantly better than Kesler. Playing with Spezza will put Cogliano in more of an offensive role, but expecting him to start producing at a high level offensively would be foolish. He’s a utility guy – the kind of guy all successful offenses need down the lineup. But that line is still going to need a trigger man.

At the end of the day, no matter where Cogliano fits, the Stars turned a young player who has demonstrated little ability to be a consistently successful NHL player into a significantly better player who fits their immediate window, and who could perform significantly better with a new center.

Going back to the data tracked by Sznajder, check out 2014-18 Cogliano side by side with Shore.

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Yes, Cogliano is 31. Yes, Shore should be improving. Here’s 2018.

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Cogliano is unquestionably better, He doesn’t cost much more. He should help with the leadership issue. Offensively he makes the team better, even if he doesn’t fix the issue. Defensively he’s at least as good as Shore. He will continue to be an excellent penalty killer.

I see no downside to adding this kind of value.

Good on the Stars for pulling the trigger as long as they understand that this doesn’t fix the problems. It’s a good value play, but legitimately competing is going to require at least one top six scoring forward added to the mix.

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12/27/18 – The Stars forwards are painfully unproductive

The Dallas Stars are screwed, and there isn’t much that can be done about it without some drastic reorganizing of the roster. This is a problem that has been apparent for a while. The reasons for the problems have been apparent for a while. Years of not addressing these underlying causes have put the Stars in a spot where they have a mediocre product on the ice that is wasting the primes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and Alexander Radulov along with the final productive years of Jason Spezza.

This morning head coach Jim Montgomery pointed out that the Stars were “fucking embarrassing” in the morning skate. In the morning skate, friends.

The more composed press scrum after the morning skate is below.

I don’t know how much the morning skate matters, but if matters to Montgomery right now given how poorly they tend to start games. Mike Heika wrote it up just four days ago so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see Montgomery is still emphasizing it. The fact that the players still aren’t meeting the standards of the coaching staff despite this emphasis and the numerous messages sent is a bit problematic.

After a certain point you have to begin wondering if they can meet the standards. At some point this is just a bad team, and there is blame that can be assigned everywhere: the “core players” (however you define them), the depth forwards, the coaching staff, player development, special teams, and the front office. No team is squarely mediocre for just one reason.

This season pretty squarely falls on the forwards though. This chart from Sean Tierney is the Stars forwards Goals above Replacement from Evolving Hockey.

GAR

The Stars top three forwards have generated 21.4 goals above replacement. Collectively the top six have generated 31.5. That seems fine, but it’s nothing more than fine. Those totals rank 11th and 10th respectively across the league. Again, that’s fine. It isn’t good enough, and historically hasn’t been, to cover up for the other flaws on the roster.

One problem is recognizing who the top six actually are, and how they contribute value. Benn, Seguin, and Radulov are the clear top three. Seguin is 22nd among NHL forwards followed by Radulov (37) and Benn (50). No franchise boosting single performances, but as a trio a quality showing. Spezza, Jason Dickinson, and Blake Comeau are the next three.

Comeau derives none of his value at even strength so far. All of his comes from drawing penalties and being a quality penalty killer. Dickinson and Spezza are 8th and 9th in even strength ice time among forwards so they appear to be generating value despite not playing enough to maximize how much they can produce.

According to Evolving Hockey only nine Stars forwards have generated positive even strength value this year. Gemel Smith, Justin Dowling, Denis Gurianov are among those three which highlights the problem. Mattias Janmark is another, at half of a goal above replacement in 500 minutes. This team is terrible at even strength, and the majority of their production comes from three guys who have spent 258 minutes together.

In those 258 minutes the Stars are fine. With Radulov, Benn, and Seguin on the ice together they hum along at 55% of the shot attempts. In the 1043 minutes without them on the ice the team is a terrible 45%. To take it a step further take Spezza and Dickinson off the ice too. That’s 490 minutes of 43% shot attempt hockey.

The top three guys being 11th in the league in GAR is fine, but the franchise is expecting more out of them than being at the top of the middle of the pack. Given the lack of success of the franchise the past several years, now under three different head coaches, I think it’s more than fair to question if that core group as constructed and used can ultimately be successful.

Starz If the strength of the team is those three players, then expecting them to contribute the most value to the cause by exclusively playing them together implies that you’re banking on the admittedly mediocre depth players to take up the slack in the remaining minutes which they haven’t shown an ability to do.

The table to the right (up?) shows how each of the trio does without the other two on the ice so the idea of rolling one on each line seems optimistic at best – which goes back to the depth issue and usage. How do you split them apart when there is no one to put out there with them?

What the Stars have largely not done is try Dickinson or Spezza with any of those three for any extended period of time. Spezza has skated with Benn and Seguin for close to 50 minutes. and the trio controlled the play to the same degree Radulov and the duo have. Surely a second line of attack can be opened up with Radulov skating with Dickinson, Gurianov, Nichushkin, Hintz…someone?

Another red flag is the usage of Faksa. He’s taking all of the difficult minutes, but he’s getting caved in. Given how much of a burden he has taken on, shouldn’t you expect the rest of the line up to have more offensive opportunities? If they aren’t capitalizing on those chances at what point is killing Faksa’s offensive opportunities not worth it? His results have essentially negated the value generated by Spezza or Dickinson. It doesn’t seem that productive.

The Stars only have a few choices here.

Change how the lines roll and find some combos that work then stick with them for a while. Ideally, yes, you need everyone to be comfortable playing together. But, if half the roster has shown no ability to move the needle does it matter if they feel comfortable playing with the top guys?

Add to the core forward group via trade. This should have happened in the offseason somehow. It didn’t, and now they can’t score. There were opportunities to do it and the Stars, for whatever reason, chose not to do so.

Blow up the entire bottom of the roster. Let Dowling, Gurianov, Hintz, Joel L’Esperance, and whoever else take regular shifts. Punt on Martin Hanzal, Devin Shore, and Brett Ritchie. Hint: this is not going to happen mid-season because the logistics don’t make any sense.

Do nothing. If they take this route they aren’t going to make the playoffs. I don’t know which route they take, maybe a mixture of all of them, but something needs to change. Stability is important, but keeping stable mediocre results isn’t going to make anything useful happen. This team has talent, but whatever it is that is going on is keeping it from truly shining.

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5/3/18 – Dallas Stars Go Full Monty

I had to get that out of my system early. Apologies.

The Dallas Stars time-consuming exhaustive search for the successor to Ken Hitchcock is finally over…after less than three weeks. Jim Montgomery will be leaving the University of Denver to fill the Stars head coaching vacancy with an official announcement and press conference on Friday. The vague press release was sent within the past hour.

Montgomery was the first head coaching candidate profiled by Mooterati, and apparently the only one needing a profile. I imagine we’ll hear a lot more on Friday, but he must have wowed the Stars to a considerable degree to lock the job down as quickly as he did.

This is an interesting hire for the Stars. They could have gone the conservative route by hiring a coach with NHL experience. Alain Vigneault is sitting out there fresh off of being fired by the New York Rangers, and he was a main contender for the job in Dallas when Lindy Ruff was hired. Instead, they chose to step out of their comfort zone.

Names like Willie Desjardins, a former Stars coach, and Derek Laxdal, current coach of the Texas Stars, were connected to the position through the media. Bill Peters, now of the Calgary Flames and an ex-Detroit Red Wings assistant coach, was an early candidate. All would have been “safe” hires of guys with obvious connections to the team and general manager.

Other candidates existed who wouldn’t have been standard Stars hires, such as Sheldon Keefe, Todd Richards, and Pascal Vincent. The easy route is to hire the guys you know, but it isn’t always the best. Montgomery may not work out, but the fresh blood and different perspective he can bring to what the Stars do is something they can really use.

From the outside looking in there are three keys to this being a successful hiring.

Player Development

Montgomery has a strong record of player development. The Stars have young talent, but all too often the youth hasn’t been able to take that next step. College hockey is largely about development. Montgomery should be more of a development-focused coach than his predecessor.

Organizational Continuity

One aspect that bugged many about the 2018 season was that the organization seemed disjointed. Hitchcock played who he wanted to play. Nill held on to promising young players like Julius Honka and Gemel Smith despite toiling away in the press box or with low minutes. Everyone seemed to have a different goal to the very end.

Montgomery and Nill should be on the same page. Hopefully the system Montgomery wants to play in Dallas is extended to Austin too so young players can easily step in when needed. Continuity is vital.

A Modern Game

Ken Hitchcock talked a good game when he was hired, but it didn’t come together. The Stars spiraled into a team that settled for chipping the puck out of their own zone and dumping the puck in offensively. You never would have guessed that they claimed to want to play with speed by New Years.

Montgomery’s teams focus on moving the puck quickly from the defensive end. Watch Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils. The Stars have these guys in place already with John Klingberg,  Honka, and soon Miro Heiskanen. Watching them have the freedom to carry the puck up the ice should be treat. Ditto Stephen Johns.

I’m not ignoring the process stuff. We’ll get there.

 

4/27/18 – Judging Performance From Single Data Points: Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs Edition

The Toronto Maple Leafs got bounced out of the playoffs in game seven the other night by the Boston Bruins. Everyone from Mike Babcock to Auston Matthews to Jake Gardiner is taking a lot of heat.

Gardiner sounded legitimately emotional after a tough night.

“Personally, I got to be better. A lot of this game is on me,” said Gardiner, the posterboy defenceman for risk-reward.

Gardiner’s voice quavered. Tears coated his eyes. He exhaled deeply.

“It’s just not good enough, especially in a game like this. It’s the most important game of the season, and I didn’t show up, so… there’s not much you can say really.”

Nick Kypreos got both Babcock and Matthews at the same time.

Last year, and going to this year, Matthews was the guy, and toward the end, Babcock lost Matthews. I don’t know what happened but he lost him, and there was no trust anymore. And then, Matthews can’t start a hockey game, and he can’t start a period, he can’t start a power play off a TV timeout, and for whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews, and that played a key part. Now, he’s injured, and that of course you have to consider, but I just watched [Matthews’] body language throughout the last few games here, and going into the regular season, and you’re sitting here going, ‘That’s more than the injury; something is not right here with Matthews,’ and I think that needs to be addressed as well.

If you were on Twitter prior to the past week you are already well aware of the general feeling of unwavering almost obnoxious optimism surrounding the Leafs’ Stanley Cup chances. Fast forward to game seven and a flawed team that didn’t have to fight very hard to get into the tournament got eliminated by a superior opponent.

And the world is now ending.

The star-level player the Leafs tanked so hard to acquire is being criticized hard, some of which is fair. The highly compensated coach brought in to instill a winning culture is being raked over the coals with people just now noticing that his teams haven’t done much in the playoffs in a while. And poor Jake Gardiner who was great all season is taking a bath because of one poorly timed bad game.

Nothing about sports is really black and white. Yet, when the Leafs drop one game to the Bruins now it’s time to question everything. What happens if they had won that game? Do those questions become less important? They shouldn’t become less important if they are legitimate questions, but I think we all know how that would have turned out.

Emotion can be a powerful motivator, good or bad depending on the circumstances. It clouds our decision making ability. A burst of emotion one way or the other can lead people to conclusions they wouldn’t make if they were thinking in a rational way. This one loss, at the end of an otherwise largely successful season, doesn’t undo what the Leafs did. It doesn’t tell us much of anything about the work Babcock, Matthews, or Gardiner did over the course of the full season. It’s simply one very visible data point out of thousands of pieces of data.

The Atlantic ran a story about the impact of emotions on decision making in late 2016.

Where fear breeds uncertainty, anger instills confidence. Angry people are more likely to put the blame on individuals, rather than “society,” or fate. Anger makes people more likely to take risks and to minimize how dangerous those risks will be. Other researchers have shown that angry people rely more on stereotypes and are more eager to act.

Emphasis added.

Sometimes bad things happen. Or, to quote Auston Matthews, shit happens.

Society always tends to want someone to be held responsible whether logic dictates that anyone should be or not. We need a pound of flesh to satisfy our anger and the most visible targets are the low hanging fruit we reach up to grab.

This is all pretty standard, especially in a market like Toronto. The older I get the more it irks me. I grow to loathe the phrase “sports is a results-oriented business” and all related iterations of it more and more every year. No shit? How many businesses aren’t results-oriented?

Results are always necessary, but part of the problem is that the only results anyone wants to focus on are wins and losses. Ultimately it’s only possible to win or lose a game, but the growth and development of everyone involved is a desirable result. It just isn’t something easy to grasp so it can be more difficult to gauge.

With the Dallas Stars seeking a new head coach this problem pops up. How do you compare the win loss record of Jim Montgomery with that of Sheldon Keefe? How much credit does Montgomery get for identifying and helping Johnny Gaudreau develop? Does Keefe deserve much credit for implementing a plan with the Toronto Marlies that seems to be more or less laid out by the big club?

The same problem arises in education. In courses that culminate with a STAAR exam the results of that exam are all that really matter to many people. Allegedly that exam has all of the information needed to see how good of a job a teacher did working with a student. K. Tell me what happens when a student is absent, refuses to take it, or finishes it in 30 minutes, or has a reading disability, or doesn’t understand the references made in a question.

School districts realized that made little sense so they shifted to “growth”. Then they realized most subjects don’t have STAAR exams so some teachers had to make up their own exams used to judge their own professional growth which was predictably gamed by some. Even now growth is measured between Geometry and Algebra or from World History (10th grade) to US History (11th grade) which…ok? Good luck with that.

Any one data point is going to be very unlikely to give a full view of the performance of an individual regardless of the industry. The STAAR scores of my student won’t say much about me. This one loss doesn’t invalidate Mike Babcock or Auston Matthews or Jake Gardiner. The win loss records of Jim Montgomery and Sheldon Keefe in lesser leagues don’t automatically mean either or both will be good NHL coaches.

Bill Peters likely would have been a fine hire for the Stars despite his NHL record. Many metrics work in his favor, and he didn’t have a choice about who the Carolina Hurricanes put in net. Keefe and Montgomery have a lot going for them too. Todd Richards or any of the other number of candidates will have their own selling points to push.

However the Stars decide to fill the vacancy we won’t be able to judge the hire for several years, and even then the win loss record will be a poor way to do it. Success is more than just wins and losses and the emotional response pulled out of a loss easily clouds our view of a coach.

Good process can lead to undesirable results. If the Stars follow a good process you can’t really ask for more. As Matthews said, shit happens.

 

 

4/6/18 – Backup Goaltender Options for 2019

While you’re here, why not take a 5 minute survey about the 2018 Dallas Stars season? Please?

It seems like the Stars are looking for goaltending every offseason because, well, they kind of are. Antti Niemi didn’t work. Kari Lehtonen has been ok, but he’s now about to head into free agency. Ben Bishop is going to be here for a while, but there are no prospects beating down the door to take a backup NHL job yet.

So, once again, the Stars are going to have to dip into the market to find a goalie. Maybe it’s simply Lehtonen. Lehtonen on a pay cut could be fine, but what if there are better options out there? The theory out there seems to be that the Stars skaters go into a mental meltdown when Lehtonen consistently plays. I don’t know that I buy it as a big driver of problems. I do see what other people see: something does look different. If you’re of the mind that this is a real thing then it makes sense to at least see what the goalie marketplace has to offer unless Lehtonen is willing to sign for league minimum or something nutty.

I hit up Cap Friendly to pull the list of free agent goalies this offseason, both restricted and unrestricted. From that list I knocked off a bunch of AHL guys and restricted guys that make absolutely zero sense. I left some on that make zero sense, but not absolutely zero sense.

From there I pulled even strength save percentage and expected save percentage numbers from the last five years from Corsica to see which goalies exceeded expectations the most. As a point of reference, Ben Bishop has basically nailed his expected save percentage over the last two years.

The last column shows the added value of each keeper at even strength.

Goalies

This list isn’t the most encouraging, but it’s what we have to work with right now. For the purposes of finding the Stars a second goalie we’re going to eliminate Connor Hellebuyck. He isn’t leaving the Jets and he sure as hell isn’t leaving the Jets to join the Stars to split time with Bishop.

We’re also going to eliminate all of the guys below Lehtonen. If Lehtonen is attainable, what sense does it make to consider guys who have performed worse than he has?

That pool of candidates now looks like Andrew Hammond, Juuse Saros, Philipp Grubauer, Jaroslav Halak, Antti Raanta, Petr Mrazek, and Lehtonen.

To weed the group down a bit more I went back to Corsica and pulled their penalty killing numbers. It wouldn’t be fair to just ignore what happens shorthanded now would it?
Goalies2

The two premier restricted free agents head to the top of the list. As good as Grubauer and Saros have been it would be a waste of resources for the Stars to pick either up unless they planned to turn the starting job over to them one year after signing Bishop to a long term deal. I don’t see it.

I’m sure there exists a scenario where you could convince me that doing so would be a good idea, but I don’t know what that scenario entails. I’m also not who would need the most convincing. Bishop has little reason to waive his no movement clause. It’s all just too messy.

This same logic is why spending trade capital on a goalie isn’t ideal. Why trade for Mrazek or an unidentified goalie under contract when other options  that only cost cash exist? It’s just too messy. I guess the point is this: don’t trade for a goalie unless the free agents get stupid deals. I can’t imagine all four getting actual money though.

Raanta and Halak have starting experience. Either could sign on with a team offering a more direct opportunity to start, but the Stars offer an opportunity for either guy to boost their stock for the next offseason. Bishop has had some injury issues. Either guy is probably starting 35+ games here.

Does 35 games behind a good defensive team increase the chances of either one of them getting legitimate money after the upcoming season? For Halak, maybe not given his age. He did get waived while making 4.5 million, and no one claimed him.

Raanta is 28. He’s coming off of his first season as a starter with the Coyotes. Give him a season as an almost starter behind a team as talented as the Stars. If he does what he usually does he’s going to get a good contract from a team in need of a starter.

If both are gone, can Hammond be had for less than Lehtonen? He’s been awful on the penalty kill in the NHL, but it’s only 200 something minutes so, what, about 20 full power plays? If he can be had cheaply that might be worth a flier. Plus, the guy eats hamburgers thrown on the ice from fans. I feel like he’d fit in.

Maybe Halak or Raanta find real starting jobs this offseason with teams on the rise. If they do, good for them. Maybe Lehtonen gives the Stars enough of a deal that considering Hammond isn’t worth the risk. The Stars should at least wait until the offseason before committing to Lehtonen as the backup given the potential availability of two demonstrably superior goalies and a third who can likely match Lehtonen, all of whom might be attainable for a similar cost.

And for the love of God don’t trade a mid to late round pick for the privilege of negotiating with a potential back up goalie. Please.

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The feel better music part needs to come at the end. I don’t need previews for Serious Hockey Stories to be full of me rambling about songs I love. I don’t need to scare people away until after they read about hockey.

I don’t even remember how I came across The Briefs back in the day. I do remember buying their entire CD catalog at Warped Tour, in like 2006, from the BYO booth followed by them breaking up not too far afterwards.

I listen to this song an unhealthy amount. The song is so criminally poppy, and the lyrics are absurd. It’s just several situations where Steve E. Nix (yes) is getting hit on in moderately inappropriate situations followed by him saying “what kind of man do you think I am?”

They will feature in this section more and more over time if I keep doing it. Their album Sex Objects is p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l. I love them and my quest to prove that my musical taste is acceptable will continue.

4/2/18 – The Dallas Stars Have an Internal Promotion Problem

I was dating someone for a while who thinks I have bad taste in music, or at the absolute least hates what I listen to on a regular basis. That irritates me on a number of levels. This Dallas Stars season has been such a beating, and that situation has been too. In the interest of soothing both of those ego nut-punches I’m putting a YouTube video of a different song with every post for the forseeable future.

The Pina Colada song is pretty bad, but who isn’t amused by Rupert Holmes’ other hit “Him” ? (Bad taste my ass.)

I’ve been thinking more about how safe the Stars are. We know how safe they are on the ice. We think we know how safe they are in the trade market. I can’t get over how safe the hiring of Ken Hitchcock is, and how safe the hiring of Lindy Ruff was before him.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

The problem with both hires is that they’re both backwards leaning. Neither hire looks to the future or tries to bring in any fresh ideas.

At this point virtually all of the Dallas Stars entire front office and coaching staff is made up of “establishment” guys.

Jim Nill is in his 5th season in Dallas. Previously he spent nineteen in Detroit with the Red Wings.

This is Les Jackson’s twenty-ninth season with the Stars.

Scott White is in his thirteenth year in the organization. He has been the Texas Stars General Manager, and given how little talent the Stars have sent to Austin he might deserve a raise with how many former Baby Stars are on the roster.

Mark Janko is in his seventeenth season with the franchise.

J.J. McQueen is in his twenty-second year with the Stars. He was the strength and conditioning coach before being promoted to Player Development Coordinator.

Rich Peverley is there and has the same title was McQueen.

Mike Valley, who took a beating from fans as the Stars goaltending coach, is on the Masthead too.

Ignoring the last two, the two furthest down the list, the least experienced person in the front office has been in professional hockey for 13 years which seems reasonable. Outside of Nill, the least tenured person with the organization is White at 13 years. That…that sounds like corporate inbreeding.

Every member of the Tampa Bay Lightning front office has been with the organization less than nine years. Toronto has a relatively new group, newer than in Tampa at least. I would wager that story is similar across the league. These staffs aren’t full of inexperienced guys off the streets, but they aren’t constantly hiring and promoting from within either. They find who they think are the best people (well, white males) for the jobs and put them in charge.

Fear is the foundation of safety.  –Tertullian

One of the consistent themes of Nill’s tenure has been loyalty and trust. He trusts his coach to make the best of the lineup given to him despite the coach (Ruff or Hitchcock) refusing to integrate young guys more regularly. They promote heavily from within. Nill even tries to promote trust with players on the way out the door.

I go back to what Nill said when he traded Stephane Robidas to the Anaheim Ducks in 2014.

“It’s important to have trust and a good relationship with your players, and that’s what I want to do with our organization,” Nill said. “I could have waited for tomorrow or tried to make a different trade, but in the end this was the deal that made the most sense.”

In retrospect, the idea that the Stars needed to build up trust and a good relationship with a guy they were trading away makes zero sense in this context. Mike Heika went on further to explain why it made even less sense:

…why send him to an Anaheim team that not only has the best record in the NHL (potentially giving the Stars a lower draft pick) but could be your opponent in the first round of the playoffs?

“You take that into consideration, but the move was designed to give Stephane a chance to get on a good team, and this was the best option,” Nill said. “I could have traded him to the East, but more to a fringe team and not a top contender.”

If you’re that loyal to everyone, how does the organization get better? How does the organization keep up with new ideas being brought in across the league? I can’t help but note that the team trying to focus on defense first, second, and third with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg doesn’t have anyone high up in the organization who has joined it within the last 13 years as the hockey analytics community has grown rapidly.

Maybe that’s unfair, but then again look at the recent track record of success. All of these guys save Nill have been here for the last decade of futility. Leaning on experienced executives has value, but sometimes being comfortable can be problematic too.

I also openly admit that I’m in no position to critique the individual jobs any of these guys have done. I can’t stress that enough. But, at some point you need some fresh ideas and perspectives from around the league. At some point the front office has to be pushed out of their comfort zone. At some point it makes sense to get an outside perspective on the league’s honest perceptions of the players and prospects in the Stars system.

Hitchcock was brought in to instill discipline and structure for the players. He was brought in to make the players get out of their comfort zone and play “winning” hockey, the hockey that won the Dallas Stars a Stanley Cup 20 years ago.

Yet, Hitchcock was the safest hire possible. Ruff was a safe hire. If either guy didn’t work out it would be easy to point to their NHL resumes as the reasons for hiring them. Pointing back to the past and resting on ideas that have proven in recent years to not work is a big part of the problem with the current Stars.

Loyalty and trust is only going to get you so far. At some point fresh new ideas need to find their way into an organization that appears to have insulated itself from the outside hockey world by a lot of internal promotion and very little external hiring.

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3/23/18 – What the Hell Part 4: Ken Hitchcock’s Impact on the Defensemen

I sat down to write more on the rapidly declining 2018 season. As I did it I realized this was quickly turning into something larger than just one post. Given the nature of the site as constructed I felt like cramming 2000 or so words into one post was absurd. I have no idea how long this series will be.

I handled the forwards yesterday. You can find them here. Plenty of data exists on the defensemen too. Coming into the season my expectations for the defensemen were higher than the forwards. Hitchcock should make them look a lot more…appropriate? Typical? Competent? Defensive? Something.

Overall I think that has happened. I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good thing, but it indeed has happened. Again we’re using data tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turtoro.

Remember: bigger numbers on the left is good.. Bigger numbers on the right is bad.

John Klingberg

Klingberg

One of the successes of this season that has been touted is the development of Klingberg defensively. This chart isn’t going to show us specifically how he plays in the defensive zone, but it does show that he is a hell of a lot better at defending his own blueline.

Despite the uptick in points, his rate of offensive contributions has dropped quite a bit. He’s getting a ton of minutes and playing well, but he put out a consistently higher quality offensive performance when he had fewer minutes.

Esa Lindell

Lindell

Lindell is probably the most improved of the Stars defensemen, and he needed to be. He’s an absolute rock at his own blueline, providing the defensive anchor the Stars wanted from another member of our list further down.

Lindell has been better offensively too. The next step, if he can take it, would see him be better at exiting the defensive zone.

Is this improvement because of Hitchcock and his staff? Maybe, but as a young developing player you would expect him to take steps forward too.

Greg Pateryn

Pateryn

Pateryn is an interesting case. Hitchcock fell in love with him quickly and continued to feed him ice time after sticking him into a “defensive/stay at home” type role, but Pateryn did much more than that for the Canadiens. 

Pushing him into more of a defensive frame of mind naturally , sadly, would have limited his offensive output, and limit how well he would be entering the offensive zone with the puck. What did surprise me is how much worse Pateryn got at defending his own blueline this year. Opposing forwards are stepping around him like he isn’t even there.

Dan Hamhuis

Hamhuis

Same story, different player. Hitchcock has pushed Hamhuis into a more defensive role. Every aspect of his game is worse, and some aspects are significantly worse.

Hamhuis is older so it’s entirely possible he is just falling off a bit with age. Could it be because of the role Hitchcock has him playing? Perhaps, but like with the improvement with Lindell, age could be playing in here too.

Stephen Johns

Johns

I really thought Stephen Johns would take a major step under Hitchcock. He has taken hold of a consistent place in the lineup by playing the way Hitchcock wants him to. The familiar marker is there: John is breaking up a lot more plays at his own blueline at the expense of every other aspect of his game.

Marc Methot

Methot

The Stars gave up a 2nd round pick for a defenseman who was probably, at the time, their 7th or 8th best. He’s also making $4,900,000 and has nine and a half fingers. The idea was to bring him in as a stabilizing defensive force to play with Klingberg, like he allegedly did with Erik Karlsson.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

A familiar trend continues. Methot has tried to be more of an active shooter and has broken up more offensive plays at his own blueline under Hitchcock than he did in 2017. In the case of Methot teams apparently started passing around him to get into the zone. You can see a big drop in his success at minimizing entries of the pass.

Julius Honka

Honka

We have no data from 2017 for Honka, but I see something here that immediately makes me think “this is why Hitchcock doesn’t use him”. Honka has been the Stars worst defenseman at breaking up plays at his own blueline.

Now, he easily has been the Stars best at exiting the zone with possession and one of the top in the league, but the taint of visibly below par defense has stuck with him. The question I have from looking at the Honka data is how poor and infrequently he enters the offensive zone with the puck and how little he does with it when he has it.

Is Honka really this bad offensively, or is he trying to make his way in the NHL with regular playing time by playing a more conservative style to make his coach happy? It happened with Pateryn, why not Honka too?

Jamie Oleksiak

Oleksiak

I included this one just for fun. Oleksiak was terrible with the Stars this year in all respects except entering the zone, but look at last year. He had a little usefulness over there.

My biggest complaint with Oleksiak is something that only marginally shows up here. This isn’t going to measure how well he played defense in his own zone, but it was pretty hit and miss. It does show that in 2017 he had no idea what to do with the puck in the offensive zone to set up offense despite bringing the puck into the zone at an elite level.

Yeah, that sounds about right. Oleksiak getting trapped up ice then scrambling back to get into the play happened enough for it to stick in my brain.

Is this all because of Hitchcock?

I don’t know, but it sure fits what he wants. The defensemen are less offensive, they’re stepping up at the blueline to stop opposition attacks, chipping the puck out of the zone to reset, and letting the forwards handle almost all of the offensive play. The data seems to show exactly that.

 

3/21/18 – Unloading the Clip and Firing Blanks

Old

On May 19th, 2008 I was already on summer vacation heading into my last semester of college. I was halfway through my 22nd year on this giant blue orb and had no idea how anything worked.

Brad Richards was a 27 year old trade deadline acquisition. Things were looking up. I remember sitting in my girlfriend’s parents apartment watching the game in the afternoon because they had cable, with her shithead brother sitting near me rooting for Detroit because…he was a shithead, I guess. I don’t know.

This was Sergei Zubov’s last playoff game. James Neal would debut next season. Jamie Benn would debut the next season after that. Jason Spezza was 24. Tyler Seguin was 16. The Stars franchise had never missed the playoffs more than three years in a row, and never more than once in a row (???) in Dallas.

I had no idea what was in store for me personally in a number of respects, but I never in a million years would have guessed that the Stars would win one playoff round over the next decade and only make the playoffs twice. It’s such an unfathomable stretch of mediocrity from a once proud franchise that I don’t know of a combination of words to throw together to express how disappointing it is.

Many years of that stretch were consumed with Tom Hicks Bankruptcy Hell, but even that was a long time ago. Tom Gaglardi bought the Stars on November 22, 2011. The partial lockout hit the next season, and we’re five years removed from that. When the Vegas Golden Knights are fielding a team fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference as an expansion team it’s hard to have much sympathy for the little hockey team in Dallas.

Over the last decade only four teams have had two or fewer playoff appearances. Only 11 franchises have one or less playoff series wins. 15 teams have more points over that span. The Stars have been a mediocre regular season team that prays it can get into the playoffs, and has done very little when they’ve gotten there.

They dropped a close game to the Washington Capitals last night 4-3 and it’s increasingly difficult to envision them as a playoff team this year. Even if they do make it they’re probably going to get wasted quickly.

Many postmortems will be written about this dumpster fire of a season. Some already have been. Robert Tiffin of DefendingBigD wrote his after the Capitals game and it, as always, is worth your time. This part in particular struck a chord with me:

RobertHitch

The kids call this a “subtweet”, but Robert and I are old school so we’ll call this an “editorial response”. On some level this is a semantic argument, but the difference between being forced to adapt out of desperation and being willing to be flexible is a wide gulf here.

Hitchcock will put someone in the lineup, like Greg Pateryn, because he has to. When players are dropping like flies someone does have to come into the lineup. The key to him, or anyone else, staying in the lineup is playing exactly the way Hitchcock wants them to. I wrote about this when I wrote about Jason Spezza recently.

Spezza

Hitchcock has his guys and he rides them into the ground when they meet his standards of what successful hockey is. He knows what he wants to see and no matter what happens if he doesn’t see it he isn’t going to do much of anything to change personnel or tactics whether what he wants wins games now or not.

The story of the 2018 season, and particularly since the calendar flipped to 2018, is that in the face of what Hitchcock wants to do failing he unceasingly stuck with it until it was too late. Defense over everything has reigned supreme all year even as the offense has completely dried up until it was too late.

Against the Capitals the Stars unloaded the clip. They came out firing and dominated the game at even strength on the Corsi sheet, but for what? They waited until they went up against arguably the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, the only team to crack 1000 points over the last decade, and until they dropped out of a playoff spot  to do it. They waited until it was too late.

For all of this nonsense about leadership, grit, spirit, or whatever other cliche synonym you want to use for “the things Hitchcock wants” the Dallas Stars are probably going to miss the playoffs because they doubled down on defense when the times got tough. They spent all of their focus on preventing goals with a roster featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg.

The Stars players gave everything they had offensively against the Capitals and failed. We’ll never know if things would have been different if this change had taken place at some time in the past three months, but by not trying to do anything different for three months the full blame for the results of the 2018 Dallas Stars lays at the feet of management and the coaching staff.

And I’m still waiting as a 32 year old man for a chance to watch a Western Conference Finals game featuring the Stars without a shithead brother in law around, like I have been since I was 22.

3/20/18 – What the Hell Part 2: Max Pacioretty Trade Scenarios and First Round Picks

I sat down to write more on the rapidly declining 2018 season. As I did it I realized this was quickly turning into something larger than just one post. Given the nature of the site as constructed I felt like cramming 2000 or so words into one post was absurd. I have no idea how long this series will be. 

I’ve never had any aspirations to be some insider, but I do hear things. Sometimes those things get confirmed publicly by another writer, or at least partially confirmed. Many times they don’t. I do want to discuss Max Pacioretty because I have now heard several different trade scenarios, and they all revolve around the same preposterous idea.

Pacioretty wasn’t going to be cheap because he wasn’t going to be a rental. He’s a consistent American 30 goal scorer who turns 30 next season when he is set to make $4,500,000.

Pacioretty

Pulling from the same All 3 Zones project data Corey Sznajder has tracked and CJ Turtoro has visualized you can see that Pacioretty is solid at both bluelines and really good offensively even if the counting totals aren’t exactly where you would like them to be this year. He’s an easy top six winger and the kind of player a good team builds around.

Adding to his appeal is that second year of control. Any team who would have paid to pick up Pacioretty would have been getting an early jump on the 2019 season by securing a trial run with a talented goal scorer. Two playoff runs with a quality inexpensive goal scorer is valuable.

I’ve heard three different pricing options for what it would have cost. Most recently I heard two first round picks, a good prospect, and a roster player (probably Brett Ritchie for money reasons).

Closer to the deadline I heard two potential deals. A 1st round pick, Roope Hintz, a roster player (Ritchie), and maybe a prospect – or a 2nd round pick, Julius Honka, a roster player (Ritchie), and maybe a prospect. Sean Shapiro put the first one out there more or less publicly in a tweet, though he emphasized he wasn’t reporting it. I’m not either, but I did hear that secondhand.

All three of those deals look somewhat similar. The Stars would either be giving up two top picks or a top pick and a good prospect plus other stuff to get their guy. That seems like fair value for a year and a half of an inexpensive goal scorer. Given their reluctance to play Honka and the coming of Miro Heiskanen, I think that last option was a real winner if available.

I do think the Stars value Honka as an organization, thus making that deal less palatable. I also know for as close to a fact as you can get that they don’t want to trade any first round picks. That’s a fine strategy because it is important to stock the cupboard with young cheap potentially good talent. The problem is when that isn’t fully the motivation for keeping the picks.

I’ve heard from no less than three different people that the Stars were adamant about having a first round pick for the upcoming draft in Dallas. This is one of the single most insane things I have ever heard and I want to flat out reject it, but I’ve heard it from so many people I trust that I can’t.

The logic goes that you want to have news to announce to your fans at the big gathering. A first round pick at the draft in your hometown gives you the opportunity to do that. In the past the Stars have planned offseason moves to coincide with those rally-type events they do in Victory Plaza so it isn’t like the logic leading to this conclusion is foreign to them.

But those events didn’t potentially impact the on ice product in a negative way immediately. An organizational philosophy of being unwilling to trade a first round pick during the season because you want to be able to make an announcement for your fans at the draft is the most competitively backwards thing (tanking excluded) I have ever heard. It’s so Jerry Jones it hurts.

The kicker to all of this is that, as of now per the beat guys, there are no plans to release general admission tickets for the public. The only fans who will be in attendance are a few season ticket holders who decide they want to go. So who are they making this announcement for anyway? Is the goal to parade the kid around since he will already be in town? Is that worth more than potentially improving a rapidly cratering team and getting a jump on building the 2019 roster?

90% of the fanbase, conservatively, would prefer a deep playoff run over a mid-first round pick who might make an impact four years from now. The decisions about what to do at the deadline have to be challenging for any franchise, but the Stars reluctance to just go for it when they have a window with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is absolutely perplexing.

Pacioretty, or any trade acquisition, wouldn’t have immediately fixed all that ails this team, but they sure would have helped. Even in the worst case scenario had Pacioretty not worked out the Stars easily could have picked up a 1st round pick plus for him in the offseason.

I simply don’t get it.

3/20/18 – What the Hell Part 1: Donde Esta Jason Spezza?

I sat down to write more on the rapidly declining 2018 season. As I did it I realized this was quickly turning into something larger than just one post. Given the nature of the site as constructed I felt like cramming 2000 or so words into one post was absurd. I have no idea how long this series will be. 

Jason Spezza might be the best value acquisition of the Jim Nill era. Tyler Seguin is the best acquisition. Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns and Mattias Janmark were more or less free. Alexander Radulov only cost money. Spezza was picked up from the Ottawa Senators after 12 calendar years of living in the Canadian capital for “guys”. The value was off the charts.

Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nick Paul, and a 2nd round pick became “property” of the cheapest franchise in hockey in return for their star and leader. You make that trade eleven times out of ten and use it constantly as a shining example of why you make these moves to improve your club when you can. More often than not, the team acquiring the established producer wins out. In this case they came out way ahead.

Spezza was a stabilizing force on the second, and occasionally first, line. This year it just hasn’t worked. If you’re looking for reasons why this season has tanked faster than the Oilers shamelessly hoping to acquire then waste the prime years of another good prospect, the collapse of Spezza would be a good place to start.

I tweeted this image out earlier. It comes from the data tracked by Corey Sznajder for the 2018 season and visualized by CJ Turtoro, which is about 16 Stars games. The numbers in the bar graphs are league-wide percentiles, the darker the blue the better.

We’re looking at how much offense the player generates, how he enters the zone, and how he exits.

Spezza

This has easily been the most trying season of Spezza’s career. It’s easy to chalk it up to age because it’s the most readily apparent reason for the decline in his numbers. You could also easily point to his 5.4% shooting percentage, which is miles below his career mark and half of his average rate in Dallas.

You could also point to his ice time (13 minutes per game) and the linemates he routinely plays with in those minutes as reasons for the decline in production. If you want you can even point out the awful time he has had working in the system Hitchcock has implemented.

I think the point is that there are a million reasons you can point to for why Spezza has seen a drop in production that have nothing to do with age. If the Stars move on from him after this season some smart team is going to pick him up for a song and laugh their way to the bank with Spezza anchoring their second line on the way to a Stanley Cup.

What the data show is that Spezza is still really good at generating shots for himself and, particularly, his linemates when given the opportunity. That clause is key and the hinge that this entire problem swings on. How does one get an opportunity under Hitchcock?

I think this is a nuanced question that all too often is brushed off by people who have never been required to set expectations or lead people. As a leader you have to set expectations and hold everyone accountable to meet those expectations. You make the people under you know that you care about them individually and care about the success of the group as a whole so they buy in and help push them to meet those expectations.

There can be no question that Hitchcock understands this concept fully. He does. It’s the backbone of everything he does in hockey. He makes his players unequivocally know how he wants them to play and pushes them to meet those standards. When they do they get rewarded with his confidence and more responsibility.

The consistency of the message is key. When people know “if I do this, I know this will happen” it makes it really easy to buy in. We’ll get to him later, but there’s a reason why you’ve never heard Hitchcock say a negative word about Tyler Pitlick and why he keeps gobbling up responsibility. Ditto Martin Hanzal. They do exactly what Hitchcock wants them to do.

What you didn’t notice me mention was flexibility or adaptability. Nowhere in there is any hint of adjusting to the situation at hand to make the most of what is in front of you. Prior to the season Fox Sports Southwest aired a special called Hitchcock Full Circle (hosted by Julie Dobbs). I wrote about it, but I’m not sure it ever got published. Who knows what happened. I want to highlight this piece of info from the special:

HitchFullCircle

If you’re grading the job performance of Ken Hitchcock this excerpt alone should be the basis of the rubric used, and the role of Jason Spezza is the key situation that should be focused on.

Spezza is a leader of the team. Hitchcock needed to get him to buy in and to successfully play the game he wanted him to play. For most of the season Hitchcock failed at this task. Spezza seemed to be a mess, but he was always one of those guys you would be able to point to for the depth players to get them to fall in line, if successful.

(At this point you may be asking yourself if what Hitchcock is expecting from his players is reasonable, or if it leads to winning hockey in the modern NHL. Hitchcock certainly believes it does, and maybe it does under some circumstances. We’ll get to that eventually.)

He was still an offensive threat, but he needs triggermen with him. Someone has to put the puck in the net off of his quality passes. The Stars lack of depth on the wings limits those opportunities.

Hitchcock demands that his centers play deep in the zone defensively to maintain structure, which inevitably means they will be involved in transitioning the puck out of the defensive zone often. As you can see on the previous chart, Spezza has been terribly unsuccessful doing that which makes moving him to a wing seem somewhat reasonable.

Spezza needs the puck put on his stick in the offensive zone and people to get the puck to. If you make these things happen you have an exceptionally useful player. What Hitchcock has asked him to do hasn’t worked. Once this became an obvious failure Hitchcock had two options. He could either value the skills Spezza brings and make it work, or shit all over him.

Guess which route he took? It’s so strong you can smell it all over the Metroplex.

If Spezza were a marginal player then not yielding at all would be more defensible. Crushing the offensive game of Spezza while the rest of the team has been unable to score since fucking 2017 is inexcusable and it’s very On Brand for Hitchcock. This is exactly what people warned about when he came back. He said the right things, but he hasn’t followed through on them. That inability to be flexible is another key reason why this franchise is staring squarely at the possibility of missing the playoffs once again and continuing a decade of almost utter futility.

I can’t imagine why Spezza wouldn’t be pushing hard to get moved to get as far away from here as possible. Someone like the Penguins or Maple Leafs is going to pick him up for nothing after an offseason of a certain portion of this fanbase rooting for him to be shipped out. He’s going to make the Stars look foolish in another uniform while they scramble to find a player who can bring what Spezza is capable of bringing.