1/8/19 – The Case for Erik Condra

The Dallas Stars often make it hard to defend their ability to develop players. The swapping of Denis Gurianov with Erik Condra appears to be another in a string of head scratching moves, but I’m not sure questioning it is fair to either player.

I genuinely believe that Gurianov should be on the NHL roster because I do believe he is one of the Stars top 12 forwards. He brings an offensive spark they’ve needed all season when he is at his best. I get sending him down temporarily if they think he isn’t consistently demonstrating that ability.

I think you can very easily make an argument that Condra is among the Stars top 12 forwards also, and that he should also be up and playing. Whether that should be in place of Gurianov or not is debatable, but over his career he has demonstrated significantly more value in terms of Goals Above Replacement than many of his Stars contemporaries.

condra

I pulled the GAR totals from Evolving-Hockey and put them over a 60 minute pace to even out the ice time discrepancies. Val Nichushkin’s rookie season gave him enough of a head start to stay ahead of Condra on a rate basis, but many of the others can’t touch the value he has brought in his NHL career on an hourly basis.

Hell, he has almost the same cumulative GAR total as Blake Comeau in less than half of the minutes.

It’s important to point out that GAR is descriptive, not prescriptive. There is no guarantee that since Condra has put these totals on the board in the past that he can continue to do it after a couple years absence from the NHL. On the other hand, he has 34 points in 32 games for the Texas Stars this year. When you combine that with his defensive reputation it isn’t hard to see why the Trying To Win Now Stars would prefer him on the roster over Gurianov at the moment.

What are some things we know about what Condra has done in the NHL? Evolving-Hockey breaks GAR down into Even Strength, Power Play, Penalty Killing, and Penalty Differential components.

condra

Across the board Condra either breaks even or provides above replacement level value historically. He is historically the best penalty killer of the group, and he draws as many penalties as he takes.

The problem here is that Condra is making $750,000. The rest of those guys combined are making $12,700,000 to not be discernibly better than the guy coming off the street. If you lump Pitlick in with him you have arguably two of the three best players on this list combining to make less than half of what Nichushkin, Shore, Comeau, or Janmark each make individually.

That isn’t a particularly good indicator that the front office is moving in the right direction. Roster decisions with the bottom nine forwards have been sketchy at best for several reasons. This doesn’t even touch the bag of money they handed the injury-prone Martin Hanzal. Poor talent identification on the bottom of the roster is the key reason the Stars aren’t at the top of the conference right now.

Calling up Condra appears like it could definitely help that group. Bringing Gurianov back when he rounds back into form should too. The Stars have the horses to play in the bottom six. Now they need to do a better job of identifying them to allow them to spend more appropriately to fill other holes.

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11/20/18 -Developing, or not, Julius Honka

Developing any skill is hard. I don’t care if we’re talking about hockey, making a pizza, or learning to write. Skill development is challenging because of the inordinate amount of factors that go into it that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the skill.

School this year has been a unique challenge for me. Our kids came to us out of control behaviorally with learning gaps, un-diagnosed learning disorders, and an extreme lack of confidence due to the aforementioned issues. Regardless of how they come to me I’m charged with putting them in a position where they can be successful on the STAAR exam at a 40% clip for them personally and 60% clip to meet grade level expectations for the state.

What matters is results. Full stop. The extenuating circumstances don’t matter. 75% of my students being served by special education. ESL, or 504 doesn’t matter. The regular gaps of the students not served by a special title doesn’t matter. What matters is how prepared these kids are to succeed on an exam that the school, district, and state can point to as an indicator of success or failure.

Such is life for anyone in a position where they are asked to develop talent in any walk of life. Each different scenario presents unique challenges that people on the outside will not be able to comprehend without being there. When people criticize teachers for a lack of success I tend to laugh because few know what goes into the process of dragging a kid kicking and screaming to learn a subject they don’t care to learn. It isn’t possible to know all of the inputs to the situation from the outside.

Hell, it isn’t possible from the inside. Prior to break I found out a student of mine has a two year old child. How am I supposed to continue to be upset about this student being sleepy at 6:50 in the morning on a daily basis? I can’t in good conscience be mad at this kid, but knowing this information gives me an opportunity.

I can now point out how much better off his child’s life can be if he completes high school. I can work with him to make sure he gets the information he needs while understanding he has significant responsibilities at home. I can build a relationship that shows I care which allows me to feed him negative feedback in an environment where he understands I’m saying it because I care and want him to be successful.

Sports development has one significant difference from teaching kids: the personal responsibility falls on the athlete to use the coaching and tools at his disposal to meet the goals set by the development staff. All of the other extenuating circumstances don’t have to matter to the development staff because in a professional environment the professional is expected to meet the standards of his profession despite any noise on the outside.

Inevitably I would guess most coaches care, but the nature of professional sports is such that if a player isn’t meeting a coach’s expectations they turn to the next man up if he gives the team a better chance of success. There exists a delicate balance between development and success on the ice that organizations have to maintain. The question they have to answer is can a player develop his game while maintaining a level of play superior than enough of his contemporaries in the organization to demand a roster spot?

Julius Honka is not a top four defenseman in the 2019 NHL season. There is a fair debate to be had about whether or not he can ever reach that goal on a championship caliber team, a ceiling set for him with the pedigree of being a mid first round pick. What there can be little debate over is that in the minutes he has been given overall this season he has produced capably.

I pulled a bunch of info from Corsica on the Stars most common five defensemen. I then changed the numbers to their ranks among the five of them. Honka is one or two in most, and goes no lower than third on any of them except ice time. One of the lower ranked ones is individual expected goals per hour, but he, like John Klingberg, isn’t an even strength goal scorer. You wouldn’t expect him to excel there.

3

There are a number of inputs to this situation that need to be considered before anointing Honka as being on his way to greatness. Honka gets the easiest zone starts, the easiest competition, and consistently the worst linemates of the five players. Given the first two he should be producing. The last nugget should, theoretically, bring his offensive totals down. It probably does drag his secondary assists down, but he’s tops among these five in primary points per hour. The signal here is that he is doing something right.

The emphasis here should be on something. As in, not everything. The sum total of what Honka has brought to his role this year is positive by almost every statistic you can find. An overwhelming consensus of the available information suggests he has done something right.

Jim Montgomery has pointed out that he wants players taking chances to make offense happen. The idea has been that he can live with mistakes, if the mistakes come from a player trying to make a play. Many of the mistakes Honka does make come from trying to make a play, but the mental calculus any professional has to work to figure out if he can make a play is off for him right now.

It isn’t so far off to make him a liability in the role Montgomery and his staff have given him however. If you look at the sum total of his skills with the assumption that all are equally valuable, or look at the events which transpire with him on the ice without proper context, or disregard the statistical information generated by his play the conversation becomes disingenuous and unfair to the player.

If you watch Honka play you see good flashes and bad flashes. You see the inconsistency in his game that holds him back. We’ve seen Honka do magical things with the puck that make him believe he can do anything with it, but we’ve then seen those same situations bite him in the ass enough that it is going to naturally make him question his ability as a hockey player while minimizing the amount of skill he puts on display.

Honka, at his best, skates the puck out of the zone and springs the offense with crisp outlet passes. He gets into the offensive zone and sets up goals with quality vision. At his worst Honka is passive defensively for fear of making a mistake, gets pushed around physically, and turns the puck over because in his mind he feels like he can make plays that to this point sometimes lead to turnovers.

And in the end, the statistical indicators show that this year Honka has done quite a bit more good than bad in the role given him by the coaching staff. Having a discussion about Honka without the context statistics provide is not going to provide the proper nuance necessary to fairly look at the overall game he has played making any discussion that begins with that premise pointless.

The injury to Klingberg has provided an opportunity for Honka to show that he can be the type of top four defenseman the Stars thought he could be when they drafted him. I pulled data from Corsica again for the last five games for the four regular defensemen still playing.

image1

Honka, largely, has been the worst of the four. He has the points, but other than that statistically he has been the worst of the regular four. Added responsibilities and being forced into the situation of being “the guy” on a pair more frequently have exposed Honka is pretty clearly not a top four defenseman right now, or, at least, not a play driver for a defensive pair.

On the other hand, Miro Heiskanen is proving that he is already a top pairing defenseman in the league at 19. With Klingberg out of the lineup he has a 72% xGF rate to go with a 53% Corsi and almost 90 minutes of even strength ice time. The kid is an absolute horse who, with Klingberg out, has stepped up to show he is the future of the franchise defensively.

Honka hasn’t, and that’s ok. When the roster is in less flux he will slide back to his role ideally with more positive experience that will allow him to fine tune that rough mental calculus that leads to turnovers and mistakes. He may not develop into the guy many hoped he would, but as a bottom six guy who can put points on the board he still has value.

And, using the data tracked by Corey Sznajder from 2014-2018 this image shows why it’s too early to just toss Honka out.

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The kid has something. It’s just a matter of him finding the right balance between risk and reward so he can unlock it consistently.

8/4/18 – Thinking About the Top Prospects

I spent the last couple of weeks putting together a list of the top 25 prospects in the Dallas Stars system. Is it perfect? Nah. Is it going to be the exact same as everyone else? Nah. Am I going to end up being “right in my analysis”? I like the list, but players flame out or rise to prominence all of the time. I will certainly be very wrong about many of them.

Looking back at the list there are a few things that stand out to me about the way I put my list together compared to how others might that I want to talk about here a bit. tl;dr the links to the five stories on SportsDayDFW are at the end.

Colton Point vs Jake Oettinger

I struggled with which goalie to rank higher. Throughout the last season Point continued to get bombarded with shots behind a bad Colgate team, then got named to Team Canada for the World Juniors, and kept getting more praise.

Is that enough for Point to jump Oettinger? I think so, at least temporarily when coupled with Point taking the first shot at professional hockey. There isn’t much question that he’s better than Landon Bow so he should get the bulk of the starts in Austin. The real question is 2020 if Oettinger signs after this coming season.

With Anton Khudobin signed for two years do the Stars roll with Oettinger and Point in Texas at the same time? I can’t imagine, but they certainly could. It would be nice to see Point take over as the backup after one year in Texas though to make the question irrelevant.

Jason Robertson vs Ty Dellandrea

Dellandrea is a tough one to slot in. He was the Stars first round pick, but most everyone had him rated as a second round pick. The most aggressive ranking I remember seeing was, I think, Corey Pronman putting him as a pick in the mid-20’s. Usually that first round pick will come in pretty high on a list like this in the NHL, but I struggled with whether or not to put him ahead of Robertson.

I think with Robertson’s shot he has as much offensive upside and potential as anyone in the system despite his skating still being a work in progress. We’ve seen guys who aren’t the best skaters make names for themselves off of puck skills alone so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for him to do it too. I think too often it’s easy to focus on the negatives and lose sight of the positives. I’m going to lean towards upside at pretty much all turns, but Dellandrea makes it tough because I think he has a really high floor.

Dellandrea is much more likely to have a long career as a solid middle of the lineup guy, but Robertson is more likely to be a higher level offensive player. It’s a coin flip for me.

Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov

These two are the ones I have ranked the lowest relative to other rankings you may come across. They both have time in the AHL under their belts, and both have questions about their defense hanging over their heads. My question for both is this: is either player good enough offensively to overcome questions about their defense to be a good NHL player?

I think they’re both ultimately NHL players, but compare them to Dellandrea or Robertson.

Dellandrea has literally everything you want a prospect to have, but questions about his ultimate offensive ceiling. Even if he doesn’t produce offensively the way the Stars think he will eventually he still has the profile is a good bottom six player who can play in all situations.

Robertson has the offensive chops now with work that needs to be done on the other skills. Does Robertson have enough offensive upside to make up for lacking in those other areas? I think so, and I think that’s the main thing that puts him ahead of both of them too.

Hintz could take another step forward this year in his second season in North America. Gurianov is still young, but at some point he needs to produce like he has some top end offense in there. This is the same problem I always had with the prospect version of Jamie Oleksiak. If he hasn’t ever done it at a level that suggests he can do it, anywhere, then how long are you expecting to wait to see it come out?

College and European Prospects

College and European prospects tend to get rated lower than they should. They’re playing against adults who are physically mature. When they succeed against those guys there is probably a reason for the success. Joe Cecconi, Rhett Gardner, Riley Tufte, and John Nyberg all fall into this camp for me. Tufte not so much because he was a first round pick, but I’m definitely curious to see what the others do when/if they turn pro with Dallas.

1-5

  • Miro Heiskanen
  • Ty Dellandrea
  • Jason Robertson
  • Colton Point
  • Riley Tufte

6-10

  • Albin Eriksson
  • Jake Oettinger
  • Roope Hintz
  • Joe Cecconi
  • Adam Mascherin

11-15

  • Denis Gurianov
  • John Nyberg
  • Rhett Gardner
  • Nick Caamano
  • Fredrik Karlstrom

16-20

  • Curtis Douglas
  • Jakob Stenqvist
  • Oskar Back
  • Gavin Bayreuther
  • Jermaine Loewen

21-25

  • Tony Calderone
  • Jacob Peterson
  • Riley Damiani
  • Dawson Barteaux
  • Brett Davis

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5/15/18 – Finding Offense Within: Nick Caamano

The Dallas Stars are going to need to find offense from many different sources to make it back into the playoffs at the conclusion of the 2019 season. Efficient spending will be a key to maximizing how much offense they can add. With this series we’ll take a deep dive into some prospects who could help soon.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 training camp was prospect Nick Caamano. A 5th round pick in 2016 isn’t supposed to make as much noise as Caamano did, but he drew rave reviews from the Stars coaching staff. He even skated in a couple preseason games.

“I like him. I like him a lot,” said Hitchcock. “He’s got moxie. He’s a 19-year-old kid, but he’s got the moxie of an older player. He’s made a great account of himself, and nobody in this world would have thought he would have hung in this long. He’s still here, and when we play on Thursday he’ll be here again. That’s a good sign.”

That 19 year old kid was barely 19. He’ll turn 20 a couple weeks before camp starts in September. He was the youngest player in his draft year. Until he was traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs at the end of this year his OHL career was spent with the Flint Firebirds. You may remember them from this nonsense.

The 6’2 left shooting winger has put up respectable, but not eye popping, numbers in juniors with 121 points in his last 131 games over two seasons. Those numbers don’t suggest “future superstar”. With the right secondary skills and system fit he could provide bottom six offense fairly soon.

Given that he isn’t one of those eye-popping forwards very little video is out there of him in action. What you can see from the little that is easily accessible is a big power forward type that scores most of his goals by driving to the net.

Here he is scoring during the Hamilton playoff run by entering the zone with speed and going right to the net.

CaamanoGoal1

Not to throw unnecessary shade at our Russian friend, but this is the kind of play we always wanted to see more of from Val Nichushkin.

Caamano kills penalties too. Below is a short handed goal from earlier this season.

CaamanoGoal2

For a guy without a lot of hype that’s a nice bit of work on the breakaway. He deked the hell out of the goalie and showed some nice edge work. Check out his right skate as he comes in on the keeper.

That celebration is fun too.

In his brief six game run with the Texas Stars to end last season he registered three assists. This is one of them.

CaamanoAssist

There’s some playmaking ability in there on top of the ability to drive the net. At even strength this year he was really good. Using the numbers pulled together by prospect-stats.com we can see that he had the 10th most shots of any forward in the OHL at even strength.

Shots

(We’ll talk about number two later).

Of those shots, 45 were High Danger shots from in close. Only four forwards in the league attempted more at even strength. When you combine High Danger chances and Medium Danger chances Caamano shoots up to second in the league among forwards.

Shots2

(We’ll talk about number six later.)

The same holds true on the powerplay. Caamano finds ways to get to the net. The problem has been that he can’t score from distance. If he learns to use his playmaking ability more consistently he could be a valuable player going forward, but even as is if he can kill penalties, drive the net, play a responsible game, and occasionally score that’s a bottom six forward.

 

Antoine Roussel is a free agent looking for a raise from the two million he’s already making. Brett Ritchie is making close to two million for 14 points in a depth role. The Stars got 31 points out of the duo for close to four million. The Stars need depth scoring, but if someone like Caamano could step up to take one of their spots you’re probably getting similar production for less than half the price. All of the excess cash can then be funneled to a higher priced acquisition.

It’s entirely possible Caamano isn’t ready, but a year after the coaching staff seemingly fell in love with him it isn’t a stretch to think he could make the roster in a depth role out of camp if he has another strong showing.