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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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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3/20/18 – 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.

2/26/18 – Kick The Window Open

Christmas is here for those of you who like receiving dirty Denny’s plates wrapped in slightly yellowing Dallas Morning News pages from 1996. The NHL Trade Deadline is here on this dreary Monday. It’s the last chance for most people to crank out their 500 word hit pieces detailing any potential trade involving the Toronto Maple Leafs whether real or a figment of the imagination an adult living in their mother’s basement.

I officially feel like a member of the mainstream media now.

The Dallas Stars seem unlikely to do anything with the moratorium rapidly approaching. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Will Jim Nill be fired if they don’t do anything and fail? Will he be fired if they do something and fail? Will be he fired if they get through two rounds and fail? Is the meaning of life written in barely legible sharpie on the back of a bathroom door of a dirty Texaco on 45 in the-middle-of-nowhere-Texas?

Who knows the answers to any of these questions? Twitter and comment sections of various websites will tell you they do in many colorful ways. It seems like these scenarios always evoke the same predictable responses from people. I’m no different. I just used to have a platform to yell from and marginally still do.

I was a spoiled hardish-luck 14 year old when the Stars won the Stanley Cup. In the 18 years since…let me stop this sentence right there. 18 years. I have a student in my class who was born in 2003. Two-thousand-and-three. I have former students graduating from high school who, had they cared, wouldn’t have witnessed a Texas Stanley Cup.

When you’re younger I think you focus on prospects and the hope of the future and wanting the franchise to bide their time until the Right Move presents itself. The attachment can be so strong that you live and die with what they have going on to the point that you feel like you’re part of it.

32 year old me doesn’t receive a paycheck from the Stars. I have two months to get my students ready for the Algebra STAAR exam so they can graduate high school in three years. 32 year old me has hockey as an escape from the realities of real life because real life, often, sucks.

I want to see good fun hockey played by good players that leads to winning games and ultimately another Stanley Cup. When a window is there I want to see the team I follow gun it and go for it as long as it doesn’t hurt the current roster.

When Sean proposed this question I didn’t even have to think about it. Miro Heiskanen is a non-starter, but nothing else on that list makes me bat an eye. I’m as big of a Julius Honka fan as you will find. Roope Hintz will make Martin Hanzal more likely to be out the door I presume. Jason Dickinson could provide value now and in the future. I want to see the Stars pick up a big piece that is ready right now to help lead thing team to success.

You have to give pieces up to get something good. Remind me what the Stars gave up to acquire Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. Most people will have to look it up outside of Loui Eriksson. These deals have a higher likelihood of looking ugly when you aim low.  Trading for half a season of Kris Russell is more likely to look bad than picking up a star like Seguin or Spezza.

A player like Max Pacioretty fits the bill. Modern Bobby Orr Erik Karlsson does it too, obviously to a larger extent for a higher price. Most deadline acquisitions fit needs, but they don’t really move the needle. Move the needle today and go for a championship. If it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out, but personally I would rather know I gave Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin a hell of a chance to win the next two seasons than to look back in three years as they’re in or nearing their decline wondering “what if”.

Hey, click these:

The Dallas Stars Need to Trade for Max Pacioretty, and Here’s Why
2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s
2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop
2/20/18 – Heiskanen Scored a Goal
2/18/18 – Trader’s Village and Trade Deadlines

2/18/18 – Trader’s Village and Trade Deadlines

I like going to the Trader’s Village occasionally. I know what I’m getting into when I go, but when I go I end up looking at the vinyl record stalls. The Trader’s Village in Houston has two record stalls I remember.

One is air conditioned (a detail worth reporting about a flea market) with a wide selection of new and old records plus t-shirts, posters, and other things I don’t really need. I once saw a newer pressing of Hotel California for sale for 70 dollars.
Hotel California

The other one smells like the dusty and slightly mildew-y home of a 70 year old hoarder with no surviving relatives and like 20 cats. It’s fowl. I start coughing within ten minutes if I don’t find what I’m looking for quickly despite there being no stall door and the stall being the dimensions of a cheap apartment garage. I had to tie the last record I bought there to the roof of the car on the way home to get the stench out.

When I went there last time I found a five dollar original pressing of Master of Reality by Black Sabbath. I immediately went to test it on his record player only to hear the unmistakable sound of a warped beyond repair record. The owner flung the record to the back of the stall, said “well, fuck it”, and put the record sleeve on the wall as a display.

You have to simultaneously watch your back against getting ripped off and check your merchandise if the deal looks too good out there. Logic gets stripped away and the person with the currency to spend has to be very careful or they head to their car more pissed off than even the average Trader’s Village customer which, again, is saying something.

The beauty is that everything is for sale for a price and both proprietors will look you in the eye with a smile while they reach for your wallet to Help You Out.

I’m not saying Pierre Dorion, Marc Bergevin, Peter Chiarelli, Jason Botterill, or Jeff Gorton fit the stereotypes of either business owner, but I’m not saying they don’t either. The Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers (haha), Buffalo Sabres, and New York Rangers all appear to be open for business on some of their top guys with a week to go until the NHL Trade Deadline.

The first three are marks if you want to make a trade they will eventually regret, but I don’t have much of a read on Gorton or Botterill.

Mike Hoffman of the Senators, Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens, Evander Kane of the Sabres, and both Rick Nash and Michael Grabner of the Rangers names are out there and have been connected to the Stars.

Deadline

Grabner is a name Mike Heika floated. He makes sense because of how little money he’s owed, but that shooting percentage and lack of shots seems like a dangerous combo to bank on in a trade. To paraphrase a famous man who once looked incredibly silly: do the things he does well lead to a high shooting percentage? He’s shooting 17.4% over the last two years and gets buried in Corsi and expected goals. Just play Jason Dickinson.

Rick Nash and Evander Kane are fine players. The prices seem to be exorbitantly high for two guys who are about to waltz into free agency. They could help for sure, but the cost becomes unreasonable quickly. Reportedly the Rangers are asking for the moon in return for Nash, and the Sabres have been asking for comparable for Kane. Neither guy moves the needle enough for a team that is already good like the Stars to be reasonably expected to pay up at the current high rates.

Mike Hoffman comes with a second year of control at a reasonable salary. He has a good shot and plays for a mediocre Senators squad. He’s been putting points on the board, but the underlying numbers aren’t great. You’d be banking on his skill set playing up with the Stars, which isn’t a bad gamble.

The problem with Hoffman is the Colorado Avalanche. I guess Pierre Dorion or Eugene Melnyk are the real problems, but now the Avalanche come into the fold. They own the Senators first round pick after the incredibly short-sighted Matt Duchene acquisition. If you’re the Stars and you pick up Hoffman you’re increasing the odds of the Avalanche moving up higher in the lottery to get an even better prospect.

If there are other trade options this has to play a little bit into your thinking. Then again, maybe it doesn’t because you figure someone is going to try to acquire him regardless. At the very least it’s an interesting wrinkle for the Stars.

This entire path really only leads you to Max Pacioretty. I’m not entirely sure why Montreal would trade him, but I also have no idea why they traded P.K. Subban. He’s the best player on this list. He’s the most productive in counting stats over the last two years and has easily the best underlying numbers. The contract is just icing on the cake.

If you’re the Stars Pacioretty is easily the best option without the context of price considered. With his salary and age you almost don’t even worry about the cost unless it’s just stupid high. As much as I love Julius Honka, I don’t bat an eye at including him in a deal for Pacioretty with the increasingly imminent debut of Miro Heiskanen on the horizon. Jason Dickinson becomes available since Pacioretty soaks up more of those minutes.

I’ve advocated for going for This Thing for two years now. You don’t have many more years to just floor it with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin at their peaks. Nill went for it this offseason. Add American Hero Pacioretty to this already dangerous lineup and the Stars are one of the Stanley Cup favorites this year and next year.

Hey, click these:

2/18/18 – Sundays With Miro, Game 3
2/17/18 – Another Night With Miro Heiskanen
2/16/18 – Jeep’s Blues
2/14/18 – An Evening With Miro Heiskanen, Day 1
2/13/18 – Quote or Content: What Drives a Story?