5/20/18 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

An expansion team is going to the Stanley Cup Final. The flaming hot takes have been pretty funny which was to be expected if you could have possibly seen this coming.

I wish I was creative enough to see this coming because the schadenfreude is off the charts. I think once it was pointed out on Twitter that the twelve wins by the Vegas Golden Knights in one playoff run is more than the St Louis Blues have ever had in a single playoffs it hit me how funny this is.

I wrote that prior to the game and edited it to twelve afterwards. The Twitter reaction after the fact is even funnier. The revisionist history being thrown around is something to behold.

If I linked all the salty Tweets out there this would take all night. The number of people who genuinely believe Vegas drafted a stacked team is stunningly high.

William Karlsson had a 23.4% shooting percentage.

Marc-Andre Fleury had a .927 save percentage after a career .912 save percentage in his Pittsburgh Penguins career.

Erik Haula got power play time and scored with it after not getting any with the Minnesota Wild.

David Perron career’d at age 29 after not topping 50 points since 2014.

Dale Tallon inexplicably gave up Reilly Smith and Jon Marchessault.

James Neal had a normal James Neal season, and realistically could have been their best forward by a mile. He shouldn’t have even been in Vegas if the Nashville Predators had the good sense to trade him for anything rather than let him go for free.

Most of the salt is jealousy, but there will be many lessons taken from what Vegas has done when they inevitably walk to winning the Stanley Cup in the next two weeks. The most prevalent lesson going around Twitter now is that NHL General Managers are stupid. They aren’t, though some definitely are bad at their jobs (Tallon).

Two lessons that the Dallas Stars need to take away from this are to play fast (hello Jim Montgomery) and to trust the players you have identified as talented. This came into my timeline yesterday and stuck with me as I watched the Jets get eliminated earlier.

Too often the idea of developing players, employees, or anyone really is to punish for a mistake rather than emphasize the success. Flawed players only have their flaws pointed out so they work on becoming well-rounded players who fit into the traditional bottom six mold. They get discouraged from taking risks because they know if they take that risk and it fails they’re going to sit in the press box.

You can’t develop talent like that, at least not anymore. I mention teaching a lot, but I’ve seen it firsthand in my classroom. This year I’ve worked with kids who, outside of 16% of them, didn’t pass the 8th grade STAAR exam. Many of them have failed year after year. There are behavior issues, undiagnosed learning disorders, and kids who learned that if they shut up teachers will leave them alone. If I spent time focusing on what they couldn’t do instead of developing new skills we would never get anything done.

I can confidently say that 80% of my students can do actual Algebra now. I can also confidently say that 85% still can’t consistently solve problems with negatives, fractions, decimals, or lengthy word problems by hand. We adapt and work to their strengths to help them get what they need to graduate high school – to find success.

The kids are empowered to ask questions and find solutions. It builds confidence and lets them take ownership so they know it’s ok to take a risk by engaging in the class. If they screw up we learn from it as a group and keep moving. Being afraid to fail adds that extra pressure that doesn’t really help.

Vegas was in a prime position to not worry about that. No one expected them to do anything despite what some corners of Twitter will tell you. With no real expectations it’s easier to sell “make a mistake, it’s ok”, but NHL teams should take notice. Julius Honka, Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, and others like them deserve a shot to show that they really are as talented as the organization believes they are.

Charity Hockey Game to Benefit DPD Officers Wounded in Home Depot Shooting

Tomorrow the Dallas Police Department and Fort Worth Police Department will play a charity hockey game in honor of Rogelio Santander and his partner Crystal Almeida. Both officers were wounded at Home Depot in late April when a gunman opened fired on them as they attempted to arrest him for outstanding theft warrants. Office Santander passed away from his wounds.

This is a little last minute, but someone posted it on Reddit. I don’t know where I’ve been, but I haven’t seen anything about this. I assumed if I hadn’t seen it many of you hadn’t either.

Dallas Police Hockey tweeted out a bunch of information about the game. Tickets are 10 bucks at the door at 7:45 Saturday night at the Plano StarCenter.

The families of the victims will be represented at the game.

DPD will be wearing this decal donated by FastSigns during the game.

These pucks will be sold off for the benefit too.

Many of us have uneasy feelings about the police but then something like this happens and helps remind you that the overwhelming majority of them are just doing their jobs. Help them out if you can make it.

5/9/18 – Miro Heiskanen’s European Fancy Stats

I’ve been doing some digging to get ready for the upcoming NHL Draft. I would like to give as much information as I can reasonably find on each of the players I think would be reasonable targets for the Dallas Stars at the 13th pick so I’m diving deep.

Spoiler alert: very near the top of that list is Finnish forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi. His profile is coming soon. In looking him up I came across something I didn’t realize existed: fancy stats for Liiga, the top league in Finland. Also playing in Liiga is Stars uber prospect Miro Heiskanen. So natural curiosity made me look him up.

Simo Teperi appears to have put the stats together based off of the work of Micah Blake McCurdy. The full list of player cards can be found here. This is how Heiskanen looked last season.

Miro

Let’s look into it piece by piece starting with his scoring rates.

Scoring

We knew Heiskanen got first pairing ice time, but it really sticks out when the visual aspect is added. The fact that his even strength goal scoring and primary assists per hour each individually made him score at the rate of a first pairing defender is something I didn’t realize.

ShootingZone

His point totals could have been even better. Miro’s IFK teammates only shot 4% with him on the ice. Bump that up a little and the assists will be racked up quickly.

Impacts

IFK was solid at generating shots and goals without Heiskanen on the ice. They were dominant with him on the ice though. The goal for these charts is to be in the upper right hand corner as much as possible.

Finnish teams don’t score against him, but they allow goals. The heat map shows how that happens. Remember that Heiskanen plays on the left side. I marked the areas of the ice to take note of on the chart below.

HeatMap

Teams just don’t get shots against IFK with Miro on the ice. The only red that shows up is on the fringes of the left face off circle outside of the prime scoring area. The left wing probably bares more responsibility for that than Heiskanen anyway given how tidy the area in front of the net looks.

Heiskanen puts puck on the net too. In the offensive zone you see an abundance of red at the left point into the face off circle, but also in about the same area on the right. He’s so damn good.

Stats

The rate stats look stupid for an 18 year old playing against grown men. They would look great for anyone, but an 18 year old performing the way he did is simply unfair. This was an NHL talent playing in Europe, and he’s going to look so good in North America in just a few months.

CoastToCoast

The Olympics gif posts are here if you need an adrenaline boost this morning.

 

5/6/18 – Should You Flip Off a Racist or Lick Someone in the Face?

If you ever needed more proof that hockey has work to do with race, I submit Exhibits A & B for the record.

A black man in the OHL has been suspended for flipping off a group of people making racial comments towards him with no corresponding suspensions or punishment of any kind given to the other parties.

A “known pest” white man has licked two people without so much as a penalty, fine, or suspension in the NHL.

Unequal punishment isn’t only an NHL phenomenon. It happens everywhere. Earlier this month a report was released studying punishment in schools.

“The analysis shows that students of color suffer harsher discipline for lesser offenses than their white peers and that racial bias is a driver of discipline disparities,” [Rep Bobby} Scott [D-Va.] said in a statement.

So naturally when Givani Smith, younger brother of Dallas Stars forward Gemel Smith, flipped the bird to the Soo Greyhounds bench strangely ironic hell broke loose against him.

The incident sparked a series of racially charged comments on social media. Some called the Toronto native a “coward” and a “douche bag” while others stooped lower.

One man sent a photo of Smith to his personal Facebook account with “Hockey N—–” in the caption.

He also received a death threat.

“There were threats, physical threats after Game 6,” said Rangers general manager Mike McKenzie.

“Before we went up to the Soo there were racial things in his inbox on social media. It was pretty disgusting to see some of the stuff that he had to deal with.”

Things got so bad that the Rangers needed a police escort from the Soo airport to their hotel and from the hotel to the Essar Centre for Game 7. Smith watched the affair from the press box with a security guard posted at the door.

All because he flipped someone off. Sure, civility is important. We don’t need to be flipping people off, but this is absurd. None of these reactions are ever justified, and they look even the more ridiculous when they come in response to a common mildly vulgar gesture.

The sad thing is that this is an unfortunately common situation that black hockey players are forced to confront. Gemel talked about his own experiences in the OHL with Sean Shapiro last year.

“I’ve been through that stuff, even when playing in the OHL. To me I just block it out, none of it really bothers me. I think of it like just words, that stuff doesn’t effect me.”

And,

“Definitely happened more when I was younger and in the OHL, I think it was a maturity thing. The fact that it happens at that age is a good thing, it teaches guys how to cope,” Smith said. “I had some really high-end players say some stuff to me, I’m not going to say any names, and to be honest I just laugh now. None of it really bothers me.”

The fact that at least one black player thinks it’s “a good thing” that they experience racism at an early age in hockey so they learn “how to cope” with it is a telling indictment of where hockey and society still are racially. No one should have to put up with this nonsense anywhere, and sure as hell not at work.

I work at an urban school where 97% of the population is Black or Hispanic. On my first day of school six years ago I was very aware that most people didn’t look like me. I’ve never been treated the way Givani Smith was treated in this one instance, and presumably others, in my entire time there. This isn’t just a race issue. It’s a white society issue and it isn’t ok.

This is why actively working towards inclusion is important. From Sean’s story:

“My first triple-A team when I first started taking hockey serious, my coach was black and there were four other black players on my team. It kind of helped us kind of get through at first,” Smith said. “I know stuff like that is going to come up as long as I live, and the best thing to is don’t break. You can bend, but don’t break.”

I still can’t get over how much the kids in my building flocked to Black Panther. Representation matters.

Remember all of the little girls running around dressed like Wonder Woman? Representation matters.

Hockey can’t show representation the way Black Panther or Wonder Woman did yet because there simply aren’t enough black NHL players to do it on that scale. That’s also why inclusion is important. Every single story like this that happens and spreads limits the potential audience for the sport. How can you expect any of the 42 million black people in the US to feel comfortable coming to an arena seating 17.000 almost exclusively white people when these things keep happening?

This is why Hockey Is For Everyone month is important. It’s easy for members of the majority to say “oh, of course everyone is welcome” because they don’t see or feel the impacts of how much racism is so easily thrown around.

The NHL needs to take a more active role in including everyone.

The NHLPA needs to take a more active role in protecting their members. No union worth anything should ever let a member treat another member like Givani Smith was treated in the OHL.

NHL teams need to take a more active role in the arena to make sure this behavior isn’t tolerated from fans.

It’s 2018 and this garbage keeps happening. Enough is enough. A white man licking people in the face has faced less consequences than a black man justifiably responding with a non-violent gesture to racists. I can’t.

 

 

5/4/18: Monty Effect on NCAA Free Agents and Tanner Jaillet

The Dallas Stars have never been a major player with college free agents. You never really hear their name attached to any of the big ones, and until recently it never seemed like they were very active at all. How much of an impact does the signing of Jim Montgomery to be the Stars next coach have on that going forward?

Montgomery has led the University of Denver Pioneers to be one of the more respected programs in the NCAA since taking over in 2014. His players are starting to make a mark at the NHL level. Will Butcher in New Jersey, Danton Heinen in Boston, and soon Henrik Borgstrom and US Olympian Troy Terry will be in the NHL.

Gavin Bayreuther and now Tony Calderone have joined the Stars as NCAA free agents the past two seasons. If the Stars want to be even more active, having a resource like Montgomery available can only help. He gives them firsthand access to knowledge and sources to help them make more informed decisions about who to pursue.

On the other hand, if you’re a college free agent unsure about heading to a team in Dallas couldn’t seeing Montgomery in place help pacify your worries? He’s a big name in college hockey and surely could be a valuable recruiting chip.

Montgomery should also bring another perspective on the prospects the Stars currently have in the NCAA. This is part of the value of going outside the organization for some fresh blood. He should have some of his own views on players like Riley Tufte, Colton Point, Joe Cecconi, and Jake Oettinger as they try to break into the NHL very soon.

All of that alone is a worthwhile impact, but why not see if that influence can help improve the Stars organization now? Many college free agents are still unsigned. Among those is one of his former key players at Denver: goaltender Tanner Jaillet.

The four year starter at Denver has a career .925 save percentage. That’s pretty salty and has improved the last two years. He was named the 2017 Mike Richter Award recipient as the top goaltender in the NCAA.

Of course, he’s 5’10 so he’s going to get passed over. Why shouldn’t a franchise like the Stars give him a shot? They have Point and Oettinger coming, sure. They aren’t coming next year though. 24 year old Jalliet is going to have to work to be in a position to block either player, but if he made himself that useful is it really a bad thing?

Right now the Texas Stars need goaltending for next season. Landon Bow is the only goalie under contract for 2019. Outside of half of a season in the WHL and half of a season in the ECHL he’s just been ok. They’ll need an emergency NHL option, but why not take a swing at something more with someone who has had as much success as Jalliet in tandem with a veteran?

The beauty of that question is the Stars now have someone who can directly answer it. Getting more involved in the pursuit of college talent makes a ton of sense, and they are now uniquely situated to do it with an extra bounty of information thanks to the hiring of Montgomery.

 

5/3/18 – Process and Puck Posession of Jim Montgomery

Two things should always be kept in mind when it comes to the Dallas Stars.

You never have any reason to trust anything that comes out of Jim Nill’s mouth if it’s about potential moves, and you should never pay much attention to media amplified coachspeak.

Coachspeak is that generic string of words a coach lays out for media or other outsiders that doesn’t really tell anyone much of anything. It isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t enlighten discourse in any way. It isn’t intended to either because it isn’t for anyone outside of the locker room.

Coachspeak doesn’t even tell players much specifically. It’s a series of mantras intended to trigger memories of how a coach wants players to play or specific traits they need to remember to project outwardly. Every coach does it on every level. We call it “their message”.

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

You know, the good stuff.

Soon-to-be-named Stars Head Coach Jim Montgomery has his own mantras. We’ll surely get to know them well over time. One aspect of his program is his “process” that we’ve seen discussed often since the news of his imminent hiring started to leak. He detailed it for The Coaches Site.

Monty

Those seven items are…something.

If were four out of seven in a game, were probably going to win that game. And if weve got five or six, the games actually become lopsided in our favour. Like I said, its simple.

Number one, two, and four stick out quite a bit here because Montgomery has been billed as a possession-focused modern coach. His teams racked up the Corsis in the NCAA so a focus on hits and faceoffs and blocked shots seems surprising because of how relatively insignificant they are to winning hockey games.

I settled on these seven because they give the team a clear understanding of what to do when it comes to the small details of the game, and it will lead to big results.

Then it starts to make more sense.

Its about keeping things simple and boring, really. Simple and boring work well in sports. Through my playing career, I noticed that if I thought about simple things, small details about my game, I usually had really good games; when I worried about the big things like results, I played nervous and didnt play well.

Coming up with the process was a way for me to relate to my team about what will give us success. When were playing bigger games, we always come back to the process and it allows us to play consistently in the big moments when the pressure is on. We always say, were about the process because it keeps things simple.

…It helps with the mental component, toowhen moments get big, we talk about staying in the moment and focusing on our process. We should be focusing on our next shift, or the next face off. The simplicity of the process allows our players to mentally lock in.

Breathe out of your eyelids. Don’t think meat, pitch. This process he lays out is much more of a mental trick to help players focus. If you look at each of the seven they’re mostly vague and hard to measure outside of hits, odd man rushes, and the 60% faceoff goal.

So these are small things that help players focus on smaller aspects of the game, but what does the overall picture look like from his mind? Fortunately a video is floating around out there if you want to get a free trial or subscription to The Coaches Site. I did because I was curious after seeing that is was titled “Puck Possession”.

Ok, now we’re speaking language that sounds more like what I’ve seen in Denver video, and that reflects the numbers his teams put up.

The video is 31 minutes long. It contains a brief Q&A after 25 minutes of him speaking about the intricacies of how he coached Denver up. It includes slides stating the principles he follows offensively and in transition plus video clips of his team executing.

I pulled all of the slides and interesting quotes of his from throughout.

He started off with a bang.

If we feel like we possess the puck for 60% of the game we’re going to win at least 80 percent of our games.

And how does he envision doing that in general?
Slide1

What Montgomery did throughout this video is that missing piece that we don’t see as outsiders. He went into detail about how he teaches his team to get and maintain possession. That starts with a strict focus on skaters protecting the puck and winning puck battles.

He then spent time going over faceoffs, but we’re here for the sauce.

Slide3

Penetrating the dots is quite the #HockeyAfterDark way to say generating scoring chances.

And we must end up penetrating inside the dots. It’s great to possess the puck outside the dots, but if you’re not generating scoring chances then that’s the number one telltale sign for us when we do our analytics. We do scoring chances after the game, and we want to know how many we’re generating inside the house compared to our opponents. And usually if we have a big advantage there we win the game quite handily.

If you generate more scoring chances than your opponent you tend to win games. I’ll be damned. This was the first of many instances where Montgomery indicated how important it is to him to create meaningful offense.

Slide4

“If you can breakout through the middle you’re gonna have success.”

The keys to everything he wants his teams to do come from the blueline. It seems like the clear focus for him will be coming up through the middle instead of up the boards constantly like the Stars did under Ken Hitchcock.

We want to preferably break out through the middle because that’s where we feel you gain the most speed at the other team’s blueline.

And oh my sweet lord this quote:

We want players that want the puck, and you gotta demand the puck.

He then illustrated how this looks with several clips, but this one impressed me with how quickly his guys moved the puck.

Breakout 64.png

It’s about making a pass to get to the next layer, and get past the forwards to create odd man rushes and easy entries.

Easy entries? What a nice thing that would be to see.

Now we move to the neutral zone. Montgomery has already mentioned speed a couple times. He does here too.

If you can carry the puck in with speed into the opposition’s end, D-zone breakouts and neutral zone counters are the two that create the best scoring chances.

He has two neutral zone schemes he likes to follow. The first one he took directly from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Slide5.jpg

If you’re looking for more promising signs of his focus on offense, he shared his thoughts about how the forwards should be thinking in the neutral zone.

They have to have some creativity to read open ice and trust their offensive instincts.

The other scheme he calls Climb, but he took this one from the Los Angeles Kings.

Slide6

Taking cues from two of the best possession teams of the decade seems like a splendid idea. This scheme has all players below the blueline with the defenseman bringing the puck forward, or “climbing”.

You really have to teach your defensemen to be patient so you can expose and create open ice.

John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Miro Heiskanen. Inject all of that into my veins.

We haven’t even gotten into the offensive zone yet. When he finally really started talking about offense he began by referencing Wayne Gretzky.

Sure.

Slide7

For us, we call it the Gretzky cutbacks and delays. The best offensive mind ever, I think he introduced this. I think the Russians were doing it way before Gretzky introduced it to everybody, but I think you’re crazy if you don’t learn and teach what Gretzky did.

He went on to explain what the significance of the cutbacks and delays can be offensively.

The most important thing is when he pulls up or does a cutback, you don’t always have a play to make. When we talk about puck possession at Denver, if we can’t make a play we’re going to put the puck to the goal line. And we always have a middle lane drive that is going to the strong side post…Every defensive team is the most vulnerable when the puck is behind the goalie because all eyes and stick positioning and feet positioning are most vulnerable if you can create puck possession behind the net.

Once they get the puck behind the net the offense kicks in. Montgomery referenced being in a triangle down low, and moving the puck low to high frequently. If they move the puck from low to high then the defensemen are a critical part of the offense.

Slide9.jpg

The defensemen have to be involved to keep the puck moving and create mismatches. The Stars absolutely have the personnel to make this work.

So, that got longer than I expected. In short, I’ll let Montgomery sum up what he has going on.

“We feel that in this day and age to score goals, you have to empower everyone to do it.”

He has his “process”, but make no mistake this is about offense. Denver attacks the net and protects their own so naturally winning net battles will happen. I don’t know how they ever got 50 hits in a game honestly.

When he says that Denver would win four of those pieces of the process, 3-7 are almost certainly the most commonly won pieces, but even then they aren’t the ultimate goal of what Montgomery wants. He wants his teams playing offensive hockey, but he wants them to focus on details so they don’t get lost in the moment.

It probably isn’t worth worrying that he’s out of touch with modern hockey. He pretty clearly gets it, even if the note about hits is a little troubling.

“If you don’t have any questions it looks like we might be able to hit the beer earlier.”

Yeah, he’ll probably fit in here.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s stupid. Let’s calm down.

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.

 

 

3/21/18 – Answering a Mike Heika Chat Question for the Morning News

Answering reader chat questions seems like a beating, but weekly Mike Heika does it anyway. Then the Dallas Morning News overlords turn it into an article (blog post? entry?) to collect those #ValuablePageViews as fast as they crank out those blogger-in-a-basement memes. Inject it into my veins. That isn’t Heika’s fault, and it really has nothing to do with this story either other than the fact that I like to occasionally indiscriminately throw slugs.

Anyhow…in Heika’s chat today he was asked a question at or near the end that didn’t really get answered.

Zone Exits

I have no idea if the Dallas Stars do Question-Asker, though based on empirical evidence I could guess if they do it doesn’t matter, but I do know someone who does. Corey Sznajder does the yeoman work of tracking every single NHL game. One of the things he tracks are zone exits for each team.

(As an aside, I’m going to reference his work often. He does great work that is very valuable. The information is available for people who support his work to use in their own work, whatever that may be. I’ve sent my tiny donation monthly from very early on, and if you think his work helps you watch hockey through a more refined lens I would highly recommend that you chip in too. Go to his Patreon and give him money.)

As of this writing he has 25 Stars games tracked. He tracks so much more than just zone exits, but since that is the question being asked that’s all the information I’ll put out there in the sake of brevity.

Some definitions:

Touches: how often the player had an opportunity to exit the zone

Exits: how often the player exited the zone

Possession Exits: how often the team kept possession of the puck on the player’s exits

Exit%: the percent of times the team successfully exited the zone on the player’s touches

Possession Exit%: ditto, but for possession exits

Fail%: how often the team failed to exit on a player’s touches

Forwards

I sorted these charts by Possession Exit%. I’m also screening my words and thoughts here, intentionally refusing to interpret anything until later. I would point out where Gemel Smith, Remi Elie, Devin Shore, and Brett Ritchie are though.

FExits

We’ll deal with Martin Hanzal and Radek Faksa later. Just, let it go. I don’t think it’s really their fault.

Defensemen

This will mostly be presented without comment too other than “look at ya boy”.

DExits

Snark I can’t contain: now we know why Hitchcock loves Dillon Heatherington so much more than Julius Honka.

So, random Question-Asker. I hope that answers your question.

Admit it though, you thought I was going to hit that leadership bit about Jamie Benn. Don’t worry, dear reader. We’ll get there, but not now.

3/6/2018 – John Klingberg and Martin Hanzal: Penalty Killers Extraordinaire

Defense is the stronger form of waging war.

I imagine Carl von Clausewitz didn’t watch a lot of hockey. A great deal of the ideas he laid out in On War lend themselves to professional sports regardless. I think what I’m saying is Clausewitz would have appreciated the Neutral Zone Trap and Left-Wing Lock.

We look at penalty killing as this tenuous situation where collectively fans of any team hold their breath for (hopefully) two minutes until the team gets back to even strength. We do this despite the fact that penalty killing really is easy. The worst team in the league in 2017 still killed off three fourths of their opportunities.

Special teams are about living on the margins and picking up an extra goal here or there to separate teams from their competitors who are all, relatively, good at killing them off.

One of the bigger assumed improvements this season for the Dallas Stars is their ability to kill penalties. The Stars are 7th in the league in penalty killing success at 82.7% a year after finishing last with a stunningly low 73.9 percent. That number doesn’t tell us much other than telling us that the Stars have a better chance of killing off any specific penalty situation, but I wanted to know more about the penalty killing overall.

Let’s start with an overview of where they are using some data from Natural Stat Trick.

Overview

The Stars have successfully killed off 82.7% of their shorthanded opportunities according to the archaic way the league tracks the data. Special teams data is tracked based on opportunities. A shot from the point that finds the back of the net within ten seconds is the same as killing off 1:59 of a minor penalty before allowing a goal. During a five minute major a team on the power play can score numerous times and throw the entire system out of balance.

Attempts and chances allowed expressed as a rate in terms of time shorthanded gives you a much better idea of who can do it well.

On a 60 minute basis the Stars are top ten in all shot and goal-related categories. They’re just shorthanded so much that they still give up goals in spite of the improved penalty killing capabilities. The problem for the Stars is how often they are on the penalty kill. Only the Anaheim Ducks have more time shorthanded in 2018.

 

The Defense

This group looks markedly different from 2017. Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Johnny Oduya are out. John Klingberg, Marc Methot, and Greg Pateryn are in.

PKD

What stands out?

  • I know you see who number one is.
  • Greg Pateryn hasn’t been very successful.
  • Jamie Oleksiak was a pretty good penalty killer which makes sense. He didn’t have to move anywhere and could fill space with his 18 foot long stick.
  • The Stars most frequently used duo are their least successful. It would be nice to see more Klingberg/Lindell and Johns/Methot on the kill.
  • RIP Johnny Oduya.

League-wide Klingberg comes in 7th. Lindell (21), Oleksiak (24), Methot (29), and Johns (40) look pretty good too.

The Forwards

The forward group is quite a bit different in 2018 compared to 2017. The Stars have eight penalty killers who have taken over 50 minutes of penalty killing time this year. Seven took more than 30 minutes in 2017.

We can read into that many ways. One of those is that they simply take too many penalties so more guys are involved, but the group is quite a bit different. Adam Cracknell, Lauri Korpikoski, Cody Eakin, and Curtis McKenzie are out. Martin Hanzal, Mattias Janmark, Devin Shore, Tyler Seguin, and Tyler Pitlick are in.

PKF

If we only look at the defensive side of things several points stick out.

  • Hanzal is really good.
  • The Stars missed Janmark badly last season.
  • Antoine Roussel’s improvement deserves a medal.
  • Maybe less Tyler Pitlick and Seguin. Seguin isn’t killing them by any means, but if they have better options why not go with them? When Hanzal returns less Seguin would be the ideal change.

I included a league wide chart of forwards with 30 or more minutes of powerplay time sorted by Corsi Against per hour. These are the 30 top forwards in the NHL:

PKFl

(I’m not redoing that image just because Alexander Wennberg’s name is irresponsibly long.)

Janmark and Hanzal show well. Shore (58) and Faksa (85) look solid too.

Yeah, that’s Roussel at the top spot in the league.

 

Martin Hanzal

I think people do Hanzal a disservice by focusing on his faceoff ability. The offense largely isn’t there with him, but he does a lot of things really well. One of those things is taking faceoffs. It’s probably the least significant bullet point in his favor.

The more I think about Hanzal the more I truly believe he’s the rare guy who can go do just about anything a coach tells him to defensively. He isn’t skating like Connor McDavid or shooting like Seguin no matter how much coaching he gets. The defensive thought process and hockey IQ to get the play moving the other direction safely are off the charts though.

He needs to stay healthy, and it isn’t his fault the coaching staff keeps making him the net front guy on the powerplay. Hanzal clearly brings something good to the club. I’m still not sure if I would have signed him to that contract though I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as I used to.

Antoine Roussel

Roussel has been bumped down several pegs in the pecking order on the penalty kill, but with him on the ice the Stars have cut their shot attempts against in half. HALF. That’s absolutely absurd.

At times Roussel does some incredibly stupid things. You can’t entirely trust him to be on the penalty kill because he runs the risk of putting you down two men by taking a silly penalty. At some point you want guys like this who can play to realize they can play without all the silly sideshows. Roussel is an NHL player, a good one, and some of this silly antagonistic crap holds him back.

He’s second on the team with 24 minor penalties (behind Radulov), but he has somehow drawn 30 calls. He’s bringing in more than he takes. Imagine if more of the silly penalties he takes for no reason that get stuck in your mind are minimized even more.

John Klingberg

This is the obligatory space where I point out that Klingberg is good everywhere. Hitchcock is trusting him to play on the penalty kill. Given his effectiveness he should get more ice time and probably replace Pateryn.

The central argument put out there against Klingberg’s candidacy for the Norris Trophy is his limited penalty killing time. Well, he’s out there. When he’s out there he’s among the best in the league at limiting shot attempts.

What’s the next excuse that needs to get swatted away? It will be borderline criminal if he isn’t a finalist at a minimum.

The Stars are already a legitimate Stanley Cup contender despite their place in the standings. Some tweaks on the fringes seem likely to make this team perform a bit better. Penalty killing as a whole is much better. If they can do it less frequently and emphasize the guys who have been the most successful at doing it they could squeeze some more out of the unit.

Hey, click these:

3/4/2018 – Optimizing the Defense of the Dallas Stars Using Player Type Data
3/2/18 – Optimizing the Dallas Stars Lineup Using Player Type Data
2/26/18 – Kick The Window Open
The Dallas Stars Need to Trade for Max Pacioretty, and Here’s Why
2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s