The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: A Hockey Franchise in Dangerous Denial

The_Atlantic

I’m pissed. Let’s do this.

It’s tough to know where to even start with this one. This may get long.

I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Dallas Stars ever since their arrival in Texas back in 1993, and I’ve covered the NHL and the Stars in some form or fashion for the better part of the last decade. In all those years I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like team CEO Jim Lites’ profanity-laced, on-the-record tirade directly pointedly at the team’s two superstar players. It was a bizarre moment not just in hockey but in all of sports, leaving many questioning not only the tone but the message itself.

What they hell were they thinking?

It’s clear that there is an incredible amount of frustration within the Dallas Stars organization, and perhaps tension between the hockey ops and the business side. One side feels it’s held up it’s end of the bargain while the other is failing to deliver on expensive promises.

Lites was the first person hired by Gaglardi, brought on to steer the franchise out of bankruptcy and to restore the revenue-generating enterprises that helped make the Stars so big in Dallas twenty years ago.

He definitely had an impact, as the season-ticket holder base increased, the Stars unveiled a very successful new logo and color scheme, and the Stars have worked once more to increase their business footprint in the market and expand on opportunities around the AAC. Yet what also made the Stars so successful as an organization back in the heyday of the late 90’s and early 2000’s has less to do with Lites’ business acumen and almost everything to do with one thing – the Dallas Stars were one of the most successful teams in the NHL from 1993 to 2005.

The Stars won – a lot – and they did so with star power in Modano, Nieuwendyk, Hull, Hatcher, Belfour, Turco, Morrow, etc, etc. For a while there, the perfect storm brewed to put hockey fever in Texas.

For a hockey team in Dallas – a hotbed of football where the rise of the baseball and basketball teams coincided with the Stars’ demise – the only way to rise out of the shadows was simple. Just win. Make the postseason on a regular basis, win a playoff series every now and then and at least flirt with making it to the Stanley Cup.

Gaglardi and Lites understood this. They hired Jim Nill and brought in an expensive veteran coach, and Gaglardi instantly showed the willingness to open up the checkbook and spend to the cap. And for a few years there it seemed to work. The Stars were one of the highest-scoring and most exciting teams in hockey. They made it to the playoffs in 2 of three seasons. Won a division title. It all seemed to be going rather well.

Until it wasn’t. Until the seams in how the team was built started to show, until years of bad drafting and poor prospect development caught up to them. Until the inability to find a reliable backup goaltending fried Kari Lehtonen. Until the Stars seemingly shied away from the style of hockey that earned them so many wins, so many new fans and so much attention from around the NHL.

Jim Nill was handed an organization light on top-end prospects and with only Jamie Benn and an unknown John Klingberg to really build around. He was aggressive early on – trading for Seguin and Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp and hitting early on a key veteran pickup like Patrick Eaves. His teams were built around veterans that complimented a young core but as those veterans left, or retired, or were too injured – more and more never quite lived up to the what the team so obviously needed and what the hype promised

So now we’re in the present, with the Stars on their third head coach in three seasons and once again fighting for a playoff position while battling through key injuries, underperforming (or absent) veterans and a team that’s devoid of offensive skill at forward outside of the top line.

The team is scratching and clawing and surviving, and while frustrating at times it’s clear that Jim Montgomery is coaching with all he’s got in his first NHL season, that the team is inconsistent but considering the injuries — the Stars have gone through 12 defensemen this season! — that, honestly, fighting for a wild card spot is actually a pretty good place to be in.

There’s room for improvement. Benn and Seguin aren’t exactly scoring like we’re used to, but it’s clear a key addition on the second line could really help balance the forwards and if the defense is actually healthy the Stars could maybe – perhaps – be a playoff team in April.

But, see, that’s not good enough. No sir. The time of excuses is over.

The Stars have one of the highest payrolls in the NHL, are right up against the cap and next season will be paying their two superstars a combined $26 million in salary. So for the owner to look up, see those two players not even in the top 50 in scoring and his team again fighting for a playoff spot, it’s understandable he’s going to be upset. He wants results for the investment he’s made.

Gaglardi is a passionate hockey fan. He’s a passionate owner with money to spend on his team. Those two have not coincided well the past few years as it’s become clear Gaglardi has started to get a bit too involved with a few questionable directives – with Lites becoming the apparent fall guy for this latest outburst.

Hire Hitchcock – get the defense fixed.

Get Benn and Seguin’s ass back in line, now.

At this point it’s clear that Lites was not acting alone, launching into some rogue ranting at the nearest reporter with a microphone. Instead this was calculated, supported by the owner Tom Gaglardi himself, with the apparent intention of lighting a fire under the butts of their top paid players in the middle of another rather frustrating season. The language was brash, the tone was insanely harsh, and it was wholly unprofessional on so many levels it’s hard to even put into words.

There are invariably some out there (and I’ve definitely heard from them) that believe this rant was needed, that Benn and Seguin aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain and it was about time someone yelled at the Spoiled Millionaire Millennials who so obviously weren’t putting in the effort needed and were being content with playing through their newly minted contracts and not much more.

“THEY’RE JUST LAZY!” cries the older generation at the younger. It’s a tale as old as time – especially now that the cultural divide between those 55+ and those under 30 gets wider and wider.

Frankly, Lites comes across as nothing more than the front office personification of that most annoying commenter on any fan site, or that guy constantly yelling “shoot!” from the upper bowl every single time a player has the puck in the offensive zone. It screams of using a sledgehammer to put a thumbtack in a wall, and reeks of a nasty notion that has been building regarding this hockey franchise the past few years:

The Dallas Stars are lost in mediocrity, and are in denial of not just how they got there – but how to get out of the mess they created.

Story time.

Before Lindy Ruff and Tyler Seguin arrived to set the Dallas hockey world on fire, the Stars were in trouble. The team had just come out of a bankruptcy, they had a new owner but the team just wasn’t that good. Fan interest in Dallas had waned considerably, and the Stars roster was just a bit of a mess.

There also wasn’t much local coverage. There was Mike Heika at the DMN, one radio show that regularly acknowledged the team, some team writers, Mark Stepneski and us folks at Defending Big D. I won’t lie, we took advantage of the sparse coverage and did our best to fill a gaping hole in advanced coverage of the Stars. We were good friends with the regular beat writers, we earned press credentials and a permanent spot in the press box, and we built a very strong readership.

We were also brutally honest.

Twice I was pulled aside by players imploring us for some more positive coverage, that they were trying hard to build the fanbase again but it’s tough with so critical coverage.

Several times I was contacted directly by Jim Lites’ office regarding articles we’d written, critical of not just the on-ice coverage but also our coverage of other questionable aspects of the Stars organization (anyone remember the Ice Girls lake day video?)

It’s a tough spot to be in. We had earned credentials and valued our access as an independent blog, and were careful not to rock the boat too much at times. It was clear though that the team was a bit sensitive to overly critical coverage in a market where they were struggling to get recognized along with the big boys.

So that’s why Jim Lites’ comments just ring so hollow, and why they came across as so cheap and personal. Lites lambasted the local media (the bloggers!) for not being hard enough on Benn and Seguin, while coming down too much and writing too many negative articles about Shore or Ritchie or Nichushkin. Where was the outrage? This would never happen in a real hockey market like Montreal or Boston or New York, he claims. So if the media won’t destroy the two best players on the Dallas Stars who are actually one of the very few contributing positively to the team this season, then by damn Jim Lites is up to the task.

I’ve heard this a lot the past week:

“Look, I don’t agree with the language or the tone. But don’t you agree this was needed in a way, that something needed to be said about Benn and Seguin?”

This is where this whole debacle really and truly falls apart.

See, no one is denying that Benn and Seguin are having a down year compared to past seasons. There’s no one that hasn’t acknowledged that the rest of the big NHL scorers have picked up the pace, while they have regressed in point production.

The issue is with the underlying message that Lites apparently really needed to send: This would all be just fine if only those two were scoring more. It was right there in his comments. In what the owner had to say in his follow ups – that this is “the most talented” and the “deepest” team since Gaglardi purchased the Stars.

It’s laughable. And it shows that at least publicly, this is a front office and management that has no intention of truly owning their own mistakes and shortcomings that also led to this point – and instead has chosen to lay it all on the only two forwards actually dragging this thing along on a night to night basis.

Lites and management want absolutely brutal honesty when it comes it their two star players – players who are unable to even come close to firing back and responding with the same level of animosity and vitriol that was directed towards them. Players who are now put in an impossible position and must appear as absolute professionals, and who so far have handled this situation far, far better than the older gentlemen that sign their paychecks.

What they don’t want is brutal honesty when it comes to their own decisions, their own mismanagement of this team over years. Like I said, I’ve had a few interesting phone calls over opinion pieces I’ve written. Bob Sturm mentioned this week upper management with the Stars contacted him privately, upset about his reaction on Twitter and how he should be supporting the hockey team.

It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Stars get to drag Seguin and Benn through the mud yet lash out at any criticism directed toward the decision makers.

Well – I can tell you this. Their actions have probably had the exact opposite effect of what was intended.

Almost immediately every hockey analyst around the web jumped to check the actual numbers behind what was going on with this team this season. Surprise – it turns out the Stars aren’t nearly as deep as they think they are and in fact, Benn and Seguin are not only the two best forwards on the team but they’re the best by a mile in almost every category.

If anyone with the Stars wants to send the message of “if only Benn and Seguin were scoring more then we’d be fine” then they are nothing but delusional about the reality of the current roster and the issues leading to its construction.

Let’s break it down. You want to hear some critical, no punches pulled analysis? Let’s do it.

Benn isn’t scoring as his usual pace.

Well, sort of.

It’s true that Benn isn’t shooting as much and he’s shooting from much closer to the net than he used to. It’s also true that it’s clear he isn’t as capable of extended dominant play like he used to.

Perhaps he’s just not trying as hard as he used to, now that he’s getting paid.

It’s one of the oldest cliches in pro sports: athlete does their best in a contract year, scores a huge payday and then doesn’t put up the same numbers that won him that contract, leading everyone to believe they’re just cashing a paycheck without the will to compete like they once had.

Nevermind that those huge contracts are won based on past performances, and generally are earned near the end of a player’s prime (or at least right in the midst of) meaning a natural dropoff in production due to age coincides with the years they just so happen to be getting paid the most.

Which is exactly what has happened with Jamie Benn.

Benn has missed just 13 games the past seven season combined, and has played in every single game four of the past five seasons. He’s one of the last few true power forwards, combining a punishing physicality with deft puck skills and brute force. That takes a toll over time, and Benn has dealt with several injuries over the years and is now approaching 30.

I don’t know what the Stars expected, but there’s going to be a bit of a dropoff over time. I know there’s concern that perhaps the raw emotion isn’t there as much as it used to be – but let’s not begin to pretend that we can just lay it all at his feet.

Yes, we wonder where Beast Mode has gone. Perhaps making Benn angry is what they wanted, to get him pissed off and taking it out on the opposition. Perhaps this was intended to get the team to galvanize around him.

By all accounts Benn is as much of an upstanding citizen as you could want from your young superstar. There’s never been any hint of an off-ice issue, and he’s the face of the franchise. He’s given everything he has to the team the past ten seasons, when he was pretty much the only reason to even watch the team at times and why there were even competitive – and the moment things start to regress even a little bit we just rake him over the coals in a public flogging?

“Well, the rest of the team follows his lead! As captain it’s his job to motivate his teammates to play better around him!”

Actually….no. That’s the coach’s job. The captain in hockey is way overblown by fans and by media to some extent, but you can’t put an entire hockey team’s performance – especially when he’s only on the ice for 1/3 of the game – on the shoulders of one singular player.

Which brings us to…

The Stars have a massive issue with scoring depth on the NHL roster and in the system.

This has been building for a while, and this is why this whole narrative of “if only they were playing better” sounds so damn idiotic.

The Stars had good depth for a while there. Then players got older, and left. Nill tried and failed to find cheaper veterans to plug those holes or overpaid the wrong veterans to fill others. Cody Eakin was replaced with Martin Hanzal; we know how that’s turning out.

In the middle of last season, with the Stars all the way up to the 3rd in the conference, it was clear that the Stars needed help with scoring depth. Instead the team started to struggle and Jim Nill chose to do nothing at the trade deadline, and the Stars suffered one of the worst regular season collapses in Dallas sports history.

Then Nill shot for the moon with Tavares and Karlsson over the summer, but apparently had not much of a backup plan or intention at truly chasing other names that could really help the team. It was frustrating as hell to keep hearing about these insane attempts at getting the very best in the NHL, yet hear almost nothing about adding anything else of substance.

Well, the Stars added Blake Comeau. That was something. It was like all of their energy was in making these huge splash moves, but no energy for anything else.

Perhaps those ventures were also being pushed by ownership.

After all, knowing what we know now, having one of those two names on board sure would make selling the Winter Classic in Dallas that much easier. Right?

But why such an issue with depth, aside from some questionable free agency signings?

Jim Nill has become too conservative.

First off – kudos for not trading Miro Heiskanen.

Yet suddenly Nill has grown afraid to part with prospects or draft picks, holding on to these assets as if they were absolutely vital to the future of the franchise. Since 2016, Nill’s only significant trades are for Marc Methot and maybe the trade for Reece Scarlett. The Stars GM will mention how valuable draft pick assets are and how important it is that teams build from within.

Maybe it has to do with now these are his prospects that he’s drafted, and he’s not playing with inherited assets. Perhaps it’s a few too acquisitions not quite working out as intended, and perhaps it’s suddenly being too concerned with taking a big risk despite the high reward.

And he’s right – the teams that have the most depth in the NHL and are consistently successful are those that find players to stack their roster with through the draft. So he wants to be sure to hold on to those assets, to not part with those 1st or 2nd round picks because by darn – they are valuable to the future of a franchise.

Except…

The Stars are way too conservative with prospects and are paying the price for some really poor drafting the past ten years.

Remember that aversion to high risk? That apparently applies to the NHL draft.

The Stars for the most seem to have been following the same script for drafting for the past 15 years, with some rare exceptions sprinkled throughout. Go for high-character players, that can play good two-way hockey that may not have the highest ceiling but definitely have very safe floors.

And if that prospect is really, really big – even better. Get a lot of really, really big and raw hockey players as the risk to take because if they do get some skill – hot dang if they won’t be big and tall as hell.

Imagine how different this whole conversation would be if the Stars had just grabbed Barzal instead of Gurianov. If they had grabbed Tolvanen instead of Oettinger. Veleno or Farabee instead of Dellandrea. Or if they took any sort of chance on raw offensive talent on a player that might not fit their ideal size, but puts up a lot of numbers.

In fact, outside of Jason Robertson the Stars really have not picked any prospects the past ten years that absolutely blew anyone away with stats.

The Stars aren’t adapting to a changing NHL.

The Stars seem to be stuck drafting players for 1997, when the rest of the NHL – at least many teams that seem to want to be really exciting and successful – is embracing the speed and increased skill and scoring of the young players taking the league by storm.

Instead the Stars decide the destroy their two best players for not keeping up. “Why are you so low in scoring!?!?!?”

Well, yes – they’ve regressed a bit. A bit.

The rest of the NHL is just scoring that much more. Is that Seguin and Benn’s fault? Is it their fault the rest of the team can’t score consistently?

The Stars have grown stale in management and front office.

I’m so happy the Stars have Jim Montgomery and a new young coaching staff.

I’m so sad the Stars have basically not changed anything else about hockey operations during all this time.

…and I don’t have the energy for this exercise any longer.

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Here’s the reality – none of these involve easy fixes. The rest of the NHL is moving on to faster, younger, more skilled – the Stars are so lucky they won the draft lottery and were basically forced to draft Miro Heiskanen. Otherwise the prospect pool outside Jason Robertson isn’t really offering much in the way of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe Nill has some trading tricks up his sleeve. Perhaps the Stars do use this as a jumping off point to come together as a team and start to improve and get into the playoffs and maybe shock a team in the first round.

Perhaps they would have done that anyway without the public shaming – what with Klingberg returning and a rookie head coach adjusting and adapting as the season moves on.

Whatever the case – the long term prognosis of this franchise is starting to look rather worrisome. We’ve been saying that for a while now, the alarms slowly getting louder and louder but see – the Stars don’t want to hear that sort of criticism.

This is exhausting.

Here’s the cold hard truth that all of this rambling boils down to: the long and short term issues with the Dallas Stars have to do with so much more than Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin that’s it’s absolute insanity to even try and suggest otherwise.

That it was the owner and the team’s CEO, who — without even talking to the players personally – decided to adorn the Dallas Stars franchise with the “fucking horseshit” moniker from now until the internet dies, makes it just infuriating.

It’s bizarre. It shows a franchise with a very real issue with self-assessment and an organization that is abhorrent to any criticism but apparently wants the media to burn their two best players at the stake daily until morale improves on and off the ice.

It’s infuriating. It’s embarrassing.

I hate that this is why the Stars are being talked about, and I hate how this was apparently consciously timed with the announcement of the Winter Classic. I don’t know what they were thinking with that timing – or if they were even thinking at all in that regard – but it only adds to the bafflement over what this was all supposed to accomplish.

The Stars were already on the upswing when this happened. Seguin will start scoring more. Benn is who he is at this point.

Take a look at the collective mirror and admit your own mistakes first. Address those – do all you absolutely can, without question, to build a winning hockey team. Then perhaps you have the capital to go after your most-loved players.

“Fucking horseshit.”

It’s sad. It’s shameful.

I hope I never have to write anything even close to resembling this again.

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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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3/27/18 – Should Marc Methot be in Over Julius Honka?

I didn’t intend to make this about Julius Honka, but somehow things always seem to be about him. I suppose that happens when your team has a bad record, you have consistently good numbers, and you can’t get in the lineup.

This is really more about Marc Methot. When he came back from his extended injury absence he re-entered the lineup in place of Honka. Honka and Stephen Johns had been going pretty well in his absence.

 

Derek brought this question up and it did get me thinking more about Methot. He got injured on January 6th. He came back on February 16th. In that span with him out of the lineup the Stars went 10-4-1. Since that time they are 3-11-2.

There is zero chance Methot is solely to blame for the dramatic swing, but the question of his impact on Johns made me curious what kind of impact he does have on the defense pairs.

I pulled the defense pair stats from Corsica and did 10 seconds of Excel Magic to pull up their expected goal rates per hour to see which pairs had been the most effective at maximizing potential goals for and limiting potential goals against at even strength for the full season.

DPairs

The top two pairs have barely been on the ice together so we’ll crown Esa Lindell and John Klingberg as the Stars best defense pairing. Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn have been really good too, with most of their value coming in the defensive end. We’ve seen that Pateryn does have some offensive value, so I do wonder if this pair could do better if Pateryn was allowed to be slightly more active.

The third most effective pairing has the duo of Julius Honka and Stephen Johns, which goes to the question Derek put out there. Methot has actually been a member of the two three least effective pairs the Stars have run. (And Jesus, Johns has had six different partners).

Is there a reason he is in the lineup over Honka? He isn’t one of the Stars top penalty killers so his value is going to have to come at even strength, and it’s pretty obvious the value is less than what Honka brings.

Does he give you a better chance of winning? I don’t think so, but does it really matter? They’re effectively out of the playoffs. I think Honka gives you a better chance of winning so #TeamTank might prefer Methot, but in the interest of next season you really need Honka to play the rest of the stretch unless you feel like you already know what he is.

Does Hitchcock even feel there is an issue? Methot is doing exactly what is being asked of him so asking Hitchcock to bench him seems like an unreasonable proposition. Why would he scratch a guy doing the job asked of him without an order from up high to get Honka more ice time? I don’t see it.

If the Stars did truly want to see Honka over Methot, they at least have to consider his trade value. He has five million dollars coming to him. Determining that Honka needs to play over him is a tacit admission that he’s the Stars 7th defenseman….making five million dollars. They gave up a 2nd round pick for him, and almost certainly aren’t recovering a pick that high in return for him. Would benching him over Honka the last two weeks hurt his value more?

tl;dr #FreeHonka

3/26/18 – The Stars Need a Collective Hug

The Dallas Stars have a media scrum after every game. Every team does. Players get to bask in the glory of wins in front of the media and feel like they’re in a firing squad after a loss. Imagine doing that after eight losses in a row and spiraling right out of the playoffs. No thanks.

I saw the John Klingberg portion on the post game show. The Stars send the quotes out after the game. This is the transcription, but the words don’t do what he said justice.

On difficult result and how it’s changed so quickly over last few weeks:

I don’t know. We don’t deserve to win right now. Like Meth [Methot] said, we were doing all the right things before games, coaches give us all the information, we just don’t execute enough. We don’t have any confidence at all the way we are playing right now, on d-zone, neutral zone and o-zone. We didn’t do anything right and you can tell there is no confidence now. It’s tough to play, then.

On the losing streak being surprising after resilience of the team all year:

I don’t know this. This is something that builds on for a while. Obviously we had a real good confidence in the team around Christmas, started with the homestand, then we won one game, lost one game and kept going like that for a while. Then we have been losing a lot of games here now. Obviously the confidence gets shaky and it’s tough to play.

How do you regain confidence after loses:

For sure. We have six more games. If we play perfect, then maybe we have a chance, it will be tough, but we have stay professional and try to do it.

I tried to find the video, but it doesn’t appear that the Stars posted it on the website. After watching it on the post game show I don’t blame them if they didn’t. I have never seen Klingberg so down.

You can read anything into that you want, but none of it is ideal. It is human though, and I think too often the human element is forgotten. Ken Hitchcock looks beaten down too, and he has the last two games.

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I mentioned this on Twitter, but when I look at them I think of my students around November. I work with the students who have never passed a state exam before. One class in particular was just completely mentally done before Thanksgiving. They exhibited many of the same traits you see from the Stars.

There is no amount of anything I can do to guarantee every single one of them will pass the STAAR exam. I had to realize that and adjust to do everything in my power to get the most out of them. So, I changed my approach. We stopped stressing about tests because, well, what did it matter? The class average was always a 30. We still did them and took them seriously, but we stopped stressing.

I started letting them see their own mistakes using a program called IXL. They started fixing them on their own so I didn’t have to seem like I was coming down hard on them – they did it to themselves. Our relationships improved, and the students who have bought in are improving. They listen to music and work most days without me having to say much to them after I teach a lesson or we go over a strategy.

Grown adults playing hockey will need specific approaches to their own situation, but no one performs at their highest level when they are stressed out. You can point to “clutch” performers who perform well in high stress situations, but I would argue that those players aren’t actually stressed. These Stars clearly are for whatever reason.

Being competitive is natural, but so is being human. Professional sports takes the “professional” aspect way too literally. Hockey is the worst about it. This season is over. There is no longer any real external pressure. These guys seriously need to relax and make the best of the next couple weeks before vacation. No matter how much pressure they put on themselves right now it isn’t going to change reality.

Real life sucks sometimes, and accepting inevitability can be really tough. They need a collective hug and a pat on the back. I know I probably sound like an asshole half the time, but I am 100% serious.

3/25/18: Correlation is Not Causation: The Dallas Stars Catastrophic Moment

The STAAR test for Freshmen taking it for the first time is rapidly approaching. I’ve been working to get my particular group of students ready since, I don’t know, August 24th. One of the things we do is go over released exams from previous years.

Question 9 from last year turned into 20 minutes of discussion when we hit it recently.

Causation

Kids hate the word causation, but as soon as you tell them “cause and effect” they lose their minds trying to eliminate answers that don’t make any sense. Obviously B is bullshit. A and C caused them a lot of difficulty because those can be argued.

You can make an argument in favor of a causation relationship between an increase in bus stops and a decrease in car sales. People are buying less cars because they have more access to buses. Duh. Ice cream sales increase, so sunburn does too? Well, sure. People eat ice cream when it’s hot outside so they’re getting sunburned.

What they have a hard time realizing initially is that ice cream didn’t directly cause the sunburn and that the number of bus stops didn’t directly cause a decrease in car sales. When it rains the water level increases. An increase in rain (water falling from the air) leads to an increase in water levels (fallen water, now on the ground). D is the answer.

Yesterday Bob Sturm threw this out on Twitter:

Bob isn’t wrong. These things did happen after that even took place. Did the Dallas Stars collapse because Ben Bishop got injured, or did the a collapse merely happen around the time Bishop got injured?

Bob mentioned the save percentage over that ten game span so let’s look a little closer at that. I took out the empty net goals, which bumps the save percentage up to 89.7%. It may not seem like much to us, but it probably is to Kari Lehtonen.

I pulled the expected goal totals from the last ten games and the Corsi % to see what has been going on.

Last10

In the last six games in particular the goaltending has been rough. Lehtonen has allowed an extra goal per game over the expected total in each. Over this 10 game stretch Stars goaltending (Bishop did play some) allowed five more goals than they were expected to allow.

Over an 82 game schedule that would be giving up 41 more goals than expected which will get a lot of people fired and/or released.

Here’s the rub though: the goal scoring has been worse. The skaters have scored six goals less than they were expected to by expected goals for.

When you throw those six together with the five extra goals the goaltenders have allowed….yikes. We’re talking a swing of eleven goals in a ten game span. If the games were played just by expected goals the Stars would have gone 6-4 over that stretch.

Our old friend PDO tells the same story.

PDO

Over a long enough timeline PDO tends to 100 because all shots either go in the net or they don’t. The Stars have been trailing 100 during this ten day period on the shooting and goaltending end.

And it isn’t for lack of trying by the top guys. Game Score attempts to quantify the contributions of each player to the outcome of each game. Over the ten game period in question these are the cumulative Game Scores of the big four and the rest of the roster.

GS

Notice Current Whipping Boy Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are both at 13. The big four cumulatively dropped a 41 game score over these games compared to 23 from the rest of the roster combined. Those four accounted for 64% of the Game Score contributions during this stretch!

Spoiler alert: the Stars are paper thin. This isn’t just the last ten games obviously. Part of the problem is they do have players who have shown they can play who don’t get much of an opportunity. This chart shows expected goal plus minus per 60 minutes at even strength.

xGF601

I know it’s “hip” to hate on Brett Ritchie, but he isn’t nearly as bad as he’s made out to be and his delta per 60 minutes is double second place. Gemel “Fucking” Smith has been criminally underused and ya boy is at number four (looks for Marc Methot). Jason Spezza has the same expected goal differential per sixty minutes as Tyler Seguin.

I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: ” JASON SPEZZA HAS THE SAME EXPECTED GOAL DIFFERENTIAL PER SIXTY MINUTES AS TYLER SEGUIN.”

I think it’s fair to blame goaltending for this stretch. It’s also fair to say the goal scoring has let them down severely and coaching decisions all season have kept the optimal lineup from ever being utilized.

Either the Stars are getting unlucky, they’re tired, or the chickens are finally coming home to roost at the most inopportune time possible. Ben Bishop did get hurt, and the Stars haven’t been producing over that stretch.

I’m about to dig into some ice cream, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need suntan lotion to do it.

All info pulled from Corsica.

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

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

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

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

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

John Klingberg

Klingberg

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

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

Esa Lindell

Lindell

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

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

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

Greg Pateryn

Pateryn

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

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

Dan Hamhuis

Hamhuis

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

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

Stephen Johns

Johns

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

Marc Methot

Methot

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

It didn’t quite work out that way.

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

Julius Honka

Honka

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

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

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

Jamie Oleksiak

Oleksiak

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

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

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

Is this all because of Hitchcock?

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

 

3/6/2018 – 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

3/4/2018 – Optimizing the Defense of the Dallas Stars Using Player Type Data

Earlier this week I threw a post together trying to optimize the Dallas Stars lineup using Player Type data from tracking and analysis led by Ryan Stimson and Corey Sznajder and based off of this article.

You may have noticed that I didn’t touch the defensemen. If you have enough material to make two movies and double your profits, why wouldn’t you? I know I sat through both Kill Bill movies and I eagerly ate up Back to the Future III as a kid.

So why not dive into them now?

I used the lines from the Stars overtime loss to Tampa Bay for the previous post. We’ll use them again for this post.

The Types

def_xg_share

These four types aren’t all that surprising. Stimson found that only 11 fit the All Around type. We should have known defense-oriented guys don’t move the needle much, but there are still many holdouts praying at the Temple of the Derian Hatcher, God of Defensive Defensemen. that this isn’t the case.

It is. Let the healing begin.

Or don’t.

Whatever.

All Around

John Klingberg

Klingberg

I feel like this isn’t going to surprise anyone enterprising enough to stumble across this site because it should be glaringly obvious, but I don’t want to turn away potential new converts to The Church of Bae by being mean. Bienvenidos! Willkommen! Sign the guest book!

Volume Shooters

Stephen Johns

Johns

How many times have you seen Stephen Johns absolutely crush a puck this year and thought “shit, he crushed that puck?”

Again, this data is from BEFORE this season. I can only imagine how much more robust this looks now. Johns has been great all year. I keep thinking of the AHL game I watched shortly after the Stars picked him up from Chicago. He was an absolute beast and some of those gifs look a lot like the Johns we’re seeing more and more now.

Greg Pateryn

Hmm.

Pateryn

The Turner to Dan Hamhuis’ Hooch was surprisingly stout in the games tracked prior to this season when he worked his way into a more full time role.

Defense-Oriented

Dan Hamhuis

Hamhuis

Yeah, that looks about right. I wouldn’t be shocked if it were a little worse this year given that aging still happens, but as bad as last season was I don’t know. It could be a wash.

Esa Lindell

Lindell

I have some issues with the Lindell chart. It’s only 200 or so minutes worth of time on ice, and that old eye test of the 2018 season shows a significantly better player. Maybe he still is in the defensive category, but I can’t imagine he fills up so little of this chart now. He and Klingberg have been great together.

Marc Methot

Methot.jpg

Methot is pretty clearly the Stars 6th or 7th defenseman pending Julius Honka data. Honka has no data tracked.

I’m confident Honka isn’t falling into the Defense-Oriented group. If I had to guess I would guess he falls into the Puck Mover category, but with no data to use it is mostly a guessing game. He’s better overall than Methot though.

Optimized Defense Pairs

def_pairs

The optimized pairings present a bit of a problem for the Stars, but then again maybe not? The Stars have three guys that don’t fall into the Defensive-Oriented pile, and all three play on the right side which means each pair is inevitably going to have a Defensive-Oriented guy on it.

This limits the upside potential of the defense corps, but isn’t that the point anyway? Ken Hitchcock is about limiting mistakes and focusing on a sound defensive approach. Inevitably that is going to limit the top end potential for offensive output so, hell, maybe this is exactly what he wants.

A Klingberg/Lindell pairing gives an xG% of 51.3%, but optimally a Volume Shooter in the mode of a Johns would be with him. Then again, last year this pair had a 49% Corsi  % and 47.55% Scoring Chance % per Natural Stat Trick. This year? 53.47% and 54.83% respectively. Something is working. The team structure as a whole and Lindell specifically deserve a lot of credit.

The Methot/Johns pair and the Hamhuis/Pateryn pair both yield xG% of 49.9 so they break even.

This gets us to the wild card of Julius Honka. You don’t really want to take Pateryn out of the lineup and Johns certainly isn’t coming out. Do you play someone out of position and take Hamhuis or Methot out of the lineup, two defensive defensemen who do fill up their charts a little bit?

Honka is certainly a good player, but I don’t know how you reasonably get him into the lineup more often right now which makes not getting something to help the current roster (Pacioretty?) in a deal for him at the deadline all the more frustrating if you think the Stars can win the Stanley Cup. They can, Brad.

John Klingberg is a Legitimate Norris Candidate

This data isn’t even from the 2017-18 season when he has been otherworldly. The data collected identified eleven players that fit into the All Around category. One of those was Klingberg, and that data is from a time when a significant number of Stars fans continuously ripped the guy or wanted him booted out of town. Some of you still do and you should be run naked through Westeros with a Twitter chorus of Stars fans chanting shame at you.

Blueliners can be hard to gauge without more data available. At some point all of the available data trends to one outcome enough that either you choose to believe it or not. Accept that Klingberg is good and enjoy it. It’s ok to root for a good player who occasionally makes a mistake.

Defensive Defensemen

One of the bigger problems rising from the freely available access to data is a willingness of those interested in the data to draw conclusions that seem supported by the data, but in reality make little sense. Correlation is not causation. If data doesn’t support commonly held ideas the tendency seems to be to say “Eureka!” and jump out of the bathtub like a mad person, put on a bathrobe, and run into the tweets proclaiming the new discovery.

This information doesn’t prove that defensive defensemen are useless and the article doesn’t try to suggest they are. There are a lot of them though. I wonder how much these numbers drag from coaches hard matching guys they feel are their best defenders.

I also think these guys have some value as penalty killers. The skill set necessary to kill penalties doesn’t focus as much on offense, though those skills still have their place. Staying in lanes, reading play progressions, and puck movement are going to be the focus here.

Lindell figures in prominently here. A player like Dan Hamhuis is still going to be useful even though he falls in this category. Methot too, though not as much.

SCA

That’s just scoring chances against per 60 minutes using the raw data from Natural Stat Trick. Methot isn’t particularly good at it. They should really get Klingberg out there more. He should be a Norris candidate and he would be an even stronger one if he was given a chance to make an impact on the penalty kill.

How does that look league wide? Here are the top 25 in “scoring chance prevention” on the penalty kill. I arbitrarily cut off the list at the point where Methot slots in to get him involved.

SCAL

Yeah, that’s Lindell and Klingberg right outside the top ten. In the entire NHL. Defensively. Stephen Johns shows up at 24.

Patrik Nemeth

 Nemeth

The Stars could have saved themselves several million dollars and a second round pick had they not soured the relationship with Patrik Nemeth so badly that he requested a move. Nemeth isn’t much different profile-wise from Methot. He could always play, and he still can now. Miss you buddy.

Jamie Oleksiak

The wars are over, they said. It’s time to heal, they said. Let it go, they said.

Oleksiak

Never, he said in response as he tipped his cap and rode off into the sunset to return to the rewarding life he built for himself in the Post War Era.

Hey, click these:

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
2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop

3/2/18 – Optimizing the Dallas Stars Lineup Using Player Type Data

I’ve been beating the drum for keeping Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin apart for a while now to follow in the Pittsburgh Penguins mold. Spread your stars out and complement them with useful players to maximize the offense. It’s an idea that has been out there for a little while now, and I remembered hearing a lot about roster construction optimization when the Passing Project information really started getting out there in force.

Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) has tracked a ton of data: zone entries, zone exists, defenseman touches, and a lot of other important microstats. Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp) led the Passing Project to get a better idea of how passing impacts scoring. Both sets of data were put together to give a more complete picture of players across the league.

One of the resulting conclusions drawn from the data was the existence of four “Player Types” at forward. Stimson put this excellent piece together at hockey-graphs.com detailing what he found.

Teams are incentivized to spread their best players throughout their lineup. This is due to a fact that a team can only have so much success with a stacked line (looking at you, Boston). Furthermore, with hockey being a strong link game, ensuring that the best players are on the ice as much as possible at different times gives you an advantage, or at least doesn’t put you at more of a disadvantage. The final piece is identifying which players can complement those elite forwards the best.

Emphasis mine.

He found that the four player types are Playmakers, Shooters, Balanced, and Dependent. Dependent is a nice way to say plugs. The other three showed to be useful, with playmakers being the ones who drive scoring the most which makes sense.

So as we watch the Dallas Stars struggle through a tough stretch I thought “hey, I wonder how optimized lines for the Stars based off of the most up-to-date data available would look.” Let’s find out.

For future reference, this is what the Stars rolled out last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning:

(All data is from 2015-16 and 2016-17 which poses a problem: players age or get worse for whatever other reason. I’ll note where I think this could show itself as a problem.)

First lets see what roles are currently on the Stars roster.

The Playmakers

This group is the guys that move the needle the most. The names mostly aren’t going to surprise you. All the visualizations are from this awesome Tableau.

Jamie Benn

Benn

I mean, yeah. Obviously.

Tyler Seguin

Seguin

I said they weren’t going to surprise you.

Alexander Radulov

Radulov

This dude was such a bargain.

Jason Spezza

Spezza

Spezza has had a long career of being a quality player. We’ve seen him struggle to fit into the system under Ken Hitchcock at times, but he’s still Spezza. He still drives the play, but he’s been hampered by an aggressively low PDO driven by a really low on-ice save percentage.

Is it more likely that his numbers have gone down because he’s terrible, or because there has been an inordinate amount of puck luck going against him? I’m willing to let him stay in the playmaker category until data exists to prove it wrong.

Martin Hanzal

I shit you not.

Hanzal

He may not be in the Benn, Seguin, and Spezza category, but over the sample period Hanzal has been really good. You have to ask yourself if he has regressed this year, or if the role he is being asked to fill has killed his numbers off. Like Spezza he is the victim of an aggressively low PDO, but his is driven by both low on-ice shooting and save percentages. He legitimately is a bottom six anchor, but, like, a good anchor.

The Shooter

Brett Ritchie

Ritchie

One thing Ritchie does do is pump shots on net. I’m not going to try to argue that he’s elite or anything, but he isn’t as useless as many would like to think.

The Balanced Guys

These guys don’t fit into the top two categories, but they make useful contributions.

Radek Faksa

Faksa

I think I would be willing to argue that Faksa is more of a playmaker this year, but without data to support it I want to keep this as fair and realistic as possible. You could make a case for he and Hanzal flipping types here based on a 2018 season eye test and I wouldn’t try to argue against it.

Mattias Janmark

Janmark

After missing a year Janmark is getting jobbed by PDO like Hanzal and Spezza, but he has been visibly impressive all season.

Antoine Roussel

Roussel

I’m not going to lie to you, this one surprised me. Roussel is just a good all around depth player. You can see him making solid plays all over the ice, but he doesn’t jump out as this decent. Math is fun.

Devin Shore

Shore

Shore has been nothing special, but he isn’t a plug either.

There is currently no data for Tyler Pitlick, Gemel Smith, Jason Dickinson, or Remi Elie. I want to be as fair as possible and assume there are some plugs somewhere on the roster up front, but none of these guys strike me as drains. I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest that every forward in the Stars lineup contributes something useful.

Optimized Lines

So, how best do the Stars increase their odds of scoring?

fwd_lines

Stimson included this expected goal chart in his story. Let’s use it.

The Stars have the ability to use a playmaker on every line, and a second one on one line. Down the middle it makes a lot of sense to go with Seguin, Benn, Spezza, and Hanzal.

If you split Seguin and Benn apart you have to figure out where Radulov goes. I have to wonder if some of the consternation people feel about Benn this year has to do with Radulov. When they’re on the ice together Radulov’s production lags. Seguin and Radulov hum along just fine.

Seguin-Radulov-BalancedF for your first line is the second best combination available at 57.2 xG%.

A playmaker, a shooter, and a balanced forward work well together too. Jamie Benn, Brett Ritchie, and a balanced forward of your choice would slot in at 55 xG%.

The final two lines would each feature a playmaker and at least two balanced guys, with the chance of Janmark or Faksa being in a higher “type cluster”.

Your third line would still be all balanced players which is still effective. A playmaker with two balanced lines goes for 52.2 xG%.

Those Stars lines from the Tampa game? They’re ok, but with all three of the alpha scorers lumped together the Stars minimize their offense to a degree.

Should the Stars ever use Benn, Radulov, and Seguin together?

Yes. Late in games when the bottom of the lineup is generally used less frequently the Stars would increase their expected goal output by throwing those three together. A line of three playmakers could expect an xG% of 58.9%. This is the most deadly line possible, and late in the game you aren’t hurt as much by throwing your top guys together.

Late in the game they could also throw Jason Spezza, Martin Hanzal, and Brett Ritchie together to optimize a second unit. That line would, based just on player roles, look at a 55.1 xG%..

How do you most appropriately use Hanzal?

I think there is a good argument that the Stars already are doing that, but the results aren’t there due to some bad luck. What he is doing isn’t showing up on the standard or advanced stat sheet without more data available, but I’ve seen enough to think he’s more useful than he appears at times.

Now he just needs to stay healthy.

Are the Stars getting the most out of their powerplay?

When Stimson put his story together he pointed out that there were about four playmakers and shooters per NHL club. The Stars have six, and two of them park themselves in front of the net on the powerplay.

This may make sense for Ritchie conceptually since he’s a shooter, but it doesn’t for Hanzal. It minimizes his ability to make plays by reducing him to a glorified crash test dummy hoping to get drilled with a puck. Maybe try to get him more space to make some plays on the second unit, or make him net front on the first unit.

For the record, this is Max Pacioretty.

Pacioretty

For those of you who want the Stars to have a shooter, but don’t want Brett Ritchie near the top six, there’s your guy. If only he had been available and attainable at the trade deadline.

Hey, click these:

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
2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop
2/20/18 – Heiskanen Scored a Goal

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