1/19/19 – Jim Montgomery’s December Demeanor Shift

The Dallas Stars are a mess, and I keep wanting to understand why. I realize this is futile, but that has never stopped me before. So I decided to jump head first into the world of Jim Montgomery post game quotes to see if it is possible to see when things started going so wrong.

I’m not going to post 100 quotes from Montgomery here, though I did post a lot of them. The quotes make this post long. Sorry.

I did paste 95% of his post home game quotes into a Google Doc in case you’d like to read them. These are from after the home games – the games I get post game emails about so they’re the most easily accessible. Picking and choosing quotes for this story is by definition cherry-picking. That’s why I’m providing that link so you can see for yourself, and determine if I’m out of my mind.

Before I’m asked: yes, I notice the disproportionate amount of comments about Brett Ritchie. I’m going to get to that eventually. What also stands out is that Montgomery had a shift in public tone or demeanor somewhere in mid-December.

I’m not going to try to speculate about what happened because I have no idea. I don’t think that would be fair to anyone. I will say that the massive tonal shift is very obvious, and it would be naive to simply think nothing changed. You don’t go from praising a team and their leaders to, as an organization, calling the leaders fucking horseshit while talking about a culture of mediocrity without something happening.

We’ll start from opening night and go in chronological order.

10/4, 3-0 win over Arizona

“I liked the way we started the game and then I thought we kind of fell back a little bit.  The only part of the game where we need to get better at was the last eight minutes of the second period.  Once we were up 3-0, the air came out of our balloon and they really came at us.  If it wasn’t for (Ben) Bishop being so great, it could have been 3-3 at the end of the second.  That’s something we need to learn from and build on but overall our emotion, our effort and our execution was pretty good for game one.”

10/6, 5-1 win over Winnipeg

“Yeah, I mean, some of those plays I was just like ‘wow, Nelly [Todd Nelson], did you see that play? Did you see that goal?’ They were special tonight, but more importantly, as a team, I thought we were really good. I thought our puck pressure – I loved our start.

On Jamie Benn

“What I’ve really enjoyed about Jamie Benn in this short beginning of the season is how vocal he is and how accountable he’s holding people on the bench. His leadership has been very valuable.”

10/9, 7-4 loss to Toronto

“There is a lot of areas that we need to get better at. This is going to be a good learning experience for us. I thought our effort and our emotion was very good. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be against a very good hockey club.”

Discussing if the top line was good enough against Toronto:

“Offensively yes. Defensively, they were out there for three goals, five-on-five, so no they’ve got to do a better job of shutting people down. Not only creating offense but not giving up momentum.”

10/13, 5-3 win over Anaheim

“I think we learned that we can change momentum in a game. I don’t think anybody was happy with our first period. In particular, we thought we were not playing with enough aggression in tough areas like our net front and our defensive zone. That being said, you have to give credit to our leaders. I don’t know what they did to change, but everything changed about face and that’s a credit to our leaders and everybody else who followed them.”

I feel like I should point out how often emotion, momentum, and effort are brought up. The leaders are praised for leading. Jamie Benn is praised for being vocal. Montgomery is providing criticism, but the tone feels like it’s coming from a good place.

10/19, 3-1 loss to Minnesota

“I just think that we have too many forwards in particular who aren’t confident offensively. And they’re not working hard enough to get to the greasy area. I thought Dubnyk saw too many shots from our point men. We did a good job getting it to our point men, but we’re not doing a good enough job fighting and clawing to take away his eyes and create more rebounds.”

10/23, 4-2 win over Los Angeles

“I thought the first twelve minutes, and then in the second period, there were a lot of opportunities. It was the mentality we wanted tonight. I thought we did a much better job tonight whether it was the puck carrier or people getting there for rebounds. I think it created a lot of scrambles that we hadn’t seen in our last three or four games.”

10/25, 5-2 win over Anaheim

“I thought, in tonight’s game, if you look at a picture of what Stars hockey should look like, that’s tonight.”

As of 10/25 the Stars, in Montgomery’s mind, were able to play the exact type of game he wants to see. 10/25.

11/8, 4-3 win over San Jose

“I think we’ve toughened up on the road trip and become resilient. A lot of people have confidence in other people which is good long-term. We’ve got to get better in our team game, we can’t continue to rely on goaltenders and the occasional goal to strike ahead. Clearly San Jose was better than we were tonight as a whole.”

On Roman Polak

“He’s probably a microcosm of what we’re looking at. He scrapes, he battles, he claws, he kicks and that’s what we’re doing as a team right now. It’s fun to be in the room because everyone is fighting for each other. We’ve got to keep building on that and improve our five-on-five game.”

11/10, 4-5 overtime loss to Nashville

“I thought we did. It’s been something that I thought has built with our team on the road trip, and it’s that we don’t stop fighting. We are getting production from a lot of people. It’s funny; remember in the first five games when everyone was worried about secondary scoring? It’s primary scoring now that is not where it needs to be.”

Oops.

11/12, 2-1 loss to Columbus

On Benn and Tyler Seguin

“No, I loved the way they competed tonight. Both of them. I thought it was the most passion and will, and if they keep playing that like we are going to be in a good place.”

Effort.

“But, I really like our effort. If our effort is like that, you know the execution is going to come because we have a lot of skill in that room.”

In six weeks they will be called fucking horseshit.

11/16, 1-0 win in overtime over Boston

“Something we’ve really improved upon this year is our commitment to playing through the game, no matter what the score is, and continuing to play hard in the third period. That escaped us early as three of the first ten games we lost was because of failures in the third period. That’s an area of our game that has really improved.”

11/23, 6-4 win over Ottawa

“I thought the top line got us going. They were on top of pucks and I thought this was Tyler Seguin’s best game since maybe our fourth game of the year. He was moving his feet, winning battles and he was reading on the forecheck. And, obviously, his shot. He was letting it go from everywhere.”

12/3, 4-1 win over Edmonton

“Jamie Benn has been phenomenal for, I’d say it’s been close to ten games now.  He’s really winning so many battles and we have a lot of people who are digging in.  I think Tyler Seguin is really picking up his game and when your best players are your hardest workers then you start to see your team build.  I think that’s what we’re seeing.  Because of that, all the other guys are following but a lot of them were already there like the Dickinson’s of the world and the Faksa’s and the Pitlick’s.  Now it seems like no matter who you name, I can say that person is bringing compete and they’re playing hard for their teammates.  The selflessness we’re seeing is starting to become contagious.”

12/7, 3-2 win over San Jose

“We found a pulse. We were bad in the first and thank god Ben Bishop was not. They are a really good transitional offensive team and we weren’t going through bodies. We weren’t getting pucks deep and we had a lot of turnovers and we just mentally were not sharp. I thought that was a carry-over from our morning skate which wasn’t very crisp.”

On the top line

“Yeah, you know what, they were just like the rest of the team; they got better as the game went on, but I didn’t think it was one of their better nights. I do think Jamie wasn’t himself, and I don’t think his vision was right, after he took that elbow in the eye. It was accidental, but he wasn’t stopping on pucks and didn’t seem to be around the puck as much as he usually is. And, the other two were just not what they usually are for us.”

This was the first post game mention of the morning skate I believe.

12/18, 2-0 win over Calgary

“There’s different times where you’ve got to recognize that you’re not playing with emotion. You have to play this game with emotion, but you can’t be emotional. I thought we had a real good balance of that tonight because even though we were in control in the first two periods, we weren’t that in control on the scoreboard.”

This is about where the tonal shift goes into high gear. It’s subtle at first and builds until December 27th when Sean Shapiro wrote that Montgomery told the team he was “fucking embarrassed” with their practice and place in the standings. He’s referencing a lack of energy and emotion more. No one is really being praised except Ben Bishop and of course Brett Ritchie (???).

12/20, 5-2 loss to Chicago

“I didn’t prepare them well enough as to what our details have to be on rush defense against a team that is a really good rush offense team.”

Pond hockey:

“It’s very frustrating, we didn’t have the right attitude. We had the right attitude against Calgary. We played a hard game, played the game the right way. But, we played pond hockey tonight, especially in the first 30 minutes and it cost us. We were down 3-0 for a reason.”

12/23, 3-1 loss to the Islanders

“Maybe after the first seven minutes we ran out of gas. I thought we skated the first seven minutes and then we were real bad.”

” We have to keep working. We have to keep working together. We have to get tougher. And that’s mentally, I’m talking about. Not so much the physicality on the ice, but they go hand in hand.”

“To me, it’s more a mindset. The product on the ice, obviously, the offensive side of the game is porous right now. To me, it’s a mindset of pushing the envelope and wanting to make plays, wanting to be a difference maker. Guys were tired tonight, but a lot of other teams have similar schedules and they find ways to win hockey games.”

12/29, 5-1 win over Detroit

“I think it’s too early to say we’re building anything. I think we’ve got to do it over a more extended period of time. In tonight’s win there were moments where we were a very good hockey team and there’s moments where we weren’t again. It’s not a consistent thing of how we’re playing together.”

This one sticks out to me because throughout the year Montgomery has tried to be upbeat and positive. The Stars just beat the shit out of Detroit, and this is the most enthusiasm he can muster. Score effects are real. This was also the day after Horseshit-Gate

1/2, 5-4 win over New Jersey

On Seguin:

“He’s been practicing really well lately and hasn’t been rewarded.  He got rewarded tonight and I thought it was his best game in a long time.  The way he was attacking the net and the way he was getting into shooting areas where he scores from.  He was getting inside the dots, his one-timers were from high quality areas instead of being towards the boards.”

On December 3rd he praised Seguin. That’s a stretch of about a month, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that over that time he still led the Stars in expected goals and shots with a low shooting percentage. Call it a hunch.

1/4, 2-1 overtime win against Washington

This is where the quotes feel bizarre.

“Our struggles come from when we have success. We get way too comfortable when we have games like we did tonight. That’s the history of our season and that’s really the history of the last three years. It’s not the road, it’s our mentality. We don’t change at the right times and our shifts are too long. Anytime we face adversity we don’t dig in we take short cuts. That’s why we’re an inconsistent hockey team. We’ve just got to keep harping on the details that we believe in. Keep harping on the process. We hope that, as a group, the leadership and the core guys are able to pull everybody in with them.”

Why is Montgomery talking about the last three years? That’s weird, right? He wasn’t here so the only way he’s getting that information is second hand at best. He spent a good part of the season praising the leaders, the emotion, and everything that goes with that, but now the team doesn’t dig in when they face adversity?

January 12th was the “culture of mediocrity” game. Those quotes are located here.

In early to mid December something changed. Whether Montgomery got tired of seeing similar threads in the games or something else I have no idea. But things clearly took a turn for the dark side about a week before Jim Lites publicly embarrassed the franchise.

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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.

 

 

4/15/18 – Candidate Jim Montgomery

Apparently the net is going to be cast wide for a replacement for Ken Hitchcock. At this point just about anyone with a viable claim to an NHL job has been mentioned as a candidate. It’s going to be overwhelming for anyone trying to reasonably get a handle on where the Dallas Stars might go.

The plan here is to profile as many of the leading candidates as possible. In Sean Shapiro’s story for The Athletic Jim Nill laid out a little bit of what he wants in a coach. It sounds like he wants what he wanted when he hired Lindy Ruff: tempo, speed, and puck possession. At this point it should be clear that Hitchcock wasn’t a Nill hire so it should come as no surprise to see the pendulum swinging back to what Nill ideally wants.

Enter Jim Montgomery, the first candidate to be featured at Mooterati.

Montgomery had a 122 game NHL career that concluded with one game with the Stars in the 2003 season. His Wikipedia page has a few fun notes about him. He was once traded for Guy Carbonneau then released by the Montreal Canadiens after playing five games. He is also credited as the man who dubbed John LeClair, Eric Lindros, and Mikael Renberg the “Legion of Doom”.

Neat.

What sticks out to me about Montgomery’s playing career is that he could really score. A lot. But, not in the NHL.

For the University of Maine, Montgomery registered 301 points in 170 games. That’s just absurd. In his final college season at age 23 (older, yes) he played with a rookie named Paul Kariya who had 100 points. Montgomery had 95.

(Garth Snow and Mike Dunham were also teammates, for what that’s worth.)

Every year Montgomery played in the AHL or IHL he was a dominant offensive force. In 530 career games he scored 554 points. He strikes me as a guy who would have gotten more of a shot to produce in the modern era with eye popping minor league numbers like that. He isn’t a big guy either, listed at 5’10 and 170 pounds. Time on ice data is scarce until the last little bit of his NHL career, but it’s safe to say he never got much of a shot to produce.

His first head coaching job after his playing career ended was leading the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL In his first year he got his hands on Johnny Gaudreau, the under-sized star of the Calgary Flames and 2018 Team USA Olympian.

In 2015 Gaudreau was quoted by Terry Frei of the Denver Post in a story about Montgomery heading into the NCAA Tournament:

“He really, really helped me out because he’s a smaller guy, too. He’s a great guy. He taught me about things you have to do in the game as a smaller player, and really helped me to get ready for the NCAA and then eventually to come on to the NHL. I think he was one of the coaches who helped me out the most.”

Gaudreau said Montgomery, who played 122 games in the NHL, “played back when it was a lot tougher for smaller guys in the league. He just taught me to down low, make sure I’m moving my feet and stuff, and keep my head up and make plays. He was really good for me there.”

Vice Sports did a feature on Gaudreau during his rookie season too. Montgomery was featured in it significantly. The focus is Gaudreau, but Montgomery is such a big part of the story that it works for our purposes here.

Gaudreau landed in the perfect spot when he left home before his senior year of high school and joined the USHL. Montgomery, his coach, had been an undersized player, too, playing parts of six seasons in the NHL despite being just 5’10”.

Guy Gaudreau believes it was the right fortune for his son.

“There’s coaches out there that would never have given him a chance,” he said. “He’s too small—there’s no need for him.”

Montgomery would go on to discuss what makes Gaudreau special.

“Johnny’s greatness—and it holds true at every level he’s been, including the NHL—is creativity and the ability to create time and space. The way he can read opponents’ sticks, hips and knees, to be able to go the other way on them allows him to do things that people didn’t think were humanly possible at his size in the NHL.”[…]
“He thinks the game and does things on the ice that not many players maybe outside of Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk have the ability to do,” Montgomery said. “To say he’s a genius—and I’m talking just his creativity—people don’t understand how he keeps people back off. Because he doesn’t look like he’s a great skater but he’s almost like an aeronautical engineering genius on the ice because he understands triangles and he understands cutbacks.”

It seems pretty clear that Montgomery “gets it” offensively. Put your skilled players in a position to succeed and let them do their thing.

I just thought this was funny.

Montgomery coached Zemgus Girgensons with Dubuque also. I found this interesting from a USA Today piece as Girgensons was getting fan love for the All Star game a couple years back.

“What I said was, ‘Well if he is a third-line player, then you are going to win four Stanley Cups in a row,” Montgomery said. “His offensive game will evolve as his game matures.”

Montgomery always made his players fill out a goal sheet before the season and Girgensons always wrote that he would never “give up” or be “outworked.”

“And it’s true,” Montgomery said. “I saw him score a hat trick on a high-ankle sprain. When we won a championship, he was 16 and on the first shift of the game, his line started, and the way he skated, I said, ‘Oh, we are winning tonight.'”

With Dubuque he was finding the talent as the GM as well as coaching. Gaudreau and Girgensons fit the level of work ethic he pretty clearly wants. I like the goal sheet he had them fill out. I doubt that’s something that is done with professionals, but I like that effort he took to help his teenage players grow as adults. That’s the type of thing someone truly interested in teaching and developing would do.

At the University of Denver those attributes seem to be on display even more. The one consistent thing you hear about him and his Denver clubs is about how good the locker room is and how much the players love each other.

Two of the prominent players from his Denver teams were Will Butcher and Danton Heinen. Butcher refused to sign with the Colorado Avalanche after completing his college career, then promptly had 44 points as a rookie defenseman with New Jersey. Heinen has been great for the Boston Bruins, registering 47 points of his own while being good defensively.

Denver still has Henrik Borgstrom producing. He was the Florida Panthers first round draft pick last year. Anaheim Ducks pick Troy Terry produced at a similar level on his wing. I think the point is pretty clear by now. Montgomery develops and nurtures offensive talent on top of the locker room stuff you hear so much about.

If you’re the Stars isn’t that exactly what you want? Don’t you want someone like Montgomery to work with Jason Dickinson, Val Nichushkin, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov? How about Julius Honka and Miro Heiskanen?

The anecdotal stuff is fine, but how does he do it? What does he do that would translate to the Stars?

I pulled these gifs from Denver’s NCAA Tournament matchup with Ohio State in late March. The entire game is on Youtube. I planned to sit down to watch the entire game, track it, and make gifs throughout. I watched half of the first period and realized I’ve seen this before.

Denver is in the dark uniform. Notice how they circle back to look for a good opening to create an offensive opportunity. Puck. Possession.

Possession1.gif

They control their own blueline. In the 14 minutes or so I watched Denver forced 15 dump ins by Ohio State. They never allowed Ohio State to enter the zone with a pass, and only allowed them to carry the puck in three times.

TransitionCarry1.gif

Defensemen are key to what Montgomery does. They skate. They pass. They get the puck out of the zone, usually with possession. They exited the zone 22 times in the stretch I tracked. They only dumped it out four times. Nine times they carried it out and another nine times they exited with a pass.

Transition2.gif

More of the same:

EasyExit

I don’t know who this is, but watch the Denver player confidently skate the puck out of the zone through two Ohio State attackers.

EasyExit2

Ohio State does adjust later and start generating more chances, but Denver hockey is pretty straightforward. Their previous game against Penn State is online too. It’s more of the same, but a quicker pace given that they are playing a weaker opponent.

Denver hockey is about keeping possession of the puck. Denver had a 56.5% Corsi For percentage in the 2018 season. The defensemen drive the play away from their own end. Butcher won the Hobey Baker under this system. How do you think John Klingberg would look? Or Julius Honka?

I can’t help but watch the Denver defensemen and think of Heiskanen.

CoastToCoast

Montgomery has been successful at every level. He was a dominant offensive player everywhere except the NHL. He has a proven track record of developing high end offensive talent and maintaining a close-knit locker room. His system looks like what you see in the modern NHL, and the Stars projected defense corps fits very well with it. Anything can happen in an interview process. There’s no guarantee he would be interested in the job or that the Stars are pursuing him, but you could do a lot worse than Jim Montgomery.