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.

3/23/18 – 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