3/22/18 – What the Hell Part 3: Ken Hitchcock’s Impact on the Forwards

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. 

Several weeks ago I tried to optimize the lineup using expected goal predictions based on player styles observed by Ryan Stimson. If you missed it, this article is a good starting point for what I’m going to get into here.

What came out of the 2016-17 data was essentially that the Stars had five players who fit the playmaker mold: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Alexander Radulov, and Martin Hanzal. A team full of playmakers, were it possible anywhere but the Olympics (in years when the NHL doesn’t destroy the tournament) would dominate most, if not all, games. Players who fit the shooter and balanced molds are perfectly fine too.

Really, as long as you avoid too many dependent players you’re going to be doing alright.

Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) threw the data into a blender to determine and visualize player styles for the 2018 season based on the data tracked so far.

I thought it would be interesting for many reasons, chief among them was to see how much of an impact playing under Ken Hitchcock had on the individual Dallas Stars forwards. And, well, there’s a noticeable change from 2017 to 2018. This image is from a Tableau Tierney put together.

Styles

….where did all of the playmakers go?

Four of the playmakers dropped down a notch into the shooter category and Hanzal dropped all the way down to being dependent. I guess what sticks out to me the most here is that it looks like all of the Stars forwards drifted up or down away from more extreme positions (except Hanzal) to a middle of the road path.

Hasn’t that kind of been the point though? This is what Hitchcock wanted. He wanted a more responsible game at even strength. Well, he got it. It isn’t going to be fair to blame or credit playing under Hitchcock for all of those changes. Players age and regress and improve all of the time, but the trajectory the bulk of the Stars forwards took certainly matches what Hitchcock wanted: bland.

What does that look like on an individual level? CJ Turtoro put together a tool that allows players to be compared across the two seasons where there exists significant data. What I did for these images is put the 2018 season data on the left from the tool and the 2017 data on the right.

In English: bigger numbers on the right equals good.

Jamie Benn

Benn

The 2017 version of Benn was an elite shot generator. He made plays. This year? He’s merely good. All of his zone entry and exit numbers plus his offensive contributions are down.

I still have a hunch that it partially has to do with too much ice time with Alexander Radulov. Benn’s numbers go down with Radulov on the ice at even strength. Benn is entering the zone with the puck significantly less than he was last year. How often do you see Radulov skating the length of the rink with the puck? He always has it.

Pet theory: Benn isn’t crossing the blueline with the puck on his stick so he isn’t creating as many opportunities for Tyler Seguin or whoever is with them (mostly Radulov) and the focus on being more careful with the puck and not turning it over has made these numbers come down.

Jason Spezza

Spezza

If you’re under a certain age and grew up with bad cartoons this reference may not mean much to you, but do you remember that old cartoon shtick where the character’s eyes would bug out when an absurd situation popped up? Then some little smart ass character would walk up through the chaos with a giant pistol, pull the trigger, and a little flag saying bang would come out?

Yeah, that’s what the Spezza image is.

Jason Spezza, the guy generating more offense than Jamie Benn but getting buried on the depth chart, is going to go somewhere like Pittsburgh or Toronto next year and win a Stanley Cup as a dominant second line center.

Tyler Seguin

Seguin

He’s still Seguin, but enters the zone with the puck more frequently (again, pet theory: because Benn isn’t giving it to him so he’s getting it earlier from Radulov or taking it himself from the defensive zone).

Alexander Radulov

Radulov

This season Radulov’s playmaking ability has been neutered at even strength. He was a high level set up guy with the Canadiens who didn’t generate much in the way of his own shots. In his first year in Dallas he’s shooting the puck more and doing quite a bit less to generate shots for his linemates.

The entries and exits stick out like a sore thumb here too. Radulov still enters the zone with about the same frequency, but his success rate has dropped by 25%. That’s almost certainly because of the Stars insistence on dumping the puck into the offensive zone, but I’ll check the numbers later when I have a chance.

Let’s extend the pet theory a little further here. If Radulov is dumping the puck in, and Seguin is playing deep in the defensive zone to support the breakout, take a guess who is being expected to skate his ass off doing grunt work in the corners to retrieve the puck?

Yep. 14.

Martin Hanzal

Hanzal

You can say what you want about the Hanzal signing, or his injury history, or his prospects for the future given the spinal fusion surgery he just had, but it wouldn’t be fair to say he was a bad player in 2017.

Hitchcock has stated that the injuries he has dealt with have really limited him all year. They certainly have to play in here to some degree. He exited the defensive zone so infrequently prior to his injury, and the times he did he was so unsuccessful, that it almost seems like he was never in the defensive zone at all.

We know he was though. Hitchcock made sure of it. When he did get out I’m not convinced he could make it up the ice to even join the offense with his injuries. This was a good player who, through injuries and system, was able to bring virtually nothing this year outside of some faceoff wins and penalty killing.

Tyler Pitlick

Pitlick

Pitlick has seen his offensive game grow significantly with the Stars as his entry numbers have collapsed. With the Oilers, Pitlick entered the offensive zone with possession 75% of the time and entered with the puck often.

He’s doing exactly what Hitchcock wants him to do. You can see it in his success percentages of exits and entries. Dump it in, chip it out, retrieve it. It makes you wonder how much more value he could contribute if he were able to combine this years offense with the zone entry efficiency of 2017.

Radek Faksa

Faksa

Again: all of the offensive contributions and zone entry success shrunk. Dump it in, chip it out, retrieve.

Devin Shore

Shore

He’s about the same offensively, less effective at entering the zone, but more successfully exits the zone with possession. The fact that he can exit the zone effectively makes me believe he could just as easily enter the offensive zone with the puck instead of dumping it and killing the offense.

Well, that and the fact that he was really good at entering the zone with the puck last year under Lindy Ruff.

Brett Ritchie

Ritchie

Ritchie was an elite shot volume generator in 2017. Under Hitchcock he has evolved into a more well rounded player offensively who helps set up teammates for offense.

Visually we’ve seen how bad the Stars have gotten offensively, and it isn’t just one player regressing. Damn near every forward is worse offensively, some significantly, and many by their own doing from not gaining the offensive zone with the puck. One thing all of the forwards have in common is the system under which they play.

Maybe blaming Jamie Benn or Jason Spezza doesn’t make any sense? Or, if it does, maybe it’s really far down the list.

I guess in summation, maybe wait for the water level to fall before plugging one tiny potential hole in the over-worked dam. Whether you plug that tiny hole or not the dam is going to collapse and wipe out the town anyway.

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