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.

3/22/18 – 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.

3/21/18 – Unloading the Clip and Firing Blanks

Old

On May 19th, 2008 I was already on summer vacation heading into my last semester of college. I was halfway through my 22nd year on this giant blue orb and had no idea how anything worked.

Brad Richards was a 27 year old trade deadline acquisition. Things were looking up. I remember sitting in my girlfriend’s parents apartment watching the game in the afternoon because they had cable, with her shithead brother sitting near me rooting for Detroit because…he was a shithead, I guess. I don’t know.

This was Sergei Zubov’s last playoff game. James Neal would debut next season. Jamie Benn would debut the next season after that. Jason Spezza was 24. Tyler Seguin was 16. The Stars franchise had never missed the playoffs more than three years in a row, and never more than once in a row (???) in Dallas.

I had no idea what was in store for me personally in a number of respects, but I never in a million years would have guessed that the Stars would win one playoff round over the next decade and only make the playoffs twice. It’s such an unfathomable stretch of mediocrity from a once proud franchise that I don’t know of a combination of words to throw together to express how disappointing it is.

Many years of that stretch were consumed with Tom Hicks Bankruptcy Hell, but even that was a long time ago. Tom Gaglardi bought the Stars on November 22, 2011. The partial lockout hit the next season, and we’re five years removed from that. When the Vegas Golden Knights are fielding a team fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference as an expansion team it’s hard to have much sympathy for the little hockey team in Dallas.

Over the last decade only four teams have had two or fewer playoff appearances. Only 11 franchises have one or less playoff series wins. 15 teams have more points over that span. The Stars have been a mediocre regular season team that prays it can get into the playoffs, and has done very little when they’ve gotten there.

They dropped a close game to the Washington Capitals last night 4-3 and it’s increasingly difficult to envision them as a playoff team this year. Even if they do make it they’re probably going to get wasted quickly.

Many postmortems will be written about this dumpster fire of a season. Some already have been. Robert Tiffin of DefendingBigD wrote his after the Capitals game and it, as always, is worth your time. This part in particular struck a chord with me:

RobertHitch

The kids call this a “subtweet”, but Robert and I are old school so we’ll call this an “editorial response”. On some level this is a semantic argument, but the difference between being forced to adapt out of desperation and being willing to be flexible is a wide gulf here.

Hitchcock will put someone in the lineup, like Greg Pateryn, because he has to. When players are dropping like flies someone does have to come into the lineup. The key to him, or anyone else, staying in the lineup is playing exactly the way Hitchcock wants them to. I wrote about this when I wrote about Jason Spezza recently.

Spezza

Hitchcock has his guys and he rides them into the ground when they meet his standards of what successful hockey is. He knows what he wants to see and no matter what happens if he doesn’t see it he isn’t going to do much of anything to change personnel or tactics whether what he wants wins games now or not.

The story of the 2018 season, and particularly since the calendar flipped to 2018, is that in the face of what Hitchcock wants to do failing he unceasingly stuck with it until it was too late. Defense over everything has reigned supreme all year even as the offense has completely dried up until it was too late.

Against the Capitals the Stars unloaded the clip. They came out firing and dominated the game at even strength on the Corsi sheet, but for what? They waited until they went up against arguably the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, the only team to crack 1000 points over the last decade, and until they dropped out of a playoff spot  to do it. They waited until it was too late.

For all of this nonsense about leadership, grit, spirit, or whatever other cliche synonym you want to use for “the things Hitchcock wants” the Dallas Stars are probably going to miss the playoffs because they doubled down on defense when the times got tough. They spent all of their focus on preventing goals with a roster featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg.

The Stars players gave everything they had offensively against the Capitals and failed. We’ll never know if things would have been different if this change had taken place at some time in the past three months, but by not trying to do anything different for three months the full blame for the results of the 2018 Dallas Stars lays at the feet of management and the coaching staff.

And I’m still waiting as a 32 year old man for a chance to watch a Western Conference Finals game featuring the Stars without a shithead brother in law around, like I have been since I was 22.

3/19/18 – The Job Security of Jim Nill and Ken Hitchcock

Every relationship, family or personal, ends.  On a long enough timeline everything ends. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to remind his followers on Twitter that even the sun will eventually explode, mercilessly killing everything living thing that it currently supports.

At this point of the story we have two paths we can choose to follow. Either we work ourselves into a collective existential crisis trying to figure out what the point of doing anything is if we’re ultimately all doomed anyway, or we consider how much time is left in the relationship between the Dallas Stars and general manager Jim Nill.

You know what, Spring Break is ending. I see no need to open an existential whirl pool. Instead let us focus on the immediate futures of Nill and by default Ken Hitchcock.

Nill has made waves with his moves in the summer. Twitter loves to dump on him for being the Off-season Champion over the course of several seasons. Five years into his tenure the jokes get harder and harder to counterattack.

The jokes work because the implication is that the Stars have nothing else to point to except off-season success. Eventually the point of all of this is a Stanley Cup championship right? At some point success has to happen during the regular season. Under Nill, five years in, the Stars have overall been mediocre.

I compiled the points percentage of all 31 franchises over the last five years.

PTSper

Dallas is solidly mediocre. That mediocre ranking includes one really good season. Remove that, and, yeah, it isn’t pretty. Adding to the problem is that four of their division rivals are ahead of them with the now superior Winnipeg Jets behind them. Colorado is coming on strong too. Being mediocre in the Central means you’re fighting for the 8th seed as a wild card.

The most frustrating aspect of all of it is that the Stars have as much top end talent as any team in front of them. They either haven’t been able to develop middle nine forwards or acquire them. Trying to acquire them consistently saps a franchise of trade capital and potential cheap talent, but the Stars have been reluctant to make those trades too.

What they’ve created is a top heavy team with not much secondary scoring. Jason Spezza is 34 and whether through his own fault, divine providence, or Hitch crushing him, he hasn’t done much. Mattias Janmark is closing in on 20 goals. We all love Radek Faksa, but a scoring option he is not. Martin Hanzal has his uses, but when he’s shouldering a heavy defensive load he isn’t scoring.

Maybe Jason Dickinson can do it. Gemel Smith shows signs. Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov could provide something. At this point expecting any of them to develop into big contributors is iffy, and honestly if any of them are good we’ll never know because they’ll never get minutes to prove they belong.

If you refuse to let the kids play and refuse to trade the kids you won’t play for players you will play you’re shooting yourself in the foot repeatedly. If you only try to get those guys through free agency you’re going to overpay in cash and given the age of the usual free agent you’re more likely to sign someone reaching a cliff of their production quickly. Someone has to play those minutes though and, God love him, 23 Tyler Pitlicks aren’t winning a Stanley Cup.

What the Stars under Nill have shown repeatedly is that they will pay in prospect capital for a star-level talent, but anything perceived to be less than that isn’t happening. Patience is a virtue, but patience is also crippling. At some point bold moves have to be taken if you expect bold results.

If you see that your team can’t score, and you know that you don’t have scorers hurt waiting to come back, how on earth do you justify not paying the price to acquire a scorer? If you see that your team has no secondary scoring how do you not try to find ANYONE to bring in for depth? How do you not work in kids who are producing even a little in the AHL? The Stars are afraid to make a mistake and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Lindy Ruff is a perfect example. He should have been fired last November when the Stars were a laughing stock around the league. Instead he and the Stars toiled around for all of 2016/2017 aimlessly when the season could’ve possibly been saved. Patience killed the Stars.

The response came this past offseason when the Stars brought Ken Hitchcock back into the fold. He brought structure back to the roster and made them respectable in all facets of the game. They’re still bad, but at least no one is laughing at them now I guess.

At what point does the Nill-led management group reach the end of their rope? New management would be reasonably expected to be allowed to find their own coaching staff so Hitch seems like he would be out the door with Nill. At what point do the scouting department decision-makers take more blame? You can’t really blame scouts since they just evaluate players, but at some point the decision-makers above the scouts have to take some heat for the utter lack of top end talent coming into the organization.

It is simply inexcusable to waste this much prime of the careers of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and now John Klingberg. The Stars need more serious retooling after this season. They need to give Tyler Seguin a reason to commit his future to the franchise.

If I were him I wouldn’t even consider re-signing until I saw more being done to upgrade the bottom of the roster. Why would he? He wants to win. This franchise can spiral out of control so quickly if the Stars don’t get it together. Nill has shown such a reluctance to pay the price to get in on prime talent since stealing Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns from the cap-strapped Blackhawks that I’m not sure you can reasonably trust him or his administration to take the next steps forward.

This team was pretty solid for a long time this year and has completely cratered. I’m not sure what the players on the ice have to do at this point to save the jobs of their superiors. At this point I don’t know how the administration can come back in tact. This is now ten years of mediocrity with one (maybe two) shining light of a good season snuck in there that ended with an ass-whipping at the hands of the Blues in the second round of the playoffs.

Enough is enough. It’s time for sustained results.

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

3/2/18 – 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

2/13/18 – Is Hockey For Everyone in Dallas Yet?

Last year Hockey Is For Everyone Month was a big success across the NHL as a whole. In Dallas, not so much. The Stars more or less ignored it, and a vocal group of fans weren’t particularly happy about it. I put a poll together and wrote up a story for WFAA about the situation.

Dallas Stars President Jim Lites responded after WFAA reached out to the Stars prior to publishing the story. We got this response:

“We have run all of the league-sponsored PSAs on `Hockey is for Everyone.’ We have donated hundreds of hours to all of the initiatives, including sled hockey, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. If we dropped the ball, we apologize,” Lites said. “It’s been a hectic week. We have been focused on Dave (Strader) and his return and doing work for the cancer society in conjunction with that. We spent all today with Pevs and the American Heart Association. That’s not an excuse, but it is what it is. If we left somebody out, we really apologize.”

That response left a lot to be desired, particularly since they specifically mentioned the LGBT community and there is no easily identifiable evidence that the Stars or Dallas Stars Foundation has ever done any work for that community.

Even now if you go to the Foundation website you notice this on their grants page:

Community Engagement

The Foundation strives to support organization who embrace individuals of all backgrounds, regardless of race, disability or situation, who encourage and empower people to maximize their potential and lead quality lives.

….which sounds great until contrasted with the stated goals of the NHL’s larger Hockey Is For Everyone initiative….

We support any teammate, coach or fan who brings heart, energy and passion to the rink. We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Simply put, Hockey is for Everyone™

And that is kind of the problem, still. You can’t reasonably find any reference to anything remotely associated with the LGBT community or any activities in said community on the website. When Jim Lites says the Stars do work with them there is no readily available evidence to back that claim up. Given how little the Stars did on their designated night last year you are left to draw your own conclusions.

(And yes, the Foundation does do a lot of good work. This area, however, is severely lacking.)

This year the Stars have a chance to do better. Honestly it wouldn’t take much to do better than they did last year, but the club does seem to be doing more than showing a complete and utter lack of interest in the event.

The official Twitter account tweeted about the night three times by my count. All were on February 1st. The first was the official announcement:

The Stars host their Hockey Is For Everyone Month Night on February 16th when they play the St. Louis Blues which could be awkward for a number of reasons. I seem to remember St. Louis doing it up big either this year, last year, or both, though I can’t find evidence of it at the moment. The Stars share the night with the Carolina Hurricanes who absolutely crushed it last year.

The club also announced that Tyler Seguin was their team ambassador for the month.

The final tweet was the back of a goalie mask with a HIFE logo on it.

As for the night itself, the Stars released a press release listing a number of initiatives that do a somewhat better job of meeting the goals of the program. The only note from the press release that refers to the gay community is this:

Additionally, members of the team will tape their sticks with Pride-themed hockey tape during the warm-ups. These autographed sticks will be auctioned off online at auctions.nhl.com with proceeds benefiting You Can Play Project.  During the game, the Stars will run a public service announcement on the American Airlines Center video board of players Jamie Benn, Seguin and Jason Spezza in support of the efforts of the Hockey Is For Everyone campaign.

It still doesn’t reference the community by name or identify which players will use the tape, but it is a start. There is also no mention of any outreach to any groups associated with the community.

Dallas Voice reached out to Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, to discuss the Stars’ efforts:

McDonnell praised the Stars for increasing their efforts in the diversity initiative this year, but, he said, “I do wish they would have reached out to local LGBT organizations to make them a bigger part of them. Teams have done that in other cities, but not here. We tried to engage them but haven’t gotten much in return.”

[…]

But, McDonnell continued, the team definitely “upped the ante” on Pride-themed merchandise this year. “Last year, they had one Pride T-shirt,” he said, while this year’s shopping options include Pride hockey tape and several different t-shirt and hoodie selections for both men and women.

The Dallas Stars organization also came out very strongly and loudly against efforts during last year’s Texas Legislature to pass a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people.

One minor quibble with his statement: let’s be careful giving the Stars too much credit for coming out against the bathroom bill. They were awarded the NHL Draft in late July, and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made this comment:

“It’s an important issue (the bathroom bill) for the league,” Daly said, “and we’re a very inclusive league, and we’re proud we’re an inclusive league. I think the legislation is important … From what I understand from the mayor is it’s not going to be a problem, so we don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

 On August 9th Jim Lites released a statement on behalf of the Stars denouncing the legislation after rumors circulated that the NHL could pull the draft if the law goes into place. They will always be the first one to come out against it here, but don’t forget the context.
It seems like this will be a better night than the 2017 version, but there are still obvious steps it can take to continue to be better. They can do more for minority fans. They can reach out to LGBT groups, and have them be actively involved in the night. And, most importantly, they can continue to listen to feedback.
Last year a lot of people were upset. Their voices were heard. It goes to further show that if you speak up respectfully and honestly you can make a difference. It appears that the vocal group of fans who felt like the Stars did a poor job last year have been heard. If they want to continue to see this process evolve they need to continue to speak up.
Now we wait to see what February 16th looks like at the American Airlines Center.

2/5/18 – Tyler Seguin’s 25th Goal

It’s flattering that as of 4 pm there have been over 120 visitors to this site on the third day of it existing without me doing anything more than tweeting a couple of links in the middle of the night.

I initially posted that this was about not caring about an audience because ultimately it isn’t. I think worrying about who will read something over a long enough time period stifled what I wanted to say and made me dread writing at times. It is nice to see that even a few people clicked on something they didn’t have to. I do appreciate it.

I also appreciate Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. Opposing teams pretty clearly do too. The Dallas Stars laid the wood to the Minnesota Wild last night 6-1, but I keep thinking about Seguin’s goal in the middle of the 2nd period. The more I watch it the more ridiculous it is.

Here it is again. It starts out with a simple breakout.

Seguin1

The three Stars in the picture are Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. The Wild aren’t in bad shape here.

Seguin2

The Stars turn the puck over and the Wild defender chips it blindly up the boards. From here the Wild lose their minds. The same defender drops back at least 15 feet as Radulov picks the puck up. Seguin is already on the blueline ready to join the attack.

Seguin3

Even NOW the Wild still out number the Stars four to three. All four Wild players are in position to guard the center of the ice. Notice where Seguin is. Within five seconds he’s going to be on the opposite side of the rink wide open.

Seguin4

Two seconds later the Wild are completely screwed. Two of the Wild go to attack Radulov in the corner. Two Wild players go to Seguin to prevent the tap in goal. No Wild players have any idea where arguably the best player on the ice, Benn, is located. Benn, being who he is, goes right into the undefended area in the faceoff circle.

Seguin5

The Wild STILL have a chance here now that the forward Realizes What He Has Done and goes to front Benn. Seguin still isn’t wide open, but he may as well be. Mike Reilly of the Wild is staring at Benn. The high forward is watching Benn instead of looking at Seguin, but his responsibility isn’t either of those guys.

Still, Seguin is a right shot. His stick, at this point, will end up closer to the forward than Reilly, but Reilly is in a position to make a play as of now.

Seguin6

Not even one second later look how much separation Seguin got because no one is watching him. This is the same thing Brett Hull and all elite goal scorers have an ability to do that mortal humans like us will never understand. They just know how to get open. Reilly made it easier, but it takes high quality hockey intelligence to know how to get just enough space to make a goal a tap in.

You may notice that this was the fourth goal of the game. It made me think of this Ken Hitchcock quote from after the game:

This is the first goal after the moment Hitchcock claims to have noticed it looked like they played last night. He’s probably on to something.

So I think there’s something to having one of each of these guys on three different lines. Then I see goals like that happen and realize I don’t care because sometimes it’s fun to watch a dominant line dominate even if they aren’t together all the time.

Hey, click these

2-4-2018 A Hockey Rink is a Hockey Rink and a Game is a Game
2/3/18 – The Conservative NHL and Mooterus Culture
2/2/18 – A New Hope