Friday, March 22, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Moneypuck/James Neal/the Penguins/Dan MacKinnon/SAI

Yesterday, I came across a very interesting article by the excellent James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, talking about the Penguins use of analytics and its significance in their decision-making process in trading for James Neal (and signing Tomas Vokoun).

In Defense: Travis Ewanyk's ELC

So there is a bit of a mini-commotion on the Twitter and on some blogs about "wasting" one of the Oilers' 50 contracts on an entry-level contract for Travis Ewanyk. Jonathan Willis does a decent job of going over this and defending his position over at Oilers Nation.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Systems Theory: Ken Hitchcock and the Nonstop Blues

The Blues have been amongst the top defensive teams in the league since Ken Hitchock took over last season. I liken him to the Tom Thibodeau (known as the NBA's preeminent defensive genius and hard ass) of hockey. The NHL is a league of possession and scoring chances (unless you're the Nashville Predators). The less shots the other team gets, the less likely they are to get scoring chances. The less the other team has the puck, the less likely they are to get chances. This is something Ken Hitchcock understands intrinsically. Currently, the St. Louis Blues are allowing 23.4 shots against/60 minutes at even-strength, the second-lowest in the league to the Kings at 23.2. Last year, the St. Louis Blues allowed 26.0 shots against/60 minutes, the lowest in the league. The last team Hitchock coached, the Columbus Blue Jackets, allowed 25.9 shots against/60 minutes in the last full season he coached there (2008-09). I think it's fair to say Ken Hitchcock has built up a fairly effective system. He's one part tactical genius and one part demanding taskmaster. It's a system that has allowed Steve Mason, Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliot to look like, and actually become, all-stars and award winners. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Video Games

I was watching a few interviews with Paul MacLean on YouTube after I did those two posts involving Babcock and came across something interesting. (The two worked together in both Anaheim and Detroit for years, and with Ottawa's success I wanted to see if Babcock had any influence on MacLean's philosophy in listening to some interviews.) MacLean's son David is a pro scout with the Phoenix Coyotes (his older son A.J. plays hockey in Dundee, Scotland) and the team there, the Dundee Stars, posted interviews with both Paul and David from this past summer. I thought it was interesting to hear what David had to say on his ascendency to his job as a professional scout at a relatively young age. He went to film school and got his start at TSN, and then got hired by the Coyotes to spearhead their video scouting database.

Interesting Interviews: Mike Babcock, Craig Button & Jarmo Kekalainen

I had a chance to catch up on some stuff this weekend and came across an interview with Mike Babcock on Jason Gregor's show this past week as well as the great DraftCentre podcast with Craig Button.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Shift Stalker: Andrej Sekera

Time for another Shift Stalker. As I mentioned in a previous post, I remain curious about the statistical advances in the game. By proxy, I spend a fair amount of time reading blogs and papers and findings related to this side of hockey. Earlier this year when I was scrolling through player usage charts from the 2011/12 season, Sekera was a notable standout on the Sabres chart. He's not exactly a well-known commodity around the NHL, and Sabres fans know him as skilled but inconsistent if anything else. The charts showed that last year, despite the inconsistency cries, Sekera was consistently used against top lines and was depended on by Lindy Ruff to go out during defensive zone draws a fair amount. Despite this defensively-slanted deployment, with Sekera on the ice, the Sabres were still able to drive the play and maintain a larger share of possession than the other team.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mike Babcock's Scientifically Engineered Clone: Jeff Blashill

I was just poking around the Internet, wasting my life away watching the most obscure hockey videos as possible, as usual. In doing this, I stumbled across the terrific Vimeo account for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Don't know how these guys aren't working for an NHL team in all honesty.

One of the more interesting videos on the channel were these features called "Between the Benches" where cameras followed the team around over the course of a game to see how things transpire from the inside. Embedded clips are below — the first clip is a game against the Lake Erie Monsters, and the second is the Red vs. White game from the Red Wings' training camp.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Semi-Shift Stalker: Ian White

A week or so ago, Bob Stauffer  — the Oilers' radio colour commentator — suggested that Kirk Maltby, working as a Red Wings pro scout, had been at the last two Oilers games. It was at the time Ryan Whitney had been scratched for four of five games and Ian White had recently been scratched for the Red Wings. I love making up fake trades in my head like any other fan so hypothesized about Whitney for White. Both players could use a change of scenery, I hypothesized. Whitney had clearly lost the faith of the coaching staff and his confidence was plummeting on the ice. You could see it in his body language. White had clearly come back down to Earth after looking great on Lidstrom's right side at even-strength last year (as Betty White could have if she laced up a pair of skates).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sloan Link Roundup

The MIT Sloan Sports Conference is something that has interested me for a number of years. Brought to my attention in 2009 by Bill Simmons shortly after Daryl Morey (founder of the conference and GM of the Houston Rockets) had been hired. I had been fascinated by Morey's ascension to front office from a statistical background. A New York Times piece on the undervaluation of Houston defensive stopper Shane Battier, and further profiling on Morey fascinated me even further. Morey is lovingly referred to as Dork Elvis amongst Sloan aficionados, both for his role in founding the conference and in bringing analytics to the forefront of everyday sports conversation.

Looming Cap Troubles: Philadelphia Flyers

I was on the way to getting a haircut inbetween classes this afternoon and caught part of an interview with CBC's Elliotte Friedman (owner of a terrific Twitter account and purveryor of the absolutely essential 30 Thoughts) on the TEAM 1260's Mark Spector Show. Friedman and Spector were discussing briefly about how Gagner may be a target for a trade with the cap coming down to $64M next year if he keeps having a great numbers year but they believe the performance is unsustainable.

So, as any normal human should, I went to CapGeek (a.k.a. The Best Site Ever), and noticed Philadelphia was listed as having $0 (!) in cap room this current year. They have a few players on long term injured reserved so that number isn't entirely representative of their current situation. Currently they have $62M+ committed towards the $64M cap next year with three everyday roster players to replace through FA (Gagne, Fedotenko and Foster). It seems as if the Flyers would be in a bit of a cap crunch next year and could be vulnerable to a savvy GM preying on their position of lesser power. I was already going to do a post on a few different players looking at legitamite #2 defenseman options to play with Justin Schultz going forward (as I believe Nick Schultz is probably a really solid #5 at ES on a contending team). Meszaros was amongst the list of names I was going to consider doing a Shift Stalker on. He seems like a decent target for a one-year rental for a team looking to go over the top and less of a true loss for the Flyers as he may likely walk away with his unrestricted free agency looming in the summer of 2014.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Draft Study: Later Round CHL Players

The NHL Entry Draft is an annual event full of hope and potential — an introduction to the next generation of stars and new faces of the league. However, an event filled with such hope and promise cannot escape the inherent failure that surrounds, and ultimately comes to define, its exercise. At its purest distillation, the entry draft is an exercise in futility and as such, becomes a competition to see which team can avoid the trappings of failure with the most aplomb. Every year, there are seven rounds over two days; with each team allotted one pick in each round, that comes to a total of 210 drafted players a year. There are 22 roster spots on each NHL team, leaving 660 spots to be filled. Quite obviously, the attrition rate for the league is not anywhere near 30%, so it stands to reason the majority of draft picks will never see NHL ice.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Does Stamkos Get Scoring Chances?

Everyone knows that Steven Stamkos is probably the most prolific sniper in the NHL right now. 60 goals last year speaks for itself. However, out west, we don't get to see Tampa play that much, we see Stamkos' goals on the highlights sometimes, and everyone knows about his "spot" where he'll one-time a pass home from the top of the left circle, but game-to-game and shift-to-shift we don't know a ton about him. I thought I'd investigate a little further into what makes Stamkos such a sniper, and how he's able to insert himself into such an abundance of opportunities at both even-strength and on the powerplay. I watched a few Lightning games —against the Rangers and Leafs at home and against the Devils and Panthers on the road— and collected clips in order to determine how he is able to generate those chances.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jarmo Kekalainen: Amateur Scouting and Sustained Success

The Columbus Blue Jackets hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen is probably one of the most intriguing sports executive hirings to me in the last little while. I've been a fan for quite some time. I don't think I really need to do a profile on his backstory, you can find that plenty of places. Like here and here. I'm going to bend this hiring to both reflect a bit back on Jarmo's past performance, and expand a bit on some of the processes involved in building a team that can sustain competitiveness.

The Best Shutdown Defenseman You've Never Heard Of: Mike Weaver

Over the last little while, I've been getting more and more interested in the statistical side of the game. I still don't think it has nearly close to the value as in baseball (might do another post on this later), but a lot of the work being done out there is pretty interesting and noteworthy. One thing in particular I've been drawn to are the player usage charts put out by Rob Vollman of ESPN and Hockey Prospectus. As great and as interesting as stats are, nothing in hockey is ever going to replace watching players with your own two eyes; it goes without saying that the dressing room, make-up, and character (of both a team and it's individual players), are paramount to success in a sport where everybody's actions have such an effect on one another. However, statistics might be able to turn us on to something we may have missed, either due to our own biases, not seeing a player enough, the fact we can only pay attention to so many things at once, or any variety of other reasons. The possibility that statistics might uncover a tiny sliver of benefit that can be leveraged to a team's advantage is reason enough to at least keep tabs on them, in my mind at least.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oilers PP: High Slot Play

As I've been watching the games lately, I've been noticing the Oilers PP is getting much less effective. While the conversion rate remains high, aesthetically, it's simply lacking movement and shot generation. I'll probably dive into powerplays in general in a little more detail later on. But for now, I'll just stick to a little wrinkle that I think the Oilers could use on their powerplay.