The Wysh List publishes every Friday.
To quote Hans Gruber in the seminal holiday classic “Die Hard”: “It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles. So be of good cheer.”
We want nothing but good cheer for those who had an atrocious 2018. We wouldn’t mind a little miracle for them, either … like a reset button they could push to start the year anew. Or perhaps this is just us getting nostalgic for that year we got our first Nintendo system under the tree, when that reset button was a savior in ending many unlucky games.
Here are 10 hockey people (or teams) who could use a reset for 2018:
What a horror show. Schneider has an 0-14-2 record with a .857 save percentage and a 4.30 GAA in 2018. The Devils are 1-16-2 in the 2018 calendar year (since Jan. 1) when Schneider plays. Their only win came last week against Vegas, and that’s when Schneider was pulled after allowing three goals in less than 10 minutes. Schneider has lost 18 consecutive decisions (0-15-3) since his last win on Dec. 27, 2017. That’s the longest winless streak by a goaltender in the shootout era (via Elias Sports Bureau). So, in summary: Boy, could the Devils use Bo Horvat right now.
Lucic has two goals in 77 games in 2018. Two. He has 13 assists in that span. Every time you want to give Peter Chiarelli a modicum of praise for doing the obvious — your goaltending sucks, so hire Ken Hitchcock — you come back to the fact that he’s paying a player with a 2.9 shooting percentage $6 million annually through 2023.
Berglund’s falling out with the Sabres is one of the saddest tales of the season … well, for him, at least. Buffalo successfully cleared significant cap space they can reallocate to Jeff Skinner going forward. According to Elliotte Friedman, Berglund’s full no-trade clause ended the day before he was moved in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, and the trade was made before he could submit his partial no-trade list. So he leaves the only team he’s known, goes to a team one assumes he would have blocked via his NTC, sees his role and ice time significantly diminished, and just decides enough is enough and gives up roughly $13 million to get out of his contract. When your Christmas tale is actually an episode of “Black Mirror.” …
In December 2016, Alzner was a member of the Washington Capitals, was considered one of the NHL’s better defensive defensemen, and was looking at an unrestricted-free-agent bounty, which of course he found in Montreal. In December 2018, Alzner is a member of the Laval Rocket of the AHL, is considered one of the biggest free-agent busts of the past two seasons and watched his former Washington teammates hoist a Stanley Cup he chased there for nine seasons.
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes finished last in the Pacific Division last season but with a little bit of hope: What happens when the team has a healthy Antti Raanta? What happens after another summer of John Chayka tinkering? Well … not much. The Coyotes have gone from a .427 points percentage last season to .455 this season. Their shooting percentage has declined — and Max Domi has turned into an all-star after leaving Arizona. Meanwhile, Raanta, the big, stabilizing force in goal, played 12 games before a season-ending injury.
The mighty have fallen, the dynasty has crumbled, yadda yadda. The Blackhawks are 26-44-10 in 2018 through Dec. 20. They managed to get the best coach in franchise history fired. They watched as their franchise goalie Corey Crawford struggled through more injuries. The former winter sports darlings of Chicago watched themselves become an afterthought to the Bears. But hey, we’ll get to watch them in (another) outdoor game on Jan. 1.
The tribulations of Murray last season are well chronicled: his injuries, the loss of his father, the pressure of following up a Stanley Cup win and doing it without the Marc-Andre Fleury safety net. The result was his weakest postseason of his three in the NHL, with a .908 save percentage. Hopes were high for a bounce-back in 2018-19. It hasn’t happened yet: a .890 save percentage, 3.70 goals-against in 13 games, once again dealing with an injury-riddled season. Even his wins, like the one this week against the Capitals, look shaky.
‘Twas a time when J-Bouw was the model of steady play for NHL defensemen; but much like everything else with the Blues this year, what looks good on paper looks atrocious on the ice. An injury derailed last season after March 3. In 52 games this calendar year, he has nine assists. In 28 games this season, he has a minus-99 in shot attempts and a minus-11 in goal differential at 5-on-5. He was also a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. While the entirety of the Blues would probably like a mulligan on this season, Bouwmeester might need one most of all ahead of his UFA status. Well, that and the Fountain of Youth.
The Florida Panthers
The Panthers had a bummer of a 2017-18 season, finishing a single point away from making the playoffs for just the sixth time in franchise history. Instead, they had a couch-eye view of their former head coach leading an expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final. Then they embarked on a 2018-19 season with expectations sky-high — one silly ESPN columnist said they’d be a 100-point team! — until injuries and mediocre defense (including a .887 team save percentage, third-worst in the NHL through 32 games) turned them into a very middling .500 team on the outside of the playoff picture.
Eugene Melnyk, Ottawa Senators
There might not be a reset button powerful enough to reset all that’s gone wrong for Melnyk this year. The #MelnykOut fallout from his comments about the market? The Erik Karlsson saga? The Mike Hoffman saga? The Randy Lee saga? The collapse of his attempt to build a downtown arena? Getting countersued by his former development partner for $1 billion? Having fans abandon the team despite its surprising proximity to a playoff seed? Having Gary Bettman, who has rarely said an ill word about any of his markets, expressing “disappointment” in how things are going? It’s been rough.
Here’s to a better 2019 for all of them.
The Week In Gritty
It’s the first holiday season for Gritty, and he’s clearly still learning about proper etiquette and traditions. Like, for example, not attacking Santa:
Then again, it’s Philly, so attacking Santa is, in fact, etiquette.
But the true highlight in the Week in Gritty was a meeting between Flyers mascots past and present, as our ‘hairball from a Tabby with google eyes on it’ frolicked with Scott Hartnell, who was honored by the team this week.
Worth it for that hairdryer fight.
Merry Christmas, Gritty. You are god’s gift to humanity. (Not sure which god yet, to be honest. Potentially Cthulhu.)
Pierre McGuire vs. Math
NBC Sports “between the benches” analyst Pierre McGuire is good at some things, like when he caught us up on the trash talk between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin during the Penguins’ win over the Capitals this week. (And seriously, these games should be on NBC proper instead of NBCSN, because there’s nothing in the NHL that even approaches the combination of skill, physicality and pure hatred of this rivalry.)
He’s not so good at other things, such as talking trash on the analytics movement, as he did on Thursday on Montreal’s TSN 690.
“The way the team in Arizona … look, I’ve been telling you this for a long time. I’m not picking on anybody. They’re the poster child for analytics. And it’s not working. All the analytics people can write and say what they want. All the pedigree analytics programs have failed. Florida failed. Edmonton failed. Buffalo failed. Arizona is failing. Sorry, it’s reality,” he said. “[Teams] that built their teams on analytics have failed. That cannot be debated. It cannot. The Edmonton Oilers were a failure, based on analytics. The Buffalo Sabres were a failure, based on analytics. The Florida Panthers were a complete failure, based on analytics. Don’t even try to debate it. Look at the standings. Carolina is trending that way.”
Granted, there may be other factors at play here than just “analytics” — budgets and team save percentage come to mind — but yes, Arizona is quite underwhelming.
McGuire then asked for “a number that you would use to procure a player,” which was revelatory, in the sense that he apparently views player acquisition like purchasing a car. “WHAT’S THE MILES PER GALLON? GIMME A NUMBER.”
McGuire said puck possession numbers, which the NHL will be spending millions of dollars on player tracking technology in order to better define, are “bull poop,” asking, “What happens if you play for a coach that plays chip and chase hockey? What’s your possession number going to be? What happens if you play for a team that rims the puck around the boards, and you have to chip it out? What happens to your possession numbers? The Dallas Stars in 1999, were they a possession team or a non-possession team? They were a non-possession team! And why was that? Because Ken Hitchcock wanted a chip and chase team. Ask Guy Carbonneau! Ask Darien Hatcher! Ask Dave Reid! Ask Joe Nieuwendyk!”
Ask Jamie Langenbrunner! Ask Brad Lukowich! Ask Jason Botterill! OK, maybe don’t ask Jason Botterill, whose Buffalo Sabres heavily rely on the research of Jason Nightingale, a data analyst who predated him with the team. Botterill believes in the “eye test” too, but believes that the data can inform those results. “We like to compare information too. Jason and his staff will say this is what we see from a player the past few weeks from a numbers perspective. He’ll ask if that’s what we see when scouting. I like to see how close the two evaluations are,” said Botterill, whose team is currently third in the Eastern Conference, said to WGR in February.
As for the Dallas Stars, using an example from 1999 to disprove an approach in 2018 is like a doctor walking into the cardiology department of Mount Sinai Hospital and going “yeah, all these machines are great, but have you considered LEECHES?” It’s not just a different league than it was TWENTY YEARS AGO, but practically a different sport, given the decline of physical play and fighting and the rise of four lines of skill players.
Also, Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues were fifth in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage during his tenure there (2011-17) at 51.75. Just sayin’.
Back to McGuire: “I’m convinced, to this day, that’s there’s always somebody that’s going to sell you something. That’s what’s gone on here. Boots on the ground will never be beaten by analytics.”
Literally no one is saying that analytics should exist without the support of an actual scouting staff watching players, be it in the arena or on video. No one. At all. Not even the most fervent Corsi-head has ever argued this. This is a straw man so large it should be used as kindling at a college football prep rally in Texas. Back to McGuire: “In the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run, the Boston Bruins had a line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton and Danny Paille. Go Google their numbers and tell me where they were. They were so critically important to that team, and their analytic numbers were brutal.”
Via Corsica, that line played 18 games together for just over 100 minutes at 5-on-5 in the 2011 playoffs. They were a minus-7 in shot attempts, or three lower than the line of Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley, which played 129 minutes; they were five better than Kelly, Ryder and Tyler Seguin, who played 13 games together and around 79 minutes at 5-on-5.
The goal differential of the Thornton line? One goal for, two against. They drew one more penalty than they took. Their expected goals differential was a minuscule minus-0.18.
Relative to the Bruins’ top lines, which were possession monsters, the Thornton line was underwhelming, to be sure. But compared to what’s expected from a fourth line – which is to play more talented opponents to at least a stalemate, and not be a liability when rolled on the ice – they were reasonably effective and their numbers were anything but “brutal.”
But again, what do we know? We only used the rudimentary analytics at our disposal to reinforce what the eye test told us.
McGuire continues: “That’s why if you’re going to build a team based only analytic equations, you’re doomed to fail. Ask the people in Arizona how they like it!”
Nah … I’d rather ask:
The Washington Capitals, who hired Tim Barnes (who blogged about hockey numbers as “Vic Ferrari”) as director of hockey analytics. He spent his day with the Stanley Cup in Calgary this year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who hired Sam Ventura (who founded the incredible stats site War On Ice) as a statistical consultant in July 2015 and promoted him to director of hockey research in July 2017. So he’s been there for the last two Stanley Cups, before Barnes won one with the Capitals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, whose Michael Peterson is in his 10th season overseeing hockey analytics, his first after previously serving as statistical analyst for nine years. He previously worked on a consultant basis with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians. The Lightning currently have the best record in the NHL.
The Boston Bruins, who hired Jeremy Rogalski in 2009 as an assistant to hockey administration, made him video analyst in 2010, and by 2017 named him director of hockey analytics. So he’s been there for a Stanley Cup and two conference titles. The Bruins are currently in an Eastern Conference wild card spot after advancing to the second round last season.
The Calgary Flames, who hired Chris Snow seven seasons ago as director of hockey analysis after working as director of hockey operations for the Minnesota Wild. He created and managed the Flames’ hockey research and development department, overseeing data collection, database development, and data analysis. The Flames are currently in first place in the Pacific Division.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, whose general manager Kyle Dubas had every bit the “computer boy” label that Chayka had when he was hired by the team in 2014 as assistant GM. The Leafs created their own department of analytics that year, somewhat revolutionary at the time, with Darryl Metcalf, Cam Charron and Rob Pettapiece. Metcalf, who used to run the trailblazing analytics site Extra Skater, was promoted to special assistant to the general manager 24 hours after McGuire’s screed. The Leafs are second overall in the Eastern Conference.
Again, these are just a few of the teams that use analytics and are thriving – we could toss in Colorado, Detroit, Carolina and the Devils (last year) too. And these are just the positions we could verify publicly. It’s much easier to call out the “analytics teams” when they position themselves as such, as a way of marketing, say, a low payroll team as being something better than its value would indicate. “Moneyball” was a really popular movie. Analytics, in some places, have been trumpeted louder than in other places for that reason. But apparently, it’s the only tune McGuire has heard.
It’s painful to listen to someone this uniformed on the matter of analytics conjuring up arguments no one is making (“THEY WANT COMPUTER EQUATIONS AND NOT SCOUTING!”) and making declarations that simply aren’t supported by the facts (“TEAMS THAT BUILT THEMSELVES WITH ANALYTICS HAVE FAILED AND THIS CAN NOT BE DEBATED!”).
But then, perhaps, that’s why we’re listening to Pierre McGuire in 2018 rather than watching him manage an NHL club.
From reader ‘Slkysmth2’:
Two things here. I’ve never understood the compulsion to get a coach’s name on the back of a jersey, unless that coach did something extraordinary for the franchise. (Like an Al Arbour “4” jersey for the New York Islanders, for example.) John Tortorella willing the Columbus Blue Jackets to a couple of participation ribbons doesn’t exactly rise to that. But we have to admit that, factually, this Jersey Foul is accurate.
Listen To ESPN ON ICE
Speaking of the Blue Jackets, really terrific interview with Seth Jones on the latest ESPN ON ICE, including what the team is doing to try and retain the services of Artemi Panarin. Plus Internet sensation Colton Saucerman brings us behind “the Beard!” Stream here or hit us on iTunes.
Watching Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner perform in “The Nutcracker” must have had Don Cherry clutching his Dougie Gilmour teddy bear.
J.J. Watt would love to be a “figurehead owner” for an NHL team in Houston.
“Pink laces, longer hair and significantly smarter: welcome to girls hockey ($).”
This injury to Chicago’s Connor Murphy after an elbow from Dallas forward Tyler Pitlick is one of the most brutal, bloody scenes of the season. Yikes.
After Marco Sturm joined the LA Kings as an assistant, Toni Soderholm has taken over the German national team.
RIP Scott Matzka, a hockey player with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) whose story inspired so many.
I mean, what Pittsburgh Penguins fan wouldn’t shave Mario Lemieux’s number and Christmas tree into their chest hair for the holidays if they had the ability to do so?
Finally, if you’re into the podcast thing, my other one “Puck Soup” has rebooted in a Version 2.0 with noted hockey rabble-rousers Ryan Lambert and Sean “Down Goes Brown”” McIndoe. Check it out here.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Huge, over-caffeinated Q&A with Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils GM, on this disaster of a season and his view of the franchise’s plan.
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Dimitri Filipovic goes deep on John Gibson’s incredible season in the latest Trendspotting.