Rants

How the Detroit Red Wings Handle Analytics Correctly

Mike Babcock

Photo taken by the Grand Rapids Press

It’s about time for a rant.

Recently, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press wrote about the Red Wings’ opinion and involvement in the analytics trend within the NHL. Gustav Nyquist, Stephen Weiss, and Jimmy Howard all brushed them off as not a big deal. Not concerned at all. Ken Holland and Mike Babcock insist that they have their own analytics.

When it comes to analytics in the NHL, I do not believe today’s metrics offer an effective value-add to teams looking to improve their roster. There has been a lot of discussion in the media and other hockey blogs about Fenwick and Corsi percentages and how players’ performance in these scores are accurate representations of how they play.

For those who have not been exposed to the Fenwick and Corsi percentage metrics, they track puck possession by adding up shots, missed shots, and in Corsi’s case, blocked shots. My issue here is that missed shots and blocked shots are valued the same as shots on net. As any individual who played hockey can tell you, you can’t score on missed shots. Wayne Gretzky did say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” but you also miss 100% of the shots that miss the net.

Additionally, there has been word that, in the near future, pucks and jerseys will be equipped with tracking chips to uncover deeper analytics within the game. The FoxTrax puck was a fun novelty for kids and visually-impaired individuals, but not very helpful otherwise. Chips in jerseys? I’m not an octogenarian scared of technology, but this is unnecessary. However, I can’t wait for Pierre McGuire to tell me that Pavel Datsyuk skated 1.34 miles through the first two periods and what that means going into the third period with the Red Wings up 3-1, but down 7-5 in scoring chances.

For goalies, I’ve read other blogs that discuss 5-on-5 save percentage, penalty kill save percentage, and other metrics. As a goalie who has played high-level hockey, these numbers mean nothing. You stop the puck or you don’t. You win or you don’t. Petr Mrazek has a higher-than-average GAA, but wins games. Viktor Fasth of Edmonton has a high GAA, but loses. The team in front of the goalie also has an impact, so stats for one team do not translate to success or failure with another team.

There is not yet a way to determine a player’s value based on more than what the eye can see. Don’t read into analytics. See player development for yourself. Game tape and vigilant observation is currently more effective in determining if the players on your roster are the best fit. Finally, who are you going to trust when it comes to player evaluation, Mike Babcock or a journalist discussing Fenwick scores? I think the two have their respective jobs for a reason.

Red Wings’ Shootout Troubles: Who’s to Blame?

This season has not been the Red Wings’ best when it comes to shootouts. Long gone are the days when Pavel Datsyuk could dangle Tomas Vokoun with his patented move resulting in Vokoun’s jock strap landing in Section 415. Detroit is 0-3 in shootouts so far in the 2014-15 season and need to improve. Those extra standings points can go a long way at the end of the season.

 

The Suspects

The Tendys

The Shooters

The Coaches

 

Jim-meh

As a goalie, it is easier for me to find blame in the goaltenders for goals allowed. Mike Babcock summed it up perfectly during the 2008 playoffs when pucks kept finding their way past Dominik Hasek in the first round against Nashville, “Pucks went in the net.” It doesn’t matter who made a bad play that resulted in a goal, the puck went in, and it’s the goalie’s duty to prevent that.

Unfortunately, there is a move, that when correctly executed, beats Jimmy Howard. A couple actually, and they are both similar plays. David Krejci and Ryan Callahan (both right-handed) deked blocker and pulled back to tuck in the glove side. Howard was nowhere near the puck. Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis (both left-handed) sniped blocker on a quick backhand-to-forehand-shoot move. It moves the angle before the goalie can get there. As for Reilly Smith‘s snipe, the last of the five Howard has allowed, his five hole was wide open. This is because Jim leans forward and angles his blade at a 45 degree angle along the ice. Tuukka Rask and Ben Bishop have a crouched, but upright stance that let’s their stick blade run perpendicular to the ice.

By the way, Howard’s save percentage in shootouts is a paltry .286 this season (two saves on seven shots). To be fair, Lightning defenseman Matt Carle missed the net on one of Howard’s “saves”.

 

One and Done

Apparently Detroit’s scoring troubles don’t stop when regulation time does. Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar, and Andrej Nestrasil all had terrible attempts. Gustav Nyquist scored once, but tried the same exact move in his next attempt and was easily stopped by Ben Bishop. His goal is the only one the Red Wings have tallied in any shootout this season.

To their credit, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg both almost scored if it wasn’t for Michal Neuvirth’s dumb luck. Pav’s snipe hit the knob of Neuvy’s stick in a wide-open high blocker area. Z’s fake slapshot deke almost trickled through. If Zetterberg deked to the backhand instead, he would have had a wide open net.

 

The Brains of the Operation

Why Helm and Nestrasil? Seriously. Helm is a great hockey player, but finesse is not his thing. It often looks like he moves too fast for his brain to keep pace. How much studying is done to prepare players for shootouts? Is that the coaches’ or players’ responsibility to know the tendencies of their opponents? The coaches do pick the shooters, so hopefully they have some reasoning behind their selections.

 

The Verdict

Everyone.

Jimmy, don’t get sniped. Fake shot, deke blocker, pull back to glove side is 100% effective of embarrassing you this season.

Shooters, know your goalies.

Coaches, know your goalies too. Also, don’t let Helm or Nestrasil shoot again.

Detroit Red Wings Recent Draft Busts

Tom McCollum

Photo courtesy of Mark Newman/Grand Rapids Griffins

Tom McCollum– first round pick in 2008.

The Red Wings took McCollum with the last pick in the 2008 draft after winning the Stanley Cup. They were hoping he would eventually take over the starting duties with Dominik Hasek retiring and Chris Osgood getting up there in age. McCollum failed to impress once he got to Grand Rapids and got sniped in his only NHL action against St. Louis. Once he rookie contract was up, Detroit declined to re-sign him. McCollum signed a minor league deal with Grand Rapids in hopes that he could prove himself that way. Over the past two season, McCollum has put up decent numbers in Grand Rapids, but Petr Mrazek has leapfrogged him on the depth chart. With Jake Paterson heading to the AHL next season, it will be unlikely that McCollum stays in Grand Rapids, unless Mrazek is promoted to the big leagues.

Next five picks: Jacob Markstrom, G; Slava Voynov, D; Phil McRae, C; Jake Allen, G; Nicolas Deschamps, C.

Others passed over: Roman Josi, Justin Schultz, Derek Stepan, Adam Henrique, Braden Holtby.

 

Dick Axelsson

Photo courtesy of Sarah Lindenau

Dick Axelsson– second round pick in 2006.

After a promising 2005-06 campaign by another big, Swedish winger, Johan Franzen, the Red Wings opted to take a similar player in Dick Axelsson. He played three more seasons in Sweden before coming over to North America. Axelsson only played 17 games with Grand Rapids before returning to Sweden. He never got used to the NHL rinks across the Atlantic and returned to Farjestads to finish out the 2009-10 campaign. Axelsson has put up good numbers in Sweden’s top league, but never found his stride in North America. Perhaps he did not give it enough time here or Detroit let him ripen for too long in Sweden? Either way, he was a lost pick that could have been a much better player had the Red Wings picked someone else.

Next five picks: Jamie McBain, D; Jonas Junland, D; Brian Strait, D; Ryan White, C; Kirill Tulupov, D.

Others passed over: Steve Mason, Brad Marchand, Cal Clutterbuck, James Reimer, Matt Beleskey.

 

Christofer Lofberg

Photo courtesy of EliteProspects/Bildbyrån

Christofer Lofberg– third round pick in 2005.

In the third round of the 2005 draft, the Red Wings selected Chistofer Lofberg out of Djurgardens’ junior team. Lofberg would play the next two season on the top team in Djurgardens, but never developed into the player the Red Wings thought he would. The big center bounced around after leaving Djurgardens and was never signed by Detroit or Grand Rapids.

Next five picks: Danny Syvert, D; Phil Oreskovic, D; Mikko Lehtonen, RW; Mark Fraser, D; Ben Bishop, G.

Others passed over: Keith Yandle, Vladimir Sobotka, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Tom Pyatt, Alex Stalock.

 

Igor Grigorenko

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Record-Eagle

Igor Grigorenko– second round pick on 2001.

Igor Grigorenko was a questionable player to include on this list. The second round pick from 2001 was in a horrible car accident 2003 that caused him to miss most of the 2003-04 season. It took him time to find his game, but many believed that he wold not be the player he was. Grigorenko played in Russia until 2007, then moved to Grand Rapids to start the 2007-08 campaign. He played in five games and failed to register a point. Grigorenko then went back to Russia to play in the KHL, where he still plays today. Who knows what could have been if he did not get in the car accident in 2003 that derailed his career. Grigorenko could have been on the Red Wings playing on Pavel Datsyuk’s wing.

Next five picks: Peter Budaj, G; Tomas Malec, D; Brendan Bell, D; Fedor Fedorov, C; Robin Leblanc, R.

Others passed over: Patrick Sharp, Ray Emery, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Mike Smith.

Playing a Two-Way Game

Alex Ovechkin

Photo courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin is a polarizing figure around the NHL. No, he is not a Red Wing, but does have a place in this blog. Here’s why: Steve Yzerman was once in a similar situation as Ovechkin.

Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, our beloved captain lit up the scoreboard, but the Red Wings never were legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup. They reached the Campbell Conference (Western Conference) Finals in 1987 and 1988 only to be eliminated quickly by the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers won the Cup both years because Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier could do anything they wanted on the ice. Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey (only in 1987), Craig Simpson, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, and Grant Fuhr also “contributed.” Detroit did not return to the conference finals until 1995.

In 1993, Yzerman was approached by newly-appointed coach Scotty Bowman. He wanted Yzerman to focus more on his defensive game in order to help develop the team. Bowman said the points would come, but not as often as they usually did. However, his contributions playing well in the defensive zone would more than compensate for the loss in production. Yzerman could have easily said no and continued to score at will. He reached 100 points in each of his previous six seasons.

Instead, Steve decided to focus more on the defensive side.

Steve Yzerman

Photo courtesy of AP

Now, the leader of the team and leading scorer was playing a more defensive style of hockey and it began to rub off on the rest of the team. Detroit continued to score as well. Sergei Fedorov and Ray Sheppard each had 50 goal seasons. Fedorov bought in as well and won the Selke Trophy that year. He would win it again in 1996.

Scotty Bowman taught superstar players that how to play defense and continue scoring, even if it was at a slower pace than they are used to. That has rubbed off on Red Wings players since then. Guys like Yzerman, Fedorov, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Keith Primeau, Dallas Drake, Slava Kozlov, and Martin Lapointe were on that 1993-94 Red Wings team that Scotty Bowman influenced. The next four years produced incredible results stemming from a defensive system. Detroit reached the finals in 1995, set a record for regular season wins in 1996, and won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998.

All of those players are now retired. However, the way they played the game rubbed off on younger players. Last I heard, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were two of the best two-way players in the NHL. Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary also got a chance to play with Steve Yzerman and learn the ropes of defensive hockey. Now, guys like Gustav Nyquist, Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, and Tomas Tatar are all playing strong defensively (some more than others though).

Getting back to Ovechkin – he needs to change his style. As of this morning, he is -35 on the season with 74 points. He only has 38 points at even strength. That means that 73 goals have been scored while he has been on the ice. That number is absolutely absurd. He is a right wing, so his contributions to the defensive end may not be as crucial, but the problem is not the Caps defense, centers, and goalies. If someone is not covered in the defensive zone, everyone overcompensates to cover, often leaving their man. This scramble usually results in a goal against.

Will adopting a more defensive style work? Dale Hunter tried that a few seasons ago, but him and Ovechkin were often feuding and they did not advance far in the playoffs. Perhaps a change of players and management in DC will produce better results, even if Ovechkin’s numbers decline. Ask Steve Yzerman what meant more, three Stanley Cups or putting up 100 points every season? In a crazy hypothetical situation, I’m sure Yzerman would have had no problem refraining from scoring if it meant Stanley Cups in Detroit.

Thank you Scotty Bowman for changing the Detroit Red Wings culture to a more accountable one that continues today. Thank you Steve Yzerman for the selflessness that led Detroit to three Stanley Cups.