Last week David Johnson closed down Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and thousands of hockey nerds like me wept. It was not good. Although I disagreed with Johnson’s conclusions many times, his site was beautiful. WOWY all night long, sort Fenwick like hell won’t have it, all kinds of answers in less than a minute. Johnson was hired by the Calgary Flames, no doubt to help them figure out how to outscore the Oilers during the McDavid era.
The entire episode brought me to a couple of questions that have been out there for a time and I’ve been thinking about these hot August nights.
- What kind of information should an organization be gathering?
- Who best to read the data?
Johnson knows the numbers and for all I know (I am serious here) is the absolute best at reading them. But how often is that true? You have to find the right numbers to crunch, make sure your math army is crunching them properly, and then have someone read the tea leaves properly. That’s a very difficult group of things for one person to do and I wonder how many teams are doing it right? Are we five years from hitting top dead center? 10 years?
HOW CAN WE TELL?
When Dellow was with the Oilers, I’d look at the moves made and imagine he did or did not get heard on specific transactions. Andrej Sekera signed? I will never know, but that made sense and Dellow had a hall pass at the time. Winnipeg and not Edmonton trades up to get Logan Stanley? Oilers don’t take Tage Thompson or Riley Tufte? Maybe Dellow filed a report. But really, we’re pissing in the wind. David Johnson might be the smartest guy on the planet, might have the best metrics and may read them perfectly, but what if his recommendations sit on Craig Conroy’s desk unread? I’m not sure most NHL teams are helping themselves in this area and it’s going to be a bugger to figure it out.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
There’s a bunch of things I’d get a David Johnson to look at, beyond the stuff he’ll be able to comb out of the Flames data we don’t have access to because of the wall. Here are a few instances.
- Oklahoma Barons general manager Bill Scott, January 2012: ‘Push Up’ is our organizational philosophy now. No one is getting ice time because they were picked in the first round or the second round. There’s no entitlement. They (Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton) both started with eight to 10 minutes a game and have been healthy scratches for games. Now they’re up to 10 or 12.” Source
I’d like Johnson to have a long look at the Oilers tendency to slow-play kids who are 20 and just out of junior. My brain tells me young athletes should play, and if the competition is too high then play them at a level where they can flourish. I don’t have a lot of information available but Johnson should have access now. How long would it take to build a 10-year history of kids at 20 in the AHL and how well they perform using the ‘Push Up’ method? If it works, wouldn’t we see more teams adopting it? I think you would see it. Or maybe the Oilers don’t do that anymore. I would love to ask Kyle Platzer about it.
DRILLING DOWN ON CHL DEFENSEMEN
CHL Forwards are easier to figure out than defenders, the stats available to us offer good insight, even boxcars tell a story. Defense? Hmm. Not so much. I’d ask a guy like Johnson to bin opposition for CHL teams and players like the big brains at Puck IQ. It can be done, the folks at Prospects-Stats.com are doing it. Here, let me run some Seattle Thunderbirds numbers to make my point.
- Bear is clearly the class of the group, and plays the most while delivering the most while playing against the most difficult. Seems to me we can say the Ottenbreit and Tyszka are playing similar tough minutes and then the others are against the lesser. Now, let’s touch base with Caleb Jones and the Portland Winterhawks.
- Jones has some company, in boxcars and qual comp (looks like two pairs sharing the load) but he played a lot more at 5×5 than his partners.
- Bear delivered more offense, but the rest looks the same. Who had the better year?
- A perhaps more important question: How good is Jokiharju if he posted similar numbers while being two years younger?
I’d like to have many seasons to compare and the binning done by Woodmoneys to compare. If you had that, could you take advantage at the draft table? In trade? As long as you are asking the right questions, inputting the correct data and have the right savant, you would be wise to be aggressive. Right? How many teams are doing that right now? Before we leave the subject, I wanted to have a look at Edmonton’s defensive draft pick this year, Dmitri Samorukov from the Guelph Storm.
- Guelph Storm have a fascinating defensive group. McFadden was 19 last season and he pulled the biggest load, followed by draft eligible Samorukov and Merkley, who was 16. Depth was a real issue and the defense got caved.
- I like Samorukov’s numbers here but would love to see it against hundreds of other draft eligible seasons over the last decade. Do players who post this kind of player card at 17 develop into NHL players 30 percent of the time? 40?
THE OILERS AND MATH
Although many were upset that the Oilers passed on Alex DeBrincat (I had him No. 15) at the 2016 draft to select Tyler Benson (I had him No. 34) (my final list for 2016 is here) the selection represented a massive improvement for the team’s second-round picks. Marco Roy, Mitch Moroz and David Musil were the three second rounders from recent drafts, not a one of them posting enough offense to suggest an NHL future. Benson? There is zero doubt he will bring enough offense if he can stay healthy, plus his resume suggests grit and two-way ability.
All of which is to say I think the Oilers have improved in this area. The forward selections this season (Kailer Yamamoto, Ostap Safin, Kirill Maksimov, Skyler Brind’Amour) are all home run picks if they cash. Edmonton is swinging so hard they’re coming out of their shoes with these selections. Music!
What is the next step? Well, and I’m not sure the organization still does it, but I’d move heaven and earth to find a way to close the experiment known as ‘Push Up’ as soon as humanly possible. If we read next fall about Tyler Benson’s healthy scratches and his 10-minutes a night playing time in Bakersfield, we’ll know the Oilers aren’t really paying attention to what successful teams are doing. At the very least have someone do the research on it. I would. They should. The Edmonton Oilers owe it to Tyler Benson. Seriously.