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Friday Funbag: More on 11-7 and do faceoffs matter? Plus, laugh at my failed college hockey tryout from 15 years ago
It's Friday, we have some fun, answer your questions, and I wax poetically about Dustin Wolf before embarrassing myself with an old video from my college newspaper.
Last Saturday I wrote about potential 11-forward, seven-defender lineups and how it could potentially be used this season by the Detroit Red Wings.
That story prompted Prashanth Iyer, my podcast host on Expected by Whom?, to go deeper down the wormhole and pull the data on how 11-7 lineups have been used the past two seasons.
Last season 8.5 percent of NHL lineups were 11-7 configurations, using the NHL roster data that Prashanth pulled. This does come with a slight caveat where some teams, like Colorado, may have dressed 11-7 but really played a traditional 12-6 with a defender on the fourth-line wing.
Here are the teams that used 11-7 the most last season, regular season and playoffs combined. If a team used 11-7 more than six times, it’s typically a strategy-based decision and not because of injury protection.
The Edmonton Oilers were the most frequent users of 11-7, and as noted on Saturday, this is partially due to the fact they have the best player on the planet in Connor McDavid.
Edmonton, the data shows, was better with 11-7. Of the other more frequent users of 11-7, the New Jersey Devils were also a better team when using 11-7.
Here is expected goals, once again the chart created by Prashanth, for teams that were frequent 11-7 users and comparing expected goals when switching from 12-6 to 11-7.
This is a pretty good example of how 11-7 works for some, like New Jersey and Edmonton, but should be avoided for teams like the St. Louis Blues and Montréal Canadiens, who got worse when straying away from 12-6.
Looking at this data after Prashanth tweeted it, the fact Montreal struggles with 11-7 was particularly interesting.
Having talked to various coaches about 12-6 vs. 11-7, one of the most notable comments was about how bench management is tested when running 11-7. Montreal’s coach, Martin St. Louis, is one of the least experienced coaches running a bench in NHL history — that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the truth — and that lack of experience could play into a lack of bench management when using an 11-7 lineup.
To be clear that is a theory about St. Louis and 11-7, and I’m interested to watch Montreal next time they run 11-7 to test that theory.
Prashanth and I talked more about 11-7 and it’s benefits in this week’s episode of Expected by Whom?
The episode should be up Friday morning. You can check out the Twitter feed for that if I haven’t yet gone back and linked it in this post.
Let’s talk about faceoffs
While I sent Prashanth down a wormhole with 11-7, David Castillo sent me down a wormhole with his piece earlier this week on the Dallas Stars and faceoffs.
David’s piece, which you can read here, focuses on how the Stars dominate the faceoff circle and asks the overall question, “does that even matter?”
It’s a nuanced question, and David’s piece is properly nuanced in the answer. I particularly like this line.
Faceoffs are similar to the phenomenon that sets us up to incorrectly think homicide is more dangerous than diabetes, that tornadoes are more dangerous than lightning, or that car accidents are more dangerous than abdominal cancer. We overestimate their incidence because the ease with which we access the information is mistaken for its frequency.
Faceoffs are overly tracked and discussed because they are always readily available on a game sheet.
There have been many times during a press conference after a game where a media member, myself included, has scanned the game sheet for data and used it to spark a question.
Here is a typical NHL game sheet, look how easy it is to quickly pick faceoffs as a media talking point.
After shots, which is at the top, faceoffs are the first team stat fed to the media. It’s also conveniently placed as the last stat in the column for individual players, which makes it easy to draw to the eye of a viewer.
Faceoffs, essentially, are one of the most well-marketed data points for those covering the game to consume.
The issue with faceoffs, and whether they matter or not, is we don’t provide the proper context when discussing them. There is a sliding scale on faceoffs, for example a good night for Colorado Avalanche on faceoffs, is a bad night for the Stars — the teams have different strengths.
To add to David’s conversation, I went and pulled data for all 32 NHL teams last season.
On average, teams had 0.25 percent better performance in wins compared to losses.
The Anaheim Ducks (+4 percent), Stars (+3 percent), and Pittsburgh Penguins (+3 percent) had the largest difference of faceoff win percentage in victories compare to losses.
Meanwhile the Avalanche had a 45 percent faceoff winning percentage in win and a 49 percent showing in losses. The Avalanche are a bad faceoff team, have been for awhile, it it doesn’t really matter.
Here is a chart (be easy on me, I’m still new to creating graphics) on how teams faceoff win percentage compares in wins vs losses from last season.
Moral of the story, faceoffs matter to coaches and players, and they should. It can be a refection of effort, strategy, or whatever else you want to use as a motivational tool.
But when it comes to roster construction and lineup decisions, winning or losing faceoffs shouldn’t be put at a premium. A player’s faceoff ability shouldn’t be the only reason they are or aren’t part of the plan, there has to be something more to justify inclusion in the lineup.
Ok, let’s get to some subscriber questions. Remember, this feature is unlocked each week, but only paid subscribers can submit questions.
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Ben Wylie Hey Sean - would love to know which NHL goalie you’re most excited to watch this season and why. Thanks!
As a goalie nerd, I love that Ben asked this question.
It’s also perfect timing since one of the best in the game, Andrei Vasilevskiy is currently out and will miss extended time to start the season.
The goalie I’m most interested in watching isn’t actually in the NHL at this moment.
Dustin Wolf is the best goalie in the Calgary Flames organization and should be the starter. But because of how contracts lineup and an old-school mindset, the Flames recently sent Wolf to the Calgary Wranglers in the AHL to start the season.
In two AHL seasons, Wolf has posted a .927 save percentage and seven shutouts in 105 combined games. In the AHL playoffs he’s added an additional four shutouts and a .922 save percentage in 22 contests.
In his lone NHL start, last season in April, he made 23 saves in a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.
For a bit deeper look at Wolf’s performance, courtesy of InStat, here is how he performed on shots in various zones on the net.
Adding to Wolf’s story, he’s a seventh-round pick, he’s easy to root for. He’s also fun, and I enjoy fun.
Check out this save and celebration from a preseason shootout.
Jason We've heard a lot this postseason/offseason about Bill Foley and how he tried to invest in his organization and players in ways that did not effect the salary cap. What are some ways that you've seen the Stars and Red Wings try similar tactics to lure players to their teams as well as ensure that those who are currently on the teams are happy? Is there anything you would want to see owners do to invest in the teams that is not currently being done?
Great question, because Bill Foley’s treatment of players in Vegas after the Stanley Cup victory has been well documented and celebrated.
Foley has been willing to spend on things that aren’t cap restricted and after the team won the Cup, he famously flew the entire team and significant others to his ranch in Montana to celebrate.
While Foley gets the credit, I think the Vegas advantage is pretty similar to the advantage in Dallas, just without the flashy Vegas strip to highlight it.
Dallas is a no-tax state, that’s big for players. And in today’s NHL, players enjoy playing in a spot weather wise that’s easier on the body and allows them to golf 12 months a year.
Joe Pavelski, for example, picked between Dallas and Tampa when he left California. He was only going to go to a place with a similar climate, when you play on ice, it’s nice to have wonderful December weather off of it for 18 holes on an off day.
Detroit has its own advantages geographically, particularly from the human/family side.
There are many players from Michigan, who want to play close to home. It’s a strong pull. And for many players from Toronto and Ontario, Detroit is actually the best of both worlds — play close to family, but also avoid the microscope of the Toronto media market.
This isn’t to take anything away from Foley, he’s a fine owner. But I also think his impact is a bit overblown because the team recently won the Stanley Cup. In my view there are two types of owners — ones that get in the way, and ones that let hockey people make hockey decisions.
Detroit, as much as you can and should criticize the Ilitch’s development of the District Detroit, has been an example of ownership letting hockey people run the hockey team. Dallas is slightly different, and while Tom Gaglardi is passionate about his team, he does need to take a step back a bit more often and let hockey operations do it’s job.
D. Y. Any update(s) on the legal woes of Bally Sports ?
Fitting timing with this question, since the Arizona Coyotes and Diamond Sports Group, which owns the Bally-branded regional sports networks, had a split and Arizona hammered out a new deal with Scripps for over-air production.
It’s a similar deal to what’s happening in Vegas, with games being broadcast over air, while the Coyotes still have the ability to sell or package digital rights for streaming.
I reached out to someone form the Stars on Thursday about this, and for now things are going forward as planned.
With Diamond Sports, and uncertain financial futures, the markets with the most value will be stuck with Bally the longest.
Dallas is one of the bigger media markets, and as the Stars proudly tell potential advertisers, the Stars reach five NBA markets in their broadcasts.
The Coyotes, which have struggling ratings, doesn’t have the same pull, and are lower on the list of priority for Diamond, that’s why their deal fell apart first.
Gerald Snowden Sean, The dismal coverage by mainstream media of the Stars has been well recorded. Is this a continuing trend throughout hockey and/or sports in general? The DMN still devotes a minimum of three pages to Cowboys daily. Even the Rangers in the middle of playoff contention get less! It is a dang shame. When my DMN subscription expires, no more. I spend money on multiple sub stacks and do not mind. All of you earn our gratitude.
I believe I’ve touched on this in a prior mailbag, but sports coverage at legacy media has become more and more driven by the bottom line.
The Cowboys sell, they are one of the biggest brands in the world, and Stars coverage doesn’t move the financial needle.
It’s a weird time to be a sports fan, the coverage and scope of how things are distributed is changing. All I can really say right now, is thank you for making this publication one of the ones you support financially.
Garrett Lyon Noticed Curtis McKenzie was just released on his PTO. Why was he on a PTO and not an AHL contract? Is he playing for Texas this season in the AHL or is he going somewhere else?
I already gave Garret an answer in the direct chat on this. But just for anyone else who would like to know: players can be on both an AHL contract and an NHL PTO at the same time.
The NHL deal supersedes the AHL contract, so once the player is release from the PTO by the NHL team they return to the AHL team.
It’s an important note to bring up to, because it means that while a player like Curtis McKenzie is on an AHL contract for this season he remains an NHL free agent and any team, in theory, could sign him to an NHL deal during the season.
Andrew What should we expect from Sam Steel? Where is his floor and ceiling? I was under the impression with the Wild that he was an up and comer expected to end up in the middle six so I was surprised to see him available and for so cheap.
I think Sam Steel is a solid player that likely still would have been in Minnesota if not for the organizational cap issues — which Bill Guerin seemed to muddy by signing Marcus Foligno to a big extension recently.
Steel’s floor to me is a as a 25-point player that contributes on the fourth line. His ceiling is closer to 35 points, and maybe an elevation to a true middle-six spot.
Either way with his cap hit ($850,000) it’s a nice deal for Dallas.
Tab Ledbetter Will Riley Tufte come back and haunt the Stars over the next few years? Sounds like he's had a really good preseason and training camp for the Avs.
I don’t think so.
Riley Tufte, I believe, won’t be much more than an AHL/NHL tweener for Colorado at best.
He’s had a good preseason with three goals and 15 shots in three games, but I also think it isn’t much more than a hotstreak against AHL-level competition.
Hannah Is there any real significance to Jordie Benn still being in the Stars camp? Is it at all likely that he’ll end up signing more than the PTO?
My initial gut reaction is no, because I don’t think the Stars have space nor the want to play Jordie Benn in the NHL at this point in his career.
If anything, the fact Lian Bichsel has made it this long without getting sent to the AHL is a bigger sign of his spot in the mind of the NHL coaches and management.
But, facts are facts, and Benn has NHL history and Jim Nill has famously said many times, “you can never have too many defenseman.”
So while I want to write it off completely, I will ever so slightly tap the breaks.
A lovely parting gift
Fifteen years ago, today, I tried to walk on to the Division I college hockey team at Bowling Green.
It did not go well.
But since I was a student journalist, we made a video about it for the student paper The BG News.
Fair warning, this video is incredibly cringy and the goaltending is not good.
Honestly, 15 years later I’m still happy that my knees and hips hold up for me to play beer league each week.
If you are in a mood to further laugh at my multimedia projects from college, here is one of me nailing a field goal.
That’s it for the Funbag this week. Have a great weekend everyone.