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On pleasing the summer hockey algorithm and "surf plays"
I want to quantify how good Miro Heiskanen and Moritz Seider are compared to the rest of their teammates.
Good news, we are less than four weeks from the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Yes, the season doesn’t officially start until Oct. 10. But in my mind the NHL season starts on Sept. 14 when prospects, wearing actual NHL jerseys, take the ice in Traverse City.
From that point forward we have new data points, actual player availability, and real opportunities to tell stories on a frequent basis.
Until then, it’s all about pleasing the summer hockey algorithm. Which can be exhausting, and a bit soul sucking, if we are being honest about that side of the business.
Season previews in August are a fools errand. There are too many chaotic elements to account for before Oct. 10. Prospect rankings, while potentially interesting for some teams, are often mass aggregation of actual prospect writer’s work — and those individuals that grind on the prospect beat, like the folks over at EP Rinkside, should get their proper credit.
And honestly, I’m not really sure how to please the algorithm here at #ShapShots, and I really don’t want to. I’ve played around with ideas about doing prospect rankings for the Detroit Red Wings and the Dallas Stars, two teams I follow/cover closely, but would rather wait and give a more nuanced report based on seeing both prospect pools live in Traverse City next month.
(Although, I will be doing a Stars prospect-related piece later this week for D Magazine….)
Because of that this publication has been admittedly weird in the month of August. It’s been a combination of think pieces, occasional observations, and a lot of back-end building for actual hockey season next month.
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Part of that back-end building has been trying to figure out a hockey equivalent for the “Splash Plays,” that my friend Bob Sturm uses in his Dallas Cowboys coverage to quantify defensive impact.
Hockey analytics have improved, I even co-host a podcast about them. But ideally the concept of a “Splash Play,” an objective and biased thing, I know, will help identify/quantify why certain defenseman are actually that much better or worse than the rest of their peers on the roster.
From a football perspective, Bob uses this as his criteria.
Now, hockey isn’t football. It also isn’t baseball, it doesn’t have the same defined starts and stops. Some of the “splashiest” plays can also be misleading of a player prototype — a player frequently selling out for the big hit at the blue line, is often the player getting walked in the defensive zone on the very next shift.
Hockey’s equivalent isn’t going to be as sexy. It’s going to be boring, hockey’s best defenders control chaos.
For much of this brainstorm I’ve been thinking about Miro Heiskanen and Moritz Seider, the defensive cornerstones in Dallas and Detroit. Heiskanen is in my view a top-three defender in the NHL at this point, he would be my second pick after Cale Makar if I was building a team from the blue line.
Seider should be a top-20 defender in the NHL this season, maybe top-15.
Stylistically both do things that many of their teammates on the blue line do not. And having watched both closely, I’ll often make mental notes of plays that remind me, “this is why a team is built around that guy.”
But it isn’t “splashy,” even if Seider has a tendency to fill more defensive highlights reels as a more aggressive checker.
Because Heiskanen is the better player, I’m going to use one of his tendencies to name the observations, but stick with the aquatic theme — “surf plays,” as a nod to the way Heiskanen will essentially skate a play dead positionally, like the moon controlling the tides.
As of right now, my list of things that will likely qualify as “surf plays,” is as follows.
Zone entry broken up
Clean entry on carry or pass in
“Surfing”/skating an opponent out of a rush
Drawing penalty (not counting fighting/post-whistle skirmishes)
Stick check/pass intercept to eliminate scoring chance
These are ambiguous and objective for a reason, but they are the types of plays that come to mind, for me, that define a defenseman that actually controls the game — or tide, if we wanna commit to the surf bit.
The hope and plan is to try to note/properly track these for Dallas and Detroit defenders when re-watching games, as I often do. As stated before, the Stars and Red Wings are the two teams I watch the most, and really this is an experiment in trying to further quantify how good Heiskanen and Seider are.
I’m open to all feedback ideas on this, just like anything else we do at this site. Remember hockey season is less than a month away, we’ll really ramp things up at that point.