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Shap Shots Mailbag: On storylines, analytics, and NHL start times
That and much more.
I’m in Austin and San Antonio this week, visiting some family and working on surviving 100-degree-plus temperatures. I took a hike this morning in Austin, it was a “balmy” 82 degrees at 8 am.
(It was pretty though.)
It was also a good time to further dive into the future of Shap Shots, and plan, in my head, for the 2023-24 season.
While exact plans are yet to be finalized, I’m looking forward to getting back into the rink this fall and finding stories that inform, and hopefully, entertain readers in this space. We are gonna have some fun, thank you for supporting/reading this endeavor since I unexpectedly had to launch it last September.
More on that later, for now, let’s get to your question….
Given that we so often focus on our team(s) and don't always pay attention to the rest of the league, what are some of the storylines you are most interested in observing heading into this season? (From Jason)
I was thinking about this question on my flight yesterday, I think it might be fun to build a viewer’s guide to the NHL season in a fully-fleshed out piece closer to the start of the season.
For me the Boston Bruins will be fascinating. Yes, it’s obvious that they are not going to be as good as they were last season, between past expectation and players leaving, the Bruins will tumble.
And this is the space where I'm interested to learn more about Jim Montgomery the coach. Montgomery won the Jack Adams last season, deservedly so, but struggled in the playoffs when it came time to make vital decisions — he was out-coached by Paul Maurice.
During his time in Dallas I watched Montgomery handle things well in the smooth times, but struggle when facing team-based adversity. He would get out-coached in the playoffs by Craig Berube, and his in-game adjustments have always been a weakness — he’s a better game-planner, than an adjuster. So I want to see Montgomery coach through the Bruins team adversity, the lulls and valleys, and how he’s adapted since getting out coached in that Florida series.
The amount of one-year deals, look at what the Toronto Maple Leafs have done, have created some fascination for more in-season movement this year. Many players bet on themselves with one-year deals to get to a better deal next season, while teams tried to use that flexibility where they had it.
The other thing, and I’m guilty of always talking about goaltending, but I’m legitimately curious to see if we see a full-blown trend in the tandem goalie after the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup with Adin Hill. It won’t become like a pitching rotation, but at some point we are going to get semi-close to something like that with scheduled starts and planned rest for netminders.
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The Stars just announced that Lower Bowl and Platinum are sold out for 23/24. I've had Lower bowl seats for years. The Stars sent out a survey, which asked how we viewed a "Moderate" increase for 24/25. How much should I be scared? Also, do you know why the Stars have moved all weeknight games to 7:00? (From Andrew)
I’m not sure what “moderate” means, and the Stars are well aware that you aren’t sure what “moderate” means either. It’s a sneaky sales tactic to raise prices and the team is able to point to that survey and say, “hey, we warned you.”
As far as start times, the 7 pm start is becoming the standard in the NHL. Last season when the Detroit Red Wings shifted from 7:30 starts to 7 pm, they became the 27th team in the NHL to do so.
For teams, and television partners, the 7 pm start (or really 7:08 pm….) in theory allows for a more concise “prime time” window, while in theory it also makes the product more attractive to families.
From a Dallas perspective, I think the 7:00 start is a mistake. As someone who fought Dallas traffic daily for years, it’s not realistic to expect fans on a weekday to always make it in time for 7 pm puck after getting out of work.
As a (dope) hockey writer, do you think "analytics" are peripheral to the way you communicate the game to the public, or essential? Keep in mind, the latter question is not about whether you *should* include analytics in your writing, but whether — like a library — they are essential source material for communicating the game clearly. (From David)
Feel like you are trying to tee me up to tease my podcast with Prashanth Iyer, Expected by Whom?, so I will do that…. as for your question….
Hockey analytics are an essential tool for me, but I don’t think they are an essential written part of a good story — they can help, but forcing them creates more problems than it solves.
Sports are about stories, without stories and human connections, it’s nothing more than watching organized exercise. I can tell better stories when I better understand the game, and for me, particularly in the past couple years, I’ve learned more about the game by diving deeper into analytics.
Data sets give you tools to explore, launching off points where you can become a more nuanced writer. Maybe a player is great in transition and you never noticed (it happens) and a data set effectively serves as the skeleton key that unlocks your brain, allowing you to better tell that story.
Maybe I answered your question, maybe I haven’t…. but I look at analytics and the “eye test” as a micro version of science and religion. Good science and good religion will often come to the same conclusion. One side coming at it with data, the other just looking for a good story to explain why something happened.
For whatever criteria you want to judge them against, which off-season moves (league wide) are you most and least excited by? (From Hannah)
The Pittsburgh Penguins should be chaotic. That’s fun, trading for Erik Karlsson made them better, but I don’t know how much better they’ll be and, honestly, they feel primed to be a team that plays a bunch of 6-5 games this season.
I love the Matt Duchene move for Dallas. While the Stars defensive depth still lacks in my view, the Stars have built one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL.
There are lots of unexciting moves, it’s hockey, we get all worked up over free agency and then try to find a reason to write 1,000 words about a third-line winger — I’m also guilty of this.
I do think some of the unexciting moves at least have potential to lead to more exciting moves in season. Like I noted before about player movement, I think Vlad Tarasenko is going is to being a hot commodity at the deadline, so is Matt Dumba, ideally these boring summer moves are just foundations for in-season excitement.
What Eastern Conf team do you think takes the biggest leap forward this year? Ottawa, NJ, Detroit, or someone else? (From Chad)
Of the three teams you listed, I don’t see New Jersey taking a huge leap. They’ll be good, but I expect them to normalize being good again in the Garden State.
The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators both got better, and I think both will be closer to the playoffs, but I’m still not sold on either being a playoff team. If anything, the team that I wonder about, and this comes with a scale of sliding expectations, is whether the Carolina Hurricanes can take another step in the regular season.
Carolina being one of the best teams in the East won’t be a surprise, but I think even with that expectation they could take another jump forward.