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Shap Shots Mailbag, Vol. 3
On analytics, running an NHL franchise, and AHL players that should have been NHLers
Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween. In the Shapiro household it was quite successful, for both the kids — who filled their buckets — and the parents, since one of my neighbors is kind enough to pass out beers as well.
Anywho, back to the mailbag. Thanks again to the paid subscribers who submitted questions. Which, hey, you too could submit a question for Volume 4 if you subscribe for only $7 per month.
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We sometimes hear of coaches and GMs who "prefer the eyeball test" to analytics.
But I'd assume that most teams have a sizable analytics department these days. Is this accurate? Is the role of analytics in making team decisions growing, and are there teams which are notable hold-outs? (From James)
Every team has an analytics department now, and most have gone down the natural progression of being a few people to a complete department. Even teams that don’t have a fully-listed in-house analytics staff on their website, most — if not all — have invested in a third-party analytical company which provides data.
The question isn’t whether team’s have analytic departments, but rather how often they use them to make informed decisions. John Tortorella quite famously said recently that he doesn’t use analytics, but that’s only a half truth, because behind the scenes the Philadelphia Flyers do, indeed, use statistical-based data to help make decisions.
Anytime a coach makes a decision on which player is going to take a face-off based off performance or when to pull the goalie at a certain time, that’s an analytical-based decision.
General managers across the league have access to this data, and they use it when assessing players for potential acquisition. The best GMs are the ones that find that balance, using the analytical approach with the eye test to find the truth because both numbers and eyes can lie at times.
Coming in a little late with this one as I had a long weekend and forgot that yesterday was Monday…but if you were put in charge of building an NHL franchise, which current or recently retired players (i.e not already moved into these sort of roles) would you recruit to build your front office/coaching staff, and for added fun, broadcast team? (From Hannah)
My first thought was going to be Jason Spezza, but he’s already in a role like that with the Toronto Maple Leafs and therefore isn’t available for inclusion in this answer.
I also want to take this question in another direction, because frankly most current NHL players, in my view, wouldn’t be the best candidates to fill most of the off-ice roles for a franchise. Players, in general, don’t watch much hockey and don’t pay enough attention to the game, I know of one former NHLer, quite prominent, who is working for an NHL team right now who didn’t know about Miro Heiskanen when I chatted with this former player during the 2018-19 season.
So if I’m building a franchise, I’m not hiring a current NHL player to be a head coach or a general manager, not without having them done other work to prove they should be entrusted with such a role.
I would hire a former player, potentially a Joe Pavelski when he retires, to be a director of player personnel or an assistant to the GM. A role where they can share their playing expertise with younger players, but also aren’t tasked with making monumental roster-shaping decisions.
On the broadcast side, players that have success in the booth after playing are the ones that are willing to work and treat the media world like it’s own career and not an extension of their playing days. The best players-turned-broadcasters, work hard at it and don’t rely on their playing resumé, as a viewer you can tell when a broadcaster had a “well I played” crutch.
Who’s the best player you saw in the AHL that never really got a shot in the NHL for whatever reason? (From Nick)
Travis Morin is the obvious answer, he was the quintessential 4A player that dominated the AHL — other teams planned around him every night — and never found a way to stick in the NHL.
Morin never got a chance to stick in the NHL because he never had a chance to run a power play in the NHL. He was one of the finest passers you’ll ever see, and he ran the power play on the halfway better than most NHL teams.
I thought Michael Mersch would be more of an NHL player, I thought the way he physically dominated and controlled games with the Ontario Reign was a sure-fire sign of things to come in the NHL, and it never really happened.
Also when is Houston getting an NHL team (also from Nick)
With the NHL’s commitment to Arizona, especially from Gary Bettman, I have little faith the Coyotes will move. So if Houston is going to get an NHL team, it’s going to happen with future expansion, not with re-location.
I think that is still a ways down the road, the league is happy at 32 teams, but once the NHL does want to expand to 34 (I think it’ll be a two-fer next time) Houston should be on the docket. The Stars also aren’t going to block an NHL team in Houston, even with the “One State, One Team” branding they are using this season, the Stars executives know a rival in Houston would help elevate both brands.
At the American Airlines Center, from my point of view in the Platinum level, I can see one large press box, plus what looks like several auxiliary press boxes. What are the smaller boxes used for? On the same subject, when the Stars were in the Conference Semifinals, they removed seats from one of the side sections and added tables for media personnel. Who gets priority for the press box and who has to sit at the tables? (From Alexander)
This is a bit of an “inside baseball” question, which I like. So the press box at AAC, and most arenas, are typically built with one main seating area where media members, scouts, and team public relations staff are sitting. The boxes you see are still part of the same press box, but are separate rooms that are reserved for broadcasters, team officials, and statisticians — people who for various reasons don’t want to work in a completely public space.
When it comes to the playoffs and teams add auxiliary press seating in the stands, those in the stands are usually those who are just showing up for the playoffs — which is a common practice in many markets. Teams tend to reward the media members who cover the team all season with their typical press box seats.
With the (Stars) debate on sending young guys back to the CHL or keep them in the NHL, do you think there's some unfairness to sending them back? I'm thinking specifically of guys like Logan Stankoven, who is just skating circles around the other kids right now. (From Tiffany)
I think there’s a flaw in the system, which can be unfair to those players that are clearly above the CHL, but not ready for the NHL.
There should be an option for players to go to the AHL at that age, if they are ready for professional hockey — like a Logan Stankoven. My thoughts on this were covered in this episode of the podcast, which you can check out here.
I’ve followed your work for a while, but never really had a question I thought was worthy of a mailbag until now. There was an article about how to watch a football game like an expert from a publisher we won’t name. Maybe a bit too in depth for a mailbag, but I thought it would be interesting to apply that same concept to hockey. Things like picking out schemes and analyzing plays. Or seeing the little things that make a player special. (From Aaron)
This is more of an in-depth article, and I like the concept. Probably not for this week, but I’m going to take this idea and do something on it later this month. This is why mailbags are great, we can create/plan other content along the way.
Have you encountered any fun hidden talents from players you've spent time with? Who's got the most interesting? (From Andrew)
I’ve written/talked a lot about Denis Gurianov in the past, but he is one of the most fascinating humans I’ve ever covered. His ability to play multiple instruments, guitar and the piano I’ve both heard, and his educational background are impressive.
I also once was at the Stars team hotel waiting to do an interview with a coach and someone started playing the piano rather beautifully. It was Roman Polak. Not kidding.