Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Bag of Pucks - March 4

Tomorrow is the Trade Deadline!  Can you feel the excitement?

Jim Nill sure seems like the type to resist the urge to go reckless in a situation like this and has done everything he can to lower expectations as the Stars - with all of their cap room and optimism - can now see the finish line and can certainly justify the crazy premise of being a playoff team.

Last week, we examined the Stars track record of making deals in Feb/March and there was plenty to consume, so you may wish to review that piece by clicking here.

As opposed to throwing out grand ideas and targets at the deadline, I thought the better plan might be to examine the Stars through 61 games to decide whether or not this is actually a team that is of playoff quality - or, like in 2012-13, are they kidding themselves into believing that they are better than they are?

I think you will like the results:

Here is a mysteriously colored pie chart of the Stars from the last 3 seasons.  It shows the game of that season carved into 3 categories.  The measurements are using Corsi %, but the results would not be very different if you used Fenwick, or just good old fashioned shot differential percentages.  

The premise is this, you want the high percentage of action to be down in the other end because we know in the game of hockey that no stat correlates with winning more than shots attempted on goal.  The team with the majority win most games and the larger the sample gets, the more pronounced the impact is on the outcome.  

So, I think if you are only at or below 46% (shown in green), then we can safely say that you are conceding too much of the action in your own end and are thusly being outplayed by a considerable margin.  Between 46-54.9% is what we would call the break-even point (shown in purple).  We could divide it even more finely, but I thought that a 5% on either side of 50% at least demonstrates games that are relatively competitive and close. And then, the great category, which shows all of the games where you are at 55% or higher (shown in orange) and these are games where you are simply dominating the action.  

Let's start with 2011-12.  Here you see 14% of games being the coveted orange, 55% being in the middle, and 30% of games where the Stars are being handled by their opponent.  This would be the 10th best team in the West and the end of the Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott runs in Dallas.  They were competitive and gritty (Pesky!), but the quality was low.

Now, the 2012-13 season, which was the shortened 48 game sprint to the finish of last season.  This campaign featured the Jamie Benn contract holdout and the Jaromir Jagr experiment which also included a number of mid-season trades where the Stars realized that it was time to build the reserves for the future.  It also featured the odd "dead cat bounce" of April where they made it interesting.

But, looking at the 3 categories, they had more good performances from the year before (up to 23% from 14%) where they dominated the puck, but also more poor performances (up to 40% from 30%) which I think demonstrates the inconsistent play of a team that could not sustain quality.  The middle area shrunk, but this team was all over the map.

And now, this season.  Tyler Seguin and Val Nichushkin have joined the squad and added some top shelf ability, so let's see if this team has a right to believe it is the real deal.

Orange is up again (that is really good).  They started at 14% in 2012, 23% in 2013, and now at 32% in 2014.  And the Green has never been lower (this is really good, too).  This shows us that the nights where the Stars are being beaten badly are rare, down to 23% from 40% the year before.  And as you can see, most nights (77%) the Stars are at even or better and rank in the Top 7 in the league in Corsi, Fenwick, and old fashioned shot differential.

In other words, this is a good team.  Not a great team, but they have every right to believe they are a playoff team.

Here is a number for you:  In 2013-14, the Stars have been over 60% Corsi 13 times already in 61 games.  That is 21% of all the games where they are blowing the doors off the opponent.  Compare that with the last 2 seasons and you will see that type of domination happened 2 times in 2013 and 3 times in 2012.  5 times in 2 seasons, and they have already done it 13 times this year.  Wow.  That is exciting.  They are blowing the doors off opponents on a somewhat routine basis.  60% means, quite simply, that they are out shooting a team in attempts 60-40.  That should give you quite a chance at winning on a regular basis.

Now, there is more to hockey than all of this and clearly, they have to keep pouring on the goals and that means dirtier plays around the goal because traffic and ugly goals are required as the year gets later and later.  But, man.  This team is so much better than it used to be.

Still plenty of work to be done, and part of that will be to convince the populace that this is not a bird of the same feather, but for now, I would heartily endorse a bold trade where they flip a prospect or three to chase another piece of high quality to give this team another piece for the present tense.

I think it is ok to trust this team.  They are better than most think.


Also, this week is Mike Modano night on Saturday.  My admiration for the man is well documented, but I wrote another piece yesterday for the Stars website that you can find here.  The story is about his toughness and his under-rated courage and stubbornness to take a beating and not change his approach to the game.

I wanted to rerun parts of it here with the videos from youtube included which might have been a bit much for the DallasStars.com.

Mike Modano was absolutely one of the toughest son-of-a-guns that I have ever seen.  And I am not talking about one particular piece of anecdotal information.  No, sir.  I am talking about over the course of his career, Modano was constantly hit so hard that on several occasions, we all wondered as he laid on the ice whether that was the "big one" that would take him out of action for a long, long time. 
You likely already know what I am talking about.  If not, a rather quick review of youtube can help you relive events that you might not wish to experience the first time.  Mark Messier perhaps had the most famous blindside, cheap shot of Modano - albeit in a time in the National Hockey League where we actually had the audacity to blame the player who was hit for not "having his head on a swivel" even though Modano was finding the puck when Messier tried to decapitate him.  It was a scary moment to say the least that was, of course, compounded by the fact that the medics on the scene dumped the stretcher he was on as they were trying to load it into the ambulance.

It was back when targeting the head was not forbidden and we weren't willing to accept that the human head could not take absurd levels of punishment.  Messier was not even penalized, let alone suspended, but the damage was done.  Mike was able to bounce back in that way that he would, but anyone that thinks the league has gone too far to take the physicality out of the game needs to review the play.  Absolutely one of the most frightening moments ever.
And yet, Mike did not change his game.  He played with speed and passion, battling for the puck at top velocity, and hunting for pucks at the same rate as ever before.  If you want reality, the reality is that professional athletes change the way they play when they are physically punished.  It is human.  It could even be argued that it is smart.  But, to change would be to surrender.  And that wasn't Mike Modano. 
The Stars did, of course, win the Stanley Cup that summer, and only a few months later, it happened yet again.  Now, I want to be clear, these are not normal hits or incidents.  Nor, are they hits that you see on a regular basis.  No, these 3 incidents I tell you about are all "once in a career" moments that had they gone just a little differently, his career would have not extended beyond these moments. 
This one, on the 2nd night of the 1999-00 season was when he took a shot against Anaheim, and while his momentum took him off balance past the goal-line, defensemen Ruslan Salei pushed him towards the boards.  The push sent him dangerously into the boards at an angle that put so much stress on his neck as it snapped back that it is still a wonder that he did not suffer a significant neck injury.  In fact, players have been paralyzed at levels of hockey on plays that looked less intense, and as Mike's neck torqued in a way it shouldn't, he once again was motionless in a heap on the ice.
Somehow, with chaos all around him, including Darryl Sydor defending him on the spot, Mike was able to get off the ice and he returned to the ice 10 days later.  It was really incredible he wasn't lost for much, much longer. 

I feel this doesn't get discussed often enough.  There is no question that injuries are random in both their occurrence and severity, and some guys just have luck smile on them and that allows them to continue to do what they do for a living.  Then, some get out of the sport while they can and others change the way they play in a very understandable "business decision" to play slower and thus preserve their health and well-being.

To read the rest, click on the link above.

Saturday night should be a fantastic event, and on Thursday, Mike will do an hour on our radio show again and that will be appointment material, as well.

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