The truth is that I’ve wanted to write more. There’s been a problem, though: I’ve never experienced the type of writer’s block that I’ve come across recently. It’s been both frustrating and enlightening. To try and get back in a rhythm, I took to Twitter with hopes that some of you could fire off some questions of interest at me.
I appreciate all of the questions asked and while some of them are outdated (thanks, Ray Shero), there’s a lot of interesting topics to explore. With that, here’s the first edition of what I’m calling the “Writer’s Block Mailbag.”
The Trotz System
Assuming the success of Trottz’s system is not something that will “regress to the mean” the current stats are missing something. What could it be? Is it the puck movement prior to the shot? Voodoo?— Ian Caterina (@GoldnDeceivers) December 16, 2019
Is the Isles' goaltending for real? Can we expect any downward regression? Why or why not?— Walter Foddis (@Waltlaw69) December 16, 2019
1. If i give you twenty bucks, can we have Mitch Korn back?— Bryan Bastin (@projpatsummitt) December 16, 2019
2. How are you enjoying Trotz's system?
Voodoo is always a good first guess.
I think we’ve learned quite a bit about what Barry Trotz and his staff consider to be successful. We know they preach quality over quantity offensively, and that speaks for itself in terms of the kinds of shots the Islanders take.
Defensively, things look a bit more… inconsistent. The team is not having the same success they saw last season in terms of chances against relative to the ones they are getting. They are still doing a good job clogging the middle of the ice, but there have also been more prolonged shifts in their zone, which lead to weird bounces and breakdowns. Some of that absolutely could be due to pre-shot movement by their opponents - for example, the Carolina Hurricanes have done a masterful job with this against the Isles in recent games.
The biggest reason why they sit at 22-8-2 is that their goalies have been so strong. Even with extended defensive zone time, it seems the goalies always know what to expect. Interestingly, Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss play different styles, but Mitch Korn and Piero Greco have found a way to retrieve similar, outstanding results from both.
I still don’t think we know enough about goaltending to accurately predict the future in terms of performance, but I think there are some high-level points of interest that we can take away from the first year and a half of the Lamoriello/Trotz regime.
First, they both treat goaltending as the foundation of success. There has been an investment in the position, from a coaching perspective, a systems perspective, and a player perspective (especially, “load management”). That it’s been such a priority means they have been able to successfully supplement that area of the team with the overarching style of play. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to the notions that goaltending is voodoo and that offense is king in today’s NHL, but it works.
The biggest question that I’d be asking: have the Islanders actually figured out goaltending? If they have, it’s a complete gamechanger.
Comparing The Islanders and Capitals
How do the #isles analytics #'s compare to the Washington cup winning team? Same system. I think this team is passing the test so far.— Jeremy Weinstein Esquire (@upperdeckie) December 16, 2019
In terms of expected goal share, the two teams are pretty similar. This year’s Isles are at 48.22% score-adjusted expected goals at 5v5, where the 2017-18 Capitals were at 47.36%. But, the two teams are so different in a lot of ways. As expected, the Islanders are better defensively while the Capitals generated more offense.
The big difference for Washington was during the playoffs, however. They finished the 2017-18 playoffs with a 51.33% expected goals share, allowing just 2.07 expected goals against per hour. With the amount of Hall of Fame skill they had up front and the level of goaltending they received during that period of time, they were able to capitalize (no pun intended) on the situations laid out in front of them.
Last year’s Islanders had a decent 50.00% expected goal share in the playoffs, but without the up-front skill the Capitals did, it’s hard to imagine them having a similar level of success. Once you’re in, nothing is impossible - of course, but acquiring some more top-six skill could be the difference between the Isles’ topping out as a legitimate playoff team and them being able to compete for a Stanley Cup.
It seems like a silly jump, but playoff series can be decided by the littlest of things. Having skill to compensate for some adversity could make all the difference.
On Michael Dal Colle
As a fanbase on Twitter there seems to be a sentiment that MDC should be anywhere but playing for the #isles. Can you put something together on his effectiveness or ineffectiveness from a deeper statistical point of view— SteveDoubleW (@SteveDoubleW) December 16, 2019
I don’t think this was the outcome anyone expected when the Islanders took Michael Dal Colle with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 Draft. And if you judge goal production as a measure of success, it’s objectively not the prettiest of pictures. However, if we take a look at HockeyViz’s isolated impact, Dal Colle has shown a lot of potential as a defensive-minded fourth liner.
Last year, I first noticed the profoundly strong defensive metrics from Dal Colle, but it was hard to quantify whether he was driving the defensive impact or if it was a result of confounding variables from teammates and circumstances. This view shows that Dal Colle is having a legitimate impact on the defensive side of the puck.
The somewhat unfortunate thing for the perception here is two-fold. The obvious first one is his draft status. The second one is related to the Isles’ roster construction. It’s not exactly a state-secret the team has a lot of bottom-six players, including an expensive (but very effective) fourth line. Theoretically, Dal Colle would be a perfect fit to replace Matt Martin next year despite not having the impactful physicality Martin brings. But with other options like Ross Johnston making an impact with the ability to play that specific role, it’s possible he is left out of the equation.
It’s tough to see where this ends up, but Dal Colle’s ability to prevent chances should not be understated. He’s a strong defensive player who is helping the team even though he’s not a prominent scorer.
The Future of Analytics
what's the place you wish analytics would get better once we get to player tracking (unless you want something data heavy)?— Dave (@nyillini311) December 16, 2019
This is a great question. It’s undeniable that hockey analytics have come a long way over the last two years. I think we’re now past the “actually getting on base and hitting home runs is good” phase that baseball went through in the 90s. That was the shot attempts and shot quality based on coordinates findings (Corsi, Scoring Chances, etc.).
At a team level, the expected goal models are pretty advanced and do take a lot into account. At a player level, the regression-based impact models that Micah Blake McCurdy (isolated impact) and Luke & Josh Younggren (RAPM) have released have been the first step in what is a new frontier of metrics.
When it comes to player tracking, it will largely depend on what actually is released to the public. But going from the coordinates to where a player achieves an “event” to tracking all 10 skaters and the puck at a millisecond-level opens the door for a ton of work. This includes things like understanding passing better, pre-shot movement, systems scouting, skating routes within systems, stickhandling tendencies - the possibilities are truly endless.
Of course, my hope is that we will have access to all of this information. Though, I’m not naive to expect that - so my biggest initial hopes are that we can understand zone exits/entries better and understand pre-shot movement better. I think that will actively explain a lot of the success a team like the Islanders has while also remaining practical in terms of looking at things from a more process perspective.
I just hope it’s not only things like how fast a player is skating from Point A to Point B.
All metrics are sourced from Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise referenced.