Joe Haggerty

Morning Skate: Why NHL players hate analytics

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Morning Skate: Why NHL players hate analytics

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while already hating my fantasy football team just a couple of weeks into things.

*Interesting look at why NHL players hate analytics and why most of them don’t even care what Corsi is or how it’s tabulated.

*Interesting piece on the play-by-play for Bruins radio, where over 200 applicants threw their hat in the ring to replace Dave Goucher as the voice of the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ryan Johnston is one of the finalists and has great on the call on Tuesday night, so count me as rooting for him to wind up getting the gig he’s worked his whole life for.

*This is actually a fairly thoughtful and well-researched blog post on the Blackhawks logo and why it’s unfair to claim that it’s racist using the same arguments as for the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians.

*It’s unfortunate, but an arena conflict between the Flames and the city of Calgary is the same kind of thing that’s forced franchises to move in other NHL cities.

*Good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Craig Custance about Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Sheahan and the bond he has with one Michigan family and one special little boy.

*Count the Winnipeg Jets among the teams that are going to have former NHL referees stop by training camp to give them the lowdown on slashing and face-offs. I think everybody understands the slashing enforcement, but this face-off stuff is ridiculous.

*For something completely different: I’ve enjoyed “Billy on the Street” while it’s been on TruTV, but it looks like it’s finding a new home soon.


 

Gabrielle learning his NHL lessons, just like his idol Marchand

Gabrielle learning his NHL lessons, just like his idol Marchand

BOSTON – Jesse Gabrielle has drawn comparisons to Brad Marchand since the very day that the Bruins drafted him two years ago. On Thursday night, everybody got to see a few reasons behind those sentiments.

Gabrielle spent the first 50 minutes of the 2-1 overtime Bruins win aggravating, agitating and poking at the Flyers while coupling with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari to provide stout defense and even getting in a couple of generated odd-man rushes that unfortunately didn’t lead to actual goals. 

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The 20-year-old lost control in the final few minutes of the third period, however, in another homage to the early days of Marchand, and got booted from the victory over the Flyers with a 10-minute misconduct for grabbing an opponent’s stick while he was already on the bench.

Bruce Cassidy was understandably unimpressed with the actions that led to the misconduct penalty and two-minute minor for interference, but it’s also part of the Gabrielle learning where the line is for a trouble-maker in the NHL.

“I had guys coming up to me all game. It was a lot of fun. Another guy was on the ice and his stick came across the bench and he gave me a little stick tap. Instinctively, I grabbed for a second,” said Gabrielle. “Granted it should be a nothing play, but I got caught and it is what it is. Boys got the win and it’s not going to happen again.

“I just tried to explain that the guy stuck me first [with his stick] and I got caught and it’s not going to happen again. That’s something that can’t happen. I can’t let the boys down like that, especially when it’s a tie game. It’s just stuff you learn from and move past and learn from it.”

Prior to that incident, it had been a solid showing from Gabrielle in a game featuring many NHL players on both rosters. He set the tone early with a punishing hit on Travis Konecny that earned him his first interference penalty and he caught the attention of noted heavy hitter Radko Gudas as the two chirped back and forth throughout the contest.

It would have been an ideal start if he finished off a great 2-on-1 chance he enjoyed in the third period prior to the misconduct, but then came the misconduct and the words of support from his teammates afterward. Marchand gave him a pat on the back, having been in that position many times in the past, and that meant the world to a player that models his game after the Little Ball of Hate.

“I try to learn from [Marchand]. He’s my favorite player and I try to emulate my game after him. I just try to be a sponge around him. [It’s good] when you can watch him play and experience it and have him on the bench,” said Gabrielle. “Like I said, I’m just trying to be a sponge and learn from him. I went up to him after the game and talked to him about it and said you just got to find that line. He said you’re going to get caught sometimes, and you just got to learn from it.”

Marchand certainly enjoys having a mini-me around in Gabrielle and perhaps finally having a rabble-rousing troublemaker in the lineup that can take the pressure off him to push opponent’s buttons.  

“He’s a great kid. You know, you watch him out there tonight, getting everyone off their game out there. It was a lot of fun to watch, and, you know, it’s nice to have guys like that on a team,” said Marchand. “It’s fun when they’re on the team and, you know, you hate on the other team. I think they were just trying to control the game and make sure nothing bad happened out there. There were a lot of guys out there that were pretty mad at him.

“He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s a good player. He’s good at what he does. He reminds me a lot of myself when he’s out there. I just laugh at him. He’s a pretty funny kid. He’s fun to have on the team and he makes it exciting to watch. You tend to watch him when he’s out there on the ice.”

Now, just like Marchand, Gabrielle has to learn the rules of engagement at the pro hockey level as he makes the transition from junior hockey. His chances of making the NHL as a dark-horse candidate might have taken a hit with his mistake late in the third period of a tight game, but Gabrielle is showing that it might not be too long before his energy and brand of on-ice mischief will be welcomed in the NHL. 


 

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

BOSTON – It may just be that all of these slashing penalties and face-off violations will become a training camp fad of sorts and the preseason period of adjustment will give way to business as usual once the regular season opens.

The NHL can’t possibly hope to sell fans on games like the Bruins' 2-1 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at TD Garden that included 16 penalties and 12 power plays that completely marred the normal game flow. Some of it was about the seven slashing penalties handed out by the officiating crew and the ensuing special teams flow that never allowed either team to truly find their 5-on-5 footing.

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Even more prominent, however, is the frustration that many players from both teams are feeling for the strict enforcement of the face-off rules and the impact it’s having on the flow of the game. Brad Marchand called it “an absolute joke” a couple of days ago after watching the first night of preseason hockey. He doubled down on his criticism after watching it play out in a game.

He said it was so bad that players from both teams were laughing at the sheer absurdity of the standstill face-off posture and just how much it’s taking away from the enjoyment, whether it’s fans, the media or even the officials, of a free-flowing NHL game.

“It’s really taking a lot away from the game. You can’t have a winger taking all the face-offs. I mean if you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it,” said Marchand. “Literally both teams were laughing out there about how bad the rule is. It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it.

“These games are painful. I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and actually seeing what it’s like. It’s basically an automatic [face-off] win for the other team. The only thing you’re worried about is not moving before the puck is shot.”

The choppiness resulted in some pretty bad nights in the face-off circle for the Bruins. Ryan Spooner lost 9 of 10 draws and Riley Nash 12 of 19 face-offs while Claude Giroux somehow won 20 of 25 draws despite the difficulty all around him. While Patrice Bergeron was a solidly respectable 9 of 18 in the face-off circle for the evening, the four-time Selke Trophy made no bones wondering aloud what exactly is the point of all this.

Bergeron is rarely critical of anything despite his standing as a prominent, respected player in the league, but he seemed to take major umbrage with rules that are totally messing with his considerable face-off skills. The Bruins top face-off man likened it to Pee Wee hockey when he was 12 where everybody would just stand perfectly still in the face-off circle until the puck was dropped. That little tweak wrings every last bit of competitiveness and 1-on-1 battle out of the ultimate hockey showdown and has left Bergeron with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I think that the face-off is definitely an adjustment. I think that the face-off is a skill and you work your whole career to develop that and you work on your hand-eye and timing and everything and try to take that away. You have to adapt I guess. It’s something that I’ll definitely do, but I don’t think I’m a huge fan,” said Bergeron. “I wonder what they’re really trying to get out of it. I understand that it’s feet above those lines and sticks and whatnot. That being said it also kind of sucks. Hockey is a fast game and they’re really slowing it down.

“Faceoff is a skill and you work on timing, you work on hand-eye, and you know when the linesman is going to drop the puck. And I was thinking more about him kicking me out than dropping the puck. That’s what makes you second guess. It just makes you hesitate and everyone is just standing there. There’s no battle right now. It’s like face-offs when I was 12 years old. Everyone is just standing still and no one is really moving.”

In an interesting wrinkle to the face-off debate, Bruins forward David Backes is a member of the NHL Competition Committee that came up with the stricter enforcement. 

“[Marchand] probably won’t like it, but I was on the competition committee that changed [the face-off enforcement]. I get to hear his gripes and it makes me chuckle a little bit. I think the intent was that all face-offs tended to be ‘scrum draws.’ It wasn’t win the draw. It was ‘don’t lose the draw’ and get the wingers in there, and everything looks like rugby where it’s bash each other together to figure it all out,” said Backes. “The intent was to have a cleanly won face-off whether it’s the second center in there that’s petrified to get a penalty, or it’s the first line center that’s got to be honest.

“The draws are won more cleanly [now] and you can watch it in the games. The puck is dropped and it’s not two guys colliding and banging heads like they’re football players. It’s certainly a skill that needs to be developed. [Bergeron] didn’t like it and he was 50 percent [in his first preseason game], but I bet you the next time he plays it will be 85 percent and it will be a great rule. Because he’s that good on draws and he’s smart enough, he’ll adjust. You’ve just got to be honest. We’ll all maybe have a hug, and life will go on.”

So, what’s the ultimate answer from an NHL that wasn’t tremendously forthcoming with these preseason tweaks and now has a stand-up, influential player like Bergeron kicking it around just like everybody else? It might be time for the league to revisit their face-off crackdown and perhaps get a little more advice from accomplished players like Bergeron for the next time around. But Bergeron, Marchand and others aren’t exactly holding their breath for any more changes. Instead, they simply hope that some of the referees apply a common-sense approach once the regular season begins.