New Year Thoughts After Some Time Away

Happy New Year, BSB community!  It’s been a while since I’ve written, so I figured this would be a good time to catch up.  Recently, Dave posted his retrospective on the 10-year anniversary of Blue Seat Blogs. He (erroneously!) characterized me as “retired” in that piece, and I understand why he would have had that impression. People who write on a non-professional basis tend to not pick it back up after a hiatus, and I’ll give Dave credit for trying to let me fade out with class and dignity.

This past summer, in all of my infinite wisdom, I decided to go back to grad school to obtain an L.L.M. degree (basically a master’s degree for lawyers) in Cybersecurity and Data Privacy.  I work in the banking industry, so protecting consumer data has become a huge priority for companies, especially in New York.  The degree will only take me until this coming July, so that is when I will be making my triumphant return to writing full-time again.

I did not intend to just sort of fade into oblivion at the beginning of the season; I had fully intended to write the 7th Annual Top 30 Goaltenders list and explain that it would be my last article for little while.  However, once the semester started up and I realized that I hadn’t done nearly the research or other legwork that I usually put into that piece, so rather than put out a sub-par product, I ended up shelving it for this year.

So, due to all of that, I haven’t watched nearly as much hockey as I typically would, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from having some thoughts on the Rangers’ season thus far.  Let’s get to it, shall we?  Just fair warning, I haven’t written in about 6 months, so this will probably get long…

1. First, let’s start with the rebuild concept, as a whole. I think there has been some fan disconnect about the willingness to go through the rebuild process for the sake of organizational improvement, and the actual emotional consequences of watching your favorite team lose every night. Especially for an organization that has a tremendously successful past decade.  Seeing once-core Rangers like Lundqvist, Zuccarello and Staal enter the twilights of their career while getting stomped on a nightly basis isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, no matter how much better it would be in the long run.

The other disconnect has been between the concept of a rebuild as a vehicle for developing young talent to create a new core, and actually having that young talent. Sure, there are some interesting pieces in the organization; Howden, Chytil, Andersson, Shestyorkin, etc., but the team still lacks those future superstars on the cusp to help move this thing along. At the time the organization waived the white flag in its letter to the fans last year, I saw many comparisons to what the Yankees had done in 2016.  The problem for the Rangers is they didn’t have an Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Miguel Andujar lying around.  They had to do this thing from basically scratch.

The good news was Chytil, Andersson and Shestyorkin were already in the organization, and then the team went out and acquired Howden, Rykov, Hajek, Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, and others through the Draft and trades at the deadline.  Not a bad pool to start working through.  Back to the disconnect; very few of those guys were in a position to even get an NHL look this season, much less help move the needle for a youth movement at the highest level.

I think people were expecting the organization to ice a massively young team that would be super exciting to watch, ala the 2017 Yankees, which would give everyone hope for the future, even as they took their lumps and missed the playoffs.  Ultimately, the team was still quite veteran heavy, and the optimism of youth never really materialized (and was really never going to this season).

Not to belabor the Yankees example too badly, but I think a good portion of the fanbase was hoping that the team would dispense with some superfluous veterans and the high ceiling kids would slot in, supported by more effective young veterans like Kreider, Zibanejad and Zuccarello.  With Henrik Lundqvist in net and a few big steps forward from the likes of Chytil and Andersson and you could squint and see a possible playoff team.  I know I was in this camp.  I think partially out of that desperate desire to see Lundqvist get a Cup after years of Hall of Fame service to the team and the city.  It’s a depressing notion that he will probably retire one of the greatest goalies ever never to win one.

2. Speaking of Lundqvist, he is just brutal on a rebuild, isn’t he? If you put even a league average goaltender in there, the Rangers would likely be dead last in the NHL by a country mile (Ottawa might have something to say about that, though). All those games that made it to overtime on his back and the extra loser points could end up costing the team anywhere from 5-10 percentage points in the Draft lottery. So much of his personal brand and career legacy are tied up in being a Ranger, that is makes it kind of a sticky situation to really lean into the tanking concept.  I suppose you could really dial back his playing time in favor of Alex Georgiev, but Hank is going to be a big part of the development of Shestyorkin over the next couple years, so I wouldn’t be trying to unload him just because he is playing the Rangers into a worse draft position.

3. Now, I fully expected the defense to be the weak link of the team going into the season, but I did not expect a tire fire of this magnitude. Honestly, out of the current group, I don’t know if there are any members of the next competitive core suiting up on a nightly basis. I’m not really sure what else there is to say about the blue line, it’s been tough to watch.

4. I know when David Quinn was hired there was some mixed reaction. The notion of player development as a focus and new ideas and NCAA coaches transitioning to the NHL, and blah blah blah. I get it; it was an unknown and that was worth discussing.  However, I think the decision-making processes that we are observing with Quinn, and hell, league-wide really, are just continually reflective of the systemic issue in the NHL, and hockey as a whole: a complete and total unwillingness to embrace new ideas.

Take the USA Hockey coaching model.  If I spend enough weekends in the conference room of the Lake Placid Marriott and coach my local pee wee team, I can be a level 5 USA Hockey coach.  Never you mind how much actual hockey knowledge I have, or how talented a communicator I am or how innovative my philosophy on the game is, it’s ultimately about checking a box.  Hockey’s culture in general in relatively conservative and risk averse, but the game is never really going to grow until it starts taking those risks.

If hockey was truly limited simply by the fact that it is a niche sport, I could deal with that.  It is what it is.  However, the modern NHL is actively shooting itself in the foot with shortsighted decisions designed to keep under (or “un”)-qualified decision makers in power.  If the sport embraces new ideas and perspectives, it threatens the status quo of those in power, who by the way, would have their resumes thrown directly in the trash in any other major sport.

Hockey culture has brainwashed us into thinking that having “played the game” qualifies someone to manage a multi-million-dollar business.  They would obviously have valuable input on the experience of becoming and remaining a professional player and other in-game contributions, but the notion that because someone was able to play the game at the highest level means they understand it’s most complicated economic inner-workings is absurd.

Which brings us back to David Quinn.  Sure, he is young and been tasked with helping to develop younger players, but at the end of the day, he is an extension of the current power structure and that will always stamp out any creativity or process evolution that might have been.  Veterans have earned their time and the kids have to be above board to avoid the threat of the press box.  Disappointing, yes, but ultimately predictable.

5. Moving on, I am really excited about K’Andre Miller’s development. I liked the pick as an upside play at the time; physical specimens like that don’t become available all that often. If everything clicks, he is a bonafide number one defenseman with huge offensive upside. It might take him a little bit to get there, but he could end up the big win out of that draft class; and that is no knock against Kravtsov.

6. I want to take a minute to talk about analytics. I know, I know, this subject has been beaten to death. However, I guess I just want to muse for a moment on what I wish the discussion could be. When baseball was having their great analytics war, there were certain assumptions that were already agreed upon. No one really questioned whether or not a statistic could accurately measure what it was setting out to measure, but rather what value that measurement held.  It was a debate between whether human eyes could see what would make a team successful, or whether or not that value was obfuscated within a larger data set.

For data analysts in baseball, it was like learning to ride a bike.  They just needed enough data to see if their theories would bear out.  For hockey data analysts, instead of learning to ride a bike, it’s like learning to ride a unicycle while spinning plates.  There are no agreed upon assumptions of measurement accuracy.  The game moves with such speed and fluidity, with no isolated plays and large stretches of time that cover both offensive and defensive scenarios.  The arguments against its evolution remain the same, however.

What should be happening is looking to experiment with different data analysis tools to more accurately determine the reliability of the measurements, then apply them to the accuracy of their predictability for on-ice success.  It needs to be a multi-stage, always evolving perspective.  The problem is, both sides came from an intellectually dishonest perspective in their advocacy.  The anti-stats crowd railed against a combination of change, concepts they did not understand, nostalgia and general defensiveness.  The advocates of the data felt compelled to declare these tools the end-all, be-all solution for smart people who seek to better understand the game.

At the end of the day, hockey will benefit from a better understanding of how data drives success; that’s true of any business.  It creates market inefficiencies and allows savvy organizations to gain an edge.  I don’t know exactly where I am going with this, I guess I would just like to see this develop organically instead of this tribal battlefield of eye test v. spreadsheets.

7. I am really interested to see how the trade deadline and the Draft this year play out.  I think it’s going to be the real crossroads for the rebuild.  The deadline hauls for pending free agents and the Draft strategy will really bring the organization’s capabilities to the forefront.  I think the group of assets that the team has by the end of June will give us a much better idea of how the time horizon on this endeavor truly looks.  I just hope for all our sakes that it won’t last too long.

8. Might as well cap this off on a bit of a lighter note. On Wednesday, Adidas introduced the jerseys for the 2019 All-Star Game. They have a monotone, black or white aesthetic, and have the individual team logos instead of an NHL crest.  To be honest, they are a little “meh”.  I like the minimalistic sensibility, but I think since the color scheme branded on the Parley technology used in the jerseys is very similar to the color scheme for the host San Jose Sharks, I would like to have seen the teal featured a little more prominently.

What is noteworthy, however, is the aforementioned Parley technology.  For those unfamiliar, Parley is a company that sources recyclable materials from the oceans, clearing out dangerous debris that threatens marine life.  Their mission statement goes far beyond that, though. You can check out their website at Parley.tv.  I have a pair of their trainers and they are awesome. Back to the jerseys, though.  Most NHL All-Star jerseys are abhorrently ugly to begin with.  I’ll gladly give these a pass for the innovation and worthwhile initiative they support.

Alright gang, that’s it for me.  I’m heading back to the grindstone for the next couple months, but I will try to work in some articles when I have some free time, with the plan being to launch back into things with the Top 30 prior to next season.  It’s been a pleasure writing for you again after all this time, and I look forward to reading your comments (well, most of them, anyway).  Enjoy the rest of the season, everyone!

"New Year Thoughts After Some Time Away", 5 out of 5 based on 19 ratings.

17 thoughts on “New Year Thoughts After Some Time Away

  • Jan 11, 2019 at 11:23 am
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    Good stuff Justin, though I still think if they get rid of certain vets and get a little lucky with this deadline and draft they can be competitive next year. They’ve shown this year that they can be good, they’ve also shown they can be terrible. However, when you have a kid like Chytil, who strikes me as one of those prospects that could make huge strides over the course of just one summer (Kravtsov might be the same), there’s always a chance for some dramatic advancement in a team’s overall play. Sometimes it just takes 1 or 2 players breaking out to change the whole outlook for a team. Confidence breeds success, or is it success breeds confidence? lol Point is, they are intertwined. There’s little room for error in the NHL, the margin is that slim. Sometimes little tweaks can have amplified results.

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 11:40 am
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    Justin- nice surprise, and a relief, to see you’re not retired after all. All salient points, as usual.

    Regarding bullet #6 “Analytcs”, unfortunately it is ingrained in our nature to affirm our own beliefs as opposed to challenging them. We are a stubborn people who do not homogeneously engage in truth seeking. We would rather feel better about confirming what we think we already know, right or wrong. We apply labels to other individuals or groups and dig our heels in. An open mind is the path to progress. As it turns out, we would rather spend our time and energy toiling in the weeds.

    As you once labeled me, the “BSB resident centrist”, I believe there is value in establishing commonality prior to the pursuit of optimization / critique / progress.

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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    Good read.
    On the cusp of deadline #2. The Rangers have another chance to acquire another set of prospects and picks. Of all the vets or players being traded I’m hoping the main focus is to bring in high end NHL ready prospects drafted in the last 3 years more so than picking up another set of 1st and 2nd round draft picks. Those draft picks that will be 3-4 years away from full time NHL service.
    When it comes to the lottery, I’m in the Kakko corner. Podkolzin as the runner up.
    Other than lucking out and landing the Hughes pick, if I couldn’t have one of these three, I’d trade down or to 2020 in hopes of a better selection. Next years draft is so much deeper, so much more talent. Hughes and Kakko would be lucky to be top 5 next year.
    Besides, we need elite talent on the wings. Kakko and Podkolzin can fill that need.
    If someone needs to debate the term “generational talent” as a adjective applied, it’s a safe easy bet that they are not “generational talent”
    It was never debated when applied to Crosby, McDavid, Ovie or Malkin.

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    • Jan 11, 2019 at 3:38 pm
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      Ugh, every time I hear Malkin’s name I recount the agony of the Montoya pick. Of course, that particular first round was loaded with whiffs and that was not a problem unique to the Rangers…but still, bad flashbacks!

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 12:37 pm
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    Excellent post Justin — and welcome back, if only for a day.

    I might add an additional problem about the analytics debate. There are not really just two sides, just as in politics. That is only a perception. However, most people are in one camp or the other and the natural reaction is to presume that those who don’t agree with you are in the other camp. Those who want better analytics can easily be seen as the enemy of all.

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 12:54 pm
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    All of this tells me that we will be in rebuild or retool mode for 3 full years. That is a little depressing to me. We have some notable kids, but nobody who is elite at this juncture. Another super draft and trade moves might help that, but thinking we have a superstar under 21 in the organization is a fading dream.

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    • Jan 11, 2019 at 3:25 pm
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      Sal, we have potential elites. One is never quite sure who will turn out to be elite until they actually get to play in the NHL for a few years. Every time someone gets drafted after the Top 3-5 or so it’s an acknowledgement by the vast majority of the hockey community that they will not be “elite”, or that the odds of being elite are somewhat low. So just to throw out a few Ranger names from both the present and the past, think of Hank, Leetch, Kovalev … or guys like Tarasenko, Forsberg, Kucherov, etc. Point is, maybe it’s Kravtsov or Miller … hey, maybe it’s Chytil who shows flashes but hasn’t put it together. Can you see any possible path for the player becoming elite? That’s the question. The best you can do is look at a player’s skills, physique, hockey mind and character, then extrapolate whether the basis for elite exists at all.

      I think it’s even more important that the Rangers look at their development group, because great teams are built around how well they take the basic talent they’ve accumulated and developed it to its’ fullest potential and to fit into their team structure. We did a good job post 2004/05 lockout, but not so well after we started trading away our 1st and 2nd rounders (2013+).

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 12:59 pm
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    “If I spend enough weekends in the conference room of the Lake Placid Marriott and coach my local pee wee team, I can be a level 5 USA Hockey coach. ” Haha yeah I don’t think they would let you be a assistant coach at Northwood.

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    • Jan 11, 2019 at 9:08 pm
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      I have to assume this is one of the comments Justin will not enjoy reading

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 1:59 pm
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    The rangers are likely going to go back to the free agent route this summer.

    I read an interesting article on Blueline station about the possibility of making an offer for A. Mathews. The Leafs have a lot of RFA’s this summer and would be hard pressed to match a big offer of say 15M. Interesting…. It would be worth the 4 first round picks we would have to give up.

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    • Jan 11, 2019 at 3:28 pm
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      If we find a way to pick up 2 or 3 additional 1st rounders before the draft this year, it’s a thought … but I doubt it. 😉

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 2:39 pm
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    Off topic but Rick Nash retired today. Makes Gorton’s trade of Nash even better in light of the concussion Nash suffered after being traded. Sorry to hear Nash couldn’t end things a little more on his own terms, he was a standup guy in New York who never hid from discussion about his lack of goalscoring in the playoffs.

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    • Jan 11, 2019 at 3:30 pm
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      At least the rest of his game was always top flight. That isn’t specifically why we brought him to NY but he was NEVER a detriment on or off the ice.

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 3:02 pm
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    Excellent post, Justin. Don’t get me started on USA hockey.

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 9:12 pm
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    Great post. Can’t wait to see you back full time!

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  • Jan 11, 2019 at 9:15 pm
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    Great post Justin, good to see you back! I wish you nothing but success in your studies and career.
    Happy New Year!

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  • Jan 12, 2019 at 7:38 am
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    Thank you Justin, appreciate your post.

    Several comments:

    1) The fans’ reaction to the rebuild. What’s more important than that is MANAGEMENT’s reaction to the rebuild, because up until now, that reaction has been mixed and confusing to the fan base. I think that the passing of the trade deadline, and seeing who is left to fill out the game by game line up will tell us everything we need to know going forward.

    2) “Which brings us back to David Quinn. Sure, he is young and been tasked with helping to develop younger players, but at the end of the day, he is an extension of the current power structure and that will always stamp out any creativity or process evolution that might have been.”

    Thank you, I have been saying this continuously, but fans don’t want to listen. While the FO may not be filling out the line up on a game by game basis, they are dictating the players who play, in general, meaning vets over young players. So “blaming” Quinn for line ups is ridiculous and misguided anger, IMO. We cannot really evaluate his ability to develop young players, until he is actually allowed to do so, which means, after the vets are traded and spots are opened up for young players, in earnest.

    3) The state of the franchise rests on Chytil, Krav, Andersson, Howden, Hajek, Lindgren, K Miller, etc. If these players do not pan out, the franchise is set back for the next 5 to 10 years. What would help them immensely is getting that franchise player like Hughes or Kappo, that makes the aforementioned players even better. Replace the D with young and cheaper players that can skate, add Shesty, and maybe they have something. Maybe add a Panarin or Stone. We’ll see.

    And the only way to find out is to put those young players in important roles, like Chytil at 2C, Andersson with the big club, Hajek and Lindgren with the big club, etc. I’m sick and tired of seeing the Staals, McQuaids, Smiths, and McCleods of the team play on a nightly basis.

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