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Category: Hockey Tactics

Scouting The Deadline Part 2: Identifying Appropriate Return For Assets

Part 1: Identifying Team Needs and Surpluses

As we roll into the trade deadline, rumors are going to be appearing from every possible angle. Aside from judging the source (note: HFBoards is not a source), there are a few ways to tell if a rumor is legitimate or if it is just someone blowing hot air. This Scouting The Deadline series is going to be a three part series where identify and analyze the three key steps in the trade process. Today is the second post, and it will address identifying appropriate returns for assets.

First things first, let’s define what an asset to the organization is. A player is an asset, and an asset is used to help build a Stanley Cup contending team. Assets can be players in the lineup, assets can be prospects, assets can be picks. Not every draft pick plays for the NHL club, and not every pick is used in the draft. The goal of a general manager in this league is to identify what assets mean to the organization, and what the minimum return for that asset would have to be to be moved.

For trade deadline buyers, the return is almost always a player that will serve as an upgrade for the playoffs. For sellers, the return is almost always picks and/or prospects to help build for the future. Regardless of the position a team is in, these are the generalized returns that GM’s look for.

Going deeper into this for buyers, the return does change depending on which players are to be dealt. Using Brandon Dubinsky as an example here (hypothetical, not an actual rumor), he is an integral part of the Rangers current structure. The Rangers won’t move him for a rental, nor should they. Dubinsky has tremendous value to the club. However, when referring to what was said above, trading Dubinsky isn’t exactly out of the question if the return is another roster player that serves as an upgrade at the position. This goes hand in hand with identifying team needs and surpluses, the first part of this series.

Using the first post, I identified that the Rangers have a need for a top six left wing with proven elite offensive talent. Using the Bobby Ryan example again, Ryan serves as a significant offensive upgrade over Dubinsky. So taking a step back and looping back to the original point of the post: Would Bobby Ryan be an appropriate return for trading Dubinsky? I’d have to think the answer here is yes.

But there’s more to it than just roster players. A prospect that most fans think is untouchable is Chris Kreider. First let’s go with one thing: No player, prospect, or draft pick is untouchable. Period.

Back to Kreider, his potential is widely known, but it is still just potential. He has not done anything at the NHL level, so while he is considered to be a top prospect, he is not a NHL player yet. At his peak, he actually pans out to be another Bobby Ryan: an elite power forward. When you are given the opportunity to trade potential for the proven talent, and that talent has yet to hit his prime, the deal must be made. Ryan is proven at a young age, Kreider is not.

Summing up the last few paragraphs, it makes sense that the Rangers would consider trading Chris Kreider or Brandon Dubinsky for Bobby Ryan. It meets their criteria of what the appropriate return is. That said, appropriate return also addresses overpayment. A deal with both Kreider and Dubinsky for Ryan would be an overpayment. That is not an appropriate return.

Getting away from Bobby Ryan for a moment, let’s address another type of player that is usually available: the rental. The rental is a player that fills a hole for the short term, but is unlikely to return following the playoffs.

Ray Whitney and Shane Doan fall into the rental category. Would a rental be an appropriate return for a core roster player (Dubinsky) or an elite prospect (Kreider)? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean a deal is dead. I identified the surplus for the Rangers to be defensive prospects. Is it really unfathomable that the Rangers would view Whitney as a good return for someone like Pavel Valentenko, who has dropped so far on the depth chart he’s collecting dust?

Confused? Think I’m making things too difficult? I might be, but I also might not be. Trades are not made on message boards or in NHL 12. Most trades take weeks of talking and negotiating, and conversations like this one are had on a daily basis. Trading is the science of preparation, negotiation, and sticking to your guns. Preparation includes those surpluses and needs, but it also is about going in knowing what you are willing to give up for a specified return. That is the toughest part of the GM’s job.

Scouting The Deadline Part 1: Identifying Team Needs And Surpluses

As we roll into the trade deadline, rumors are going to be appearing from every possible angle. Aside from judging the source (note: HFBoards is not a source), there are a few ways to tell if a rumor is legitimate or if it is just someone blowing hot air. This Scouting The Deadline series is going to be a three part series where identify and analyze the three key steps in the trade process. Today is the first post, and it will address identifying team needs and surpluses.

If you watch a team long enough, like we have with the Rangers, it’s easy to identify where the team needs and surpluses are. For the Rangers, it’s clear there isn’t much depth on the top six, especially at left wing. Naturally, when the deadline approaches, it is a fair assumption that the Rangers will look to fill that hole. That hole was severely exposed when both Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko were out of the lineup. On the other side of things, with Mike Sauer returning to the lineup soon, the Rangers are going to have a lot of capable defensemen on their hands.

Identifying other team’s needs and surpluses is a much more difficult task. This requires research (gasp).  Looking at how a team is performing in critical aspects of the game is the best place to start. Taking the Ducks for example, their defense isn’t exactly anything to write home about. When you look at the structure of their blue line, the expiring contracts, and the lack of overall defense being played, it’s clear that if they are to unload a piece of their core, they will require a defensive defenseman in return. It’s why when we analyzed the Bobby Ryan situation, we mentioned that Mike Sauer might have to be an obligatory piece to ship to Anaheim.

But it’s not just about the Rangers and the Ducks. Let’s look at the Phoenix Coyotes, who are quickly falling out of the playoff race. When looking at their roster, it is clear they need some top-six forwards, as their roster is comprised mostly of grinding forwards.  Only three players are on pace for 60 points on their roster. Looking deeper into the roster, you can see a need for a defenseman or two at the NHL level as well. In the ‘Yotes case, their surplus is expiring contracts that don’t have a long term future with the organization (this is true of most sellers).

But a trade isn’t made by just looking at the NHL level, so by looking at the prospects in the Coyotes’ system, you can see that four of their top five prospects are defensemen.  In fact, only three of their top ten prospects are forwards. So in a trade, it is safe to assume they are going to look for scoring prospects to help retool their offensive threats. This is why when we laughed at the Shane Doan rumors, we said that Chris Kreider or Christian Thomas would have to be in that deal.

Making a trade is a two way street. Teams are looking to fill holes, be it for the immediate or long term future of their clubs. In the Rangers case, the team need is a top six LW. To fill that need, the Rangers have identified that their surplus is young defensemen, as  Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon will also be pushing for roster spots. That’s a lot, even for the most cost-savvy of teams. If the Rangers are to make a move, it will be a move to fill their offensive needs by trading some of their younger defensive prospects.

Hockey Tactics: Executing 2-on-1s

If you’ve ever followed a twitter feed during a Rangers telecast, then you’re probably aware of the attempts at “color analysis” that often take place. Now I’m not one to call out the preponderance of errors from the Joe Micheletti’s to be, but I do cringe at some of the faulty finger pointing.

To alleviate some of this we figured it’s about time we get back to basics and open up our hockey systems playbook. Today we will focus on executing 2-on-1s, since they often produce plenty of tweets that will read, “OMG! Dubi should have shot the puck!” or “Why the **** did Richards pass?”

In today’s NHL, an odd man situation is often a team’s best chance to score, thanks to an ever increasing sophistication to team defense & penalty killing. That’s why it is crucial these rushes be executed to perfection.

The most important aspect to getting a good quality shot on net in these situations is reading the defender. First you have to read the defender’s body position. Is he cheating toward you or his playing the pass? Defenders are taught to take away your “time and space.” This means if he’s cheating towards you, then his goal is to force you wide and eliminate your shooting angle. You also have to be cognizant of the defender’s handedness. Is his forehand facing you or is his backhand? His stick angle will tell you if he’s playing the shot or the pass.

For example, in this image below Cally and Dubi are on a 2-on-1 rush that ends with Cally putting a soft wrister right into the keeper’s belly. Looking at the photo and his options. Do you think he made the right decision?

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Earning icetime in John Tortorella’s system

It seems like there are some common misconceptions with regards to how Torts distributes ice time among his forwards. I figured I would cherry-pick a few of our reader’s comments and explain some of the logic behind how ice time is earned on this team.

Keep in mind I am not trying to call people out for their opinions; I am just using these quotes as a point of reference.

Misconception #1 – Salary Plays A Role In Ice time

“If Torts is gonna have to play guys according to their $$$$$ (think Dubi) he should go back to CT.

Let’s ignore the “sending Dubi to the Whale” comment and focus on the salary part of this sentence. One of the reasons why I prefered Torts over Tom Renney had to do with income being irrelevant when it comes to earning ice time. If the above statement were true, then Drury and Redden would still be on the team and Dubi would not have seen his minutes decrease over the last couple of weeks.

Renney preferred to lean on his veterans, which is why guys like Redden, Rozi, and Gomer were rarely ever scratched, let alone riding pine. Torts on the other hand has proven time and time again that if our youth plays well, they will see their minutes go up. Point in case Hagelin is getting PK time, Stepan’s on the first line, MDZ is on the power play, etc.

Misconception #2- Not All Players Are Created Equal

“My main complaint is not Dubi here, its more the way Torts doesn’t treat everyone the same.”

Gaborik was benched the other night against Buffalo during the second period because his turnover lead to a goal. If that wasn’t enough to prove that no one man is greater than this team, then I don’t know what will. Torts has a very long history on both the Rangers and in Tampa for benching players for lackadaisical play.

Now as far as a guy’s place on the depth chart is concerned, I think people will often have an affinity for a bottom six player, like a Boyle or an Avery, and wonder why they don’t get more ice time if they are playing well. It’s all about what your individual role is on this team and what your expected output is given that role.

Consistent play will earn you more ice time within your given role. Dave had a great example of this yesterday regarding the utilization of Erik Christensen over Sean Avery. Avery’s role is to agitate. Special teams is not a place where agitating is a necessary skill set.  So his total ice time can only climb so high.

Misconception #3- Lack Of Offense Equals Less Ice Time

If another player is doing better they should play. You earn your ice time. If WoWo earns it he should play.

While normally this quote would be true, there are shades of grey here. If a top 6 player isn’t scoring, they shouldn’t be demoted or benched if they’re playing well in all three zones. Dubinsky is a classic example of this. He was playing well earlier in the season. He wasn’t scoring goals, but he was making plays, forechecking, & playing solid defense. People called for his demotion to the fourth line because he wasn’t scoring, but it was premature. Torts had confidence in him and stuck with him.

The last week or two his play away from the puck started to plateau and he was coasting. Luckily other players were stepping up and were more deserving of ice time. The result was his demotion to the fourth line, which at that point was the right thing to do. But now we are getting to the point where we need Dubi to get going offensively, because like I said in Misconception #2, his role is to provide secondary scoring. I think if he plays a few hard-nosed games he will eventually move up.

So I guess to sum this all up, when it comes to ice time things aren’t always black and white. But if you think about these three examples, you should have a better idea of what it takes to see your guy out on the ice more often.

Breaking down Tampa’s 1-3-1 forecheck

Ever since the Philadelphia Flyers elected not to challenge Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 forecheck, I’ve been reading a lot of erroneous things about the 1-3-1, neutral zone traps and just hockey tactics in general. The last thing I’d ever want is for misinformation to be percolating into the minds of Rangers fans, so if you have a few minutes, let me take you through a more in-depth look at what exactly the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing and how to beat their formations.

To simply write off the 1-3-1 as this decade’s version of Devil’s hockey is not giving Guy Boucher enough credit. As I said in my hockey system’s post, the 1-3-1 can be both a defensive schematic and an aggressive one. It all depends on where the puck is located in the offensive zone and whether or not the opposition has complete possession.

For instance, in the photo above, which was taken from the recent Flyers/Lightning game, you will notice that the puck is not in deep and the Flyers have clear possession of the puck (the right defensemen). In this instance, the Lightning (circled in blue) do not want to forecheck. Instead they trap the neutral zone and wait for the puck to be brought up ice where they will attempt to turn the puck over.

So how do you beat this scheme? The same way you beat Boston’s 1-4 or the Devils 1-2-2… dump and chase or attack the neutral zone as a unit with short passes, as seen here.

Now in this photo against the Caps the puck is in deep and the Caps d-man doesn’t have clean possession. Tampa reacts and forechecks aggressively in that same 1-3-1 formation. You will notice that there is half a blue circle off to screen right. That is where the Lightning’s right defensemen has pinched in to provide support.

Here Malone wins the battle down low, feeds whoever is at the left circle, who then feeds St. Louis in the slot for an easy goal.

So that’s the 1-3-1 in a nutshell. You can either try to beat it or you can do what Mike Milbury did and walk off the set in protest. Seriously, how does this buffoon still have a job?

Reasons why NHL coaches juggle line combos

The line combos, the line combos…it’s always the same complaint isn’t it? Since the advent of the internet I feel like I read the same complaints about the Rangers year in and year out.

There’s always a stretch of games at some point during the season where either the fans, the bloggers, or the beat writers don’t like what they are seeing and the result is people crying about line combos. It’s as if they know nothing else.

I think it’s about time we explain why coaches actually shuffle lines around. Notice I said coaches and not just John Tortorella. Yes, these are common practices for all coaches.

Here’s 4 lessons that will help you better understand why you are seeing what you are seeing.

Lesson #1 – You Start From Scratch Every Season

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Hockey penalty kill strategies

I initially wasn’t going to write another x’s and o’s post for a while. Judging by people’s tweets, it seems like folks are having a tough time grasping hockey tactics. However, I know a few of my real world friends and several “internet” compadres enjoy this type of stuff, so I thought sure, I’ll give it another go…

A couple of weeks back, we talked about different power play formations and how they are employed in the modern day NHL. Today we are going to discuss the other side of the puck and get into penalty killing tactics.

The three most common PK strategies are the Diamond, the Box, and the Wedge+1. Teams will use each of these penalty kills depending on what powerplay formation they are up against.

Let’s start off with the Diamond strategy, since that is what the Rangers normally see when they are setting up – or trying to set up – their Umbrella power play formation.

The Diamond:

the diamond

As you see in the chart, a high forward is set up to defend against the power play quarterback, another forward and a d-man take the guys atop the circles and a low d-man covers the slot.

Now, where a coaching philosophy can come into play is when you’ll see the Diamond collapse into the slot and cede the blueline or the opposite will happen and the penalty killers will go on attack mode.

More and more we are seeing very skilled teams collapsing less (the Capitals come to mind) and instead are aggressively attacking the three high shooters. The idea is less about trying to score shorthanded goals, but more about disrupting teams from getting into formation.

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Hockey power play strategies

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been discussing the different aspects to a hockey system, their strengths, their weaknesses and the key differences between them. To date, we have mostly covered 5 on 5 play.

In the first post we talked about the five most common forechecking tactics, which is what teams do when they don’t have possession of the puck. Last week we talked about dump & chase vs. regrouping, which are strategies employed when you do have the puck. Today we are going to talk special teams, specifically power play strategies.

In today’s NHL, there are basically four different types of power play strategies that are utilized; they are the Umbrella, the Overload, the 1-3-1, and the Spread. While these strategies are distinctly different, elite teams will sometimes rotate these on the fly to create defensive miscues.

The Umbrella:

Umbrella

The most common used PP strategy is the Umbrella, which sets up three players near the blueline forming a high triangle and two players low in the slot parallel to the goal line – please note, some coaches stack those two low forwards.

The idea here is to get the puck to the middle of the ice for hard blasts from the point. Secondary objectives include passing options at the half-boards, or to one of the other point players for shots. The responsibilities of the low players are to set up screens/deflections and to get to the net for rebounds.

What I like about this strategy is that it aims to outnumber penalty killers in the high slot. This theoretically should give our defensemen and the high forward a chance to keep the puck in the zone for extended zone time. It also helps to prevent shorthanded breaks.

When this power play is firing on all cylinders, the low forwards will often criss-cross each other just as the shots are coming from the points. Also, the three high players will often rotate spots to pull apart the PK coverage. It’s critical that those high players get pucks to the net.

More after the jump…

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Systems 101: Zone entries

Last week, in part one of my hockey systems posts, we talked about forechecking strategies.  We learned teams have some very different philosophies on how to attack the opposition when they don’t have the puck and wish to retrieve it.

This week we are going to talk about the tactics coaches employ when their team does have the puck.

Unlike forechecking, this aspect of a hockey system has a lot of variations from team to team. A 1-2-2 trapping team may actually use the same tactics as an aggressive 2-1-2 team. At the end of the day, every team wants to create chances.

Regrouping = Puck Possession

Puck possession essentially takes place in three phases that are all connected to each other. The three phases are called Regrouping, Support, and Flow.

“Regrouping” is having the puck and keeping control of it until you can gain the “Flow” (or cycling). Really good teams will cycle you to death in the offensive zone until something opens up on the weak side of the ice. Having proper puck “Support” is what makes all of this work.

If you watch an NHL game or a high level game of any sort, the forwards often look like they are forming a triangle wherever the puck goes in the offensive zone. The point is so that the puck carrier has two passing options. He can lateral across for a one-timer or he can pass down low to a teammate who will take over as the distributor.

If the low and lateral options are covered, the puck carrier can dish it back to the defensemen at the red line, otherwise known as the high options. Doing this is often part of the “regroup” phase of puck possession.

Essentially the puck carrier is thinking…well I don’t have any options, so I’ll pass it back to the points. The offense will then shift around and the process starts all over again.

Elite finesse teams constantly regroup until something opens up or a coverage mistake is made. Some teams like Detroit, will often pass the puck all the way back to their defensemen in the defensive zone to maintain possession if they can’t get gain entry into the OZ.

Here’s a video of the Rangers regrouping (which is rare).

Dump and Chase

When your forwards are at that critical point on offense when they are trying to generate a scoring chance, but have zero options, a team that doesn’t like to “regroup” will instead opt to dump the puck into the offensive zone. The skaters will then converge on the puck, hit an opposing defensemen, and hope in the process a coverage mistake is made.

If you have watched the Rangers since John Tortorella took over, you’ve probably recognized this strategy. It’s his bread and butter. Dump and chase teams are generally less skilled and more physical than teams that regroup a lot. As a result, they tend to cycle less, will shoot from any angle, and have no issues attacking the “dirty” areas of the ice.

Here’s our bread & butter at work.

Both strategies work and teams will employ both tactics (as seen in the videos), but their propensity to do one over the other is what generally separates them.

Offense From Transition Rushes

Last but not least, how teams attack off the rush is another strategy where there are noticeable differences between coaches and their respective systems. More aggressive teams like the Rangers, who have very mobile offensive defensemen, like to send four skaters on the rush. Typically the team’s best defensemen is the one carrying the puck. More conservative teams, or teams with less skilled offensive defensemen, will only rush two-three forwards. Again you’ll typically see that triangular attack.

So does having Brad Richards on this team mean any of last year’s tactics will change?

Yes and no. I think the Rangers will continue to be an aggressive team that will forecheck relentlessly and continue to win those battles down low. Richie’s line will probably cycle and regroup more than Boyle’s line, but the general philosophy of hunting for the puck in that 2-1-2 formation will stay the same, as it should.

Hockey Forechecking Systems

If I have learned anything from interacting with hockey fans over the years it is that they are looking for deeper discussions about the sport’s x’s and o’s. Instead they are left with the media throwing around vague terms like “they’re a puck possession team,” a “north/south team,” or a “defense first team” to describe the differences between coaching philosophies. Rarely do they explain what any of it really means. That’s why today’s post is a lesson in hockey systems, specifically forechecking.

There are five forechecking strategies NHL coaches will generally employ.

1-4 (conservative trap)

1-4

The most conservative forecheck is the 1-4, also known as the trap. This has been a staple of the Boston Bruins since Claude Julien has taken over. The 1-4 consists of one forechecker in deep and four skaters lined up along the blueline forming a four man wall to prevent the opposing offense from advancing into the neutral zone. Essentially you have four skaters playing defense.

The 1-4 is designed to prevent rushes and breakaways towards your goaltender, which is why guys like Thomas, Bryzgalov and Rinne will sometimes put up ridiculous stats in certain games. They’ll rarely face odd-man rushes.

It should be noted that teams won’t use this formation for an entire game. Post lockout, teams will only use this forecheck in certain game situations. Some teams will trap late in the period, others will trap only when they have the lead, while some teams will trap solely based on where the puck is located in the offensive zone. Gone are the days of teams trapping for an entire 60 minutes.

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