We're bad at judging NHL coaches

Jonathan Willis
August 20 2013 11:18AM

The Edmonton Oilers took a major step back under Ralph Krueger last season. Under (the much criticized) Tom Renney, the 2011-12 Oilers had dramatically improved in their ability to win the shots battle with the opposition; poor goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin and other factors obscured the improvement but it was there. Renney was fired and Krueger promoted, and the team stepped into an elevator shaft.

But I’m not really writing about that. I’m writing about the second most-criticized man in any hockey rink, the head coach, and why so much of the criticism misses the mark.

Things We Criticize

Thinking back to Ralph Krueger and Tom Renney, what parts of their coaching were most criticized? For me, the list is basically this:

  • Poor leadership. He’s not demanding enough or he’s not willing to hold guys accountable or the team doesn’t feed off his emotion all belong to this class of complaint. (Or, going back a few years, this is the “MacT has lost the room” argument).
  • Poor lineup choices. He’s playing the veterans too much and the kids too little, or he has the wrong goalie in net, or he’s left a guy in the minors too long, or he hates offensive talent, or even he won’t dress the enforcer all fall under this heading.

As fans and pundits and media we’re very good at critiquing perceived problems with a coach’s personality or presentation, and very good at hammering on him for not putting the lines together the way we’d like.

Things We Only Criticize After The Fact

Of course, there’s a whole other part of a coach’s job – arguably the main part – that almost never gets hammered in advance of the problems showing up. That’s tactics. In writing this piece, I tried to think of a time where I’d seen some tweeter or commenter or blogger or distinguished member of the media wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame look at a team and say, ‘you know what, he has his initial forechecker committed too deep when his second forward is pressuring the pass; this team is going to struggle to gain possessions relative to the rest of the league off dump-ins’ and then go back a few months later and say, ‘see all this trouble – it’s because his initial forechecker overcommits rather than breaking back after he’s forced the pass.’

I’m not criticizing those commenters or bloggers or distinguished veteran reporters; I fall into the same boat. It’s difficult to look at an NHL coach’s system and say, ‘he’s doing it wrong, let me explain how.’ For starters, it requires a strong understanding of tactics that most of us simply don’t have and secondly it requires a lot of chutzpah to say ‘I know enough to critique an NHL coach’s tactics.’ There are a handful of TV commentators that at their best can make valid, insightful comments on why a strategy succeeds or fails, but they’re a small group. Beyond Don Cherry, who time has caught up with and left in the rearview mirror, I’m struggling to think of one that brings up perceived tactical problems regularly.

That’s understandable. It’s also an issue.

The Great Leader of Men

Let’s shift gears for a moment, because there’s an analogy I want to make. Think of a great military leader – a general or an admiral or whatever – in terms of the three areas we’ve outlined with coaches. Of the things he does, which matters the most – his ability to inspire his men, ensuring his most competent officers are put in the best positions, or his ability to out-think his opposition counterpart? Without question, they’re all important, but his ability to cheer the men and promote the right officers is going to be irrelevant if he’s sending them into an enemy ambush. It’s the tactics that matter the most.

That takes us to George Rodney, one of Britain’s most successful admirals – and given the history of the Royal Navy, that’s saying a lot. Wikipedia has a decent write-up on him, while Military History Monthly goes into his tactical genius. He’s basically the opposite of the guy we described in the last paragraph, not only because he was a brilliant tactician but also because he was terribly lacking in the other two areas. He had a reputation for playing favourites, for taking prize money for himself that should have gone to his captains and just generally for being dishonest and awful with his subordinates. But he was brilliant as a commander because he was an innovative tactician with a knack for applying the most force at the most critical point.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that for a coach at the NHL level, the ability to inspire players and especially to put the best lineup together is more important relative to tactics than it is for a military commander. I think that’s likely true, but I also think that their importance is vastly overemphasized relative to tactics in the media not because they matter more but because we’re bad (as a class) at critiquing tactics. Jacques Lemaire, love him or hate him, was a tactical innovator and extraordinarily successful because of it. And here’s how Chicago GM Stan Bowman described his father, legendary coach Scotty Bowman:

The one thing my dad’s always been so good at, I think, is he’s been able to adjust…. [F]or a guy who’s ‘old school’ and has been around so long, he’s incredibly progressive and willing to try new things, willing to do things which are not the norm, and that’s what made him successful as a coach … he was very unpredictable … I think all coaches today are kind of – I don’t want to say programmed – but they’re led to do a certain thing. So if you can force yourself to try things maybe a little different or take a different approach, it’s going to give you that advantage. Ironically I think what makes him so exceptional is that he didn’t think he had all the answers.

Back To The Oilers

Thanks to Tyler Dellow’s work, there is a very good argument that there was a specific tactical problem with Ralph Krueger’s teams when compared to Tom Renney’s teams. Their play in the neutral zone, more specifically in the 45 seconds following a neutral zone faceoff win, imploded. They were worse everywhere, statistically, but the numbers here were night-and-day. What, exactly, were they doing wrong? I don’t know, and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument from anyone on that point. But on Oilers Now yesterday, assistant coach Steve Smith made it clear that Dallas Eakins thinks he knows – he said “there were some things that [Eakins] didn’t believe in or understand what Ralph was doing” with respect to the club’s neutral zone system.

If Eakins fixes the problem, the team will be much better. Doubtless, we’ll hear a lot about how he’s holding players accountable and getting the most out of his line combinations, and maybe that will be true. But it isn’t those things that got Ralph Krueger fired – he wasn’t canned because he didn’t get mad enough at press conferences or throw enough chairs in the dressing room or sometimes had Nail Yakupov on the third line. It was almost certainly results, driven by that neutral zone collapse, that made Krueger vulnerable and it seems likely that the collapse was caused by tactical problems.

Eakins, wisely, has talked a lot about his approach to players and accountability, but there have been little comments from him and others all summer about tactical changes too, from Eakins comment on running multiple systems the day he was hired to Smith’s answer yesterday. The former points have gotten a lot of press, but I can’t shake the idea that it is his abilities in the latter area that will make him succeed or fail in Edmonton.

Recently around the Nation Network

Jason Gregor wrote earlier today about why Mikhail Grabovski should appeal to the Oilers; at Canucks Army Cam Charron makes the same argument for Vancouver:

Mike Gillis has talked about having a roster spot open for one of the kids to compete for, but I think that [Jordan] Schroeder should be in that competition. If he's one of the 12 NHL forwards the team has under contract, it's an indication the Canucks don't have enough depth to make it through a full season. They need skill, they need speed, and they need centremen. 

Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff:

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Romulus' Apotheosis
August 20 2013, 02:06PM
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@Jason Gregor

"Lots of times in hockey players need to adlib, because the game can change so quickly, and it is rare the coach is responsible for that."

I think this caveat is perfectly fine in the particular instance.

However, when casting an eye over a season, we are now confronted with the aggregate.

When RK rolls his lines regardless of the situation on the ground, i.e., consistently puts his 4th line out in the OZ after a TV timeout when it's their turn in the rotation...

When zone exits follow a consistent, and flawed, pattern...

When offensive zone draws consistently fail to lead to shots...

When previously stalwart corsi-performers fall off a cliff...

it's time to start looking for patterns of failure, rather than cite 'on-the-fly' cock-ups.

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#52 Yakman
August 20 2013, 02:18PM
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The best example of the difference coaching can make is the transition from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippet in Pheonix. With pretty much the same players they went from the basement to the playoffs iirc.

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#53 Tikkanese
August 20 2013, 02:35PM
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Yakman wrote:

The best example of the difference coaching can make is the transition from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippet in Pheonix. With pretty much the same players they went from the basement to the playoffs iirc.

Disagree. The Coyotes were 2 - 12 under Rick Bowness, Gretzky took over and went 38 - 39. That's a significant change.

Gretzky also overhauled the lineup and went with a lot of kids, those kids were seasoned when Tippet took over. Tippet was positioned for success, much like Eakins is here this year. Not that Tippet isn't a better coach by any stretch, just saying it isn't so black and white.

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#54 Tikkanese
August 20 2013, 02:42PM
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dawgbone wrote:

Why did the team miss the playoffs in '07? Because the team was just awful in the first place.

They were giving NHL games to guys like Sebastian Bisaillion, Bryan Young, Danny Syvret and Mathieu Roy.

Hejda, Staios and Tjarnqvist (3 of the top 4 defensemen) all missed significant time because of injury. They were also bringing in basically 2 rookies in Smid and Greene at the same time.

They 3 NHL C's in Horcoff, Reasoner and Stoll (who got hurt and missed the last 30 or so games).

That team was doomed from the start.

Also didn't help the '07 team lost Pronger, Peca, Spacek, Samsonov, Murray etc and never really replaced any of them.

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#55 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
August 20 2013, 03:42PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Brownlee dropped the banhammer on him a few weeks ago

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#56 godot10
August 20 2013, 04:15PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

Also didn't help the '07 team lost Pronger, Peca, Spacek, Samsonov, Murray etc and never really replaced any of them.

Jan Hejda has had a pretty good NHL career, after being brought in to help replace Pronger and Spacek, but MacT played him in the pressbox instead of on the ice.

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#58 Oiltimer
August 20 2013, 06:04PM
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1) I believe I read somewhere this summer (here?) that if they fire Eakins they will have to pay 3 coaches next year. It seems likely he will have at least a year to grow into the team and vice versa. 2) "Systems" require coaches that buy into or set the system parameters ... else there would be no Montreal, Dallas, or even Edmonton style hockey. Read here ... "the trap". How well the team learns the system or buys into it is reflected (somewhat) in the success of that team.

3)Peca is on record as saying MacT was a brilliant coach. It seems likely that at certain times tactics make a difference and knowing the abilities of the players one has and how to motivate them must also contribute to their reaching that "next level". Think Scotty Boman.

4) Special teams can make or break any team. The PP coach needs to understand tactics and/or specific plays to use to an advantage. I think it reasonable to say the defensive system for the whole team is relevant. To fore check or not and when to do it and how. Defensive coach teaches the D when and where to be effective. The head coach needs to be aware of his assistants and the skills they bring.

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#59 106 and 106
August 20 2013, 07:05PM
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Eakins said the OIlers system had became too predictable and once adapted to, was easy to beat (stand up at the blue-line and force the dump and chase or turnover).

What he did talk about was different systems for different teams - meaning more variability and less predictability. I imagine most teams have different systems for different opponents as well. Good tactics and all.

In that case, how are we able to Judge NHL coaches if you never know which system they are using or how many systems they have?

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#60 Smokey
August 21 2013, 08:12AM
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oilabroad wrote:

I had a conversation with a previous player not long ago who played under Bowman in Pittsburgh. He told me that they had player only meetings about trying to get him fired as he couldn't even run a practice. This for me was an eye opener about the importance of a coach/system... unless you have the right players on the ice, the guys behind the bench mean squat...

Sure buddy

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#61 TigerUnderGlass
August 21 2013, 06:39PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

@ TigerUnderGlass

Thanks for the laughs! That was the funniest set of posts I've read in a long time.

To suggest that the NHL doesn't use advance stats is, I'm sorry, but it is moronic. Just because the fans are just starting to catch on to "advance" stats doesn't mean that the NHL hasn't been using them for a long time.

The NHL has also been using video since the 70's. Remember "Captain Video" Roger Neilson? Heck, my Mites team in the early 80's used video to teach us tactics and plays. The NHL is hardly "screaming for this and they just ignore it". They've been breaking apart every single play of every game for years. Every break out, every turnover, every powerplay, every shot, every blocked shot etc. They know every players' weaknesses and tendancies be them skaters or goalies. Tactics and plays are built around these and have been for decades.

Hockey coverage is way behind the NFL, NBA & MLB but the use of tactics, video etc is not. Just because you don't get to see it like you do in other sports does not mean that it isn't there.

1. Reading is fundamental. I never said they don't use advanced statistics, In fact I specifically said they are starting to catch up.

2. If you believe what I am talking about is "video review" you don't belong in this conversation.

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#62 TigerUnderGlass
August 21 2013, 07:13PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

Basketball relies heavily on pre-set plays and are a huge part of the tactics of the coach. Why are there timeouts every 30 seconds at the end of NBA and NCAA games?

The last three minutes of those games can literally take 30 minutes. What do you think they are discussing during the timeouts? The weather?

The "tactics" in a basketball game rely heavily on individual responibilities in what amounts to a limited number of scenarios. Hockey is a wholly different beast.

There are just so many different scenarios, at higher speeds over a larger area that can play out in an NHL rink than a basketball court. The ability to quickly process and act on these changes is what makes the good players great. Coaches can supply some tools but the player's cognitive abilities are paramount.

Your contention that there is a magical video fix available - over and above the hours of video the coaches already dissect - that is being ignored by 30 NHL coaching staffs is puzzling. Surely, among these 120 professional coaches, there is at least one whose hockey knowledge, wisdom and foresight approaches your own.

During the course of a basketball game a team might call 4 or 5 set plays. That is all. Even then, most set plays are essentially a series decisions to be made based on the reacting to the defense, much like in hockey. Set plays are possibly more common in hockey because teams run set breakouts regularly as well as run set maneuvers after faceoffs.

Magical fix? At what point did I make such a contention? I did reference a wonderful tool which has only recently become available and suggested it would be extremely beneficial.

I should have been more clear about what video system I was talking about, but after 5 or 6 years commenting here I never thought I would be mistaken for a guy who says "why don't NHL teams try looking at video".

To be clear - I am referencing a video tracking system (SportVU) that translates every movement made into a set of geometric coordinates. The uses for such a system, in terms of analysis, are virtually endless.

Here is a quick link that discusses some basic uses for the system: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9068903/the-toronto-raptors-sportvu-cameras-nba-analytical-revolution

This is not 1970s video, as was suggested by the inemitable tikkanese.

You like to reference the size of the rink and the speed of hockey, well both of these make such a system more useful, not less.

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#63 TigerUnderGlass
August 21 2013, 10:31PM
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I'm not going to get into my basketball credentials beyond that I have played a great deal of basketball at many different levels because this is an anonymous forum. What's the point, I could say whatever I want.

You are confusing "plays" with "sets" and "offense". Even if you weren't, plays are not scripted actions, they are still dictated by the offensive players reads and reactions.

They are not scripted any more than an NHL power play or an NHL breakout.

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#64 Oiltimer
August 23 2013, 12:55PM
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The Russian "system" of using the defense and the entire ice surface blew Canadian "hockey" out of the water until the "beat 'em in the alley beat 'em on the ice" version took the place of Canadian hockey. In MHP. The Gretz Oilers, with much the same system as the Russians with the toughest bastard on the ice as well ... to ensure actual hockey took place, put an end to goon hockey.

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#65 The Oilers Shot Clock
August 20 2013, 01:19PM
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I just want the revolving door to stop. Is it Nelson next year? A coaches true worth to a team is one thing but a new one every single year is its own dead weight variable we don't need anymore.

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#66 2004Z06
August 20 2013, 01:48PM
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In other news...Sheldon Souray is out for 4-6 months with a wrist injury. Ducks have signed Fistric as the replacement.

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#67 dawgbone
August 20 2013, 01:53PM
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Hayek wrote:

Do you not also remember during the '06 season, MacT was about to be fired. His contract was not extended during the season, and he was likely on his way out. Do we really think MacT had outcoached other teams as we were massively outshot in those playoffs, and basically got through on the stellar SV% of Roloson.

Also, if MacT was such a stellar and talented coach, why did we miss the playoffs in '07? Obviously talent has a significantly bigger impact than coaching.

Not to say MacT was a bad coach; he seemed more than capable to me. But you are looking more at the result here than actual actions.

Why did the team miss the playoffs in '07? Because the team was just awful in the first place.

They were giving NHL games to guys like Sebastian Bisaillion, Bryan Young, Danny Syvret and Mathieu Roy.

Hejda, Staios and Tjarnqvist (3 of the top 4 defensemen) all missed significant time because of injury. They were also bringing in basically 2 rookies in Smid and Greene at the same time.

They 3 NHL C's in Horcoff, Reasoner and Stoll (who got hurt and missed the last 30 or so games).

That team was doomed from the start.

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#68 Rambelaya
August 20 2013, 02:00PM
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I can't believe all the people here who seem to think coaching doesn't matter. Tell that to 1998 Nagano CDN Olympic hockey team, and see if they think coaching doesn't matter.

I think of it like playing an instrument: which is more important, the instrument or the musician? It doesn't matter, because without either one you can't make music.

You need good players, and a good coach. Which is more important? Doesn't matter, because you need them both.

A coach alone can't win you the Cup, but he can sure lose it for you.

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#69 Mark-LW
August 20 2013, 02:32PM
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@Will

"And yet no advanced stats exist to see whether the system that player is playing is a contributing factor on their individual stats."

Stats in and of themselves don't tell the entire story. But they illuminate areas of interest/concern that can then be looked at in detail. For instance the work of Tyler Dellow which Willis linked to in his article, http://www.mc79hockey.com/?p=6122 does this nicely. The stats showed a drastic drop in everyone but the first line. So knowing that there was a problem, he then goes into looking at specific events that occur over and over again and isolates a problem.

And Dellow makes the good point that hockey happens too fast and has too many events to judge accurately by eye. Stats help break things down in digestible portions and then you go with video from there if need be.

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#70 Todd
August 20 2013, 03:00PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Some people were pointing out the systemic problems with Krueger during the season... I specially recall this article and dug up the link:

http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/4/17/4230198/oilers-struggles-centre-systemic-slumps-ralph-malph

But your point about how none of us are really educated enough to judge a system is probably the take away from this article. I'd like to think people reading this site aren't yelling "SHOOOOOOOooooot" the entire powerplay, but even that I doubt.

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#71 Smythyyy
August 20 2013, 03:50PM
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Hayek wrote:

I haven't heard of any instance in recent years where a coach provides his team such an advantage as to significantly outperform other coaches. I'm not saying coaches aren't good, I'm saying they are all good.

When teams randomly outperform or underperform each year, this is usually attributed to a coach because it is convenient. More likely, this variance is simply random, and noise. High SV%, high SH%, and just the random outcomes that are always prevalent within the curve of expected outcome of games.

Why do GMs fire so many coaches every year? Do GMs not recognize coaching talent? Most coaches aren't rookie NHL coaches, so shouldn't GMs know what they are getting? GMs fire coaches quite simply for their own job preservation. GMs typically have long tenures in the NHL, and if they can pin problems on a coach, they deflect blame from themselves, and the construction of the team (which easily has a bigger impact on winning games).

GMs can't really publicly blame players, or fire them. This would diminish trade value, and also why would they shed more light as their failure on recognizing talent.

If you are looking for an example of coaching in the NBA, sports economists David Berri and Martin Schmidt take a look at coaching in the NBA, and only found evidence of one coach in the modern era outperforming expectations, and that being Phil Jackson.

Quite simply talent is the largest prevailing factor in the outcome of hockey games. Debating coaching talent is probably equivalent of crediting the 4th line as being a large factor of a team's success or failure over a season.

Phil Jackson had Jordan and Kobe;if I had to think of an example in the NBA, Popovich and Sloan were able to do more with less. Spurs almost won it over Miami this year too and they didn't have half the talent Miami had.

Of course a coach can influence the game. His greatest currency is playing time; and if he didn't have the right people at the right time or don't use their personnel properly then they have to be held accountable for it. Would adding a couple more minutes to the to the top lines and less on the bottom lines pay off? Maybe it does, that's ultimately a coaches decision.

It's a guess how much parity there is in coaching in the NHL since it's hard to quantify that, but talent is never the same. And I do think some coaches will be able to get more from their team than others. But like you said, it's futile to argue such things.

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#72 Tikkanese
August 20 2013, 04:28PM
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godot10 wrote:

Jan Hejda has had a pretty good NHL career, after being brought in to help replace Pronger and Spacek, but MacT played him in the pressbox instead of on the ice.

Yea I agree. Hejda wasn't used much here and was let go to soon.

They still didn't replace most of those players we lost after the '06 run though.

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#73 Naky
August 20 2013, 06:03PM
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Krueger was out of his element night in and night out. You don't need statistical proof to see that the Oilers had major problems gaining zone entry at all, much less maintaining puck possession if they did manage to get in. You just had to watch all the games to watch the horrific pattern unfold. He couldn't, or wouldn't, change or adapt it and if he did his changes were ineffectual.

I'm not even going to lay the blame on the players for this one since I feel that if a system is clearly giving the players a heap of trouble to execute, it's on the coach to come up with a new strategy that's more effective. Ralph never did and that's on him. He paid the price for his inability or inaction, whichever it was.

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#74 Woogie63
August 20 2013, 09:47PM
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How much does a head coach, really coach?

1) he sets in the "system", but hockey is fluid game, so systems can only get you so far.

2) he line matches with the significant help of the AC in the pressbox.

3) an assistant coach probably focuses on the PP and PK and goalies.

4) he would greatly contribute to how and he team travels around the country and when and how long they practice, this is a huge key for a coach.

5) he can assess how players are approaching the aspect of preparing to play, ie. gym time, film time, party time and move ice time to reward dedication.

6) he can ensure the Assistants coach and team Captains going in the same direction.

7) he can create competition for each position ( you need the GM support)

I think the systems of hockey, Football, soccer ect fot the HC is so much more broad than x and o.

Oh, you need a great goalie, a Stud Dman or 2, a center everyone wants, and winger or two who can shot the puck through a key hole.

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#75 gcw_rocks
August 21 2013, 06:32AM
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I am not sure this is exactly accurate. There was lots of criticism of Renney and Krueger in the way they did line matching, which is a key component of strategy, is it not?

Over and C'n'B in particular, Renney and Krueger's puzzling use of the 4th line in situations where it made no sense to do so were flagged for causing possession issues and losses in tight games, and we could see the mistakes repeat as the season went on. Renney strangely seemed to love using the 4th line in the third period of tight games after TV timeouts, for example. Strategically, this is the abolute worst time to deploy the 4th line, but Renney did it repeatedly. Krueger seemed to carry on this strange tradition with his own twist.

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#76 K_Mart
August 21 2013, 07:29AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Did you ever play the game? It's pretty basic most of the time.........there are coaches that make the game appear to be more tactical than it really is.

Like most others, I played the game all the way to juniors and most of what I remember is coaches telling us about zone coverage, individual player coverage, working hard, and never giving up on a play especially when we caused the turnover.

The players now are now better trained in systems play.........but I still think that the game has certain basic elements that will never change. Many in the hockey industry will make you think that everything has changed ..........but I maintain that players that play with natural instinct are still the best players.

Gretzky never played anyone's system, except his own. I heard him describe it once........something like, " I just lug it out and either pass or shoot".........sounds pretty basic to me?

The basics are pretty simple, but the systems and routes that coaches have players implement have changed drastically since gretz's time.

Sure many of us played the game up until Junior, heck, I still play, but I've never had a coach who ended up in the CHL, AHL, NHL, or any pro Euro leagues(as far as I know).

It's easy to spot if a team is running a 2-1-2 or a 2-2-1 etc... Breakout strategies and zone entry strategies can be easily picked apart as well but if you read Dellow's piece on why Nashville was so good against us when they lost a NZ FO it makes you realize(if you hadn't already) there is likely a massive amount to tactics that we are completely blind to because we aren't rewatching every game 20 times and dissecting every play with the sole purpose of improving systems.

Great article JW.

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#77 K_Mart
August 21 2013, 07:42AM
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gcw_rocks wrote:

I am not sure this is exactly accurate. There was lots of criticism of Renney and Krueger in the way they did line matching, which is a key component of strategy, is it not?

Over and C'n'B in particular, Renney and Krueger's puzzling use of the 4th line in situations where it made no sense to do so were flagged for causing possession issues and losses in tight games, and we could see the mistakes repeat as the season went on. Renney strangely seemed to love using the 4th line in the third period of tight games after TV timeouts, for example. Strategically, this is the abolute worst time to deploy the 4th line, but Renney did it repeatedly. Krueger seemed to carry on this strange tradition with his own twist.

Those fall under the 'easy to critique' category. They are important parts of strategy but I think the article is questioning if we, as fans, place too much importance on those aspects.

JW is focusing on hypothetical questions like "Why is player X running a slightly more east/west route at the 5:00 mark in the 3rd period in a 4v5 situation down 2-3 while his forward receiver is running north south and the centreman is dropping back despite seeing the opposition continue to run a 1-2-2 system instead of a 2-2-1.... Etc... Blah blah".

Unless you're a pro coach, or you have enough footage available to back up a specific claim it's difficult to confidently point out mistakes before you see the result. Hindsight is 20/20.

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#78 The Soup Fascist
August 21 2013, 08:13AM
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Double post. sorry.

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#79 j
August 21 2013, 08:29AM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

Double post. sorry.

It was Krueger's request to hire an associate with NHL experience. The Oilers wanted to wait till after the shortened season i.e. didn't want to hire during the lock out. As far as his participation in the hiring process, that is up to his employer to decide. Staff don't enter into my interviews unless invited. Not their choice. And I'd head to Europe every summer if given the chance. He has as much rights as the players in this respect i.e. enjoy your holidays.

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#80 The Soup Fascist
August 21 2013, 11:04AM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

@Willis

This brings to mind a couple of things I've been thinking about lately. The NHL is really far behind other sports in a lot of ways.

1. I don't believe a head coach should even be worrying about tactics. In the NBA a head coach's job is exactly as you described in terms of what we criticise. They inspire, they monitor, and mostly they babysit the massive egos inherent in many professional athletes.

Perhaps, most importantly, they hire assistants who handle tactics. A lead assistant will be in charge of Xs and Os, and that assistant will have his own assistants in charge of offensive and defensive sets, presses etc. Another assistant handles rotation....you get the idea.

Pro athletes need to be managed and it is much more than a full time job, so head coaches are delegators and managers.

NHL head coaches seem to want to micromanage and as a result I think they lack in areas because it is too much to handle.

2. The NHL is way behind in terms of tracking tactics as well. They are starting to catch up a little bit in terms of statistics, but the NBA has moved ahead to in depth tactical assessments.

Have you heard about the camera system NBA teams have begun to use that tracks every players position at all time and catalogs events as they occur in relation to player locations and actions? It allows teams to assess what they are doing tactically by seeing the results of their movements and tactics.

Short version? We only complain about the things that SHOULD be the head coaches job to handle. Most people consider Phil Jackson an all time great basketball coach, but his job was "Zen Master". Tex Winters provided literally ALL of the tactics.

Certainly, I agree that assistant coaches should be acting as "co-ordinators" and doing the "X and Os". The assistants should be detail guys and head coaches are the big picture guys.

However, I think it was mentioned above that because hockey is such a fluid game, specific tactics are more difficult to execute, just because of the speed of the game. Certainly baseball and football are more static due to the nature of the games. You use basketball as an example, which I agree is closest to hockey in terms of the "big four" team sports.

But basketball is played in an area 1/4 of the size of a hockey rink, with guys running not skating, in a league that defines what is and what is not an illegal defense. The "pieces on the board" of a hockey game are much more difficult to predict than basketball. IMO, the ability of the players to read and react are far more vital than a pre-set play drawn up by a coach.

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#81 David S
August 21 2013, 11:51AM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

I disagree strongly with 2 things.

First, the fluidity and speed of hockey makes proper tactical analysis more important, not less. Events occur so often and so suddenly that knowing their value along with the value of positioning is more vital than ever.

Second, I take serious issue with your concept of basketball as a series of pre-set plays. This is wildly inaccurate. I think you have a misconception of what "tactics" means. It has nothing to do with "pre-set plays".

Because of the work being done with these cameras a number of tactics and strategies previously considered effective have been shown to be serious strategic and tactical mistakes. Now ideas have been proven.

If you don't something similar would have a profound effect on hockey tactics and strategy I think you are mistaken. Hockey is screaming for this and they just ignore it.

I believe what you're talking about is a NEW AGE SYSTEM.

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#82 The Soup Fascist
August 21 2013, 01:33PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

I disagree strongly with 2 things.

First, the fluidity and speed of hockey makes proper tactical analysis more important, not less. Events occur so often and so suddenly that knowing their value along with the value of positioning is more vital than ever.

Second, I take serious issue with your concept of basketball as a series of pre-set plays. This is wildly inaccurate. I think you have a misconception of what "tactics" means. It has nothing to do with "pre-set plays".

Because of the work being done with these cameras a number of tactics and strategies previously considered effective have been shown to be serious strategic and tactical mistakes. Now ideas have been proven.

If you don't something similar would have a profound effect on hockey tactics and strategy I think you are mistaken. Hockey is screaming for this and they just ignore it.

Basketball relies heavily on pre-set plays and are a huge part of the tactics of the coach. Why are there timeouts every 30 seconds at the end of NBA and NCAA games?

The last three minutes of those games can literally take 30 minutes. What do you think they are discussing during the timeouts? The weather?

The "tactics" in a basketball game rely heavily on individual responibilities in what amounts to a limited number of scenarios. Hockey is a wholly different beast.

There are just so many different scenarios, at higher speeds over a larger area that can play out in an NHL rink than a basketball court. The ability to quickly process and act on these changes is what makes the good players great. Coaches can supply some tools but the player's cognitive abilities are paramount.

Your contention that there is a magical video fix available - over and above the hours of video the coaches already dissect - that is being ignored by 30 NHL coaching staffs is puzzling. Surely, among these 120 professional coaches, there is at least one whose hockey knowledge, wisdom and foresight approaches your own.

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#83 TigerUnderGlass
August 21 2013, 07:14PM
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David S wrote:

I believe what you're talking about is a NEW AGE SYSTEM.

I'm pretty sure this means we have to fight now, doesn't it?

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#84 The Soup Fascist
August 21 2013, 08:09PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

During the course of a basketball game a team might call 4 or 5 set plays. That is all. Even then, most set plays are essentially a series decisions to be made based on the reacting to the defense, much like in hockey. Set plays are possibly more common in hockey because teams run set breakouts regularly as well as run set maneuvers after faceoffs.

Magical fix? At what point did I make such a contention? I did reference a wonderful tool which has only recently become available and suggested it would be extremely beneficial.

I should have been more clear about what video system I was talking about, but after 5 or 6 years commenting here I never thought I would be mistaken for a guy who says "why don't NHL teams try looking at video".

To be clear - I am referencing a video tracking system (SportVU) that translates every movement made into a set of geometric coordinates. The uses for such a system, in terms of analysis, are virtually endless.

Here is a quick link that discusses some basic uses for the system: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9068903/the-toronto-raptors-sportvu-cameras-nba-analytical-revolution

This is not 1970s video, as was suggested by the inemitable tikkanese.

You like to reference the size of the rink and the speed of hockey, well both of these make such a system more useful, not less.

Without sounding like too much of a knob, clearly you have not played much basketball if you think there are less than 5 set plays in a game. I do not pretend to be a great basketball player. I was at best a middling high school player. But almost every play is (or is supposed to be) a set play. When the point guard is signalling or calling out plays coming up the floor what do you think he is doing?

We are black and white in this regard. At least one of us is very wrong. I don't think it is me.

In terms of SportVu I am not familiar with it so I will defer to your knowledge. Intuitively though, I do not know why 120 coaches / assistants in the NHL would not utilize a tool that could help them. But again, I cannot speak specifically to that tool, so to do so would be pointless. I will read about the technology.

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#85 2004Z06
August 22 2013, 03:09PM
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Hayek wrote:

I haven't heard of any instance in recent years where a coach provides his team such an advantage as to significantly outperform other coaches. I'm not saying coaches aren't good, I'm saying they are all good.

When teams randomly outperform or underperform each year, this is usually attributed to a coach because it is convenient. More likely, this variance is simply random, and noise. High SV%, high SH%, and just the random outcomes that are always prevalent within the curve of expected outcome of games.

Why do GMs fire so many coaches every year? Do GMs not recognize coaching talent? Most coaches aren't rookie NHL coaches, so shouldn't GMs know what they are getting? GMs fire coaches quite simply for their own job preservation. GMs typically have long tenures in the NHL, and if they can pin problems on a coach, they deflect blame from themselves, and the construction of the team (which easily has a bigger impact on winning games).

GMs can't really publicly blame players, or fire them. This would diminish trade value, and also why would they shed more light as their failure on recognizing talent.

If you are looking for an example of coaching in the NBA, sports economists David Berri and Martin Schmidt take a look at coaching in the NBA, and only found evidence of one coach in the modern era outperforming expectations, and that being Phil Jackson.

Quite simply talent is the largest prevailing factor in the outcome of hockey games. Debating coaching talent is probably equivalent of crediting the 4th line as being a large factor of a team's success or failure over a season.

How do you explain why every player interviewed credits a coach or two in their past that helped make them the player they are today?

How do explain how some players thrive in a specific coaches system, but flounder in others?

Every great player had a great coach at some point.

Coaches and systems matter. Period!

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#86 LM
August 23 2013, 06:02AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Did you ever play the game? It's pretty basic most of the time.........there are coaches that make the game appear to be more tactical than it really is.

Like most others, I played the game all the way to juniors and most of what I remember is coaches telling us about zone coverage, individual player coverage, working hard, and never giving up on a play especially when we caused the turnover.

The players now are now better trained in systems play.........but I still think that the game has certain basic elements that will never change. Many in the hockey industry will make you think that everything has changed ..........but I maintain that players that play with natural instinct are still the best players.

Gretzky never played anyone's system, except his own. I heard him describe it once........something like, " I just lug it out and either pass or shoot".........sounds pretty basic to me?

This is the most well said and true comment I've read in a long time. The whole time I was reading the article I was thinking this. And when I read through the comments I realized how dumb people are. But what you said is 100% accurate.

All of the best players play with their own 'system' I don't know why coaches try to make a player play a certain way when that isn't how they've thrived or can thrive. Look what happened to Ovechkin when it's all about defence, would Datsyuk be a Selke finalist every year if he played according to the Detroit system? Probably not because when you play according to your teams system, you are just a pawn for the opposing teams film crew to figure out and defeat you easily.

If I was ever a coach of a team I would tell my players, use your instincts, use your own systems. My job is to put together the lines so that you as individual players will benefit --- from each other, in particular, your linemates. In hindsight and retrospect it really is all about your linemates, and their hockey sense levels, and skill and skating ability.

Put a lineup together that makes sense and it will work. When a player is having fun, and not changing his natural thought process to thinking of the system during game, he plays a lot better. A job of a coach is to get a player to this level and allow him to grow and prosper.

The lines for the Oilers should be this:

Hall-RNH-Yakupov Perron-Gagner-Eberle ?-?-Hemsky

The question marks are there because I forget their lineup llol. But these should be the lines and I'll tell you why.

Number one RNH is a pure play maker, he needs a guy with a wicked one timer to unleash it at the moment he gets that perfect pass from him, and Yakupov is that man. Hall can just be the speed guy that RNH can sauce or flick a pass to and he'll fly and push the D to create more space for RNH and Yakupov. Although a PWF might be a better suit there than Hall.

Number two, RNH and Eberle and their gay little passing back and forth is a dying art, and if the Oilers want to take their game to the next level, RNH and Eberles little passing isn't going to cut it. Also, Eberle as a sniper, doesn't even seem to have the best shot, in comparison to his teammates, Hall and Yakupov, let alone the entire league, and this isn't intrasqaud season it's 30 team NHL ladies and gents and they are competing with the best in the business on a daily basis. Also, he plays with a short stick, so I would say he is better suited on the second line so he can sorta... do his thing. I think he would work better with a grinder like Gagner, him and Eberle would kill it down low. Add in Perron with a right handed one timer shot on the left to Eberles right handed passing on the right and that is a deadly second line.

I hope to see this as the lineup because it is the one that will bring the oilers the most success --- going forward.

And those are my two cents for the Oilers from a true prince of the game.

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#87 Tikkanese
August 23 2013, 10:39AM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

1. Reading is fundamental. I never said they don't use advanced statistics, In fact I specifically said they are starting to catch up.

2. If you believe what I am talking about is "video review" you don't belong in this conversation.

You specifically said: "Because of the work being done with these cameras a number of tactics and strategies previously considered effective have been shown to be serious strategic and tactical mistakes. Now ideas have been proven.

If you don't something similar would have a profound effect on hockey tactics and strategy I think you are mistaken. Hockey is screaming for this and they just ignore it."

Contradict yourself much?

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