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  • Recent hockey history and skill evolution

    Wasn't sure where to put this. Thought about the general hockey thread, but it's a pretty broad topic on it's own. This is all stuff I've been thinking and talking about for a while, but I want to kinda condense it all into a single narrative.

    Back in the 70s and 80s, hockey was known as a high-flying, back and forth game. Certainly there were changes in playing style throughout that period, but I'm far from an expert. We know about Doug Harvey popularized and then Bobby Orr perfected defensemen leading the rush. Gretzky popularized/perfected using the space behind the net. But generally speaking, it was pretty wide open and flowed back and forth. In the 90s, Roger Neilson and the Panthers popularized and the Devils perfected the trap, and for a period of a little over ten years, we had the dead puck era, where the flow of the game was disrupted by trapping, interference and obstruction. I don't care exactly how accurate that all is; that's the narrative, and narrative is a very useful thing.

    During the dead puck era, you began to see more continuous time in one team's zone, as the trapped team couldn't get past the center red line. Thinking back on the 2003 Cup finals, you might easily mistake it for a game from 2010-15, the way New Jersey racked up the corsi. After the lockout season, new rules were introduced to limit teams' ability to trap. You then had a period of about five years of pretty wide open, back and forth hockey. Dean Lombardi was a big moneyball fan, and wanted to build his team on analytics. And we remember Billy Beane's obsession with getting on base. In hockey the most fundamental analytic tool became corsi, "does his team outshoot the opponent when he's on the ice". So Lombardi decided the way to go about this would be to build a big, strong team that could control play down low. Something like the trap, where it was a way for less skilled team to dictate play against a more skilled team. With L.A.'s success, it became clear to the world that corsi was the new way to go. But, at the same time L.A. was building their powerhouse, something was going on just up the coast to the north. The Sedins were doing something magical - people weren't thinking of it so much in these terms yet, but the Sedins were dominating corsi every time they were on the ice, but in a very different way than the Kings were doing it. No matter, the Sedins were something special, unique - a statistical aberration in every way, not reproducible.

    Or maybe I'm looking at this wrong, perhaps smart hockey people did recognize better than fans and media what was going on. Perhaps those first round matchups between L.A. and Vancouver and in 2010 and 2012, and the Cup final between Vancouver and the Big Bad Bruins were important case studies for the best way to implement the drive toward corsi.

    After the Bruins' and Kings' Cups, there was a push from most teams to get bigger and stronger. Chicago was also a pretty big team in 2010 and 2013, but they were so talented they don't really count. Remember, like the Oakland Athletics, and the early Panthers, this move towards corsi was supposed to help less talented teams compete with more talented teams. Chicago was about as talented as you could get post-lockout. But then came Chicago's 2015 Cup, led by Patrick Kane's puck wizardry, a team that no longer had Byfuglien, Bickell, Ladd, Handzus. How did they do it? Well the next year, they didn't have the same playoff success, but Kane and Panarin looked like the new Sedin twins, except they were doing more of their cycling high in the zone, rather than in the corners like the Sedins did. Then you had Pittsburgh win their Cups with a faster, more skilled team., although they also had Kunitz and Hornqvist up front.

    So we are now in the corsi era, and unlike the dead puck era, I'm not sure we're ever getting out, at least not any time soon. Of course teams still need to get the puck from one zone to the other, and breakaways and scoring off the rush are still crucial aspects of the game, but continuous zone possession is at the forefront of the game now, however it is achieved.

    This means that, of course skating speed is always going to be imperative, but now more important than ever is evasive skating. St. Louis showed that you can still do things the L.A. way and win a Cup with size, and Tampa was again like the early Blackhawks, where they were so skilled it doesn't really matter. But agility, edges, skating technique are moving to the forefront. Powerful multidirectional acceleration is crucial now in winning short range races to the puck to try to maintain or disrupt possession. In the mold of Kane and Panarin, or Barzal and his line, keepaway is the name of the game, and so you're seeing forwards like Stuetzle and Raymond, like Stranges and Amirov, and now coming up, Michkov and Bedard. Of course being able to pass the puck around is important to play keepaway, but adding a dynamic skating element just takes it to another level . Another critical new aspect to the drive for zone possession is that defensemen need to be able to pinch and jump into the play offensively more than ever, and again for them, skating technique has been vital for that - the ability to quickly jump up into the play, or quickly accelerate back if a pinch backfires, to change directions smoothly. But this has led to a very interesting development - we now have all these defensemen coming up like Heiskanen, Makar, Hughes, Drysdale, Hughes, Clarke, and in one important sense, as I've just described, these skating skills are a very useful offensive tool, but in another sense, they are also a weapon against zone possession. The way these defensemen can skate evasively in their own zone, so that if they can get a hold of the puck for just a second, they are extremely effective at moving the puck out of their zone, thus eliminating the opponent's possession.

    So I'm still trying to understand where exactly this is all going and I mostly feel like I have no idea. But what I'm thinking now is, maybe we're at the point that we've figured out all the different ways to create zone possession, and seen how each has been utilized, so maybe the next focus is on how to disrupt zone possession. Going back to the point about the game evolving based on weaker teams' attempts to adapt, if the best teams by today's standards are the teams that dominate corsi, how can lesser teams contend with that? Aside from the elite-skating defensemen I've mentioned, what about guys like Mukhamadullin, Luneau and Nemec, who excel at separating bodies from pucks and quickly moving the puck out immediate danger to relieve pressure? Are players like Stranges, Michkov, Bedard, going to take the evasive skating from forwards to yet another level?
    Last edited by matchesmalone; 05-09-2021, 01:46 PM.

  • #2
    Any attempt to apply Moneyball to hockey is going to get my interest, lol.

    I think puck possession and shot differential were always important, even before we had separate metrics that used them. How do less skilled teams contend now that they're seemingly more important? I think that in a hockey version of rock-paper-scissors, high hockey IQ might defeat powerful shifty skating, especially if applied cohesively under consistent coaching as part of a team's philosophy. At face value, the two might seem kind of antithetic, but you don't have to be a shifty skater to be able to read a shifty skater and establish proper positioning despite what your opponent might do. If you aren't getting baited and if you keep your coverage on point, you're probably winning half the battle on that alone.

    3-on-3 OT shows us that possession doesn't mean a damn thing if you can seize the right opportunity at the right time. Normal hockey isn't 3-on-3, but if small-market/low-skill/middle of the pack teams focus on consistent coaching, attracting and developing high-IQ players, and seizing turnovers, we might see the Corsi era lead to a new high-event era.

    Just my late-night 2 cents..

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Josh View Post
      Any attempt to apply Moneyball to hockey is going to get my interest, lol.

      I think puck possession and shot differential were always important, even before we had separate metrics that used them. How do less skilled teams contend now that they're seemingly more important? I think that in a hockey version of rock-paper-scissors, high hockey IQ might defeat powerful shifty skating, especially if applied cohesively under consistent coaching as part of a team's philosophy. At face value, the two might seem kind of antithetic, but you don't have to be a shifty skater to be able to read a shifty skater and establish proper positioning despite what your opponent might do. If you aren't getting baited and if you keep your coverage on point, you're probably winning half the battle on that alone.

      3-on-3 OT shows us that possession doesn't mean a damn thing if you can seize the right opportunity at the right time. Normal hockey isn't 3-on-3, but if small-market/low-skill/middle of the pack teams focus on consistent coaching, attracting and developing high-IQ players, and seizing turnovers, we might see the Corsi era lead to a new high-event era.

      Just my late-night 2 cents..
      Very interesting thinking. I feel like I was having a vague, fleeting image of an idea, that you may have hit on a little more clearly with this "high event era" idea. Not sure that I understand you completely from your brief comments, but I'm thinking that the corsi era of consistent offensive zone possession can be broken open somewhat by a. these highly evasive defensemen who are able to quickly escape the zone and create odd-man rushes on one hand, and b. high IQ players and good structure to counter-attack those evasive maneuvers and create more scoring chances off turnovers. I can already tell we're not exactly on the same page here, but I think we can work our way somewhere.

      One additional point on the moneyball thing, of course zone possession has always been important, but I think the point is that now there are metrics in place that teams can heavily target, a la Billy Beane in the movies constantly repeating "does he get on base?", "none of the rest matters, he gets on base". Of course the difference is, of course there are outfielders and shortstops and all that to consider, but essentially getting on base has a pretty high threshold for individual impact (did I word that right?", but when it comes to corsi - it is great as a broad indicator, but what exactly is it that high corsi players do? How many things are there? Which are most important? Can you break it down further to more individual indicators that will get you closer to a "does he get on base?"?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by matchesmalone View Post

        Very interesting thinking. I feel like I was having a vague, fleeting image of an idea, that you may have hit on a little more clearly with this "high event era" idea. Not sure that I understand you completely from your brief comments, but I'm thinking that the corsi era of consistent offensive zone possession can be broken open somewhat by a. these highly evasive defensemen who are able to quickly escape the zone and create odd-man rushes on one hand, and b. high IQ players and good structure to counter-attack those evasive maneuvers and create more scoring chances off turnovers. I can already tell we're not exactly on the same page here, but I think we can work our way somewhere.

        One additional point on the moneyball thing, of course zone possession has always been important, but I think the point is that now there are metrics in place that teams can heavily target, a la Billy Beane in the movies constantly repeating "does he get on base?", "none of the rest matters, he gets on base". Of course the difference is, of course there are outfielders and shortstops and all that to consider, but essentially getting on base has a pretty high threshold for individual impact (did I word that right?", but when it comes to corsi - it is great as a broad indicator, but what exactly is it that high corsi players do? How many things are there? Which are most important? Can you break it down further to more individual indicators that will get you closer to a "does he get on base?"?
        Aha! See, I thought you were originally suggesting that evasive defensemen are products of and contributors to the corsi era. Now I feel I may have misunderstood, that you're in fact suggesting that shifty D are more of an answer to the corsi era.

        You bring up an interesting question - what do high-corsi players do well? Do we mean high CF players, or high CF% players? In the most obvious terms, high-CF players contribute to shots on goal, high-CF% players contribute to shots on goal, prevent shots on goal against, or both.

        So how do they do that? The three big things that stand out to me, in order, are reading play, skating speed, and puck control.

        Reading play:
        Making timely and effective passes to open players in good positions to shoot.
        Getting into positions to receive passes and shoot.
        Interfering with opponent movement lanes (this speaks to CF and CA).
        Preventing opponent passes by intercepting the puck or applying effective pressure on the puck carrier.

        Skating speed:
        Capitalizing on opponent turnovers.
        Separating opponents from play.
        Mitigating own-team turnovers.

        Puck control:
        Manoeuvring through defending opponents (zone entry).
        Manoeuvring under offensive pressure (zone exit).

        ... Which makes me realize that I've come full circle since reading play = hockey IQ and contributes to corsi rather than answering it.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Josh View Post

          Aha! See, I thought you were originally suggesting that evasive defensemen are products of and contributors to the corsi era. Now I feel I may have misunderstood, that you're in fact suggesting that shifty D are more of an answer to the corsi era.

          You bring up an interesting question - what do high-corsi players do well? Do we mean high CF players, or high CF% players? In the most obvious terms, high-CF players contribute to shots on goal, high-CF% players contribute to shots on goal, prevent shots on goal against, or both.

          So how do they do that? The three big things that stand out to me, in order, are reading play, skating speed, and puck control.

          Reading play:
          Making timely and effective passes to open players in good positions to shoot.
          Getting into positions to receive passes and shoot.
          Interfering with opponent movement lanes (this speaks to CF and CA).
          Preventing opponent passes by intercepting the puck or applying effective pressure on the puck carrier.

          Skating speed:
          Capitalizing on opponent turnovers.
          Separating opponents from play.
          Mitigating own-team turnovers.

          Puck control:
          Manoeuvring through defending opponents (zone entry).
          Manoeuvring under offensive pressure (zone exit).

          ... Which makes me realize that I've come full circle since reading play = hockey IQ and contributes to corsi rather than answering it.
          Well, my original point was somewhat more eloquent - that the advancements in skating skills were probably originally made to enhance zone possession, because of the new emphasis on defensemen pinching and getting involved in the cycle, but as a side effect, they also ended up having the opposing effect of making these defensemen more evasive in their own zone, acting as a counter to corsi-era strategy.

          We saw the first wave of these defensemen arrive on the scene at the 2017 draft, in Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar, which means they had been in development for at least four or five years, and aligns perfectly with the timeline, that it was around the Kings' first Cup in 2012 that people were starting to recognize the trend towards zone possession. We saw Erik Karlsson's 11.5 million dollar contract. He was perhaps the prophet and beacon of this new trend, as he was in his prime around 2012-2017 while the shift was occurring, and was showing what a defenseman with elite skating (both speed and agility) could do. Again, the writing was already all over the wall by 2017, but when Karlsson single-handedly led the Senators to the Conference Finals, one would have to have had their eyes glued closed and be living under a rock not to see it.

          We're now at the point where we're about to start seeing the first contracts of Heiskanen, Makar, Hughes. Although we have Byram, Drysdale, Luke Hughes, Seamus Casey coming up, and guys like Jake Sanderson and Brandt Clarke have a strong powerskating element as well, for the near future, these type of defensemen are going to be at a premium. My suspicion is that these kids are going to get paid a king's randsom. Also, if I'm right in this hypothesis (and consider that Heiskanen plus Klingberg led Dallas to the Finals last year), then Colorado, led by Makar and Byram (not to mention McKinnon et al up front) are about to be an absolute powerhouse. For now it's not about money, but just about who drafts and develops these kids. So maybe you're right Josh, that we're already moving from the Corsi Era to the High Event era, in that these players transcend offensive zone possession, by excelling both in maintaining it and disrupting it. Seems ridiculous to say that the weak team's counter to the zone possession emphasis is going to lie in one or two individual players, but Dallas was a great example of this with Klingberg and especially Heiskanen. So there will be a window of a few years before a. the elite skating agility defensemen that are now being developed start to reach the NHL en masse, and b. the first wave start to demand absurd contracts and eventually reach the open market. During this window, the teams who have been smart or lucky enough to draft these defensemen - Dallas and Colorado at the forefront, and we'll see who gets Clarke, Hughes, Casey (Ceuleman to some extent) - might find themselves at an advantage.
          Last edited by matchesmalone; 05-13-2021, 09:05 PM.

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          • #6
            On the other point, about what contributes to corsi, I think you hit on some important points. There's a pretty good youtube scouting guy, I think maybe it was "scouching". He watches video and tracks stats like zone entries, completed passes, and such. Your subcategories would be things that would be possible to track. It is worth noting that most of the best corsi% players are known as defensive forwards. It's also worth noting that when we talk about the players who are the best defensive forwards (for prospects, think Beniers, Raymond, Lundell), we don't just mean they're good in their own zone, they are also good defensively in the offensive zone, and it's pretty much the same exact skillset - getting in lanes, having active sticks, being dogged on the puck, winning battles, separating bodies from pucks and then making plays quickly.

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            • #7
              Something occurred to me, that I'd kinda noticed for a while but I don't know how I never put it together. For the past few years now, I dunno, 2 or 3 maybe, I've been starting to see a lot more emphasis from analytics on zone exits and entries. It seems obvious now, as this corresponds exactly to the shift from corsi and zone possession to the the High Event Era of more back and forth hockey.

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              • #8
                It's interesting... I've been watching Montreal play pretty successful hockey and they seem to be very happy to throw away possession. They play a sort of modern dump and chase, most of their game seems to focus on quick transition play, capitalizing on turnovers.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hmmm. During the regular season they were 2nd in the NHL in CF%. Colorado was first, which at first glance seems to fly int he face of my post-corsi era theory, but I guess if you're dominating zone exits and entries it is likely to still lead to dominant corsi. Post-corsi era only works when both teams are there.

                  For Montreal, I guess it is important to just keep in mind that corsi is vastly different from traditional possession stats that just track how long a team is in the zone or has the puck on their stick. This Kiviharju shift stands out as an example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fT7vjqkEKo&t=90m0s I remember your main criticism of corsi was something along the lines of a poorly selected shot can actually lose possession. But corsi is only useful as an indicator, not a strategy or style. I think it was Taylor Hall that made the perfect criticism early on when corsi was getting massively popular and a reporter asked him about it, he was pretty much like "well ok, but tell me how to actually improve my corsi then." And he's completely right, it is a tool for management and scouts and analysts, not coaches or players. Same as "he gets on base." Well ok, but what does he do to get on base and how can he get on base more efficiently?

                  Well that Kiviharju shift is a perfect example of what corsi is all about, although it is hard to say exactly what have been the strategy at play there . Of course throwing the puck on net recklessly can lead to a loss of possession, but the genius of a Kiviharju among the innocence of youth players allows the point to shine through clearly: purposefully placed shots with bodies around the net create chaos and force the other team to scramble. Shots that lead to loss of possession do not lead to further corsi, and thus lead to poor corsi. But shots like Kiviharju's that are placed so as to be difficult for the goalies to contain, and with bodies around the net to recover rebounds, leads to more corsi, and the scrambling of the opponents takes them out of position and compounds the issue, leading to more corsi for the shooting team.

                  Traditional puck possession (think 90's Sweden and Detroit Red Wings) is almost contraposed to corsi, because it is about holding on to the puck, not shooting it. So what I'm wondering is: traditional puck possession play allows teams to defend with structure and force the offensive team to make skilled plays through their structure. If the defending team has particular structures in place to defend against skilled players - whether in the offensive zone (think shots vs. high-low cycle), or on entries (think dump and chase vs. entry with possession), then a team like Montreal dumping and chasing would fuck their shit up, because it is about introducing chaos to the defending team's zone-entry defense.

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                  • #10
                    So perhaps Montreal is actually aligned somewhat with the 2012 Kings, and maybe is a throwback to the corsi-era, as opposed to teams like Colorado and to some extent Vegas, Carolina and Boston - looks like Pietrangelo, Theodore, McAvoy, Grzylek, Hamilton, Pesce and Slavin all range from good to elite zone exit defensemen. I could only find data up to 2019/20, but holy shit Theodore looks like a zone-exit monster.

                    But some of the best zone exit teams - Colorado, Dallas, Boston, Vegas, Carolina - all ranked top 10 in corsi this year.

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                    • #11
                      Actually, watching one of those traditional puck possession teams play present Montreal would be a real treat. Montreal is playing more of a dump and wait, or dump and trap, than a real dump and chase (my own mis-wording). It's pretty boring hockey to watch, until you see just how quickly - and with unison - they manage to create and capitalize on turnovers.

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                      • #12
                        Where do you get zone entry / exit stats?

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                        • #13
                          https://public.tableau.com/app/profi...ceTool/A3ZDash

                          But it's only updated to 2019/20,

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