Kid Ish's Pizzametrics, Week 10: Tim Jackman and the Score

@JHowardDesign

Do you have a lot of time on your hands? Read my post!

WEEK 10

Los Angeles at Anaheim (L SO)

Anaheim at Chicago (W SO)

Anaheim at St. Louis (W)

Grouping in the Sharks game from Saturday, Nov. 30, this was a great week to watch the Ducks and gauge them by their competition. I wanted to tackle some impressions I gathered from each team.

Systemically, all of these teams play more or less a similar system. Defensively, all opt for funneling the puck out and not collapsing. Of all the teams, I have to say the Kings probably have the tightest defensive zone play and breakout - they close gaps quickly and tend to have the quickest/cleanest transition. Drew Doughty helps with that so much.

The transition game is where there's some variety. San Jose plays a high pressure, speed game. But they have age in there, and they tend to drop off executing it toward the end of periods. St. Louis probably has the most similar game in transition as the Ducks, with a combination of clean zone entries and dump-ins. Chicago was delightful to watch - and pay attention to other teams aping this in the future - as they absolutely refused to dump the puck. There were several times they regrouped outright in the neutral zone, even with teammates changing. Most teams dump to change. Los Angeles is the big-time weird one because they play a highly skilled dump-in game. They send pucks deep a lot.

Offensively, things return to more or less the same system. All of the teams "play to net," which is a sort of Red Wing-ian concept of looking for a play or, with nothing available, putting the puck on the net. The Blues, Blackhawks, and Ducks leave open the cycle (so softer dumps to corners) more than the Sharks and Kings in terms of non-net plays. The Kings play straight to net by design though, with very low shots from literally everywhere intended to generate rebounds - it's very consistent with the dump-and-chase style they play. It also explains why they dominate possession but tend to have trouble scoring goals. (Speaking of, READ THIS IMMEDIATELY IF YOU LOVE DUSTIN PENNER AND HATE THE KINGS.)

Oh, and another aspect: the Kings get away with a lot more dump-and-chase because their defense activates everywhere - weak side, strong side, no matter. Pinches galore. The Hawks and Blues tend to be more conservative with their defense until the situation demands it. But all of these teams tend to generate good offense from four-in-the-zone, which means there's usually one defenseman and/or a partner or forward out high. The Ducks and Sharks seem to be right in the middle of the Kings hyper-aggressiveness and the Hawks/Blues more conservative approach - at least in the games I watched this year so far.

I think the Ducks stack up remarkably well with all these teams. Anaheim has the size to hang with Los Angeles and St. Louis. They have the speed to hang with San Jose and Chicago. The systems in use favor the type of game that has seen more consistent success of late, with rolling four lines and putting pucks on net - moving the puck, essentially.

This was a fun week to watch.

PLAYERS

I don't need to make this post any longer by messing with this too much this week. I did change Penner's rating though.

Jakob Silfverberg 4P-Met

Mathieu Perreault 4P-Met

Cam Fowler 6P-Met

Dustin Penner 6P-Met > 5P-Met

Of late, it's looked like Pens has been battling basic puck handling, including pass receiving.

Ben Lovejoy 5P-Met

Andrew Cogliano 6P-Met

Sami Vatanen 2P-Met

Hampus Lindholm 4P-Met

Bryan Allen 3P-Met

Daniel Winnik 4P-Met

Ryan Getzlaf 6P-Met

Corey Perry 6P-Met

Teemu Selanne 2P-Met

Saku Koivu, C 3P-Met

BUCKETS OF SCORE

The team and fanbase has made much about secondary scoring of late. Coming into week 10, the team had some stretches when the top line was the sum total of offense, prompting many message board arguments and tirades. Certainly, relying solely on two or three sources for most of the offense is bad. We all know this, we all agree.

Secondary scoring is like this magical thing that people assume is easy. The conversation then becomes "if only the coach would..." or "if only our GM would..." because scoring is apparently so easy, it's an organizational flaw that's preventing it from happening more. Initially, I think I was just going to speak to that, but in thinking about it, in writing up some notes, another idea broadsided me entirely.

Tim Jackman's a pretty ok guy. Yup, that's the issue that distracted me. But first, let me wade into this some.

Consistent scoring is a talent composed of many smaller basic hockey skills - slapshot, wristshot, passing, just whatever. You get the point. The aspects or smaller skills of scoring overall can be practiced. The talent of scoring itself can't really be practiced - it happens, or it doesn't. Putting all of the practice together into consistent production is extraordinarily difficult and is why players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry end up making $8 million-plus. It's really, really hard to score often in the NHL. (And as players have said before, scoring in practice is nothing like scoring in games.)

This brings up a really big concept, consistency, and how it relates to the game. Last week, I wrote about confidence some. If you carry that through, displaying one's playing ability consistently is how a guy earns his coach's confidence. That is how a guy gets on the ice, and weeell here's where this topic can explode into hugeness...

Consistent scoring is an elite talent. I'm going to generalize now, but it seems that most teams have three or four elite scorers. I'm talking about players who can independently create their own points. The players who are alongside those scorers will also get points, but that's more production generated by the same elite few and not true secondary scoring.

The perception then is that a coach has the remaining roster spots available to supply secondary scoring. And that's the explosion, because...well. Sigh. Let me try to do this in a respectable amount of space.

Anyone can score. There's no restriction to it. Every coach, at every level, will tell every player: if you have an open shot at goal, and you aren't passing up an equally open chance to a teammate, take the shot. Not confident in your shot? Go to the net. The concept that it is incumbent on an NHL coach to somehow urge more scoring away from those who best exhibit the ability to do it with line combinations alone is farfetched - the basic "shoot the puck" mantra works equally to everyone on any line on the ice, and some guys are just better at it than not.

Taking aside those elite scorers then, a coach is trying to ice the best roster to manage space. A coach has his scorers already, what he needs around them are people who make their ability to score easier - who may also score on their own. That's always the hope, because that's what secondary scoring really is: scoring that comes from the depth players there to fulfill other functions. But counting on them to score consistently is not "the plan," because you can't plan randomness (which scoring tends to be to those who aren't elite).

The plan is space management - on offense, create space; on defense, erase space. Boom, hockey, ladies and gents.

I'm out.

No?

Shit.

Ok, so space. Think about the game for a second: there are 10 skaters on the ice at any given time, and there's one puck. One guy has the puck, and one guy is probably contesting the puck, which means eight other guys are skating on the ice away from the puck. That's a stat for you: 80% of the game is off-puck play.

What a coach is looking for in his non-scoring slots is consistent play away from the puck. Most of the guys at the NHL level can, once they get the puck, do something with it - make a pass, carry it into a zone, dump it to the wall, shoot it on goal. They might not do it particularly well (cough cough Brad Staubitz), but they can do it. What makes a guy "consistent" to a coach therefore is his ability to play within the system of space management set out. This includes getting open in space (for a pass) but also little things like cutting off the wall on a breakout or pinching into the middle to force the puck outside or going into a 50-50 puck along the wall and tying it up or winning it outright.

The trick with secondary scoring is that, if the guys are playing to the system well enough and winning the necessary battles, chances to score will happen. I used to hear it called "blue collar goals," the ones derived from hard work. The coach and his staff are watching for this sort of consistent effort away from the puck far more than you are or I am watching at home, because generally we're watching the 20% of the game surrounding the puck.

As a fanbase, we see a guy with blazing speed, some nifty moves, and a quick release, like Emerson Etem, and think, "he should be playing infinity minutes with the very elite so he can score all the goals!" (I love Etem, so that'd be neat.) But to generalize again: often times, the guys who display this offensive flair or potential are the guys who were able to rely on it for so much of their young careers, and they didn't round out the "blue collar" stuff.* And so they slot second, or third, or fourth on the list of options the coach has available because he's responsible for the team succeeding, not the individual, and he needs guys who are working hard to create their own chances and not just out there waiting for chances.

* This is a generalization. I hear it about a lot of young players who succeeded in scoring roles in junior/minor hockey but haven't brought that "touch" up to this level. Whenever I hear of someone who supposedly has the offensive gift, the first thing I watch is where the shot comes from - is the player creating it or is the playing just finishing it? Players who create their own chances have figured it out, more often than not; players who wait to finish what others set up are too one-dimensional and need to improve their overall game. (Like it was said to me as a youth, it's "space management.")

That's not to say players like Etem do that definitively, but when we hear Boudreau say the player is going back to the AHL for consistency and/or development, this is generally the kind of thing that's being referenced. The coach needs to know what he has. One thing Carlyle always said that I liked is, "you're here to win. This isn't a development league." But in keeping with my overall train of thought, when we're up in arms about the weirdest roster decisions - the "why is Palmieri on the fourth line" and "why is Patrick Maroon sitting for Matt Beleskey" or whatever - we need to keep in mind that there's a plan there beyond just "work ethic" that involves constructing this sort of consistent effort every game.

Usually, coaches just want consistent play off the puck and successful space management, or whatever Boudreau might term it to his lads. I want to use a pretty simple comparison here. Lots of us like Kyle Palmieri's shot. We want to see it more, and we want to see it score goals more. As such, we argue back and forth about his usage and minutes and centermen on any given night, or just whatever. Now, lots of us like Andrew Cogliano's overall game but recognize his shot is terrible. "If only he could pick a corner" is a sentiment I've read here and elsewhere. And that's true: if Cogs could finish, he'd be a sensation.

But lost in all of it is that Cogliano continues to get into a position, game after game, of shooting the puck - maybe not more in terms of sheer numbers, but he gets more quality scoring chances than almost anyone on the team not on the top line. It has nothing to do with who his center is. It has nothing to do with the quality of his competition - which is usually pretty tough. It has nothing to do with whatever minutes he ends up with. At some point in nearly every game, Cogliano will create space for himself or for his linemates to try to score.

Andrew Cogliano is a very effective space manager. He plays his position well in every zone, and the simple act of doing that tends to end up creating chances for him to score. If Cogliano had Palmieri's shot (or if Palmieri had Cogliano's overall game), BOOOOOOOM, imagine the scoring that would ensue. And that's why a coach isn't giving Cogliano-like minutes to Palmieri - yes, the latter has a better shot, but the former ends up playing a better game. At some point, the coach wants all his players to play that way, because if the ones with the killer shots do so, scoring will occur. That's a complete game.

So why Tim Jackman? And why him in a secondary scoring blog post? First, understand: a sixth round pick isn't really a significant asset. Second, understand: without a sixth, someone lower in the standings than Anaheim would have claimed him on waivers from Calgary. I did a little research on him right when we grabbed him. What I read about him was that he can skate well - indeed, he's faster than we thought - and he doesn't play stupidly. In fact, he's actually a functional player who was just beat out by similar, younger talent on the Flames roster, and as we know, controllable assets are preferred in this day and age. His simple, intelligent play is important. He doesn't take out-of-position (or stick) penalties because he's never really out of position. His position/placement is real simple, and he plays it well considering what else exists out there in the league.

Now, consider the above lengthy piece of beautiful art (my post). Boudreau has his scorers. He has his complimentary players who he thinks can help score. He has his checkers. He has his defense. He has an overabundance of goalies. And he still has a few roster slots to fill, because scoring is not the role of every player on the ice. Running contrary to trying to get secondary scoring, but not contrary to Logic (which I'm the master of), every team needs players who excel at their roles away from the puck in order to make the players with the puck better. SO MANY ITALICS HERE, RIGHT?

Jackman is one such player. He's a puck hound, dawg. (That was for Spade.) His role on the ice is to create space in all areas of the ice. And in a pinch, his job is to go get the puck if that's needed. It isn't about hitting, or fighting, even though those things are involved. Players who fill the role he does are there to improve the flow of the game by virtue of disruption - opposing players note the guys on the ice who aren't there to do fancy stuff with the puck. I know I did! Nobody's really afraid to "get hit," but a lot of skilled guys avoid contact whenever possible because going through someone with the puck is harder than going around. So this is a bit of that, and with Jackman's skating prowess he can probably catch most NHLers to lay the body on or get in the way. But this is more than that.

If Jackman carries the puck into the zone and has a lane, he's going to drive straight to the net and "shoot" but really he's just going to drive as hard into the goalie as the other team will allow. (Ah, hockey, where that's legal and awesome.) Defending THAT tactic is different than defending someone legitimately trying to score. So say he runs the goalie - ok, he'll fight someone. But the goalie's still probably a bit pissed or rattled or whatever. Point, Jackman. Nobody on the opposition wants a goalie-run to happen, and they know he's not going to deke them and score, so they'll most likely step up on him, close his lane.

In that event, he just dumps the puck, having drawn a man to him (creating space). Because the rules of the day dictate a minimal amount of obstruction is allowed, Jackman can continue to pursue "the puck" (but really just a hit), unless he's been canceled out. But he's bigger, so knocking him out of the play is hard, and even then, he's still drawn his man. That's also why his skating is key, because normally a big oaf dumping the puck isn't a big deal - turn, beat him to the puck, retrieve. But Jackman can keep up, so that race isn't assured. That defender still has to mark him, which is, again, space conceded. So point still gained to Jackman.

Pair a puck hound with a shooter like Palmieri, or a speedster like Cogliano, who may suddenly find a puck in a corner with only one defenseman on him instead of one plus a center. Ah, SPACE. The possibilities are endless. (This is why a lot of coaches like forward pairs - usually one center and one puck-capable winger. That third slot can be a third puck-capable guy or a hound, and the chemistry between the pair stays. Some lines benefit mightily from having a hound on it. We see that with Getzlaf and Perry. Penner is that hound, he's also just a nice puck-capable guy - so, bonus.)

While this is just one basic concept of a guy like Jackman's usage, perhaps it can help illustrate why he might draw into the lineup on some nights. Anyone willing to play a simple game can fulfill Jackman's role. But that's where roles and development come into play. Clearly, the organization sees legitimate skill in players like Devante Smith-Pelly, Etem, Palmieri, and even Patrick Maroon. When they draw in, they can play these types of off-puck minutes, trying to create space for the puck carriers.

But you never want to stick guys with skill into that slot long-term, because like I mentioned before, games are the only times to really practice trying to score as a skill. Get out of practice long enough, and it's way harder to do it when the team turns around and asks that of you down the line. Likewise, filling the role of a hound while trying to score is tougher for younger guys to do all at once - but a good example of this kind of player is Matt Beleskey, who is a beast and a pleasure to watch.

So if the team controls a young asset, the easiest way to manage it all is to let them play bigger minutes, developing all those scoring and non-scoring talents, in the minors or wherever (some orgs let guys stay in Europe) while having guys like Jackman on board to play the simple, off-puck minutes most coaches want present on the roster.

Here concludes my long-winded approval of the Tim Jackman acquisition. Oh, and about secondary scoring coming more from strong team play in every zone.

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