I ran a series of pretty off-the-rails posts this offseason discussing pizza, buffalo wings, "possession," grand theft, how much I dislike Randy Carlyle hockey, and the birds and the bees. They were amazing posts. Go read them.
Because the 2013-14 NHL season is upon us, my series is over. Savor this moment, it is your last. Ever. Maybe. Savor more that hockey is starting up again. It is time, therefore, to put my pizza where my mouth is and—mmm, pizza.
I’m writing an opinion piece in the more serious vein for the site in the next week or so about the Anaheim Ducks 2013 abbrevi-season, a word I totally didn’t just make up. Were they good or were they lucky? Or was it actually Jobu all along!?
The base goal of my offseason series was basically to introduce some of you to advanced stats. Except instead of defining them and arguing why they matter or don’t matter, I wanted to explain why all these measurements fit in with "common sense" from the perspective of playing or watching the game. Like I said, the stats aren’t actually "advanced" at all.
The hidden point of all of that was to get to this moment, this very second in life…I can’t wait, I’m so excited: the 2013-14 Anaheim Ducks might not be very good!
Let me qualify that some. Based on the abbrevi-season’s statistics, this team isn’t as strong as the results ended up being. Some of you are tuning me out now, thinking, "oh great here’s another regression talk coming..."
No. Look, possession itself matters, but it doesn’t win or lose games. Scoring more than the opponent wins. Like I said somewhere in one of my earlier, probably crazier posts: possessing the puck more just makes scoring with the puck easier.
If your team possesses the puck more often, they will shoot it more. There is some argument about this among people who like numbers and people who dislike numbers. "More shots doesn’t necessarily mean more possession!" the people who hate math shout to the gods. One of the PPP bloggers did a bit of a test on that here, using Time on Attack (TOA) as the possession metric.
(Why something like TOA over "basic possession of the puck?" Because attacking is the point of the puck’s existence, and having the puck near your own net isn’t really possession, it’s just gaining it for the impending attack.)
I’ll sum up the important part of his findings right here: "Although I have enjoyed this project, it looks as though Fenwick and Corsi numbers mirror TOA so closely that it's no longer really worth tracking."
Possession numbers tend to fall in line with Corsi/Fenwick stats. What does that mean to us? It’s the correlation between having your pizza and eating it too. As you recall, I’m not a numbers person. You don’t have to be either. Just understand the basic causality and common sense inherent in what the numbers mean: possession is best measured by attack time, which is best measured by total shot attempts. Higher shot attempts means an increased "chance" of scoring – so it reduces the role of luck by creating more opportunity for the luck underlying so much of this sport to work. It is "smart gambling."
So just note three possession-related things and keep them in mind when you start seeing numbers dropped about the Ducks in the upcoming season.
In the defensive zone, watch how the team breaks out. Defense is by nature not-possession. It is the anti-pizza.
Every controlled entry into the offensive zone requires a break out strategy to counter. I touched on some of what a break out entails here. The Ducks need to improve how they break out of the zone this season, which will reduce the strain put on the already thin blue line.
Good possession teams play effective hockey in the neutral zone and support the puck carrier.
What I mean really, really simply is that strong play in the NZ creates sound entry into the offensive zone, where more shots can create more chances to score. The best entry into the OZ is done as a team – not a dump-in, not one speedy guy taking it in and curling back to wait for guys. Getting even more broad: watch when a Duck takes the puck into the zone. He should have possession, and there should be at least one other guy entering with him. If one or both are not true, it isn’t an ideal entry. (Breakaways are a different yarn.)
No more senseless cycling.
Cycling the puck is important to set up offense and establish zone time, but I can’t describe to you my frustration when watching this team do it. Off and on for a few seasons, they cycle poorly despite having so many ideal "cycle game" forwards.
A good cycle is a short game. It is tight. It is a triangle system of puck support that requires movement and passing. And it is taught in front of the net! The last one is the real key. The Getzlaf and Perry behind-the-net cycle is a bit antithetical and is why other players have difficulty adjusting to their play.
This one’s really simple: the Ducks have the players to be effective puck handlers and cyclers, but they have to shed a few years of bad systems. Keep the cycle tight, moving, supported, and to the side of or in front of the net, where a shot on goal can be generated.
The Ducks have a lot of youth and a very thin defense. It stands to reason that they won’t enjoy the same statistical luckiness – scoring more on fewer shots, it’s that simple – as last abbrevi-season to counter the lack of defensive talent present at the moment. If that happens, I expect a dip in performance throughout the season.
That being said, I am excited to see this team come out of a training camp and preseason under Bruce Boudreau’s direction. He’s noted for getting the most output out of young players, and we have a lot of young assets here. I think we’ve seen some of that already, so I’m excited about that continuing. And who knows, maybe my prediction is off. I hope so.