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Fancy Stats Simplified: This Has Nothing To Do With Stats Now

I should have done a series on coaching only. That would have been the sensible thing to do.

I used to know how to score from here
I used to know how to score from here
Jeff Gross

My original draft for this was a few thousand words and probably several incantations to the dark lords. I have decided to trim it up. Prepare not to laugh, but also not to spend 30 minutes reading it! The thing is, coaching and "systems" is a huge, huge topic. I’m going to slaughter it to make a point more than really inform anyone of anything great.

I tackled my previous post from an in-game perspective because hockey moves really fast, and "coaching" tends to happen less during games. Bench management is the main part of a coach’s job by that point. There’s more subtleties there, feel free to point that out or argue it in the comments, but these posts have Simplified in the title for a reason.

The gist of what I was really getting at though is just that all "coaching" itself happens outside of game situations. I’d daresay the more a coach tries to get a handle on a game itself, the less effective he is. There’s a trust that has to exist between coaching staff and players. The staff has to teach, practice with, and prepare players for games, and the players have to execute the gameplan.

If players aren’t expected to coach themselves, we can’t expect coaches to play the games. We also can’t lay blame for poor situation-specific execution on coaching. We can, however, blame or question coaching for a stretch of poor performance by all players or even a poor organizational response to a clearly underperforming player individually. Makes sense, yes?

Corey Perry slumped last season. Bruce Boudreau played him nearly the same each night – although he dropped his ice time on a few occasions. His reason for this was because he felt Perry was still playing hard, getting chances, earning opportunities to keep playing. The player was "doing the little things." And this was true: Perry looked far more unlucky last season than he looked disengaged.

As a fanbase, let’s lay blame on Perry for his slumping numbers and not on Boudreau for somehow "not using him right." If Perry had become ineffective in every way (including attitude and effort) and Boudreau kept running him out there – let’s call this the "Carlyle RPG strategy" – then we can begin to question coaching. But with a coach who benched one of the most dynamic pure scorers when with Washington because of effort, I don’t think Kirby mismanaged this one.

So let’s say, systems are the measure of a coach’s success and games are the measure of player success in terms of execution. This is really the only concept I wanted to espouse in my previous post about coaching. Too many people want to blame Boudreau being out-coached by Mike Babcock in the Anaheim-Detroit series last postseason. While there were situational instances I’d have liked to see differently, the Ducks players lost that series, not the Ducks coaching.

So systems…and this is where I cut everything from my previous post. Systems, the establishment of, who sets them, how it pertains to talent assessment and acquisition, etc., is a stupidly big topic that I shouldn’t have even attempted in this series. Oops.

I decided to run with my experience to give you an idea of this whole coaching dilemma and systems in general instead. I’m going to use passing. Passing the puck is something one must know how to do before becoming a professional hockey player. The implication of that sentence is therefore: an NHL coach is not supposed to teach passing, it is taught way, way before that level.

So passing the puck is a simple and necessary "fundamental" of the game. What is an ideal pass? A perfect pass in ice hockey is a controlled puck sent to another stick (often in stride). "Tape-to-tape" is what we hear often, and that’s about right in most ways. (One aspect of this I’m omitting is speed, but fast=good; slow=bad.)

Here’s where we get fun: a perfect pass is not always the best pass. In a game situation, the best pass is the one that succeeds. This is essentially an advanced fundamental, because it is basic pass knowledge applied in game situations but involves more "hockey sense," or an understanding of what’s happening around you. Again, this isn’t "coached" at the NHL level. (It is practiced, not coached.)

An NHL coach has to reinforce all of the basic and advanced fundamentals and work that into a plan, a scheme – we call it a system. But it isn’t really a strict system of play – how to do this or that robotically – such a thing is completely impossible to execute in a game like hockey. A system is really a philosophy of play.

I’ve literally heard this sentence from every coach I’ve ever had, "we’re going to win by playing a _____ game." An attacking game, a possession game, a defensive game, a conservative game, an aggressive game, a big/gritty game, a speed game. That’s the beginning of a system, not Xs or Os. Systems are generally set organizationally, by management or a group of hockey minds. Management then hires a coach to head up that philosophy, and he adds his own flair to it as his personnel demands. Well, if he’s any good.

Coaching is therefore all of the skills and methods necessary to execute the philosophy. For instance, on an aggressive team, space will be prioritized – when to close, when to give, when to pinch, when to push the attack, when to drop back, when to pursue. Teams that buy-in are teams that play well within their coach’s philosophy.

I had a lot more content here as well pertaining to Boudreau and how we haven’t truly seen enough of him in charge to know what he teaches, what he adds, what he takes away. (We’ve had impressions, and I have an opinion already, but I wasn’t aiming to get into all that in the preseason.)

But bottom line is this: Boudreau is working with a lot of players and staff – not just those who end up on the roster, although they take priority during the season – to establish and teach the Anaheim Ducks style of hockey. Nearly 96.73% of his job is not during a game. Some is, and that percentage still matters, but overall, his job is really humongous big.

I don’t even want to continue into this. I should have gone smaller here. Zone entries, like what Thyme wanted. Dammit.