#1MinuteTactics – Studying The World Cup Of Hockey

When you bring the best players and coaches together, entertaining things happen. Not only that, but many of the tactical habits employed by elite hockey team are actually not so hard to grasp.

Here are five teaching points brought to us by The World Cup Of Hockey 2016, broken down and served up in just over one minute apiece:

1) Transition Play: Team North America’s Neutral Zone Mastery

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10 Rules Of Thumb For Hockey Analysts

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  1. The point of hockey is to create goal differential. The point of hockey analysis is to find ways to improve it.

  2. Shot differentials today is goal differentials tomorrow.

  3. 100-10-1. 100 minutes of your time to create data, 10 minutes of the coach’s time to digest the data, 1 minute of the player’s time to absorb the data.

  4. Optimise workload, reduce uncertainty.

  5. If your findings are either always or never surprising, then review your methodology. 80/20 (in favor of confirming existing beliefs) is a good place to start.

  6. Your priority is to help the coach get a better night’s sleep and to help players maximise their experience.

  7. Know your place, but stand your ground.

  8. We are all on the same team.

  9. Who you compete against influences your results; who you work with dictates your destiny.

  10. The job is only done when you’ve trained someone to make you expendable.

 

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team (not his full-time job). He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.

Practical Concerns: The Analyst’s Plight

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(Image Wikipedia Commons)

Recently, the statistical analyst of an NHL team was let go in the aftermath of an underwhelming regular season and a puzzling decision involving one of the team’s most productive and iconic players. Rights and wrongs aside, the episode illustrated an uncomfortable fact: the analyst’s job is perhaps the most fragile one of all.

Imagine the tightrope walker, balancing him/herself atop a fine metal wire between two buildings. The job is a difficult one on the best of days, requiring a lifetime of practice and undivided focus. Randomness is not the tightrope walker’s friend. A gust of wind, a slight mis-step or even a meeting with an errand low-flying pigeon could yield deadly consequences.

While the physical stakes are different, an analyst’s career prospects (and personal well-being) are similarly affected by things out of his or her control. While job security in any field is dependent on market conditions, things are especially dire for the technical worker responsible for uncovering Truths, but ranked too low in the corporate hierarchy to effect real change.

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Practical Concerns: On Anchoring, Delight And The Frederik Andersen Contract

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One of the things I am trying to work on this summer is to be more self-critical about the way I treat and act on information. Frederik Andersen’s trade from the Anaheim Ducks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his subsequent signing of a five-year, $25 million contract proved to be a good opportunity in that sense.

Initially, I cringed a bit at the term and cap commitment Toronto made to Andersen. Five years is a long time and $5M per year is a big money for a guy who is not guaranteed to play all that well.

But I could be very wrong on that.

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Practical Concerns: A Better Way To Talk About Hockey?

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“The Pittsburgh Penguins won.” “The San Jose Sharks lost.”

Do those statements have the same meaning? The answer depends entirely on what you mean by meaning.

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Following the suggestion of my friend Arik Parnass, I’ve began re-reading the book Thinking Fast And Slow, which explores many ideas that can be applied to hockey.

One of the chapters in the book deals with the concept of framing – how people can be influenced to think about a certain situation depending on the words used to describe it. Going back to our initial example, did the Penguins win the Stanley Cup (because of their superior tactics, teamwork and talent level)? Or did the Sharks lose the Stanley Cup (because of their reliance on defensemen who are slow and can’t make a pass)?

There is no right or wrong answer, but we can see how a simple difference in phrasing can lead us down different avenues.

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Video Analysis: How The Penguins Extend Zone Time With “Total Hockey”

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By any predictive metric, the Pittsburgh Penguins have generated a staggering amount of offense against the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Earlier this week, we looked at how the Penguins are able to create possessions with good defensive habits in the neutral zone. Today, we’ll examine how they create a volume of offensive chances via positional switches.

To fully understand the ideas behind the Penguins’ offensive zone play, it is necessary to study the “Total Football” philosophy:

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The line of thinking lends itself well to the speed and teamwork-oriented nature of hockey as well. While the Penguins are by no means the first team to apply these ideas, they are a good example of how they can be used effectively at the highest level of the game.

Here are some clips from Game 3 and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final illustrating the tactical benefits of fluidity and positional switches.

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Video Analysis: In the Penguins-Sharks Stanley Cup Final, Possession Starts With Good Defensive Gap

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In the playoffs, details make the difference.

Heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Pittsburgh Penguin have had the measure of the San Jose Sharks in terms of shot differential. Looking at the game tape, we can see that one of the contributing factors is the way both teams defend the rush.

As a group, the Pens’ defensive corps is fleet-footed and blessed with good offensive acumen. They are also undersized and prone to being muscled off the puck by San Jose’s skilled forwards. In order to minimize their exposure to defensive-zone breakdowns and to maximize the team’s speed and skill, the Penguins have been playing a very tight gap across the neutral zone, funneling San Jose puck carriers toward the end boards and standing up at the red line in order to encourage the Sharks to dump the puck in.

A hallmark of the Mike Sullivan-coached Penguins is the team’s attacking mindset on and off the puck, as evidenced by the way they suppress the San Jose transition game.

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Genie Bouchard, Expectations & What Players Need To Understand About Stats

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This post is not really about Genie Bouchard, or even tennis in general, but let’s start with her.

On Thursday, Bouchard, the top-ranked Canadian player on the WTA Tour, lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 8 seed Timea Bacsinszky at Roland Garros. The loss could be interpreted as another setback for Bouchard, who ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in October 2014. Since then, she has slumped, going 12-18 in 2015 after winning 39 and 43 matches in the previous two years. What’s gone wrong?

Possibly, the answer is nothing at all.

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Practical Concerns: On Randomness, Risk-Taking And Coaching

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Something I set time aside for during the off-season is reading non-hockey books in an attempt to gain a better perspective on hockey. The work of Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Boomrang) and Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan, Fooled By Randomness) were of particular inspiration.

Below are some assorted thoughts based on recent readings and events. Tweet me (@ML_Han) if you’d like to disagree and tell me why. Eventually I hope to spend some time talking about this or a tangential at the second edition of RITHAC this September.

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Book Review: Caveman Logic & “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work”

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In my experience, using analytics to influence coaching decisions is a profoundly weird and incredibly interesting exercise, which is why I was very excited to read a book called The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, a newly released book written by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, two Sabermetricians who took over a pro baseball team for a season.

Being a fast reader, I blasted through the pages in about two days. I’m happy to say that got a lot out of this book. If you’re here, you probably would too.

While I don’t know or care much about baseball, Ben and Sam are my kindred spirits. There are not many people who have had the opportunity to use analytics to directly impact how a sports team is run on a day-to-day basis. As I found myself leafing through the pages, I saw a lot of my own hockey experiences in the authors’ words.

Whether it was gaining the trust of the coaching staff, overcoming teething IT issues, or occasionally falling prey to heuristics and losing “objectivity,” I identified a great deal with Ben and Sam’s trials and tribulations. So much so, that I began tweeting at Ben before I even finished the book.

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