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Now let’s get right into it…

FACT: The Islanders D is a mess… all created by the absence of Devon Toews and Nick Leddy.

The NY Islanders are missing offensive transitions and quick puck movement out of the defensive zone. This can be seen plainly via an eye test. Analytics also supports this. This is a severe change from last year.

Back in July, many dismissed Nick Leddy’s absence as an addition by subtraction. Nobody seemed to realize the bigger issue that was present when they traded Devon Toews the season before. Devon Toews was the BEST replacement for Nick Leddy. The result is that the Isles sit in a malaise from that loss with a very mediocre start showing definitive weaknesses in the areas everyone seemed to gloss over…

  1. Offensive transitions
  2. Defensive zone exits
  3. Disruption/miscasting in the defensive pairings
  4. Trotz had to split the best defensive pair in the NHL to band-aid it

All this after a camp and preseason that showed these present deficiencies before the season started. Now… we are at 12 games at 5-5-2 and reeling from three losses in a row.

FACT: The Zdeno Chara is “playing better” observation is flawed…

Is Chara better by numbers lately? Sure! He’s playing with a top pairing D. This is another shining example of numbers and observations made without context. Chara is NOT playing better. He is being carried thanks to a better defensive partner.

“There’s an adjustment period. Analytically you look at some stuff, he’s started off not great, but look at his last number of games he’s looked pretty good. What we’re looking for with Z is can you defend in your own end and can kill penalties? He can. I’m not looking for offense.”

– Barry Trotz

This was a very revealing quote by Barry Trotz after the New Jersey loss. We can extrapolate on this that losing Nick Leddy was predicated on the assumption of Noah Dobson’s growth.

FACT: Noah Dobson is not a top 4 defenseman

No growth here has gummed up the works, leaving the absence of puck mover, necessitating breaking up one of the best pairs in the league into 2 ok ones to offset the bleeding. The result? A mediocre defense that remains off-kilter. Can Dobson turn into a top 4? Maybe. Isles Management made a bet and is paying dearly right now. Even if Sebastian Aho or Robin Salo comes in, this is not a team that can afford development gaps when vying for a cup.

FACT: The offense is a problem. The bottom line is that downgrade on D is almost matched by a downgrade on forwards this past summer…

Eberle for Palmieri was the trade-off here on offense. It was NOT an even trade…

I’m not saying Kyle Palmieri is “bad”, I’m saying Eberle was a top-line forward, Palmieri is not. So the trade was the assets given up + losing Eberle for Palmieri, was not worth it.

IF you look at Eberle numbers with Barzal last year….Eberle influenced Barzal in a positive way.

You want guys who enhance, not passengers.

FACT: Neither Josh Bailey nor Kyle Palmieri should be on the top line, they are both middle 6 forwards. Maybe Wahlstrom could be one. WE KNOW: Eberle was…

FACT: As a result of all this… Matt Barzal is a playmaker now without a scoring option on his wing until Wahlstrom can develop. That’s another hedged bet by management that is leaving a lot of grey areas. Development takes time. Not only is Barzal not being given what he needs, this past summer, it was also taken away.

FACT: Parise is an ok 3rd party to a good line 3.. but is NOT a first-line player.

Parise is a star by pedigree and reputation, not by performance. That performance thus far isn’t great.

“Well, how about Parise’s stats?” you might ask…

The Problem with stat citations… (with apologies to the excellent James Nichols, but have to use this as a prime example)…

Those numbers make him look good right?

Well, why hasn’t he scored, this year or last?

Might he come out of the goal-scoring funk of last season and this? Is he just unlucky? Maybe, but maybe not luck at all, as people keep assuming. This may be a function of age.

Parise’s smarts and the people he plays with are contributing to chances. However, what has been also shown, thanks to the excellent analytics work by Eric Tulsky (now over in Carolina as Assistant GM), is that NHL players lose puck scoring ability first… a nanosecond late, a tad less quick on the shot, etc.

The same question also, unfortunately, needs to now include Palmieri.

Palmieri had a very low SH% last year. It’s one of the first signs of aging forward. Something Toronto has discovered with John Tavares.

You want guys who enhance players, not passengers.

FACT: So far, the team looks old and slower. Palmieri/Parise both have average speed at best. Chara looks his age. These were last summer’s “adds” to make the team better, btw.

FACT: There is a right to be concerned that Semyon Varlamov may or may not return to form with a chronic injury. Yes, Ilya Sorokin has been excellent in stepping up but has never carried a season in the NHL. Now add all the defensive and offensive items we have listed. Not an easy load to carry.

FACT: This team is exactly what the record says it is. Offensively challenged, and dependent on what is now clearly a weakened D. This has required constant elite goaltending, Now add a minimal pipeline of talent that can come in. Panik would be the first forward call-up, not exactly an offensive upgrade. The real call-up should be Golyshev.

The Isles seem only viable as long as they can win 2-1 (with goaltending offsetting issues), and let’s face it… Trotz didn’t win a cup with that type of team.

FACT: The constant misuse of some great work with “stat cards” and other analytics “visualizations” by writers and fans

One of the weaknesses of publicly available data is the challenge in looking at “respective contribution“. This is why most good analytic teams use PROPRIETARY data, not public.

So, these look nice and tell a better idea of what is going on, but we haven’t reached a point where these visualizations are nuanced enough to tell a complete story. They should not be treated or cited as “the gospel”. They help provide more information and connect pieces… and are in-process attempts to produce better results…and getting better all the time…


HockeyStatCards GameScore Impact card from the NY Islanders vs Winnipeg

First off… this is great work by Cole Palmer (@cepvi0 on Twitter). You can check out more on what he is doing over at:

These visualizations are an attempt to capture “the story”, and we are getting a lot of good information here.

BUT we also need key missing items and context to really get a final take. What contributes to each and how much? Who are the drivers of the lines?

Corsi? That is less important.

XG? Does it consider your personal xG-against after a turnover? Or all 5 on ice?

These items are great to look at but provide ZERO context. And context matters.

If I play with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, I’m not going to be part of much offense.

FACT: Teammates matter, Competition matters.

Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock were so good because they were elite when playing elite.

FACT: Averages can also lie

if I’m a student that gets two 100’s and 2 60’s …. am I the same student as one who gets 4 80’s?

Fans will cite from this card that Zdeno Chara played a better game, but not look at who he was paired with to look better. Teammate matters. AND above all… we need to focus on the fact that that the Isles had to break up an Elite 1st pair duo in Pelech and Pulock to help carry others who are clearly deficient. This is what is making them look better.

Sometimes the public data is just not quite being used right. Just like goalies goals saved above expected is a key stat, Goals scored below expected is a key stat.

We should all support good work and good attempts by the analytics crowd. It is a BIG add and boon. I cite these items merely to show deficiencies when writers and fans declare items like this as FACT… without realizing that they need further analysis and deeper understanding.

Other great work in analytics well with your time…

Corey Sznajder who’s All Three Zones Project tracks zone entries & zone exits for every NHL game
@ShutdownLine on twitter

JFresh who has created NHL analytics-based visualization cards

@JFreshHockey on twitter

Patrick Bacon

Who has the best Twitter description ever: “The goal of this account is to be wrong about hockey less frequently”

@topdownhockey on twitter!/