A group of hockey personnel gathered at the Boston Marriott Copley Place in August. One morning, they talked about scoring chances. As such conversations usually do, they went on and on and on.
Of all the game’s quarrels, few set the kettle ablaze more than the definition of a chance. For some, it’s an in-close swipe from the top of the crease. For others, it’s a slap shot by a pounder like Shea Weber. When a net-front flurry creates a trio of whacks on goal, one observer will believe it’s one chance. The next will insist it’s three.
In a sport defined by scoring goals and preventing them, there is no argument about the situation’s significance.
“If you’re going to go back and do one thing, it’s got to be scoring chances,” said Brant Berglund, XOS Digital’s director of product marketing (hockey). “From that, you learn so much about your team. When it comes to tracking stuff over the course of a season when you’re trying to quantify improvement and trying to work with players, scoring chances are really the standard where you can compare yourself from Game 1 to Game 26.”
The topic was central to those who were arguing its interpretation. Last month, Berglund led his charges, who are hockey video coaches, in presentations at XOS Digital’s users’ conference. The coaches are customers of Thunder Hockey, the video editing program employed throughout the sport.
Video is a coaching staff’s most important asset. Before games, between periods, on postgame flights, and at home, coaches consume clips of players, systems, and situations. Pregame special-teams meetings require video. It’s the primary teaching tool for players. When a coach, for example, wants to see every four-on-four offensive-zone faceoff from his second line on the road in the second night of back-to-back games that resulted in a chance, those clips are clicks away.
Video would not be maximized without the coaches who keep things humming. They are the anonymous but critical cogs whose tans come from the laptops, monitors, and tablets they consider their permanent companions. They enter data throughout a game and well after its conclusion. Programs like Thunder Hockey grant its users rich layers of video-complemented information for organizations to access.
Lawrence Feloney, Jeremy Coupal, and JP Buckley (Nashville) were present. So were Mario Leblanc (Montreal), Zach Ziegler (Los Angeles), and Brett Heimlich (San Jose). There were representatives from the AHL (Ryan Costello, Milwaukee) and NCAA (Dan Darrow, UMass-Lowell).
They work in an ever-flowing game that does not lend itself to defined moments. Baseball is a straightforward game to track. There are distinct events: pitches, swings, hits.
Hockey has events too: faceoffs, retrievals, and zone entries. But like a scoring chance, each event is open to interpretation. It’s the responsibility of the video man, with guidance from his coaches, to flag the important events the staff can review later.
A goal may not happen without a good shot, a crisp setup, a clean offensive-zone entry, a won puck battle on the wall, or a successful D-to-D pass. The video coach must identify and mark each of these plays. Some video coaches consider 700 events per game worth tracking. Others see more than 1,000.
The process is called logging. Berglund, formerly the Bruins’ video coach, has shortcuts on his keyboard for important events. Each time he presses a button, he’s logging an event. As the game progresses, the events pile up. Because of hockey’s speed, video coaches regularly fall behind real-time play. They catch up during TV timeouts. All these entry points give the staff defined markers that could provide intelligence in subsequent viewings.
Consider a simple dump-in. For a video coach, it’s far from simple.
A defenseman retrieves the puck while an opposing forward forechecks. The defenseman turns it over. The opponent gets a chance.
In this scenario, which takes seconds to unfold, there are multiple events to log: retrieval, pressure situation, turnover, defensive-zone coverage, scoring chance against.
A good video coach logs all those events and identifies the players involved. He grades the quality of the chance. He notes the locations where mistakes happened.
During intermission, an assistant can call up the play, identify what went wrong, and make the corrections. A bad video coach misses those events. What might have been a teaching clip between periods is lost.
The work continues after games and during offdays. Coaches can view clips and write comments on plays and players. They can rate players’ shift quality.
The point of all this is that when a staff can’t figure out why a 30-point player only has five after 20 games, they fire up their laptops. If the quality of the data is good, coaches can run a filter and compile, for example, every even-strength shift the player has taken that’s resulted in a chance.
But good data depends on good information. If a staff can’t agree on how to rate a chance, the video coach won’t know which ones to log and which to ignore.
The Kings used to have this issue. Postgame, the coaches review every chance. Often, they’d argue about the quality of each chance.
Their solution was simple. Each coach grades each chance on a 1-to-5 scale. Ziegler classifies each chance by its average between coach Darryl Sutter and his assistants. So whenever the staff wants to watch a good chance later in the season, they have a number to guide them.
“As video guys, our job is to make sure coaches can find stuff quick,” Berglund said. “They might have a great idea. If they can’t pull it up, they abandon it. It’s our job to make sure they have that ability to take that and run with it, even in February when the wick is short on the ambition flame.”
Hockey, on the ice or in the coaches’ office, can be chaotic. Video settles down the noise. But it still requires a human touch to get it right.
Bruins can expect more from Eriksson
Of all the mediocre statistics from Loui Eriksson’s first season in Boston, one was especially disappointing: 115 shots. It was the second fewest Eriksson landed on goal in a full season since his rookie year in 2006-07, when he recorded 78 shots. Eriksson averaged 1.89 shots per game, again the lowest since his rookie season (1.32). In 2008-09, when he scored a career-high 36 goals, Eriksson recorded a 20.2 shooting percentage.
Eriksson was two things in 2008-09: good and lucky. Last season, he was the opposite when he scored just 10 goals in 61 games. He didn’t adjust well to his new team. He dropped off the second line. He went down with two concussions. Toward the end, Eriksson finally showed how he’ll play as a second-year Bruin.
Even if Eriksson shoots as little as he did last season, the ex-Star should still score at least 15 goals based on his 13.6 career shooting percentage. But it’s highly unlikely his shot totals will be so low.
Eriksson is healthy. He’s adjusted to his new team. He doesn’t shy away from going to the black-and-blue areas. He’s strong on the puck. And he’ll be playing on a scoring line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, who are both good passers. Expect at least 20 goals from Eriksson this season.
Numbers are similar but situations different
They are both products of the 2010 draft. They are top-line, right-shot franchise centers. But while Tyler Seguin is under contract through 2019 at $5.75 million annually, Ryan Johansen is without a deal for this season.
On Wednesday, Blue Jackets president John Davidson practically held a megaphone when pulling behind the curtain on negotiations. During a camp-opening news conference, Davidson revealed Columbus’s three offers: two years at $6 million, six years at $32 million, and eight years at $46 million. Davidson noted that the six-year offer was better than Dallas’s second contract for Jamie Benn (five years, $26.25 million), the best left wing in the league.
This degree of public negotiation is rare. It indicates Columbus’s displeasure with Kurt Overhardt, Johansen’s agent, and the disagreement between the parties. This kind of airing out only takes places on summer clotheslines.
“It’s nowhere near — nowhere near — what they want,” Davidson said. “When it gets to that point, you start going, ‘You know, enough’s enough here.’ We’re trying to do the right thing for our organization. We’re trying to be very fair to a good young man in Ryan Johansen. He’s got a bright future here. We’re trying to do the right thing. All we’re getting is, ‘No, no, no, no.’ ”
The Bruins extended Seguin before the start of the third and final year of his entry-level contract. At the time, Seguin had scored 40 goals and 49 assists in 155 games. Seguin averaged 0.48 even-strength points per game.
In hindsight, the Bruins were correct. Based on his breakout first season in Dallas, Seguin’s deal will be a below-market contract.
Johansen’s entry-level contract has expired. His numbers aren’t out of whack with Seguin’s: 189 games, 47 goals, 49 assists, 0.38 even-strength points per game. Johansen is trending on Seguin’s track.
Second contracts, however, are tricky. The Bruins learned that the hard way.
The belief in this corner of the press box is they gave Seguin the extension too soon. They rushed to extend Seguin before the lockout door closed in the fall of 2012, following the example set by Carolina with Jeff Skinner and Edmonton with Taylor Hall. They didn’t make Seguin earn his second deal.
The trade was a kick to the gut that helped Seguin wake up and become the player he is now. If Seguin continues at this pace, he’ll have a plaque in a former bank building in Toronto.
The Jackets are in a slightly different position. Johansen needs a new deal now. The Jackets can’t wait to gain more intelligence on Johansen to project his future.
The best solution for both parties is a short-term extension. This will get Johansen back into the market sooner for a bigger payday. If the Jackets still have questions about Johansen’s future performance, this will protect their interests.
After surgery, Horton not 100 percent back
The Blue Jackets did not give ex-Bruin Nathan Horton the full green light to start camp. Horton is coming off a back injury. It’s unknown whether he will be ready for the season opener on Oct. 9 against Buffalo. Horton has had nothing but injury issues since signing his seven-year, $37.1 million blockbuster with Columbus. Horton didn’t play last season until Jan. 2 because of shoulder surgery to repair the damage done during a fight with then-Penguin Jarome Iginla. Horton then went down with an abdominal injury on April 8 that required surgery. He did not appear in the playoffs against Pittsburgh. Core and back injuries aren’t like a broken finger. These are troublesome setbacks for a right wing who needs to play with pace and physicality to succeed.
Not enough to go around
On Thursday, following the annual State of the Bruins season ticket-holder event at TD Garden, owner Jeremy Jacobs cited Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci as players who progressed through the cap system before hitting their big-ticket contracts. “Krejci, Patrice, and the rest, they went through the same matriculation,” Jacobs said. “There’s times you get paid very well and times you don’t. It’s the way the system is built.” The difference, however, is the Bruins had more cap space when extending Bergeron and Krejci. Bergeron scored a five-year, $23.75 million second contract. The Bruins gave Krejci a three-year, $15.75 million extension out of entry level. Reilly Smith and Torey Krug don’t deserve such raises. Smith had a 13.7 shooting percentage last season, a big jump from 8.8 percent in 2012-13. Krug scored 19 of his 40 points on the power play. Even if they did, that money’s just not available. It’s a tough situation. They shouldn’t accept low-market contracts to help solve the Bruins’ problems. But they’re also no-rights players. A trade to free up cap space is the best solution before they re-up.
Harding has hit the wall
Josh Harding did not do himself or his employer any favors. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Harding broke his foot kicking a wall during an off-ice incident and is out indefinitely. Because of the nature of his non-hockey injury, the Minnesota goalie was suspended and will not draw his salary while he heals. Harding’s actions forced management to sign Darcy Kuemper to a two-year, one-way extension. The Wild had been pushing for a two-way contract for Kuemper, who was a restricted free agent. The Wild also extended a tryout invitation to Ilya Bryzgalov. The Wild are improving. They have heads of state in Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Ryan Suter. They have complementary players in Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund. They didn’t need any more uncertainty in goal, where Niklas Backstrom has an injury history.
Kendrick Nicholson and Garrett Rank will make their NHL debuts as referees this season. The 32-year-old Nicholson is coming from the AHL. Rank, 27, blew whistles in the OHL last season. Nicholson and Rank have many miles to skate before catching up to leader Paul Devorski, who enters this season with 1,523 games of NHL refereeing experience . . . Jacobs, who is also the chairman of the NHL’s board of governors, does not foresee the league adding new clubs. “There may be expansion that makes sense,” Jacobs said. “But it’s not going to happen tomorrow or the near term.” Either via expansion or relocation, the league must fix the imbalance between the East (16 teams) and West (14) . . . Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Jose started camp without a captain. Montreal will have two permanent alternates in Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec, while P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty will share the third “A.” Ottawa could follow the same model. Because of the turnover in Buffalo and Florida, it’s unlikely either will have a full-time captain. In Columbus and San Jose, Brandon Dubinsky and Logan Couture are the leading candidates to wear the “C.” . . . The Oilers hired former professional figure skater David Pelletier as their skating coach on Wednesday. The 39-year-old Pelletier won an Olympic gold medal in 2002. As an advocate of employing skating coaches, this corner gives the Oilers a stick salute.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.