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Weird Hockey Strategy Vol. 1

May 8, 2019, 9:40 PM ET [38 Comments]
James Tanner
Arizona Coyotes Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The NHL season is over except for some dumb teams no one cares about, and the Carolina Hurricanes.

There hasn't been any Coyotes news in at least 5200 puncts, and I've been reading a very interesting book about hockey tactics called Tape to Space: Redefining Modern Hockey Tactics by Ryan Stimson.

It is a very interesting book in which he uses analytics to come up with new and (potentially) better hockey strategy.

This book got me thinking about many of my own ideas, and I thought I'd write about one of them today, since the Coyotes aren't doing anything that can't wait until tomorrow.

Following the Leafs this year, many fans complained about the fact that the coach would ice a stacked power-play for a minute, then switch off and bring on the second unit.

Many people, even me, were complaining that the Leafs were screwing themselves by not leaving their best players on the ice for the full two minutes.

But what if the people are wrong?

What if Babcock is half right, but still also wrong?

The NHL is a pro league and as such there is very little difference between the players. The difference between players gets smaller the closer you get to the pros, and at the NHL level we are talking marginal differences at best.

Yes, there is a big gap between star players and everyone else, but the gap between second liners and guys who can't quite stick in the show is pretty small, and probably has more to do with opportunity than skill.

This is true in so much that NHL managers take the best players, which they don't always. Some players - slow, defensive specialists and grinders - make the gap appear bigger than it should be, but if managers each iced the 18 most talented players they could find, I am guessing that the gap between the 6th and the 18th best players would be almost non-existent.

Assuming that's true - and I think it is, but let's not get bogged down - here is what I think:

The difference between a star player and a regular player at the NHL level is usually that the star player can do things in traffic and at a speed that the other player can't. I would guess that there are players who can shoot the puck as well as Ovechkin can, but can't do so in game situations.

(I originally thought of this idea when I learned that Tyler Bozak put up the same or similar P/60 on the PP last year as Auston Matthews. )

If this is true, then on the power-play where there are less players and more room, the gap between star players and everyone else should shrink.

And we know that star players have a distinct advantage over other players at 5v5.

So what if, instead of using your most talented players on special teams, you used your worst players?

What if you skated your best players exclusively at 5v5, and let your worst players man the power-play? It sounds crazy, but the extra four minutes you could use Connor McDavid 5v5 might give you team a huge advantage over the course of a season.

If Mcdavid has a bigger impact 5v5 over player x than he does on the power-play, then this would seem to be the best move. Like, if Tyler Bozak becomes Auston Matthews on the power-play, then why not save Matthews for 5v5 where 85-90% of the game occurs?

Every team has talented guys who can handle the puck that they don't use in their top six. So what if power-plays were manned by the Nic Petans and Tyler Ennises of the world, while the Auston Matthewses sat on the bench getting a rest so they could dominate when it counts.

It seems to me that the extra space on the power-play probably does a lot to equalize the skill of lesser players and elite players. Therefore, you might be able to get a 20% power-play with duds, while exponentially increasing your 5v5 powers.

A team like the Leafs could use Tavares and Matthews for almost the entire game at even-strength. This seems like it would be a huge advantage.

I would need to research this, so for now it's just a theory.
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