DC Hockey Analytics Conference Presentations

Thank you to all who attended the DC Hockey Analytics Conference (#DCHAC) and watched via livestream. While there were some technical difficulties that prevented us from recording all of the presentations, we did manage to salvage a good portion of them. Here they are, as well as all of the slides.

Arik Parnass – Opening Comments & Introduction to Analytics

Slides: Intro to Analytics

Analytics in Journalism Panel (Vogel, Press, Greenberg):

Rob Vollman – History of Statistical Analysis in Hockey:

Slides: History Of Stats In Hockey

Timo Seppa – Applying Analytics and Microstats to NCAA Hockey: An Updated Look:

Slides: Quinnipiac Presentation

Jack Han – Birds of a Feather: Implementing Analytics at the McGill Martlets Hockey Program:

Slides: Birds of a feather

Ryan Stimson – Shot Sequencing: Measuring Quality Possession Through Passing Metrics:

Slides: Pass Sequencing Presentation

Panel Session 1:

Arik Parnass – Playoff Series Score Effects and the Power of Loss Aversion:

Micah Blake McCurdy – Does Ice Time Distribution Drive Score Effects?:

Slides: McCurdy Slides

Moneypuck – Evaluating NHL Draft Prospects: A Historical Cohort Based Approach:

Slides: Evaluating NHL Draft Prospects

Panel Session 2:

Josh Smolow – Skill, Coaching, or Randomness: What Goes Into Open-Play Performance in the Offensive, Defensive, and Neutral Zones:

Slides: Skill, Coaching, or Randomness Presentation

Muneeb Alam – Zone Shift and Finish Data: Value After Leaving the Ice

Slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/115qxEDjoWdsdBX0lph6AabmrC_AhiO2_eQUhTJLASdo/edit?usp=sharing

Sam Ventura – The Highway to WAR: Defining and Calculating the Components for Wins Above Replacement:

Slides: Road to WAR Presentation

Arik Parnass – Closing Comments & Open Questions in Analytics

Slides: Closing Presentation

Zero to One: Why Attachment to Competition Hurts NHL Clubs

When Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palentir and the first outside investor in Facebook, conducts interviews, he always asks one very difficult question.

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

I’ll wait while you struggle to find an answer that suits you individually….no go ahead….okay maybe table that for later. While straightforward, it’s an incredibly difficult question both because most of the knowledge we accumulate – particularly when it comes to conventional education – is widely agreed upon, and because in an interview setting, answering it inherently involves voicing an opinion that the interviewer doesn’t share. It takes courage, and courage is something that Thiel feels is lacking.

“There is more genius out there than there is courage,” he said at a talk at Georgetown University Tuesday evening, the second time I had seen the venture capitalist talk (full disclosure, my sister is his executive assistant; it’s not a coincidence).

Now if you know anything about Thiel, you know he’s a controversial figure. He has advocated against the current American education landscape, and is known as an extreme libertarian. You kind of have to have some quirks to be as smart and successful as he is, he himself might say.

But going back to that first question, Thiel has his own answer. He believes that the two values that the American economy holds so dear, Capitalism and competition, are in fact not complements but – at least from the perspective of a business – opposites. We have an attachment to this idea of competition, and it leads people to go out and open restaurants, he jokes of essentially the least successful kind of business out there. But when you’re looking for success, you don’t want competition, you want a monopoly.

It’s something that the decision-makers in sporting organizations often don’t get. Largely composed of former players, the demographic has experienced nothing other than heated competition for most of its life, with the ideas implanted from an early age that hard work will pay off, that everybody will get their due, that it’s not about winning as much as it is about how you play the game. General Managers want to fit in more than they want to stand out. They want to be respected for their comportment more than they want to be admired for their achievements. “You always hope a trade works out for both sides,” they are known to say. They are a group not unlike that which goes to business school, which follows a path already set out for them, never quite sure if they’re doing what they want, or what somebody before them has decided is the norm.

“The word ‘ape’ comes from Shakespearian times,” Thiel mentioned in his talk. “It means both ‘primate’ and ‘to imitate.'”

Fans often accuse decision-makers of a fear of taking risks. It’s often a valid complaint; humans are risk-averse by nature. But I believe there’s another dynamic at play here as well. If I’m a GM and I look at Moneyball, I immediately tear down my entire operation, no matter the sport, and ask how we can rebuild it using Beane’s methods. As John Henry (Arliss Howard) says in the movie, “Anybody who’s not tearing their team down right now and rebuilding it using your model? They’re dinosaurs.” And yet it took more than a decade for each baseball team to take steps towards a buy-in, and every other sport is still lagging behind.

General Managers aren’t just afraid to take risks, they’re afraid to be great. They’re taught to win within the confines of the sport, when in reality it takes a complete break from convention to truly sniff greatness. Teams are now embracing analytics to varying degrees – and as I’ve mentioned a number of times before, analytics and statistics are not synonymous. But hockey is still waiting for somebody to take an aspect of the sport from 0 to 1 rather than from 1 to n, as Thiel would put it. It’s waiting for someone not to reinvent the wheel, but to create something better, something different.

It’s time for some of that courage.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: March 16 – Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

For those of you that have been following me for a while, you’ll know that I don’t throw around the term “must-read” every day. I reserve it for an article that I truly feel every person with an interest in hockey, sports, analytics — whatever it may be — has to take a look at. Take my word for it, therefore, that when I classify an article as one of the top 10 I’ve ever read, I’m not exaggerating. I would produce a list if necessary. This recent piece by Joel Achenbach is absolutely in my top 10. It is a great read on the scientific process, but it can be applied to analytics and sports and really any aspect of life.

Here are just a few excerpts from the masterpiece. It’s not too hard to draw the necessary inferences when it comes to hockey analytics.

“Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.

(Note: This relates back to what I discussed in my NHL.com article from last month. Analytics are not numbers. Analytics are a process by which one analyzes and scrutinizes data to draw conclusions.)

“Science will find the truth,” Collins says. “It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the second time, but ultimately it will find the truth.”

The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another.

The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years.

When we argue about [climate change], Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this.

“We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”

(Note: Only now is there starting to be a downside for GMs to ignoring analytics.)

Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values.

(Note: This is why people like Kyle Dubas are so important. As smart as analytics consultants are — most of whom have dense professional and educational backgrounds in statistics or engineering — it is people who come from similar backgrounds as GMs and other executives who will convince them of their fallibility and the need to scrutinize decision-making.)

“Everybody should be questioning,” says McNutt. “That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.

(Note: Amen.)

AP Hockey Story of the Day: March 4 – On the Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant and the Human Element

I’ve written about the Cubs and their growing use of analytics before at this blog, and while I thought I had, it turns out I haven’t explicitly written about the Houston Astros and their extreme uses of analytics – in essence, treating their players as exclusively products and maximizing assets without regard for morale and the slippery slope that can result from that – but others have, so I would direct you here and here if you’re not sure what this paragraph is in reference to.

Anyway, Grantland had a nice piece recently on the Chicago Cubs and the decision they will have to face with regards to their top prospect Kris Bryant. They will need to decide whether a deserving player makes the major league roster right away, or is returned to the minors so that the team can gain a year of contract control down the line. It’s an issue that in hockey hasn’t been too much at the forefront since teams will generally appease their players at the expense of cost control, and sometimes that’s fine. I mentioned briefly in this piece how if I’m the team drafting Connor McDavid he’s on my roster next year, no matter the cost down the line. It’s not worth the black eye it would cause the organization and the potential for McDavid to get upset at management just for a few million dollars of savings for one year in the future.

It’s a nuanced issue because there are borderline situations where it is defensible and even optimal to keep a player in juniors for this reason. But, as the Astros have found out, it can be important to incorporate the human element into any risk/reward and opportunity cost calculations. So if I’m the Cubs, I would think long and hard before making the decision regarding Kris Bryant this March.

Myth of Net Neutrality Would Limit Internet’s Potential

With Net Neutrality the hot topic today, in particular this article in the New York Times, I thought I’d post an op-ed I wrote about the topic for a Media Law class last semester. I can’t say I’ve stayed up to date on how the issue has evolved since the time this was written (November), so if anybody has new information they’d like to contribute, feel free to post in the comments. Here it is:


We’ve all seen it; we’ve all been captivated by it; we’ve allowed ourselves not to question it because it’s the American journalistic dream: take boring old news and make it interesting to the average consumer. John Oliver, television’s newest comedy anchor, has been great for American awareness. Unlike his contemporaries, Oliver has managed to not only entertain, but also to incite protest. The foremost example has been Oliver’s rant on Net Neutrality, in which he compelled Internet commenters to send complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, urging it to reconsider legislation that would, according to Oliver, fix a problem that doesn’t exist. And comment they did, as the FCC’s website crashed as a result of a wave of traffic the very next day.

But there was a massive oversight on the part of Oliver and his staff that critically skewed the issue and that led many — including myself, initially — to come to the wrong conclusion regarding the importance of Net Neutrality, and the necessary course of action. The focus needs to be on the market conditions surrounding Internet Service Providers and creating new incentive structures and regulations to optimize use of the internet rather than on preserving an outdated and inconvenient ideal.

Let’s start back in 2009. By then, the myth of web traffic being evenly distributed over thousands of different content providers had become just that. That year, half of all internet traffic stemmed from less than 150 large content providers, and the internet simply couldn’t function in the way it long had; it could no longer be neutral. Large providers like Google, Facebook, and Netflix began making special arrangements with ISPs to bypass the back-and-forth communications that tend to slow down Internet accessibility. In simple terms, they developed their own fast lanes. And that was it. The idea of Net Neutrality that Oliver preached so vehemently for commenters to preserve hasn’t been a reality in half a decade. Nor could it be. Today, those 150 companies providing half the content have shrunk to 30. Without a fast lane, a Netflix or an HBO would never work. There simply isn’t enough bandwidth if big content providers are forced to share with everybody else. The average start-up doesn’t have access to this fast lane, but for the most part the average start-up doesn’t need it. How do I know? Well, start-ups seem to be doing fine for themselves right now, and did anyone — did John Oliver, or any of his viewers — even know that the status quo was so different from what it was five years ago?

There is a serious issue to confront here — because the concern becomes one of escalating power and incentives for ISPs and content providers — but it isn’t about Net Neutrality at all, because Net Neutrality is neither alive nor optimal. The question is how to adjust the system such that those companies we’re all supposed to hate so much — Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, etc. — are forced to invest in increasing broadband, and are prevented from using the ability to prioritize certain content to their advantage, at the expense of consumers. “We should be asking ourselves how do we create abundance, not how do we manage and allocate scarcity,” says Blair Levin, a former FCC chief of staff. As Oliver points out in his rant, America is currently 31st in the world in download speeds, behind even Estonia, a country that Oliver characterizes as looking like they “still worry about Shrek attacks.”

But before once again painting ISPs as the bad guys with regard to this issue, consider that this is a capitalist country, and for-profit corporations like Comcast are around to make money — and more importantly, to maximize profits for shareholders. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts gets judged upon how much money he makes his company, not whether or not his customers are happy — note that those two ideas aren’t correlated in monopolies, which is one of the big problems with the current environment.

Consider the situation for Verizon, who recently invested $26 billion to provide its Fios service to 20 American cities. Only approximately 40 percent of eligible households signed up for the service, which led to a $1,350 investment from the company in each customer, something that will take years to earn back and is hardly worth it for the provider in an industry in which customers have few other cable and internet options to begin with. The situation certainly wouldn’t be any more favorable if such monopolies were forcibly dissolved; if anything, the incentives for companies like Verizon to invest in better technologies would be even fewer and farther between.

So what is the solution to this mess? It certainly doesn’t involve clinging to the “ideal” of net neutrality, which is neither the current reality nor optimal. ISPs need to be regulated ferociously, but maintaining monopolies may in fact save everybody money. The FCC needs to enact legislation that creates bidding between companies for monopolistic power in each area, with strict conditions for each winning ISP that involve heavy investment in new technologies, limits on the differences between fast and slow lanes, and price maximums for consumers. Will it be easy? No. Nothing in American politics seems to ever be so. Hopefully corporations will see this as a compromise to avoid the limits of full “net neutrality.” But this is necessary so that consumers can continue to use the Internet to its potential, and so that such potential can be expanded evermore.

Oliver was right about one thing: the system isn’t currently broken. But it is likely to run off track if we don’t take extreme action now to change the incentive structure for ISPs, who are monopolies just looking to maximize profits. Maybe a new rant is in order, John, and your “pretties” need to be made to fly once again — this time armed with the whole story.

The Deleted Section From My NHL.com Long Read

On Sunday, the NHL’s website published my long read on the place of analytics in hockey and why they are so critical. As you know if you read it, it contained a lot of material, and good for you if you managed to understand it all. It was the product of months of revising and editing, and in the end a complete section needed to be cut. I made the decision to cut that section – which focussed on evaluating defense – in order to add substance to the other sections, and because I didn’t think it entirely fit. Here is that section:


Evaluating defense is an area in which analytical findings have helped to shape perception. Conventional analysis dictates that the best players at preventing goals do so through proper positioning, good stick-work, blocking shots and hitting the opposition. Those things can be important when the other team has the puck, of course, but they don’t paint a full picture of a player’s effectiveness at preventing goals.

Phoenix Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett once discussed a particular issue he was having in analyzing his defensemen, while he was coaching in juniors.

“We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can’t move the puck.

 Then, we had another guy who supposedly couldn’t defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he’s making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he’s only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman.”

Tippett was ahead of his time in thinking about defending in a completely different way. A player that has the puck is contributing both on offense and defense at the same time. So a player can be below average without the puck in his own end, but still wind up better at preventing goals than a traditional defensive defenseman.

“Defense is the sum of actions that reduce the number of shot attempts your team surrenders over the course of a game,” explained Stephen Burtch of Sportsnet.ca.

“This can take numerous forms (breakouts, cycling, pinching) that involve a player’s team being in possession, and that may or may not translate to offense. But they definitely translate to fewer chances for the opposition which arguably makes them defensive skills and not offensive.”

The ability to keep the puck out of the defensive zone becomes especially critical when considering the role of randomness. When a player spends time in his own end, he opens up the possibility of a seeing-eye shot, or a deflection, or a fluky bounce, or just a perfect placement, resulting in a goal against. No matter how good that player — or even an entire team — might be at defending, over large samples the opposition will find holes, take advantage of lapses, and inevitably win games. Watching a player block shots and seal off passing lanes may mislead a viewer to presume that said player is having a positive effect. But playing in the defensive zone means putting yourself at the mercy of randomness. The saying that “the best players make their own luck” is true because the best players spend as little time as possible in their defensive zone, limiting shots against and thus the potential for pucks to find their way into the net.

Basing defensive evaluations mostly on defensive zone play is a flawed practice, as has been demonstrated through an analysis of years of data. Traditions die hard, however, and beliefs that conflicts with what parents, coaches, and television personalities have taught us about the sport for decades are generally dismissed.


AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 15 – Appreciating a Great Blog

Stefan Wolejszo over the past year has written at a compelling blog called “Integrating Hockey Analysis”. With a background in analyzing both qualitative and quantitative variables, and research and expertise in sociology, Stefan made some very intriguing points on how to avoid the heated analyst/purist debate that has permeated the blogosphere and Twitter over the past few years. He has also done a great job of describing ways in which a team could incorporate analysis of latent variables (often referred to as intangibles) into evaluation of players and teams.

Stefan recently concluded the blog with this great summary piece, and it’s definitely worth reading that, and if you have interest, going back through his archives as I have. While it may not have gotten the most widespread attention, these posts contain some absolutely critical bits of insight. Check them out.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 14 – On Organizational Structure, Tough Decisions, and the Southampton Way

Jacob Steinberg had a great piece in the Guardian on how top soccer teams approach managerial hirings. Lifespans for coaches these days in any sport are short, so it’s always worth having contingency plans, and finding ways to promote continuity even amongst change. Steinberg highlights the case of Southampton, where the club fired Nigel Adkins in mid-season following consecutive years of promotion and a gutsy come-from-behind draw against Chelsea. There was an uproar, but the team’s executives recognized a situation where a coach had done great things, but had brought them just about as far as he could, and where a different voice was needed to take them to the next level: enter Mauricio Pochettino. After an impressive eighth place finish, the Argentine left for Tottenham, and Southampton was prepared for that as well, with a profile in mind for the type of manager it knew it needed. Now, the low-budget Reds sit in fourth place in the top soccer league in the world; crazy things happen in european football.

The word “culture” gets thrown around a lot in hockey. It is ascribed as both a cause of defeat and a symptom of it, and is prescribed all too often as a remedy to poor on-ice performance. It has become an eye-roller in the analytics community, alongside such terms as “grit”, “leadership”,”toughness” and many more. But as with most misguided concepts, the root of it is legitimate. Over 100 of so years of NHL hockey, concepts can be twisted and manipulated such that they no longer represent the underlying truths of hockey in the 21st century, as we see with tactics like the dump and chase, and roles like the enforcer, but rarely do you see something so absurd that it contains no element of contemporary or prior relevance. The dump and chase was a necessity during the world wars, when replacement players didn’t possess the skillsets to work around stout defenders. Fighting was a necessary evil to increase ticket sales when the league was on the brink of bankruptcy, and at a time when the league did a terrible job of policing its players, it served that need as well.

Culture, too, is a concept that stems from a necessity to have players working together, moving the boat in the right direction, so to speak. When one sees that shot metrics are 50-60% repeatable, some of the variance there is certainly the result of teams and coaches being able to harness their talents properly, finding good chemistry and camaraderie along the way.

But returning to the crux of this post, and the article mentioned above, culture may be most important not amongst the players, but up the chain of command. A team’s owner, general manager, and coaching staff need to have a unified idea of how to best achieve the organization’s goals, generally to win a championship. So often, it seems that the manager is able to think long-term, with more job security, while the coach is forced to make decisions based on the here and now. But that discrepancy makes so little sense to me. Obviously, a losing streak puts pressure on the general manager to make a coaching change, but making decisions based on pressure from fans and media is a terrible approach anyway. A coach shouldn’t be worried about immediate job security because a GM shouldn’t be worried about short term results.

An owner, general manager, and coach should always be on the same page in the way in which they intend to build a team, the way in which they pledge to analyze players and decisions, and they should both understand that the GM will not fire the coach based on a losing streak. If the goal is a Stanley Cup, the coach will be evaluated on setting the team up for success in the long run, and therefore there should be no competing incentives here. The coach shouldn’t sit out young players for extended periods; the coach should play guys he will need in order to win in the playoffs; the coach should be familiar enough with analytics to understand that winning and losing individual games, and scoring goals in short series of games, is not a professional way to analyze a team’s potential to win the Stanley Cup as is.

Owners should be looking for GMs who are able to instill a consistent culture, and GMs should be looking at coaches who can do the same. There shouldn’t be an inherent fear of firing coaches who win, if they aren’t maximizing the talent available, and the signs don’t point to an ability to take the team to the next level. When owners, GMs, and coaches are all on the same page, evaluating analytically, driving the bus towards the same goal, then they’re raising the team’s ceiling, and success will usually follow.

What’s Up With the Minnesota Wild?

Analysts love to credit the Chicago Blackhawks for using analytics to survive the hardship of remaining competitive in a salary cap world. Purists prefer to blame analytics for the failures of the Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Somewhere in the middle there is the Minnesota Wild, a team that willingly acknowledged its efforts to change from a trapping, dump-and-chase behemoth to a speedy carry-in assault, building on the principles of Eric Tulsky and others, who found that controlled entries on average lead to twice as many shot attempts as purposeful dump-ins.

The Wild are a curious case because last year, they started out as an analytic darling, with some of the best possession numbers in the league. But then some of the team’s core players got hurt, and in order to survive with a roster filled with replacements, the aggressiveness had to be abandoned – or at least put to one side – and the possession numbers, unsurprisingly, tumbled.

This year, something similar happened. The Wild started out with great numbers, leading everybody to believe they were the top team that looked so impressive in challenging the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs last year, but poor goaltending led to some bad results, and as a results things started to get off track. Without more micro-analysis, in the form of zone entry tracking, for example, it’s hard to know what exactly changed. Did the Wild revert to dumping the puck in more frequently? Did they collapse farther in the defensive zone to prevent high-percentage opportunities, thanks to a distrust in their goaltenders? One factor that we do know has not played a part this time around is the injury list, as you can see from this impressive visualization courtesy of Springing Malik.


It’s hard to make claims like “the bad goaltending created a distrust that led to a tilting of the ice in the wrong direction” just because a team struggles in the second half of two seasons. But maybe that claim has some validity. On January 15, the Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Phoenix Coyotes, and the former Edmonton Oiler and Team Canada World Junior backup has been sensational, posting a .948 save percentage with four shutouts in nine games (going into a February 9th contest). If you split the Wild’s shot attempt numbers into three segments of the season, October 1-December 1 (ended by a three game stretch in which the team allowed 11 goals), December 1 to January 15 (the first game following the Dubnyk trade), and January 15 to February 8, the results are striking.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 6.54.11 PM

Obviously correlation does not equal causation, and the third sample is still small, but there might be something to the thought that poor goaltending damaged the team’s ability to effectively carry out its progressive strategy, and that the team’s psyche was damaged leading to poor play as a result of distrust. It’s not conclusive, but it’s certainly worthy of further analysis.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 2 – The Blackhawks Need to Get Creative

Jonathan Willis has a great piece at Bleacher Report today about the Chicago Blackhawks and the tough situation in which they find themselves following long extensions to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, a number of other wealthy contracts, and the fact that the salary cap is unlikely to rise as much as originally hoped. This type of situation is, of course, the result of success, as GM Stan Bowman has had to pay his players high salaries thanks to the free agent demand for players who are well-developed, put in appropriate roles, and showcase their talents in the playoffs.

Here is the chart from the article, which shows the players the Hawks have under contract, with only approximately $8 million in cap space left.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.13.48 PM

The situation is interesting to me because here we have a great team that is forced to make a lot of moves to attempt to remain competitive. This isn’t a situation we see that much in hockey – generally the bad teams try and make moves, the good teams only try to get incrementally better, since they are…well…already good, and because they don’t want to break up any supposed dressing room chemistry. But the first thing Stan Bowman’s dilemma reminds me of is the situation in Oakland with Billy Beane and the Athletics. Of course there are differences – Beane is fighting a budget, Bowman a salary cap – but the idea is similar. Going into the 2014 offseason for Beane, and the 2015 offseason for Bowman, both GMs did/will face the task of remaining competitive while cutting salary. It’s a tough situation, made more difficult when opposing managers know the hardships you face, but it is also an incredible opportunity. If I were Bowman, I wouldn’t be dreading the coming offseason. Instead, I’d be waking up every morning and thinking outside the box. “What can we do to cut salary and still extend our window?”

The biggest example of such thinking thus far in the NHL has been with the Philadelphia Flyers traded stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the same day in order to get younger, free up cap space, and to an extent change the culture (we won’t discuss Ilya Bryzgalov here because it’s not relevant but obviously that signing sabotaged those efforts). So what can Bowman do along those same lines to get younger, extend his window, but still cut salary and potentially improve?

In this case, it won’t start with the stars; Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are not going anywhere. They’re still fairly young, are outstanding players, have no character issues at this point, and there’s no Claude Giroux behind them to pick up the mantle once they’re gone. So one must look beyond that.

My first move would have come prior to the season. Recognizing Nick Leddy to be a future top pairing defenseman using analytic research, and identifying his puck moving abilities as being especially useful in the evolving NHL, I would have signed him to an RFA extension; think of the Roman Josi contract as an example of the type of structure I would seek. In order to clear cap space, I would have traded Patrick Sharp. Of course, none of this did happen, but that likely would have helped with the retooling.

I wrote a piece early on this year about how the Chicago Cubs are targeting young, drafted pitchers once they had developed just enough to get past the stage in which they were likely to bust. The idea was that a similar tact could be taken with defensemen in hockey. There are still guys out there who fit the criteria and could help a retooling team with a low salary, and I would target those guys. Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Marcus Kruger, Bryan Bickell would all be traded for younger players under team control for longer, with the ability to replace them if not next year then in the near future.

The idea would be to remain competitive next season, at least as competitive as the team would be using a conventional approach to staying under the salary cap under such conditions, but that in two years, rather than fall off the map, the team would return to the top of the standings (think Red Wings of last year versus this year, just in terms of placement).

Understanding the cyclical nature of contender status in hockey is vital to retooling. Sure, technically anybody can win who makes the playoffs, but the probabilities are stacked against a team that tries to hold on another few years with a declining core that can only get worse. Creativity is necessary to turn a contending team into a true dynasty in a salary cap world.