Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Quick Hits: The Boston Model

Jason Botchford wrote a bonus episode of the Provies tonight, and I tweeted some things about it. I'd like to elaborate on these things a bit, but first here's what I said:

And now, in the style of Elliotte Friedman, here are 12 Thoughts:

  1. I like toughness. I really do. Despite fawning over Jamie Benn over Twitter, my favourite NHL player is Milan Lucic. I saw him lead the Vancouver Giants to the 2006-07 Memorial Cup, and my lasting memory from that run was this shift in which he flattened two Medicine Hat Tigers and facepunched a third. At the same time, his toughness kinda distracts people from what makes him an effective hockey player. He moves the puck extremely effectively, sees the ice well, makes smart passes, and is able to possess the puck in the attacking zone. There are plenty of other guys that can punch faces in the NHL and minor leagues, and there are plenty of guys who can blow people up with hits. The thing that separates Milan Lucic is that he's really good at hockey.
  2. Full disclosure: the moment that Jamie Benn entered my heart as a hockey fan was when he fought Jarome Iginla in 2010 and split Iginla open pretty good. Hockey fights are fun, but they're not necessary for success.
  3. Back to the Bruins. When the "Boston model" is differentiated with the "Detroit model," it's pretty safe to assume that people are contrasting on the basis of perceived team identity. Detroit has the perception of a small, skillful team, whereas Boston is seen as a bit of a Broad Street Bullies throwback. The reality, however, is that both teams are/were remarkably similar in their heydays. When Detroit was at it's post-lockout peak, they had a generational talent on defense who had the puck all the time, one of the best 1-2 punches at centre in the league, and were able to fill in the gaps with exceptional drafting that allowed them to win in the margins. What's really important is that first and foremost, both teams were really good at hockey.
  4. It's funny to me that Patrice Bergeron is brought up as an example of a player that analytics doesn't really appreciate enough, because I think the reality is that analytics appreciate both him and David Krejci as hockey players a whole hell of a lot more than the MSM seems to.
  5. To me, singling out the "Boston model" indicates that ownership isn't looking at the "really good at hockey" part of the Bruins though. This is what worries me. If they were intent on building a strong feeder system for the Canucks, re-vamping the draft process, and becoming a team that was really good at hockey, it wouldn't matter if they followed the "Detroit model" or the "Boston model" since both are essentially the same in terms of stuff that matters. 
  6. I see Botch's comments (particularly the "from bullied to bully" one) as hinting that ownership wants a "big and tough" team. Well, Toronto wanted to get tougher over the offseason so they went out and got Bolland and Clarkson. Buffalo didn't want to be bullied anymore so they traded for Steve Ott and signed John Scott. Washington thought they needed to play a more grinding-type game so they made Bruce Boudreau play the trap before firing him.
  7. San Jose, conversely, has stuck to their guns and are a cup contender once again. Yeah they haven't won the cup, but the others are a steaming pile of garbage and bottom feeders in a worse conference. I'd rather be a contender than just suck. "Let's go get TOUGHER" has yet to work.
  8. I'm not sure what to think of the Bruins. On the one hand, you can't argue with a Stanley Cup. On the other, you totally can. They have managed to trade away Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Seguin all in the past decade and remain one of the top-3 highest scoring teams at 5v5 for the last 3 full seasons and 4 of the last 5. Basically since David Krejci became a 1C, Patrice Bergeron fully recovered from his concussion issues, and Claude Julien became the coach. Those guys they traded are two top-5 NHL scorers and another guy who would still lead their team in points this season. How many other teams could have withstood that?
  9. Offensive talent is the hardest thing to acquire in this NHL. This is why guys who score a lot get the biggest contracts. I don't think you ever "win" a deal in which you give up a star, and the Bruins have done that three times (although only twice under Chiarelli). In that sense, they're incredibly fortunate to be where they are, and also incredibly fortunate that guys like Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci, and Marchand have all over-performed their draft position. With the benefit of hindsight, those guys all should have been top-10 or top-15 draft picks in their years.
  10. I'm hesitant to call this "good scouting" or "good drafting" though because after Marchand in 2006, the Bruins scouts have yet to find a single legitimate NHLer outside of the first round, and only Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton have made the NHL at all. They dug up 5 core pieces between '03 and '06, and found nothing in the 5 years before or the 7 since. On the whole, that's not a stellar record.
  11. I've tossed around the idea of GM PDO a few times on Twitter, and it may apply to Boston. Have the Bruins figured out exactly the right thing to value in a hockey player, or did they get lucky because a small handful of guys with stuff they valued turned out to be really good at hockey too? I mean, Milan Lucic had 19 points in his draft year and could hardly skate at a CHL level. I honestly doubt that the Bruins really foresaw him turning into a legitimate NHL 1st line power forward.
  12. If this is the case, is it even possible to model your franchise after the Bruins? Many of the teams who have set out in search of toughness have failed spectacularly in becoming good. What made the Bruins different? Well, they signed the best defenseman post-Lidstrom and Pronger and got hit on a handful of mid-round draft picks in quick succession. I'm not sure that this is really a viable long-term strategy.
I'm not saying that Bruins management are just lucky and not smart (they have made some very shrewd pickups), but they are where they are because they have found good hockey players, not ones that are just tough and rugged and big. Emulating just toughness is just setting yourself up for failure. Vancouver's emphasis should be on finding good hockey players, regardless of size, facepunching ability, or perceived character flaws, and ss long as the Canucks' focus is not on getting really good at hockey, I fear for the direction of this franchise.

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