We’re six months from the Kraken drafting a team, so why not relaunch a mailbag that gained good traction before the COVID-19 pandemic hit?
Yeah, I know. They need a coach. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Q: @The_blakeshow88 asked: Hey Geoff who are some top coaching candidates and what are the differences in play style between them?
A: Gerard Gallant, Bruce Boudreau and Mike Babcock are the highest-profile coaches available. Gallant led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their expansion season playing a high-octane style, with tremendous forechecking and solid defense. That’s what you expect expansion teams to do — outwork rather than out-skill everybody. Players loved him.
Boudreau emphasized a similar style and physical play, though his teams weren’t as strong defensively. They could, however, put pucks in the net — at least when he had Alex Ovechkin in Washington. In Minnesota, his less talented Wild cycled around the net without finding the back of it. He’s enjoyed more regular-season than playoff success, though that might be all the Kraken needs early on.
Babcock was a Cup-winning “role” coach preaching a puck-possession game. Like in football, each player gets a job to do, and if they all mesh the system works. And it worked for a long time. The criticism after his Toronto firing was that Babcock was mentally abusive on some players, especially younger, offensive-minded ones whose creativity required more freelancing. He’ll get another chance someplace. I just doubt the Kraken wants the PR hassle.
I don’t see the Kraken picking an “up-and-comer” AHL coach, though Kevin Dineen in San Diego is a former teammate of Kraken GM Ron Francis, has NHL head-coaching experience and favors a strong defensive game while allowing for more offensive creativity than Babcock.
And until Rod Brind’Amour’s contract is extended by Carolina, he’s my No. 1 Kraken candidate. Brind’Amour is a “player’s coach” (he’s in better physical shape than 95% of players), obsessive about work ethic and leans toward a dump-and-chase style where heavy-crashing forwards overpower opponents for the puck.
Q: @MarcSheehan006 asked: Who are the top draft prospects at this time, and how much harder is it to scout the juniors and collegians under the current playing conditions?
A: Well, there’s a great chance the Kraken uses its top-six overall pick on a player from the University of Michigan. If the Kraken wins the draft lottery, a possible No. 1 overall is 6-foot-6 Wolverines defenseman Owen Power. Otherwise his teammate, center Kent Johnson from British Columbia, is potentially a top-five pick, as is American-born Wolverines center Matthew Beniers — who just won gold for Team USA at the world juniors. As you mentioned, it’s tougher to scout because many prospects haven’t played in a while, but the world juniors were a good gauge of how some stack up.
The Kraken scouted that tourney and European leagues, where top juniors such as defenseman Carson Lambos are playing to hone skills. A team probably can’t go wrong taking defenseman Luke Hughes from the U.S. National Development Team Program — given his brothers, Jack and Quinn, are highly regarded young NHL players. Otherwise, the Kraken and others will rely on computer projections to simulate where payers might be if not for COVID-19 shutdowns.
Q: @rjarnoldsafe asked: Can you provide an overview of some of the common statistics and analytical metrics used in hockey, what they mean and how to interpret them?
A: On the real basic side for position players, you’ve got Plus/Minus (+/-) — the differential between goals scored and allowed by a player’s team when he is on the ice. Not perfect, but players with heavy plusses tend to be good, and those with heavy minuses usually are liabilities.
Advanced metrics such as “Corsi Percentage” — aka Shot Attempt Percentage (SAT%) — similarly measures shots taken by a player’s team while he is on the ice. The more shots the better, because it generally leads to more goals.
For goalies, basic Goals Against Average (GAA) measures goals allowed per 60-minute game. Below 3.00 is very good. A slightly better stat is Save Percentage (SV%), measuring shots on net that don’t go in. Anything worse than .900 — meaning you stopped 90% of shots — gets goalies benched. Still, this isn’t always fair to goalies on bad teams that give up 40 shots per game.
A better, more-advanced stat, Adjusted Save Percentage (SV%+), takes into account where shots actually came from and how dangerous they were. A goalie facing a lot of close-range shots expected to go in won’t get penalized as much, and those making easy, long-range saves won’t grade as highly.
Q: @bdgiddens6 asked: Thank you for the much-needed hockey coverage. (1) As fans looking to prepare for the expansion/prospect draft, what other publications or Twitter follows do you recommend? (2) Did you play hockey growing up, & if so, who were your teams? (3) Do you follow the WHL very closely?
A: My playing career? Like Ken Dryden’s, too short. Unlike Dryden’s, not very good. I played football in Montreal. The sports overlapped, so I didn’t play organized hockey until ages 14 and 15 at a non-travel level. That said, it was Montreal, so I played year-round street hockey from age 5 on. I attended my first junior games in 1984 watching Mario Lemieux with my hometown Laval, Quebec, team. I still try to see WHL games when time allows, which isn’t often.
A fun story: My first paid beat-writing gig was following a 16-Under elite team in Montreal backstopped by future Minnesota Wild goalie Manny Fernandez — which lost the national semifinal to an Alberta squad coached by Ken Hitchcock. The coach of the team I covered was Blair MacKasey, who’d occasionally even drive me to road games. Once, standing together rink-side at a lower-tier 16-under All-Star game in 1991, he pointed out a smallish player. “He could be a star in our league right now,” MacKasey told me. The player? Martin St. Louis, now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Another fun story: A dozen years later while covering baseball for the Toronto Star, they had me fill in at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championship in Nova Scotia, where teenager Sidney Crosby debuted for Team Canada. Canada’s coach? None other than MacKasey — quite surprised when I walked up after his first news conference.
Here are some top hockey follows, including several colleagues from my Toronto days. Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) of The Athletic occasionally did baseball during his Canadian Press years. My Toronto Star desk was next to Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell), now a columnist for The Hockey News. Hockey Night in Canada host Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) and I attended the same Montreal-area summer camp in 1986 when I was a counselor and he was a counselor in training (our groups staged a vicious, blood-filled floor hockey grudge match). Friedman was the first media member to greet me when I arrived in Toronto in 1998 and immediately brought up the game. He regularly covered baseball, as did current HNIC studio host David Amber (@DavidAmber).
All of them are very plugged in to the NHL, as is TSN’s Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) from the Philadelphia area. Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) of Sportsnet was just starting out in Toronto when I worked there, but he’s now a regular HNIC intermission fixture. Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) of ESPN writes interesting NHL features and Katie Strang (@KatieJStrang) of The Athletic is an investigative reporter, but still quite hockey focused.