Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Applying Playing Styles/Clustering To The Flyers

If you are a hockey fan, you should read Ryan's post from today. Stop reading this, open that link in a new window, and read it from start to finish. It's probably going to end up being a huge piece for hockey's internet community, if for no other reason than it creates a SHIT TON of possibilities for expansion.

The nuts and bolts is simple: like EA Sports NHL, most players fall into four major categories:

  • Forwards: Playmaker, Shooter, Balanced, and Dependent
  • Defensemen: All-Around, Volume Shooter, Puck-Mover, Defensive
There are obviously some ways to nit-pick those groups (and perhaps dividing them even further is next up on Ryan's to-do list), but according to his notes there are pretty even cuts for those eight groups. 

Before we jump into applying this to a Flyers context, I want to note that there are only 54 Playmakers, 69 Shooters, 41 Volume Shooters, and 11 All-Arounds. I was curious who those All-Around guys were, so here's the list:
  • Obviously: Doughty, Karlsson, Keith, Pietrangelo, Letang, Hedman
  • Okay That Makes Sense:  Tyson Barrie, TJ Brodie, Hampus Lindholm,Keith Yandle
  • Wait What: Derrick Pouliot, Jakub Nakladal, Jamie McBain, Shea Theodore, Tyler Wotherspoon
We're going to let ourselves get sidetracked really early on in this piece because how the fuck are those five guys among the best statistical defensemen in the league?
  • Pouliot: Played 34, 22, and 10 games the last three years with Pittsburgh. Used very sparingly and sheltered heavily. 
  • Nakladal: Played 27 games with Calgary last year and 3 games with Carolina this year. He kind of stinks, I think. 
  • McBain: Played 348 games in 8 seasons. Scored 92 points in his first five seasons but just 18 since (including 0 in just 3 games this year). 
  • Theodore: Played 50 games for Anaheim between last year and this year, scored 8 points each season. He should almost certainly have more this year, though, because he's shooting just 1.9%. He's probably the best of this bunch.
  • Wotherspoon: This was just a fake name that I made up. 
That little subquest means we're going to allow ourselves the ability to tweak who the model says qualifies for each category. The most obvious, from the Flyers fan's perspective, is Ivan Provorov. He's technically a Defensive Defenseman (the worst of the four categories), but we're going to move him to Puck Mover because he's been (1) stapled to Andrew MacDonald and (2) faced with the toughest competition of the team's blueline. Fair? Good. 

Here's who the Flyers will be icing next season:

Playmaker: Giroux
Shooter: Voracek, Simmonds, Konecny
Balanced: Filppula, Couturier, Schenn, Raffl, Weise, Bellemare, Lindblom
Dependent: Read, Cousins, Laughton, Leier, Vecchione

All-Around: Nobody
Volume Shooter: Gudas, Gostisbehere, Del Zotto
Puck-Mover: Provorov, Sanheim, Myers
Defensive: Manning, MacDonald, Morin

A few notes:
  • Considering Schenn is near the top of the league leaderboard for power play goals and Lindblom is near the top of the league in Sweden, I wouldn't be surprised them to classify themselves more as Shooters than Balanced next season
  • I was tempted to move Provorov straight into the All-Around (read: Elite) category, but keeping him as a Puck Mover seems like the safe move
  • Sanheim and Myers, if they develop into anything like what they should be as professionals, should both fall in the Shooter or Puck Mover category. Based on the qualifications listed in Ryan's post, I think Puck Mover might make more sense for both of them. 
  • Morin could be a Gudas-type Shooter, but given that he's only just making his NHL debut tonight, it's tough to say for certain. We'll take the safe route there too. 
Really, the most valuable piece of Ryan's work published today is the way the different player archetypes interact when paired together: 


Playmakers are the most valuable thing you can have when constructing an NHL roster. All-Around defensemen are best when paired with Shooters - not when paired with other All-Around defensemen. 

The best the Flyers can do with their lineup is something like this on offense:

Playmaker - Shooter - Shooter (55.1% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Balanced (51.5% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Shooter (50.9% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Dependent (45.4% xG)

I'm going to say something really crazy here. This is a point to Dave Hakstol for pairing Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny, at different times, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde. If he believed that PEB and CVV were Balanced and not Dependent (which would be stupid, but stay with me), then it's better to put them with a shooter than it is to put them with a Dependent (read, in this context, as "someone even worse than they are"). 

If and/or when Jake Voracek earns his contract and crosses the threshold from Shooter to Playmaker (less shots, more shot assists, more overall expected goals), then you can change the second player on the first line to green and change that line's xG to 55.4%. It's not a huge difference. What would be a huge difference would be replacing that Dependent on the fourth line with a Balanced player or a Shooter. That could be Cousins/Laughton/Leier making a leap, or it could be a rookie developing quicker than expected, or it could be another Dale Weise-type free agent signing. 

And on defense:

Volume Shooter - Volume Shooter (54.5% xG)
Puck Mover - Volume Shooter (51.1% xG)
Puck Mover - Volume Shooter (51.5% xG)

If and/or when Ivan Provorov establishes himself in the All-Around category, then change that first D-slot to green and change the first pair's xG to 56.5%. 

Here's my best case scenario Flyers lineup for next season. If players develop like they should and Hextall keeps (what we expect to be) the same roster, this could be your opening night lineup:

Konecny - Giroux - Simmonds (55.1% xG)
Lindblom - Filppula -Voracek (55.0% xG)
Raffl - Couturier - Schenn (51.5% xG)
Bellemare - Vecchione - Cousins (51.5% xG)

Provorov - Gudas (56.5% xG)
Sanheim - Morin (51.1% xG)
Gostisbehere - Myers (51.1% xG)

That's four lines and three pairs that can hold their own at even strength, plus the following buckets of special teams players:
  • PP forwards: Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula, Konecny, Raffl, Couturier, Lindblom
  • PP defensemen: Gostisbehere, Provorov, Sanheim, Myers, Gudas
  • PK fowards: Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier, Filppula, Raffl, Bellemare
  • PK defensemen: Gudas, Morin, Provorov, and then I guess throw one of the offensive guys to the wolves? Idk this isn't my job
Big night tonight - Sammy Morin making his NHL debut against those scumbag shits from New Jersey. I'll see you out there. 

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