I guess it’s the first month. We’re through the first week of November now really and the season started in the first week of October, so let’s just go with that. Anyway, time for us to look at some numbers, and then beyond that to the meaning of the numbers, and then decide the numbers have no meaning.
That’s the Hawks Corsi-against per 60 minutes at even-strength, and their expected-goals-against per 60 this season. The first is the third-worst mark in the league. The second is the second-worst. And both are either worse or exactly the same as last season. I’m going to get more heavily into this when we record the podcast tonight (so tune in! promotion!), but clearly this is not what’s supposed to happen. The acquisitions of Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta were specifically to keep this from happening. And it hasn’t happened. There are reasons for this, and again, podcast tonight we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of it. But this isn’t the sign of a team moving forward. And this isn’t a team adapting to a new style again, because as we all know at this point…MAGIC TRAINING CAMP. This is just who they are, which is a team that essentially never has the puck and is giving up not just a lot of attempts but a lot of good ones as well.
Now, these numbers will calm down shortly because October hockey is very open while everyone establishes position and then it calms down when everyone gets bored. But still, fresh out of camp this is not what anyone thought we would see, at least inside the building.
And these are the “for” numbers in the same category, which are both down from last year. And again, this is October when things are more open and offense should be easier to find. You can find all sorts of mitigating factors here, but I would pin this on Jonathan Toews being a ghost most of the season, mismatched lines every game, and the lack of any puck-moving d-men now that Erik Gustafsson isn’t sort of pretending to be one anymore (more on him in a second). We accepted long ago that the Hawks wouldn’t be good defensively, but we thought it might be ok, or at least entertaining, because they would create a lot, too. But they don’t. They’re a middling offense in these terms. And I guess we’re starting to see that last year’s offense was more the product of individual brilliance from Kane, Top Cat, and Toews, than anything structural. Which we already kind of knew but tried to be in denial about. Well, Toews and DeBrincat haven’t been at that level, and here’s what you get.
Those are Duncan Keith’s relative marks in Corsi-percentage and expected-goals percentage, which are miles above what he’s been the past four seasons. The first mark would be the best of his career in fact, though a large part of that is due to the Hawks being a so much worse even-strength and possession team now. It’s hard to be that far above the mark when your team is at 55%-58% as the Hawks were once upon a time. Same with the xG% as well.
Still, Keith has done this with a variety of partners as we’ve seen, and it was fair to question if he still could or if he still even wanted to.
The problem is that Keith is averaging more than a minute at even-strength more of time than he has since 2012 (!) and overall is averaging more than two minutes per game than last year. Yes, we all know about Keith’s freakish physical endurance but he’s still 36. This can’t really continue.
This is where I really get frustrated with the analytic community. There was some cry from them when Jeremy Colliton scratched Erik Gustafsson in Los Angeles. Garbage like this:
The Blackhawks’ data must be pretty next level to justify scratching their best defenseman. https://t.co/eWNFYC8D8m
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) November 2, 2019
The above numbers are Erik Gustaffson’s CF% and xG% this year, which are terrible. And yes, if you were to blend them with all 82 games from last year, his numbers would still look good compared to the rest of the defense. Because that was 82 games of sample and this was 11. And yet anyone who has actually watched Gus this year knows he’s looked a lot like that campsite after the Pikers leave in Snatch.
Secondly, you have to take all of these numbers with a grain of salt, because hockey analytics has yet to weight these things with zone starts. Or they haven’t in a way I’ve seen, and feel free to show me on Twitter. Gustafsson started 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone last year. Same as this year. It’s actually harder to give up more chances and attempts against that way, because of the distance you’d have to travel.
Sure, winning faceoffs and the type of forechecking forwards who are there play into it as well, but the numbers on Gus don’t tell the whole story. Watching him, you know he doesn’t get you from one zone to the other, at least the right way. He’s too slow. He’s a decent passer, but rarely can open the space up for himself to do that. His skill, at least from dim memory, is making things happen when you’re already in the offensive zone. And that has value, but it’s not the same as being a puck-mover.
This is not a “WATCH THE GAME, NERDS” decree, but it becomes rather obvious when you’re not watching the games at all. Yes, their arguments would be that 11 games this year shouldn’t outweigh the 82 from last year because one suggests more what the player Gustafsson is. But how many games does a coach need to wait before officially confirming his player is playing like horseshit? 15? 20? To me, Gus was that bad and his scratching totally justified.
We can blend our stats and our eyes, people.