Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Professional scouting within the NHL, terrible or just inadequate?

The little I know of Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau suggests he’s a pretty good guy and a pretty good coach. A career minor leaguer as both a player and bench boss, he came up to the bigs mid-year last fall and turned around the Caps’ season, making a bunch of good decisions and few poor ones to do so. He was rewarded with Coach of the Year honors and some well-deserved attention. He loves to talk and often has something interesting or funny or both to say about the game and his team. With the Capitals rarely venturing out in Western Canada, giving those folks few opportunities to see Alex Ovechkin in the flesh, Boudreau had a what I imagine was an extended interview session with a swarm of press before last night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The topic of Ovechkin vs. Flames’ rearguard Dion Phaneuf came up (the two play similarly punishing styles and have a history against each other, with Ovechkin famously leveling Phaneuf twice on one shift the last time they met in the NHL). Boudreau said something so unbelievably right-sounding but so unbelievably wrong that I was left shaking my head in disgust and bewilderment:

"I can guarantee they're going to put Phaneuf out on the ice every time Alex is out there," Boudreau said. "We just have to see how that works out. That's what makes Alex, Alex. I don't want to change him."

Anyone who has been paying even a modicum attention to the Calgary Flames for over the past year (which I would hope includes the subset of people who coach a hockey team that is less than 8-hours from playing said Calgary Flames) should know that Phaneuf is not charged with the task of playing against the opponent’s top-line. That task goes to Robyn Regehr and his partner, Cory Sarich. Yes, Phanuef’s quality of competition has improved since he entered the league and he no longer gets third-pair minutes and assignments, but it is clear and incontestable that Regehr is the first choice to play against the other team’s star offensive players. Shouldn’t Bruce Boudreau know that? If the Caps are playing the Flames, shouldn’t at least someone in the Caps’ professional scouting department tell the head coach who Ovechkin is going to face?

Sure enough, Ovechkin did not see much of Phaneuf at even-strength, despite Boudreau’s uninformed prediction. The two were on the ice for only 2.6 of Ovechkin’s 12.7 ES minutes. Ovechkin saw more of 4 other Flames defenseman (Sarich, Regehr, Vendermeer, and Acoin) than Phaneuf. Why aren’t teams spending the 10-minutes it takes to have this information before games? And why is Boudreau making garauntees regarding subjects he clearly knows nothing about? This increases my worry that Nylander will not be getting back with Semin or on the first PP anytime soon.


Sir Fantastic said...

somebody loves their hockey. not sure what most of the words in that post meant, but I just read "Moneyball" this year even though it came out 5 years ago. it really shocked me to learn how many uniformed people are running baseball clubs with payrolls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. so makes sense it's happening in hockey too.

rananda said...

and baseball people are miles ahead of hockey in statistical analysis too. moneypuck is growing, though i dont think the game lends itself to the same level of utility that it does in baseball.