In my view, there’s a reason that hockey season starts at the same time as the baseball playoffs. People are supposed to be too busy living and dying with the Boston Red Sox to get caught up in whatever’s going on in the NHL. The early season NHL is filled with all sorts of craziness that tends to lead to wild swings in opinion. Reading the coverage of the early season – Mirtle dumping on the Kings goaltending, the wide spread derision poured on Bryan McCabe and the plaudits for the Philadelphia Flyers, you’d think that the Stanley Cup gets handed out in mid-November at the latest. I hate to acknowledge that Bill Simmons is correct about something, but he’s recently been pushing The Winston Wolf “Let’s Not Start Sucking Each Other’s Popsicles Yet” Test. He applies it to NFL teams where people are jumping on the bandwagon of potential playoff contenders – I think it’s more broadly applicable to any sort of unexpected early season outcome.
(As an aside, I think that it’s time for someone like Winston Wolf in Edmonton. A panicked Kevin Lowe should phone him, explain the mess that they’ve created and get him to Edmonton as soon as possible.)
Bob Stauffer, the President and lone remaining member of the Edmonton Branch of the Joffrey Lupul fan club could do with a bit of a reminder on this point. Last week, he was going on and on about Joff’s fantastic start to the season. I think I’ve got Stauffer’s show figured out to a certain extent at this point and I think I know what we’ll be hearing if Lupul’s start rolls into November: MacT can’t coach players who aren’t third liners. Can’t coach scorers. He has a disdain for talent. It’s something of a popular refrain on Stauffer’s show.
On the surface, you might think that he’s onto something with Joff. 7 games into the season, Joff is +5, with a pair of goals and five assists. The Flyers are 6-1-0, laying waste to the NHL. With MacT still wandering the Oilers bench with his arms crossed as the Oilers struggle to scored, it’s enough to fill a guy with murderous rage that the Oilers lost such a gifted young offensive talent, all because MacT doesn’t know how to coach offensive talent.
But wait…the NHL is collecting more than data than ever, to the point that we can really dig into the things that happen when a player is on the ice. From a team perspective, the Flyers early season success seems a bit lucky. At ES, they’re getting outshot 174-140 but have outscored the opposition 20-5. The Flyers are getting a .966 save percentage at ES so far while their opponents have put up an .857 save percentage at ES. That’s just not going to continue. When Lups is on the ice, the Flyers are getting outshot 62-47. They’ve outscored 8-2 over that time but with the benefit of a .967 save percentage while the other side has compiled an .830 save percentage. Those who’ve stared at Lupul’s numbers in the middle of the night last year, wondering what in the name of God compelled Kevin Lowe to trade Chris F. Pronger for him will notice that Lupul seems to have an awful lot of assists, given that that historically hasn’t been part of his game. That kind of thing will happen when pucks are going in at an outrageous rate.
Lupul’s use on the PK in Philly was also trumpeted on Stauffer’s show, presented as part of the indictment against MacT, who doesn’t turn his young offensive talents loose on the PK until they’ve achieved a modicum of defensive responsibility. I’m kind of old school here – if I was an NHL coach, I think that I’d try to structure my bench in such a way that my offensive guys weren’t wasted PKing and then try to play the hell out of them at ES and on the PP. It was also presented as a way in which to build a guy’s confidence, showing that you trust him.
I can’t see why anyone would trust Joff on the ice with his team shorthanded. The numbers don’t say that this is a good idea either: Philly is 13th in the league on the PK right now, despite having played Lupul for 14.28 minutes. In those 14.28 minutes, they’ve given up three goals and 14 shots. That equates to 12.6 PPGA/60 and 58.8 SHSA/60, both of which are awful, terrible numbers. My point above about it being early applies here as well but regardless of whether or not its early, when the results on the ice equate with what you expect…well, for me at least, it gets harder to dismiss that information.
Like I say, it’s really early and I wouldn’t usually bother to dig beneath the numbers at this point in the season – it should be obvious to anyone who’s seen Joff play the game that the underlying numbers wouldn’t support the proposition that he’s off to an awesome start. It just bugs me a little bit when his superficially good start gets used as evidence of some sort of systemic problem with the Oilers coaching. The problem is what it’s been for a long time in Edmonton: the “offensive” players identified by the management team generally suck. That was Lupul’s problem, Nedved’s problem, Schremp’s problem (so far)…the blame gets put on the wrong guy.