• Lessons in Cross-Examination

    by  • December 11, 2013 • Hockey • 5 Comments

    A Dallas Eakins press conference really is a thing. I have a theory that media are, to a certain extent, rightfully intimidated by quote unquote hockey people on hockey questions. A guy like Eakins has devoted the past decade to thinking about the nuances of the game, which isn’t something a lot of hockey media can truly say. To a certain extent, you’d have to possess a sort of sociopathic self confidence to be willing to push back if he blows off the premise of a question.

    Watching Eakins’ press conferences, I suspect that he’s got this figured out. There’ve seemed to me to be times where he’s run guys off by being brusque and a little loose with the facts or the premise of the question. I don’t really blame him for this – great trick if you can pull it off when you don’t want to get into a certain area and it’s not his job meekly accede to whatever people want to ask him.

    This exchange was in line with what I’m talking about:

    QUESTIONER: You won the game on the power play, the power play was struggling…

    EAKINS (interjecting): The power play was 1 for 3. 33%. That’s a hell of a night. *facial expression*

    There was a chance for a followup, but whoever asked the question didn’t, for whatever reason.

    The thing is…the questioner was totally right. The power play was a fiasco. It’s great that the Oilers scored the winning goal at 4v3 but it would have been even better if they’d not given up a shorthanded goal or wasted a five minute 5v4. The Oilers generated a total of four shots in seven minutes of 5v4 time against Carolina – a 34.3 S/60 rate, which is terrible.

    One game’s one game but this has been a feature of their play lately. Through the game with the Panthers on November 21, the Oilers were generating a pile of shots at 5v4: 60.2 S/60. They were shooting 13%, which was great. They were scoring 7.8 GF/60, which is a fantastic number at 5v4.

    Since then, they’ve generated just 43 shots at 5v4 in 71.3 minutes of 5v4 time. That’s a rate of 36 shots per hour over the last eight games. They’ve scored only three goals. The power play stunk tonight, even though it got them a goal after a tedious 4v3. It’s taken a brutal turn for the past 10% of the season after looking like it had finally been sorted out after a decade plus of poor shot generation. The questioner’s point was legitimate and it’s part of a broader trend.

    Had our questioner known these facts, he would have been better armed to push back when Eakins interrupted him. If you’re going to ask someone who has more expertise than you questions, you need to be prepared to kill him with accurate facts that force him to address the issue. Missed opportunity to get some information about a concerning trend.

    * * *

    The other great thing about Eakins press conferences is learning just how many questions an NHL coach faces that are utterly beyond redemption:

    QUESTIONER: Not many people seem to be, the flow doesn’t seem to be that way, but you look at the standings, you won seven, lost three and tied one in your last 11 games, if you had a started the season like that way people would be ecstatic.


    * * *

    Not all trends are bad for the Oilers. I put together a ten game rolling Corsi% with the score close graph for the calender year of 2013.

    The line bottoms out with the Oilers 4-2 win over the Flames and things have been on the upward trend since then. Corsi% close matters because it’s basically a measure of how likely you are to get the next goal when the score is close (within a goal in the first two periods or tied in the third). For all the complaining about various things over the last ten games – Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall’s various power outages and the state of the defence – as a whole, the team’s deserved some success.

    The schedule’s been pretty soft but you have to do something with it and, for the most part, they have. It’ll be awfully interesting to see if they can post something north of 50% over their next ten games, six of which are on the road and six of which involve teams currently in the playoffs. If the Oilers can do that, we might genuinely be seeing a corner turned, even if it’s too late to matter results wise this year.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    5 Responses to Lessons in Cross-Examination

    1. Mark-LW
      December 11, 2013 at

      Ahaha… It took me five minutes to stop laughing and get past that picture of Eakins.

      That stammering ‘question’ reads like how Terry Jones speaks

    2. Brian
      December 11, 2013 at

      I kinda wonder how much of it is a hockey guy intimidating reporters and how much of it is that the beat guys (especially the Edmonton beat guys) just don’t care that much. I mean, are you really looking for insight from a head coach in this situation if you’re a reporter, or are you just looking for Eakins to say “yeah, the power play struggled early on, but it really came through when we needed it” or something equally inane in 20 words or less that you can use as part of the 50 words you’re going to spend talking about the crappy power play in your 400 word game summary? The temptation to just make up your own bland quotes to just save everyone the trouble of going through this dance must be huge.

      What do you think would’ve happened if the reporter had come back with “but your power play tonight produced a shot rate of only 34.3 per 60, whereas through November 21 it was producing 60.2 per 60. How do you think you can improve this?” Everyone would’ve looked at the reporter like he’d just asked Eakins whether he felt that Nelson Mandela’s refusal to denounce violence in the name of the anti-apartheid cause denigrates his legacy as a peace maker and statesman in any way.

    3. Tom Benjamin
      December 11, 2013 at

      I mean, are you really looking for insight from a head coach in this situation if you’re a reporter, or are you just looking for Eakins to say “yeah, the power play struggled early on, but it really came through when we needed it” or something equally inane in 20 words or less

      The fact of the matter is that Eakins does not have any real insight into the problem. He can’t explain why the PP was so good prior to November 21st, or so bad since except then everybody and the puck was zipping around, and now everybody seems to be standing around and the puck is moving too slowly.

      Why? Who knows? Goalies know when they are going down too early, but they can’t explain why. Skaters can’t (in Ken Dryden’s words) explain why sometimes their skates feel like Mercury’s wings and sometimes like broken galoshes. Why do teams suddenly seem a beat behind and out of sync?

      If Tyler pressed me as Eakins on the subject, I’d reply “Our power play was overdue to regress. Regression = a period of suckitude. As coaches we will yell and scream and tweak and twerk, but the power play will probably suck until – for no apparent reason – it stops sucking.”

      • Tyler Dellow
        December 11, 2013 at

        Not everything is just normal regression. PP shooting rates are usually pretty consistent. A stretch like they’re going through is bad enough that I’d be concerned.

      • Brian
        December 12, 2013 at

        I’m sure if Eakins knew exactly what was wrong with the power play he’d just fix it, and the question would likely never have come up in the first place because the power play would be fine.

        With the state of modern sports journalism being what it is, I just wonder if a beat reporter asks a question about your power play and actually wants something more than “we just have to get traffic in front and throw more pucks at the net.” I think if you started to give an insightful answer to a question about the power play to somebody like Terry Jones, his eyes would glaze over once you got past the first sentence and he’d just quote you as saying “we just have to get traffic in front and throw more pucks at the net” anyway.

        But this is all part of a much larger complaint I have about contemporary journalism at large, and news being written to a particular narrative rather than reporters attempting to find out what’s really going on. I think reporters in this situation seek bland quotes, because if they get an answer with any real insight it might require writing some additional explanation or making a further line of inquiry, rather than just shoehorning “we just have to get traffic in front and throw more pucks at the net” into whatever narrative you’ve decided your article will follow before you’ve written it.

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