There’s an interesting note in Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts this week:
15. Had a terrific conversation with Oates last week about his dislike for players lining up on their off-wing. He is 100 per cent against it and explains why with an MLB analogy. “You look back through the history of baseball and every shortstop throws right. Why?” “Because it’s too hard to make the throw left-handed,” is the reply. “Right,” he says. “How many plays won’t be made because a left-handed shortstop isn’t able to turn, get set and make the throw with strength or speed?” He believes the same theory applies to a winger on the wrong side.
16. One play he uses to illustrate this theory is Alex Burrows’ 11-second overtime winner in Game 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Watch Andrew Ference off the draw. “He takes two steps, is closed off and has no play,” Oates said. He then pointed out something very interesting. Look at Boston’s roster now: four left-shooting wings. Four right-shooting wings. Two right-shooting centres. Two left-shooting centres. Three right-shot defencemen. Three left-shot defencemen. (It’s true, you can look it up.) That’s going to be the blueprint in Washington.
I don’t really have a firm opinion on whether or not Oates is wrong, although I tend to agree with him when it comes to defencemen. It strikes me though that this is an issue of cost versus benefit. A left handed shortstop would have an advantage making throws to third base; that benefit just doesn’t outweigh the cost of slower throws to first and more difficult double plays as he deals with being left handed.
Oates (a fine son of Blackpool) has correctly identified part of the cost of defencemen on their off-side; there’s more cost when to trying to win pucks along the boards with their forehand being on the other side of them. The benefit would come mostly when shooting I think – they’ll be in a position to one time pucks without having the puck cross their body first.
What still surprises me is that there’s really no reason to be stuck debating these questions by way of reference to examples. This would be an awfully easy question to answer with data if the correct data set existed. Basically, you’d simply need a database of all touches occurring in an NHL season that permitted you to query the results of touches occurring when players were on their off-side versus not being on their off-side. It’s hard to imagine that this would cost that much in the context of an NHL team – with a proper piece of software, it’s data entry that can be outsourced to a low cost jurisdiction. The few hundred thousand dollars that it would cost to assemble this data is easily covered by the value of a single standings point for a team on the bubble. Odd that nobody’s done it.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com