• Defending Ralph III: Sometimes There’s Just Smoke

    by Tyler Dellow • March 19, 2013 • Hockey • 7 Comments

    Both Derek Zona and Michael Parkatti have kindly responded to my musing that a certain chunk of the fanbase is being too hard on Ralph Krueger. I’ll deal with Zona’s piece first and Parkatti’s later:

    My criticisms of Krueger are his lineup decisions and playing time. No team is going to win with Ben Eager on the first line.

    Ben Eager’s on the Oilers’ first line?!? Man, if Mark Spector is right, I don’t want to live anymore. I wonder how he’s scoring on the first line. Lemme just go to HockeyDB and see. Huh. HockeyDB has that asterisk next to his name that means he’s no longer on the active roster. TYPICAL Tambellini and Lowe, giving away a guy off the Oilers’ first line for nothing. Lemme just slide over to Hockey-Reference and see what the game log says – I bet he was getting TONS of ice.

    Hmm. Hockey-Reference has him clearing thirteen minutes once, between twelve and thirteen minutes once, between eleven and twelve minutes twice, between ten and eleven minutes twice and between nine and ten minutes three times. His other five appearances were below nine minutes.

    So is there a plausible explanation for playing Eager as much as he did in the games that he did? Let’s take a look. Eager’s big game for ice time was March 1 against St. Louis. Did anything of note happen in that game? Well, the Oilers were chasing the game all night and Taylor Hall went down with an injury with 32 minutes gone in the game. Also, it was the second game of a back to back. And they had a more important game in Minnesota to play on March 3.

    If you go and look at the shift charts and the time on ice data at NHL.com, you see that Eager played 7.2 minutes in the 27.5 minutes after Hall went down. He’d played 6.7 minutes in the 32.5 minutes played to that point. Krueger generally goes down to three lines to close things out in the third period, so it’s not like he would have continued on that pace, which definitely isn’t first line ice time. Krueger shut down Petrell and Vandevelde early in that game – before the 50 minute mark. It’s pretty safe to assume that Eager would have played more like eleven minutes without Hall getting hurt.

    He played 12:29 against Minnesota on February 21. He was clearly in a third line role, playing with Smyth and Belanger. Only four forwards got less TOI than Eager that night: Hartikainen, Vandevelde, Paajarvi and Yakupov. Hartikainen, Vandevelde and Paajarvi were in clear fourth line roles. Yakupov would have played more than Eager but looks to have lost a couple of shifts when Krueger threw out Belanger or RNH with Gagner/Hemsky, presumably because of own zone draws and such.

    He played 11:45 against Chicago on February 25. Taylor Hall was suspended. He played with Belanger and Jones. Notably, Yakupov was on a line with Petrell and Vandevelde in that game. This being a road game against Chicago, a team loaded with talent, I tend to think that not wanting to expose a line with a 19 year with fewer than twenty NHL games to the Hawks’ top line was defensible.

    He played 11:13 against LA on February 19. Two players played less than him.

    Other than that, he played fewer than eleven minutes a night. I’ve got no idea what this “Ben Eager on the first line” fiction is – the facts don’t bear it out. If you look at his season, what you see is a guy who got hurt in the first game, came back and was given a chance by the coach, the coach decided he couldn’t play and the team decided to bury a million dollar contract in the minors and replace him with someone else.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Krueger to have given Eager a shot and I think it’s awfully encouraging that he was able to have Eager replaced and buried in the minors. There’s undoubtedly some politics involved here and before Krueger goes to this boss and says “You’ve made a two million dollar mistake” it’s probably smart to give said mistake a legitimate shot. He did (although not in a top six role for anything close to an entire game), Eager failed, Eager’s gone. Where’s the problem?

    No team is going to win by playing Mike Brown 10-11 minutes a night.

    I’m not really a fan of Mike Brown. That being said, he did have a decent year Corsi-wise in a checking role last year. What’s more, he’s a player who has been brought in by Krueger’s boss and Krueger’s probably wise to give him a legitimate chance.

    Look, the difference between 9 minutes a night and 11 minutes is pretty negligible. You’re talking about 164 minutes over the course of the year. Tom Awad’s work from way back when found a goal difference difference between first and fourth liners for the 2009-10 season of 0.78 GD/60.

    So, if you took two minutes from your first line every night and gave it to your fourth line, it would cost you 2.1 goal difference over the course of a year. Look, if Krueger does this long term, by all means, people should get upset (although it’s an expected difference of 2 goal difference and there may be other benefits, such as fresher first liners, that counteracts it). In the short term, testing the capabilities of a new player and giving his boss’ new acquisition a run out? Can’t complain.

    One of the things that’s impressed with Krueger is that I think he’s a guy who tries things and isn’t afraid to decide it didn’t work. In their most recent game, as the Oilers saw out a 3-2 win over Nashville, Brown played 7:59. I assume that meets with everyone’s approval.

    Starting Nikolai Khabibulin over a rested Devan Dubnyk is madness, especially when the start is based on a “hunch”, and nothing more.

    Yep, I agree with this and if Krueger keeps doing it, I’ll be irritated with him. This is far and away his biggest mistake of the year though.

    Giving noted possession black hole Lennart Petrell playing time with Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi with the game on the line should never be an option.

    Hey, I think Petrell probably has no place on a competitive NHL team but let’s keep this in perspective here. This hasn’t been a common occurrence – Gagner’s played 14:32 with Petrell and Paajarvi a hair over 21 minutes. In Gagner’s case, there’s probably some 5v5 time after a penalty expired in there and in Paajarvi’s case, there’s some fourth line time in there.

    I assume that what Derek is referring to is the two and a little bit shifts that this trio played together at the end of the game with Nashville on Sunday night. Some perspective: it’s two and a little bit shifts. 91 seconds of ice time. If the Oilers were the sort of team that led 50 games a year in the third period and shortened their bench, we would be talking about a total of 75.8 minutes of ice time.

    If Yakupov is an incredible possession player and the Oilers outshoot 36-24 per sixty minutes with him on the ice and Petrell is terrible and they got outshot 24-36 with him on the ice, you are talking about a difference of 15 shots. Yakupov isn’t that good, although Petrell might be that bad. More realistically, we’re talking about a difference of fewer than 10 shot differential over the course of an 82 game season. Coaches exist to find small edges and maximize them but in criticizing them, I think we should take into account that they have information that we don’t and, where the gap between what they do and our preferred decision is tiny (as it is here), I don’t think it’s worth getting worked up about.

    Aside: I’m going to write about Michael Parkatti’s extended piece and why I disagree with it later but Zona’s piece is an example of the sort of coach kicking that I don’t think is particularly useful. It’s just a list of allegations, without links to any sort of examination of the data or examinations of the alternatives that the coach had. I don’t think Michael’s right but I credit him for looking at the data after I pointed out that the problem with complaining that Horcoff wasn’t matched against Datsyuk is that someone still has to match up against Zetterberg.

    Playing Ryan Jones and Mike Brown on the penalty kill over Magnus Paajarvi…just no.

    Ohhh, “just no.” Of course.

    Paajarvi is 21. In his NHL career, he has yet to hit half an hour in terms of PK time. Entering this year, he was just shy of the eleven minute mark. How surprised am I that an NHL coach prefers guys with a track record on the PK? Not very.

    Brown hasn’t played that much on the PK – he’s gotten a little taste, which isn’t surprising given that Krueger probably wants to figure out what he has with Brown – as much as the entire internet thinks Brown’s pretty useless (a view I tend to share), his employers brought the guy in and said he could play on the PK. Seems like the smart move, from a career standpoint, is to give him a shot.

    As for preferring Jones on the PK – look, I think Jones is terrible on the PK. But when Jones eats time on the PK, it leaves more time at ES for Paajarvi and others who can do something with it and I tend to think Jones is pretty useless at ES too, while Paajarvi seems to be taking steps at ES. Jones on the PK also frees up MPS for the PP and he’s been getting some chances there. You can’t play an entire NHL game with 8 forwards, even if that’s all your team really has. These complaints are getting perilously close to just saying “Taylor Hall’s the Oilers’ best player and yet Krueger doesn’t even play him for 40 minutes every game” here.

    Paajarvi seems to be turning into a guy who can be a top six forward after stagnating under Renney. I’m fine with the Oilers focusing his attention on specific aspects of the game right now and it seems to be working for him. There isn’t sufficient evidence that he can kill penalties at the NHL to be crucifying Krueger for not playing him there and, given that we’re seeing signs of progress in his ES play, I think Krueger’s approach to him seems to be bearing fruit.

    Partnering Ryan Whitney and Justin Schultz and asking Whitney to play more minutes against better competition is just brainless.

    I don’t really think that this is working but it’s not like Krueger got out of bed one morning and thought “I need to break up my massively successful Schultz and Schultz pairing.” He’s casting about for things that work, in part because there aren’t a lot of obvious good options on some of these things which is largely because the Oilers have a lot of crappy players on the roster and the coach has to mix and match. I doubt that this pairing will last.

    Like I’ve said in my other two defences of Krueger lately, it’s easy to criticize the coach in a vacuum. It’s easy to say “Just no.” I’m fine with criticizing him when he does things that are legitimately indefensible – starting Khabibulin – but a lot of the things that Krueger’s taking flak for are blurry decisions in the gray area for which there’s a defensible case to be made. Or they’re transitory things that won’t last.

    There’s an emerging pattern with Krueger of crappy hockey players having an opportunity and then getting shoved off the roster where, for the previous three years, they’d be allowed to fester for an entire season, poisoning things. That’s a positive sign. Paajarvi is developing, whereas previous regimes seemed at a loss with him. Taking poorly backed up potshots at him over decisions that have negligible impact in the grand scheme of things seems kind of like missing the point to me.

    Email Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey@gmail.com

    About Tyler Dellow

    7 Responses to Defending Ralph III: Sometimes There’s Just Smoke

    1. DerekZ
      March 19, 2013 at

      This is a whole bunch of words to say “yeah, but”. All of the things I mentioned as bothersome happened and were avoidable, you mention that each time above.

      Because you make excuses for each doesn’t make it less bothersome.

    2. Tyler Dellow
      March 19, 2013 at

      Sorry for the length Derek – I’m in the habit of trying to back up what I say with evidence as opposed to just asserting that things happened. Of course, you’re still doing it here – I guess you wanted CVV or Petrell bumped in St. Louis instead of Eager.

      Also, in fairness to me, in a couple of cases, I didn’t say “Yeah but” so much as “this didn’t really happen.”

      In any event, “yeah but” is how serious people think. The things you want Krueger to be doing come at a cost, whether in terms of energy for the player, his relationship with management or a use of his magic powers to look down the bench and conjure up a good defenceman who doesn’t exist. If you want to pretend those things don’t exist, fill your boots, but you’re living in a fantasyland.

      • Derek
        March 20, 2013 at

        You started this whole thing off by claiming I’m annoyed with Krueger for things that never happened. Okay, fine, sounds like a topic for discussion.

        Then you spent an article and now a comment explaining why those things that never happened actually happened and you’ve excused them all for various reasons, which you’ve been doing with Krueger since the beginning of the season. Not sure if it’s because you think if there is groundswell to fire Krueger, Lowe and Tambellini live to mismanage another year, but you’ve been hand-waving away Krueger’s misdeeds for awhile, especially with “he’s trying things”.

        You’re working my annoyances like Columbo looking for some big A-ha moment, and it’s not there. I’ve always considered you a smart fellow, so it’s curious that you’re debating with four other smart fellows and conceding points after time (to dawgbone) and admitting my annoyances above above are happening and are still taking line you have above.

      • Derek
        March 20, 2013 at

        You started this whole thing off by claiming I’m annoyed with Krueger for things that never happened. Okay, fine, sounds like a topic for discussion.

        Then you spent an article and now a comment explaining why those things that never happened actually happened and you’ve excused them all for various reasons, which you’ve been doing with Krueger since the beginning of the season. Not sure if it’s because you think if there is groundswell to fire Krueger, Lowe and Tambellini live to mismanage another year, but you’ve been hand-waving away Krueger’s misdeeds for awhile, especially with “he’s trying things”.

        You’re working my annoyances like Columbo looking for some big A-ha moment, and it’s not there. I’ve always considered you a smart fellow, so it’s curious that you’re debating with four other smart fellows and conceding points after time (to dawgbone) and admitting my annoyances above above are happening and are still taking line you have above.

      • Derek
        March 20, 2013 at

        FYI, I’m getting the following error while trying to post comments:

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    3. March 19, 2013 at

      I’d just like to say that nowhere have I published that I think Krueger is a terrible coach. I genuinely like some of the things that he’s done. The goalie pull thing, giving PRV time in the top 6 and keeping him there in favour of replacement players like Jones, the PP setup, going to a box PK, and having the stones to sit the bottom barrel players until they’re waived were all things that I’ve liked.

      I think you’re mistaking some criticism of a coach in this specific instance with a supposed hate on for him in general. He’s obviously been constrained in cases by personnel, a rational person wouldn’t dispute this. Playing Smytty at centre is a perfect reflection of that — he gets crapped on for that sometimes, but what are his options with 20 out — VV? But I think you’re perhaps being a bit too lenient on him for the Whitney/Schultz pairing. Yes, Schultz/Schultz wasn’t exactly Suter/MacInnis, but the resulting cost of breaking thelatter ok pairing up is continuing bad results from the former. Of course management needs to bring in better horses, but the numbers and eyes agree that Whitney/Schultz don’t work. If he rectifies it soon, great, if not, he’s open to criticism IMO.

      I can assure you, I’m not a cynical prick, just waiting for something bad to happen so I can shove it down Krueger’s throat. I was at the game, noticed Datsyuk was playing vs the Gagner line a lot, and questioned the wisdom of it in my game report. When you called me out for it, I substantiated my initial observations with data-driven evidence. That’s what analysts do every single day, and I’d wager that’s how you come up with a lot of your own blog posts — you notice something that seems out of place, and try to gain evidence to support your suspicion.

      I respect your work. We can disagree about Datsyuk’s proper match being Horcoff if you want, I’m fine with that. What I don’t like is the increasing smarmy-ness via Twitter that makes it seems like this debate is more antagonistic than it really is. I’ll have the professional courtesy to drop by and comment on things like this directly on your blog, and invite you to do the same at my blog. In the end, I know we have a lot of similar opinions and are working towards the same goal — directing light on things we think are important to help the team win hockey games.

      This may just be my opinion, but this stuff isn’t really all that fun when we’re taking pot-shots at each other.

    4. Tyler Dellow
      March 20, 2013 at

      Play all the games you want with semantics Derek. They haven’t really happened enough to worry about or there’s good reason for why it happened. I would have thought that the 2000 words you’re complaining about but can’t bother to refute would make the precise basis of my objections clear but I bet it’s a hell of a lot easier to seize on some poor wording higher up.

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