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Garret: So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish

It was 1,993 days ago that I began my adventure in blogging.

Arctic Ice Hockey, the SB Nations’ Winnipeg Jets fan site, contained a section for anyone to construct a blog post if they wish. On June 26th (my birthday) 2012, I wrote a fan reaction on the Jets 2012 Draft selections. In it, I mentioned a few things that overtime looking back at it, came to pass (I was very low on Lukas Sutter) and a player or two I missed the mark on (I had no idea who Connor Hellebuyck was and what he’d become).

That was the beginning of my fan blogging “career” and now I’m here to see it come to an end.

My Story

I wrote two more fan posts, giving my opinion on how best to optimize the Jets lines for the 2012-13 season. I used some statistics, but really I was just being a fanboy giving my thoughts on the players and how to strategically use them.

Looking back, I find it interesting my first three posts were on prospects and line optimization, as those were the two areas that I covered most over my time as an fan-blog analyst.

Two-hundred and eighty-five posts at Arctic Ice Hockey (and an approaching infinite number of Twitter posts) later and I grew in influence. I began appearing on TSN 1290, Winnipeg Free Press, Hockey Prospectus, etc. This led to the Nations Network picking me out to lead the new direction of Jets Nation, as Thomas Drance wished to turn Jets Nation into the premier Jets’ fan site. I had been approached by the Nation Network twice before, but it was Drance’s influence that tipped the scale and convinced me to take the new role.

I pushed Jets Nations hard, sometimes writing multiple-multiple posts a day. The bulk of the posts were either done by myself with the odd news post done by Drance. This may not seem like a big deal to a “real” writer, but I was someone who actually hated writing. Writing was a means to an ends, a manner to transfer ideas and to teach, in short it was a necessary evil.

JN grew exponentially. We became the go-to source for thousands of fans for Jets news, analysis, and information. Five-hundred and twenty-one (including this very last one) posts later, and I’ve reached my goal for the site.

A little bit before joining Jets Nation however, I had started my own blog. I wrote a lot of non-Jets centric topics on Arctic Ice Hockey, but wanted a site that non-Jets fans could go to. I asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in such an idea and not only did I get an overwhelming support, but I also partnered wit two individuals who wanted in on the action as well. Together, Garik16, Ben Wendorf, and I built Hockey-Graphs.com. We turned Hockey Graphs into the go to destination for general hockey analytics research and development.

As my influence and recognition expanded, so did opportunities. I earned a regular consulting position at a local players agency, CKM Sports. There I developed relationships and contacts that led myself and a few others to build the data tracking and analysis company HockeyData.

HockeyData has grown, a lot. It’s been a crazy ride. A lot of our work has been in secret, although there is one project that I am sure you are all aware of existing.

In the end, HockeyData has become the realization of my dream. It’s my future and as such, it’s also starting to take more and more of my time, work, dedication, and attention.

Because of this, I had to cut back on what I was doing in the public and through social media. I was able to delay shutting down my public work entirely through highlighting other peoples good work and models rather than my own, but even that had it’s expiry date as well. I wish I could divulge to you all the things HockeyData has planned over the next few years, even months. There are some big things. You will hear more of us, for sure.

So with this, I say my goodbyes, with my final post as a regular blogger on a team site. I will still be around on Twitter, although it won’t be quite the same. I’ll still post the occasional post on Hockey Graphs, but it will be on concepts and theory, rather than the specific modelling and research based on actual data.

There may be more writing at another site… but it’s too early in development to talk about yet.

My Last Words on The Jets

You knew I couldn’t leave without talking some hockey…

Future so Bright! I have to wear shades…

I have not been a fan of some decisions made by the Jets as there are many things that I felt at the right time was a poor move or decision. That said, I do like the pieces the Jets have and I do feel like they are a team on the cusp of being really good, and all it will take is a push in the right direction.

The Expansion Draft, and what it brings.

There are only a few reasonable expectations going forward, unless everything goes nuts and completely unpredictable.

Possibility #1: 4-4-1, lose Lowry… or MAYBE Perreault

The Jets may get handcuffed into going 4/4/1. They must protect Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom unless one of them waives their NMC. They would be crazy to not protect Trouba, and I do not see them exposing Myers despite health concerns (although it is possible if there is more to know more about his health than I do).

If this happens, I believe the Jets will reluctantly lose Lowry, or maybe make the wrong choice and expose Mathieu Perreault.

Possibility #1b: 4-4-1, lose assets to protect Lowry

The Jets may give away some assets to protect Lowry. This will be expensive. You are looking at basically a Lowry for Marko Dano (or less likely, Matthias) being selected and probably a pick and/or prospect and/or young player (think Petan or something). The pick will probably be a high one to force Vegas’ hand. Vegas has most of the leverage and power here and Jets will have to lose to keep.

Possibility #2: 7-3-1, Enstrom waives NMC, Jets lose Dano

The Jets signed Dano to an extension prior to the expansion draft list being sent out. If the Jets wanted to go 7-3-1, to follow the rules they were required one more forward to be signed for the 2017-2018 season. That means that if Enstrom waives, it’s most likely Dano and Matthias being exposed. Judging by Vegas’ plans (like taking assets from Anaheim instead of a really good top-four defender), it seems that Vegas is more interested in being competitive in the future than immediately.

I’m not certain that Dano’s extension means the Jets will go 7-3-1, but it is wise of them to prepare for that just in case.

Possibility #3: 7-3-1, Jets trade a defender, Jets lose Dano

While I believe it to be over exaggerated, there are concerns about Trouba’s long term commitment to Winnipeg. Myers is a huge question mark for the future as well. Either of these players could be moved, even if I view this as somewhat unlikely. If they are moved, this could severely change projections on what the team looks like for the next season.

The Team will likely improve, even if Chevy takes a day off

Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson, and Connor Hellebuyck all posted some of the worst numbers of their careers. They were historically terrible. Is that likely to repeat? No. That in itself will be worth wins. In addition, there will be cascading effects. For example: Byfuglien had the worst defensive impact of his career. The Jets also trailed early and often. When the team trails, offensive players are incentivized to take risks. You are already trailing; it is more important to score a goal than to prevent one.

Injuries is also another possibility. The Jets were one of the worst teams in terms of damage via injuries. Now, unlike goaltending there is a more realistic risk of repeat or even having a worse fate here. That said, there is still a good chance that things are better next year in this area. That will add wins, no other changes made.

Most of the players in major roles are at/near their peak (so we expect minimal change) or well before their peak (so we expect improvement on average). The Jets have very few players who are at the point of expected decline, and the bulk of those players play minimal roles that are likely to even further diminish this season. The only exceptions are Toby Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, and while they are declining, I expect them to be slightly better than last season (but still probably not as good as they historically have been).

Enstrom had some personal stuff going on. He also had some poor puck luck offensively (see the Jets Nation Pilot’s Logbook on Enstrom). Byfuglien was overused (in part to injuries previously mentioned) and was highly incentivized to play risky due to the Jets often trailing (also previously mentioned). Those things changing should see some return to Byfuglien to higher performance. Wheeler and Perreault were also players we could see some bump, especially in even strength production.

The Jets also had very few outlier like career years. Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine may score less at even strength… but Trouba and Scheifele are already excellent two-way players so their drop will be minimal unless poor luck occurs. Laine may score less per minute due to percentages falling, but his overall game will likely improve with development.

Garret’s advice to Chevy, Maurice, and company

  1. Think analytically. This does not use numbers more. This means constantly analyze and reevaluate your process.Test your past decisions and processes. Nothing is perfect or optimal. Optimization is a journey of self reflection and self improvement. I’m much better than what I was, and will be much better than what I am for this reason.
  2. Don’t be risk averse. Safe is death. I get it; you know what you are going to get with Chris Thorburn. Nic Petan may be a little more unknown day-to-day. However, when we test outcomes (see point one), we see that in the long run the more risky player garners you better overall results.
  3. Speaking of Petan, I will suggest a change from the industry thinking with sheltering young, skilled players. I get that you wish to hide them from the oppositions best, but by giving them minutes on the fourth line you are doing yourself and them a disservice. The impact of weaker linemates is more damaging than the
  4. Run a three scoring lines. I get that the Andrew Copp / Shawn Matthias, Adam Lowry, and Joel Armia line were fun to watch grinding down low. They were good at the cycle, and started out really strong… But their results in the long run were that of an excellent fourth line, not a third line. The end goal is to out chance, shoot, and score the opposition. A shutdown line that performs worse than the average third line in those areas do not help you in the long run.
  5. Be first movers. Let’s be honest; Winnipeg is at a disadvantage from teams like Chicago. Free agents are less likely to come over, or cost more. Home grown talent is more likely to leave. Relatively speaking you are at a disadvantage. You must overcome this by finding advantages elsewhere, which I think you have started by having the largest scouting department. (May I advise analytics?)
  6. Lowry, and maybe also Copp and Armia may end up being better than you want to give regular fourth line minutes. I have a solution.
    1. Run three scoring lines, separating your talent somewhat evenly.
    2. I would suggest separating the big three (Scheifele, Wheeler, and Perreault).
    3. The next three (Laine, Ehlers, and Little) you probably want to split up somewhat, but you could put two of them together with one of the big 3 to form the top line.
    4. This allows a lot of linemate insulation for sheltering young skilled players you may be introducing next season (like Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic) and would be a better use of the skill sets of Marko Dano and Petan.
    5. You can then use Copp, Lowry, Matthias, and Armia in a more defensive specialist fourth line role, much like how Chicago used Marcus Kruger.
    6. However, if and when the team is leading in the third period, compress your top-nine into your six best players (probably the top line and then the three best of the middle-six lines). Then you may elevate the fourth line into a new third line and the three weakest (the three left over from the middle-six) may eat minimal, soft minutes as a new fourth line.
    7. The promotion to the third line plus special team minutes (all four of those players are good penalty killers, and Lowry does well as a net front specialist on the power play) will easily give them solid minutes for their usage.
    8. This specialization optimizes your roster although is not revolutionary. Paul Maurice already adjusts ice time deployment of lines given score, now he’s also adjusting the players on the lines as well. Note: this is slightly stolen with how Maurice sat Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart late in games in 2015-16 and would place Trouba with Byfuglien.
    9. And finally, feel free to hire Garret and HockeyData for their extensive services.

Thank you everyone. #GoJetsGo

 

  • jbr

    Garrett, thanks for being the reason I even started reading Jets hockey blogs. As a working scientist, your approach to analysis (statistical and otherwise) has always been a pleasure to read about. Best of luck.

  • s8cc

    Your contributions will be missed, I’ve enjoyed reading you over the years. Perhaps the odd “guest blog” may be in order if you new commitments perhaps. Thanks for everything!

  • Travis

    You will be sorely missed, Garret. Your work on applying analytics to the Jets was badly needed, and we will suffer for not having your insights and opinions. Good luck on your future endeavours, but don’t be a stranger!

  • Sixty Minute Man

    Thanks for introducing me to analytics Garret. I can’t express how much I’ve learned from reading your work and from conversations we’ve shared. We’ve sure come a long way from the abyss of the WFP comments section. For better or worse, you’ve turned hockey from a mere enjoyment to an obsession. The Jets are missing the boat by not hiring you. Good luck with everything.