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Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

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Date registerd: 2017-07-17 17:40:57

Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

July 23, 2020

Seattle nails ‘Kraken’ team name and branding 

The National Hockey League’s 32nd team might still have another season and change before they join the fold, but today, we got some clarity on who exactly they’ll be. The Seattle organization announced today that they’ll be referring to themselves as the Seattle Kraken, one of the most talked-about names amidst over a year of speculation.

The name itself, again, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The “Metropolitans” name from the early 20th century was popular, but the NHL only owned its trademark in Canada, not the United States. The “Sockeyes” name was another one that was popular, but also had trademark concerns.

Instead, Kraken has become the choice, inspired by a legendary over-sized octopus in Scandinavian folklore. Does that sound like an odd choice for a team name? Maybe a little, if only because of geography. The idea of naming an NHL team after a folklore monster isn’t terribly unique – the New Jersey Devils are named after the “Jersey Devil” folklore, though that mythical beast was claimed to be a local one.

The Kraken name fits the bill here, though, in the sense that Seattle is a coastal city, and I’d assume a giant killer octopus could cross the oceans if he needed to. Plus, think of the rum cross-promotion the team can have!

Design wise, let’s start with the logos. I instantly love everything about them. The “S” serves to throw back to the Metropolitans, who also used a stylized S as their primary mark. The negative-space/accent-space tentacle is a subtle but important touch, the red eye adds just enough aggressiveness to the look, and it all has a distinctly gothic vibe that fits the era of the folklore.

The secondary logo is an anchor, which makes sense, but becomes infinitely cooler when you realize that the top tip is the Seattle Space Needle, akin to the Washington Capitals’ shoulder mark making reference to both the Capitol Building (negative space) and the Washington Monument (the blue just above).

Next, we get to the jersey, seen below. It keeps a lot of the same design language; including the creation of a contrast via the deep navy blue to give three different shades, and a minimal but effective use of the red from the eyes; enough to be a great accent, but not too much to take away from everything. The jersey finds a way to use simple, classic striping and traditional design cues, while looking distinctly modern.

With the use of Navy, Seattle also gets to keep its brand in sync with it’s other sports teams (Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, Reign, and Thunderbirds to name a few) without leaning all the way in to the blue and green look, which wouldn’t mesh with a likely regional rivalry that the team will have with the Vancouver Canucks.

As with the Vegas Golden Knights, there is a heavy Adidas creative influence in the design of this branding, and just like Vegas, the result is excellent. It seems like they do a lot better work when given the ability to shape the brand. Rather than being asked to “reinvent”, while still keeping history, but also still not being a direct throwback (looking at you, Nashville, New Jersey, and Minnesota, and the alternates for Tampa, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Buffalo).

Hopefully, the good work and the deserved praise for this design leads to teams being more adventurous the next time they refresh their looks. Beyond that, the next step for Seattle will be to ice a good hockey team to wear these sweaters – that task is still a ways away.

July 23, 2020 138 views 0

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Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

July 22, 2020

Nick Robertson is likely NHL ready, and the Leafs should play him in the playoffs 

In hockey, having a big three – like the Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander trio that the Leafs debuted in 2016/17 is a great luxury. An Elite Four, like they formed when John Tavares signed? Seems like something out of a video game, but okay, I can suspend belief a little. A fantastic five, though? That’s just too insane. Such a thing just can’t happen in today’s hockey world, right?

Generally, yes. But there might be something in Nick Robertson.

It always feels early when you anoint a player before their first game. That intuition is often true; we see them like mystery boxes, always betting on potential, always taking each point in the scouting report and replaying it in our minds as the best case scenario for the player. At the same time, we have a pretty decent understanding, of the value of tangible results in projecting a player’s upside. When players put up numbers that align them with the top of the history books, surrounded by others who turned out to be great, their odds of success tend to be higher.

Robertson, coincidentally, just put up one of the most impressive goal-scoring seasons in the history of the OHL. This year, a Draft+1 year for the youngest player taken in the 2019 draft, Robertson put up 55 goals and 31 assists in just 46 games, placing him first in goals per game and third in points per game among players who played at least half the season. Not only that, but Robertson’s goal rate ranks as the third-best in OHL history, trailing only Eric Lindros in his draft year (1.25 in 1991), and Tony Tanti in his (1.21 in 1981). Lindros had one of the greatest peaks in NHL history before injuries slowed him down, while Tanti was a very lethal player for the Canucks in the mid 80’s. The players just below Robertson, John Tavares and Patrick Kane, are currently NHL superstars.

We can also look at Robertson’s performance from a more recent lens. Using resources from Pick224, I built a list of the best OHL goal scorers since 2008, the furthest back the site’s database goes, of players with 0.5 or more even strength goals per game. This gave me 50 players, and 24 players under 20.

Note: Shot data only available from 2016-present, total players who are in those samples in parentheses

Of this sample, Robertson stacks up with the most frequent shooters, the top scorers, and post productive point-getters. The only players who have produced primary points at a higher per-game clip than Robertson did from this group of goal scorers are Connor McDavid (Draft Year) and Alex Debrincat (Draft+1). Focusing just on even strength, the majority of players above him who did so in their Draft or Draft+1 seasons went on to be good to great NHL contributors, or, in the case of Quinton Byfield and Marco Rossi, are expected to be top picks in this year’s draft.

Robertson himself likely would been have up near the top of the 2020 mock drafts with that pair, had he not been born three months premature. Instead, the undersized winger, with his mid-September birthday, just barely made it in last season, to the Leafs’ benefit.

Early indications from camp show a player who looks like he belongs. This shouldn’t be all that surprising when looking at the names that the data aligned him with, as most transitioned to be contributors right away. Debrincat is a good player to bring up here; he’s similarly small, pesty, and goal-leaning, and 2017 Draft+1 season is likely the most comparable to Robertson’s 2020; within 0.04 even-strength goals per game, within 0.02 primary points per game, and within seconds of estimated average ice time. Debrincat had this season after falling to 39th overall in 2016, despite great pre-draft production, due to concerns about his size translating.

Since then, he has put up 173 points in 234 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, producing at a 50-point pace or higher in all three seasons while putting up positive play-driving numbers. It’s worth noting here that Debrincat is two inches shorter than Robertson, and is a December birthday, giving him nearly nine months of edge when comparing the two. When you put all of that together, it’s hard to imagine that a player like Robertson couldn’t add to the Leafs roster, particularly one that is missing another tenacious, smart, goal scoring winger in Andreas Johnsson. In a playoff format that will be more determined by fortune than any post-season in the modern era, it’s important to have as many weapons who could get “hot” in your lineup as possible. Robertson might not yet be able to bring that to the same tier as his already-developed star teammates, but there is ample evidence to suggest that he can give flashes.

Via Pick224.com, Robertson has also shown a slot-shooting tendency that is in line with Toronto’s current system

The biggest concern about such a move, interestingly, would be off the ice rather than on it. Specifically, that playing Robertson would burn a year from his Entry-Level contract, forcing Toronto to extend him after 2021/22 rather than the following year.

The first and most obvious point to be made here is that the object of this whole operation is to win the Stanley Cup, and the Leafs are a potential contender who might stand to gain significant depth and talent by bringing him into the fold now instead of later. You build your roster to give yourself a window to win, and Toronto is firmly in that window.

Abstaining from burning a cap year while competitively is kind of like punting on fourth and inches, on a key drive, when you’ve got a reasonable shot at getting the go-ahead touchdown if you get across. Instead of trying while a good opportunity is there, you opt to put yourself in slightly better scoring position three years from now, and specifically only three years from now.

There are only two reasons to push forward an Entry-Level year: You don’t think your team has a chance in Year 1, or you think your team will really need the money in Year 3. The Leafs absolutely have a shot to win this year, and while having Robertson line up at the same year as Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin (who were also “pushed forward” this year) isn’t super optimal, it also sets the course for all of them to be pitched on discount deals – and also takes away a year of development before they can show their work.

Look at Mitch Marner, for example. Toronto sent him to London for an extra year, slid his contract, and he had three great seasons once he came up. But there was a significant leap between years two and three, from 69 points to 94, that allowed him to push for his roughly $10.9 million cap hit. Had the discussion come a year earlier, the talks are likely closer to “wanted 8-8.5, settled for 7.5” rather than “wanted 11-12, settled for 10.9”. With Toronto’s first wave of top talent already locked up, getting the second wave locked up at a good before they break out will be key, and if you trust the player to break out, you should get to the negotiation table for their second contract as soon as possible, which this facilitates.

Like with the two Swedish defencemen, another advantage here is that even if the contract year is “burned”, because Robertson did not play 40 regular season games, it doesn’t count as a year of service time accrued towards unrestricted free agency.

In summation, while we all aspire to keep our expectations tempered for unproven players, and while the Toronto market is one that often gets mocked for it’s inability to do that, there is plenty of reason to believe that Nick Robertson is another special talent in the Leafs’ developmental pipeline. His ability to produce at his age is matched by few in the history of his elite developmental league, and he compares to quality NHL players who had little problems adjusting.

So long as the Leafs believe he is one of the 12 best forwards they can put on the ice, the team should absolutely use him in this year’s playoffs. He makes a competitive team better, and while that pushes next contract a year closer to the present, such a thing might actually be a positive for the Leafs. Should they not find him good enough to keep up, then leaving him in the press box is acceptable, but if he’s there – let’s not talk ourselves out of it. Let’s get excited for the chance that the mystery box might, in fact, be the secret weapon.

July 22, 2020 169 views 0
Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

July 17, 2020

The Leafs shouldn’t be punished for investing in themselves 

For the second time this week, word has come out about the Toronto Maple Leafs being punished or sanctioned by the National Hockey League for… to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to describe this. Unfair training practices? Competitive advantages? Honestly, I’m a bit at a loss for the exact words at the moment.

The first incident came on Wednesday, when the Leafs were told that having officials at their training camp scrimmages was going too far:

Now, depending on who you ask, the stories as to why this happened differ. According to CJ, this had to do with a noteworthy volume of the rest of the league feeling concerned about the COVID-19 risk of having extra people involved in practices, despite the fact that teams are allowed about 20 non-player officials in the rink that these officials would have almost assuredly counted under. Sheldon Keefe’s quote (via Kristen Shilton) implies that teams didn’t like that the Leafs had “such resources readily available”, as if no other NHL market has access to officials who could call a scrimmage.

Not NHL officials, which as far as it’s known these officials weren’t, but officials in general. Keep in mind here that this isn’t even a particularly new revalation; the Leafs organization has been hiring referees for training camp scrimmages for years, for both the Leafs and the Marlies. Other NHL teams do it. From my own personal experience on the operations side, even junior teams do it. The point of a scrimmage is to emulate a game situation, so having people enforce the rules is a pretty key component.

All the same, this wasn’t an individual hill worth dying on. Yes, such a complaint seems incredibly petty and silly and more reflective of teams upset that they didn’t think to use their extra staff limits on officials, but there are bigger fish to fry before the playoffs begin and hey, maybe there is something to the idea of keeping two more people off the ice for social distancing purposes. I suppose we can just pick up and move o-

I’m sorry, what?

For context here, the Toronto Maple Leafs practice at the Ford Performance Centre in Etobicoke, formerly known as the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence, or MCC for short. A decent drive away from Scotiabank Arena, the facility is owned by the City of Toronto and designed to primarily serve the local community, but the Maple Leafs pay a little under $600,000 a year in rent which allows them to have their own custom dressing rooms with amenities for the Maple Leafs in Rink 2, and Marlies in Rink 3. It also covers, presumably, the timeslots that they rent throughout the season, and the team takes care of a lot of the operation and upkeep of the rink as well.

This isn’t to say that the Leafs have exclusivity to these pads by any means, either. Rinks 2 and 3 are in constant public and private use when the Leafs aren’t using them – heck, the last game played on the Leafs’ pad before the rinks shut down for the COVID-19 lockdown featured my beer league team losing 3-0 to the “Too Drunken Monkeys”; our league puts us on the Leafs and Hockey Canada rinks at FPC two or three times per year.

According to ‘J’, Friedman continued: “Toronto was a team that, a lot of their prospects, or a number of them, would come to Toronto in the summer and they’d work out at the practice facility and they really improved as players. And teams were like, ‘we don’t like that’.”

So the gripe here seems to be that the Leafs have ensured that players and prospects who stick around town and don’t necessarily go to a specific training coach or school have a rink where they can go to and get some stuff done on their own time.

I have a very hard time considering this to be an unfair advantage. Most, if not all teams have their own practice facilites, and several teams (Anaheim, Winnipeg, Vegas, Buffalo, San Jose, Los Angeles, and possibly more) own their rinks outright, and I would assume the others have leases that would allow them to open the doors of their dressing rooms between June and September.

Given that these aren’t organized practices being hosted, and the fact that usage of the facility is in no way mandatory, and that every other team has some sort of practice arena arrangement with similar, if not more power over their facility, I don’t see any reason that other teams can’t do what the Leafs are doing. They might not want to spend that much money on amenities, sure. Their players might not want to stay in their cities during the summer, sure. But those aren’t Toronto’s problem.

This all sort of spins back to what I spoke about in my piece “The NHL and the pursuit of mediocrity” a few weeks back. With each passing year, passing month, passing day, this league becomes less about being the best and more about being good enough. Instead of hoarding it’s money, the richest club in the league is re-investing in itself and it’s community by tapping into it’s resources to make the product it sells better, in ways that don’t violate the rules or the “spirit” of the game, but actually encourage getting it right – making sure you’re playing by the rules in the case of the officials, and making sure that players have access to the tools they need to hone their craft in the case of the facility.

Yet, here we are. A bunch of teams have complained that this self-investment is unfair, and now the team can’t do it. At the end of the day, these two rulings individually aren’t things to lose sleep about – they won’t make or break the team’s success – but they do make you wonder what the point of going the extra mile is, if all it will lead to is the league siding with teams who feel slighted about being “shown up”. If this truly is the best hockey league in the world, then striving to be the best in ways that still keep everybody happy should be encouraged – “good enough” shouldn’t be considered good enough.

July 17, 2020 181 views 0
Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

July 15, 2020

Why the Leafs’ top-line reunion could pay dividends against Columbus 

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been back to skating and practicing in “Stage 3” this week, and with that has come a favourite past time for this city – freaking out about practice lines. I’m not going to lie – even as someone still watching with baited breath given the health circumstances behind this return to play, the first wave of roster arguments made everything feel real.

One notable combination that drew the attention of many came on the first line. These past few days of drills and scrimmages have featured a once-constant trio at the top of the lineup, as Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander lined up with each other.

This line is one that still feels very familiar to this day, but actually hasn’t seen a lot of time together. According to data from Evolving Hockey, the trio has played just 36 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together over the past two years – likely even less than that when you account for line change overlaps and spill over from powerplays.

Both years seem reflective of short leashes, with less than a game or two’s worth of minutes in each case. That they were outscored 3-0 in this stretch likely did no favours to the reunion experimentation, leading to both Babcock and Keefe to look elsewhere for their goals.

With that said, the group has, historically, fed off of each other, getting similar or better on-ice shares in goals, expected goals, and shot attempts over the long haul. There is an interesting pattern at play insofar that Matthews produces a little bit better away from both players (slightly better with Hyman this year), but still gets a better overall goal share while with them.

My guess here would be that this has a lot to do with the play style of the line, which is where a lot of it’s value comes from. Under both coaches, the Leafs organization has built its forward lines around archetypes, trying to get a playmaker, a goal scorer, and what I like to call a “displacer” – others might prefer forechecker or “worker bee” for puck retrievals and distribution. This allows for a skilled, fast, and yet still heavy cycle, which eventually pushes itself to the front of the net.

Because these are collective group efforts, including the trio and the defencemen, points tend to be a little more randomly distributed compared to more direct, rush-based plays, where one or two players control the set play and it’s success guarantees them a spot on the scoresheet. Perhaps not coincidentally, Matthews’ top 5-on-5 point production rates (besides John Tavares, who is paired with Matthews as a hail mary) tend to be highest with straight line players of varying talent levels like Patrick Marleau, Kasperi Kapanen, and Mitch Marner, who can link directly with him.

The Leafs aren’t focused on winning any one player the Art Ross Trophy, however – they’re focused on winning a Best-of-5 series against the Columbus Blue Jackets – a well-coached, defensively stringent team with solid, but unproven goaltending. Columbus’ huge strength this year has come in the shot quality they’ve been able to limit in front of the goal mouth, particularly from the top of their lineup.

Loading up what might be Toronto’s best line at driving close-range scoring opportunities of the modern era, both individually and as a collective, seems to be a shrewd strategy to press the issue against an opponent that specializes in that strength. It also allows for another line to sneak up while playing more of a rush dynamic (say, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and someone like Ilya Mikheyev, Kasperi Kapanen, or maybe even Nick Robertson if he cracks the lineup), keeping the opposing group on their toes.

While this one move isn’t a game changer, it appears to be one that could suffocate their opposition’s strengths, by leaning on some strength’s of Toronto’s own. It’s also a reunion that will carry lots of goodwill within the city, as the Hyman-Matthews-Nylander trio marked a new beginning for the organization when they emerged in 2016/17. While there is no guarantee the move works, it’s very sensible on the surface and is something that people have been waiting to see again for a long time.

July 15, 2020 111 views 0
Jeff Veillette
Jeff Veillette@jeff

July 13, 2020

The Mailbag: July 13 

We’re back! Phase 3 is underway, which means that hockey updates are starting to look like like actual hockey updates again. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for you to decide – I’ve already exhausted my skepticisms – but so long as it’s happening, we’re all going to talk about it.

But first – It’s also Monday, and I do have questions from the crowd. So let’s tackle those.

In Case You Missed It

Before we get started, here’s what I got up to last week:

The Mailbag

https://twitter.com/beans2550/status/1282488670461755392

My general choice: Pavel Bure, #10, Vancouver Canucks in the Black “Skate” design with all the right patches (Canucks Place, the Frank Griffiths tribute, 94 Finals). Favourite player, favourite design, a match made in nostalgia heaven.

My sentimental choice: My dad’s Wendel Clark Leafs jersey. It was among his prized hockey possessions and while I tend to wear jerseys more for playing in (outdoor rinks, renting ice with friends, etc) than casual wear, I’ll throw this one on from time to time for him.

I think there absolutely is – mapping and modelling injury impacts is going to be a huge frontier moving forward, particularly when it comes to avoiding risks at the negotiating table.

The issue, honestly, is the quality and quantity of information. Teams often give out vague info, and a lot of the historical exacts tend to be hidden behind paywalls on things like fantasy sports sites. I don’t think that should stop anyone from trying, though – resources like NHLInjuryViz have been a great start in the right direction.

So if this is something you’re interested in? No guarantees you’ll find the conclusions you expect to, but I think there’s a lot of upside in exploring it.

Honestly, I’m not sure, and I’m excited to find out. Hockey has a huge issue with even-up calling, particularly when score is considered, and the playoffs are known to be even more relaxed. At the same time, as I mentioned in my home-ice advantage piece, the data being collected in German soccer right now indicates that empty stadiums have a psychological effect on how referees are calling fouls, bookings, and penalties. I’m very, very curious to see if similar happens in the NHL.

Lots of merit to it. Since the coaching change, the Leafs hve posted the 8th-best record in the NHL – and were closer to cracking the Top 5 than they were to falling out of the Top 10. They were 7th in Score-Adjusted Corsi, and 5th in Expected Goals Share.

Conversely, they were 27th in save percentage in this sample. Some might point to this and yell “shot quality”, but the difference in their shots against rate in this span (14th) and expected goals against rate (also 14th), is non-existant, and breaking down Corsi/attempts against expected goals and high-danger attempts shows a team in the lower-middle of the pack, which is where they’ve been when throughout Andersen’s best seasons as well, if not worse.

Many players have played noticeably better since the change. To me, it seems evident that the team has been in good shape since it happened, but due to the angst leading up to it, people weren’t able to shake off their concerns. If the Leafs can come out swinging against Columbus, I think the collective worry will shake off pretty quickly.

Frankly, I can’t give an answer on this without learning more about what both do, particularly on McRae’s front. However, I cross paths with Josh at the rink a bunch since he does a lot of his work from Toronto, so I’m going to do the Hockey Man (TM) thing and pick the guy I’m personally familiar with until I learn more.

July 13, 2020 79 views 0
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