The Curious Case of Jordie Benn

While it’s no secret that the Dallas Stars have a myriad of issues, especially on defense, there seems to be one name on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

The ginger-bearded brother of our stalwart captain can easily be considered the most maligned man in the Dallas Stars fandom right now. Click on any article about Dallas’s woes and you’ll see at least two or three people squawking about the need to glue his ass to the bench.

And for four games, Lindy Ruff did just that.

Did it work? Was that the magic cure for the team? After all, the Stars did win 3 out of those 4 games.

As I spoke about earlier this week, one of the best stats to use to compare a player to his competition is Corsi, a possession metric. Possession is equally as important for Defense as it is for Offense, because if you have the puck, the other team obviously doesn’t.

Y’all better appreciate this graph cuz Excel did not like it.

First things first – how to read this graph (all numbers through 12/12 & can be found at waronice.com):

Both the blue line (Jordie) and the red line (Dallas) are Overall Corsi, 5v5 in all score situations. Dallas is an overall team number (including Jordie).

The green line (Jordie) and the purple line (Trevor Daley) are Corsi Relative % 5v5, all score situations – basically a measure of how much they helped or hurt the team’s possession.

I have squared off the section of games where Jordie was sitting. Do you notice anything different? Yeah, me neither. The Stars’ best possession games were against Minnesota (5-4 OT Loss) and Arizona (3-1 victory), with an abysmal showing against LA (5-4, victory).

It’s pretty easy to see why he was benched, though. He’s had a string of bad possession numbers, starting on 10/28 all the way through the 11/16 Chicago drubbing. Since his return, though, he has been a better than average puck-possessor for the Stars. In fact, he & Jason Demers have posted the best CR% for any d-pairing that Ruff has put together thus far. It’s a small set of data (only three games), but I expect to see this pairing an awful lot going forward.

Why did I put Daley’s CR% on this graph? Well, if people are going to single out Jordie Benn for poor possession, it’s only fair to see what one of our highest paid defenseman is doing for us. And frankly, it’s not much. Daley was all over the place at the start of the season – in fact his Corsi is sitting at a lifeless 44.2%. Jordie’s is 51.75%.

It’s encouraging to see Daley start to level out, as the wild swings mean inconsistency in game, which is never something you want to see from your top Dman.

As has been pointed out several times – you’re less likely to possess the puck if you’re starting in the defensive zone! Remember, this graph is 5v5, so Daley’s considerable time on the PK isn’t being held against him. That said, Jordie Benn’s Offensive Zone Start % is -6.39%, which is lowest of all seven dmen.

Jordie Benn starts in his own zone more than any other Dallas D man and still has a better Corsi than Trevor Daley (or Goligoski, for that matter, though he’s not charted), and yet he’s the number one problem?

Of course he is, Carolyn! Did you not see that turnover?

This is my favorite graph. I want to hug it.

Now as labeled, this graph measures give aways, as captured at hockey-reference.com. While there is some (read: a lot) of subjectivity in what constitutes a giveaway, and how a giveaway differs from a turnover, I’ve tried eliminate most bias by keeping the data source constant.

Now there are three separate statistics being measured on this graph. Everything is a rate, as this eliminates the issue of different amounts of games our defense has played.

The first two lines to study are the Blue (Giveaways Per Game), and the Red (the same measure with the total Dallas numbers). On average, the Dallas Stars defense has 0.712 giveaways per game. Jordie Benn, 0.708. Yep. He’s average when compared to the rest of the team. Those big spikes? That’s Goligoski at 1.00 and Klingberg at 0.96.

I’m not saying this is good for Jordie. It is, objectively, pretty terrible. The Minnesota Wild’s D-core are posting an average of 0.444 giveaways per game. Out of their eight defensemen, only one is posting an “above the Dallas Stars” average – Matthew Dumba at 0.75.

But pointing fingers at Jordie for turnovers is ignoring the larger problem of being a giveaway prone defense. Maybe it’s more tolerated from a rookie like Klingberg, but when Goligoski is making 4.6 million a year, a giveaway per game isn’t acceptable.

But Carolyn, his turnovers are what are killing us in tight games!

Are they really though? If you check the second box, the green line (5v5 Close Giveaway %) and purple line(total Dallas percent) examines that. The 5v5 Close literally means “in situations where the score is +/- 1 goal”. The Stars’ total percent of giveaways in close situations is 40.4%. Jordie Benn is right on average at 41.2%. While Jokipakka is the largest outlier with 4 out of 4 giveaways during close game situations, Daley’s spike is the most concerning.

64% of Daley’s giveaways come during close score situations. In raw numbers, that’s 9 out of 14. Again, it’s one thing to see a rookie lose his composure in tense games, but can you really excuse that behavior from Daley, who wears the A?

Well, you argue, Daley is our top defenseman, he’s going to play more when the games are close! Of course he’s going to have more turnovers then compared to everyone else!

Ehhhh that doesn’t really pan out. When you look at the bottom of the graph, everyone’s giveaways per minute played during close situations are relatively flat, with Jokipakka being the notable exception.

So yes, while turnovers are killing the Dallas Stars Defense, pinning all the blame on Jordie Benn, who makes $700,000 a year is misleading. He definitely can, and should, be asked to get better by the coaching staff, but there are far bigger turnover problems than the elder Benn.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with Jordie’s play. He’s taken 7 penalties (the most of any dman), but he has only had 2 in the last 5 games (same as Klingberg, and Demers has had 3, not to mention our forwards). He’s right up there with Goligoski in blocked shots (1.38/game and 1.39/game respectively), but the other large part of being on defense is positioning.

This graph is a little bit difficult to interpret, but basically, there are three areas of the ice that skaters shoot from: the outer most zone, a middle range, and then right by the crease. The more ‘red’ the area is, the more other teams are taking shots against Dallas there, relative to league average. Green is neutral, and blue is better.  On the left you have shots against with Jordie on the ice, and on the right, without him on ice.

The first thing that jumps out is how much more red the graph on the right is compared to the left. This is bad news for Jordie Benn dectractors; without Jordie, there are 5% more shots on net directly in front of the crease and a whopping 20% increase on the wing.

What this tells us is that he’s being particularly effective on the perimeter at preventing shots. However, he does leave some work desired in protecting the goalie from all of those centers who love to crash the net. This is a huge area of opportunity for him, especially because it’s a giant weakness for the Stars overall.

The Graph on the Left speaks to Dallas offense, so we’re only really interested in the one on the right. That 1.3 right on top of the net? That means the Dallas Stars are letting teams get off 30% more shots right in front of the net than average. 30% more!

Jordie certainly can help with that – he’s still 14% above league average in that zone, but he’s not the worst offender on the Stars Defense. Unfortunately, that title goes to…

Notice how the colors are flipped on that graph vs Jordie’s graph? Yeah, that’s bad. And for 3.3 million a year, that’s really, really bad.

Here’s my grain of salt before everyone clamors to trade Daley: Daley, as a top Dman is going to be defending first line offense more than Jordie. Also these Hextallys (found at waronice.com) represent season wide stats which don’t show short-term trends, and as the Corsi chart shows, he has had a rough start to the season, but is trending upwards in possession.

Why do you keep mentioning salary, Carolyn? That has nothing to do with possession!

You’re right, to an extent. However, to say that salary isn’t commensurate with level of play is ridiculous (Kane & Toews anyone? Bueller?). So the crux of the matter is that Jordie Benn is being paid less than any other Dman the Stars have right now.

Yes, all of them, even the rookies, are making more money.

Per capgeek.com, there are 12 other defensemen in the league making $700k. That’s it, twelve. And here I’ve written about 1700 words comparing him to the other Stars Dmen, when really there are only 12 people in the league in the same situation.

Oh wait…if I take out anyone who has played less than 5 games in the NHL this season, I’m left with this:

That’s five guys making making the same money. Jordie has played the most games, and has a higher Corsi than all but one of them. Say what you want about Jordie’s play, but I guarantee you Jim Nill is happy with that ROI.

It feels like Stars fans are falling under the influence of the old Availability Heuristic, “A mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by the ease with which examples come to mind.” Jordie Benn makes one turnover – Jordie makes the most turnovers. Jordie is out of position – Jordie isn’t blocking shots. We lose a game – Jordie lost us the game.

When things don’t go my way, I turn to data to find out why. That doesn’t work for everyone (nor should it, god, how much time did I spend on this?), and that’s fine. But you have to remember – this is a team sport. One player isn’t going to be the reason the Stars lose…or win…anything.

The Stars At Night Are…Big?…and Bright?

There’s trouble deep in the heart of Texas.

This morning I woke up with a headache and still no idea what happened to the team that remembered just this Saturday how to play hockey. So I decided to dig through some numbers to figure it out.

A few disclaimers to get started with:

  • All data is 5v5, all score situations. Dallas is 21st in the league both on the PK and on the PP, but usually special teams don’t seem to be where we’re the most vulnerable.
  • The lines and defense pairings are as accurate as I can make them, however most lines from older games were pulled from Mike Heika’s morning skate notes, so take them with a grain of salt, as The Ruffle Shuffle has been in full effect this season.

I’ve done most of my analysis using Corsi Relative % as the baseline for interpretation. Corsi Relative % (Corsi Rel % or CR% commonly), compares the player’s corsi vs the team’s corsi without them, as a percent. The higher the CR% the more positive possession numbers they’re bringing to the team. Why CR% and not Corsi? Well, Corsi is a measure of a player vs the competition.

We know exactly how the Stars as a team have been doing versus their competition. Over the last 7 games they’ve posted just two victories, both at home. They’ve played top flight opponents and bottom table opponents. Hard hitting teams and fast possession teams. The Stars just aren’t playing well, regardless of the quality of competition. So, it’s time to look internally and use Corsi Rel % to ask “how are the Stars doing vs. themselves?”

Now, we know the defense has been bad (and don’t worry, I’ll get there), but any given game only has 6 defensemen, which leaves 14 other people on the ice affecting the game. To place defensive responsibility solely on the Dmen is ridiculous, especially since about half of them have been trending upwards in possession play. Also, we’re rotating in three rookie Dmen night after night: Klingberg, Jokipakka, and Oleksiak. We only have one rookie forward by comparison (McKenzie).

Primarily, the way we can look at a forward’s defensive responsibility is through possession. If they have the puck, the other team doesn’t have the puck. The other major factor is blocked shots and positioning. While there’s no numbers attached to on-ice positioning, Lindy Ruff has talked about ‘team responsibility’ when it comes to shot blocking, and at least that part seems to have sunk in – over half of all blocked shots vs Winnepeg and Montreal were blocked by forwards.

So that brings us back to good ole’ possession. I’ve looked at the most recent 7 games, as they seem to represent the best and the worst of Stars hockey, and why we’re moving in fits and starts.

Fancy Stats on a Fancy Chart

This chart is pretty simplified. The red line is Benn & Seguin’s average CR%, and the blue is all the other forwards, except for the one lucky guy on the top line. There’s a pretty clear trend of the two lines being flipped – when one is high, the other is low, and vice versa.

What this says to me is that Benn and Seguin are well deserving of their praise as night-after-night, hard battling, team driving guys. Literally no one tried harder to win against the Jets last night than these two.

And, well, that’s the problem. Other than the disastrous game against the Avalanche, Benn and Seguin have been leading the team’s possession metrics in every loss. They aren’t getting any help.

Here’s a quick snapshot of all the forwards against Detroit, ranked in Corsi (yes, the opponent measure):

Look at that professional-grade color coding

Notice anything?

That poorly drawn blue line? You guessed it – that’s where the individual corsi starts hurting the team. Did you figure out the color coding? Yep, that’s the entire third and fourth line with corsi at 35% or under.

Yes, Horcoff and Moen are mostly deployed in the defensive zone (Offensive Zone Start % of -28% and -46% respectively), but so were Sceviour, Eakin, and Spezza (-8%, -12.5%, -8%). Plus, Moen’s percentage is skewed by the fact that his ice time was limited by injury that game.

And it’s not a fluke, either.  Here’s how the lines rolled against Winnepeg last night:

And there it is again!

“But offensive zone starts!” You cry.

Sceviour, Benn, and Seguin all had OZS% of -44%.

Effectively, the Stars are rolling one line in losses. Here’s what it looks like when they win:

Wait, how am I supposed to tell what’s good without the blue line?

See the difference? Tyler Seguin had a 51% Corsi…and two goals. No one can say he didn’t play well in that game. But there’s a staggering jump for everyone else. (Oh, and the top 6 guys on that list? Average OZS % of -13%)

Which brings me to conclusion #1:

If the Stars are going to start winning games, they need to hold lines 2-4 accountable for puck possession – regardless of where they are on the ice.

What about those other 6 guys though? Yes, what about that terrible defense I mentioned earlier? Shouldn’t we just bench Jordie Benn and be done with it?

Well….actually….

The floating dots really are supposed to be there, I promise.

No. We shouldn’t. In fact, Jordie Benn (the dark blue line) is trending better in Corsi Rel % than Goligoski (purple line). Over the last 7 games, Goligoski has only had a positive possession impact relative to everyone else on the team once, in that disheartening OT loss to the Wild.

Other than Jyrki Jokipakka (light blue line), the rookies have been all over the map. In particular, John Klingberg seems to have lost his magic touch which made him an offensive weapon in his first few games.

But, no D-man plays alone, at least not when they’re 5v5, so here’s a snap of how the pairings have done.

From Winnepeg to Detroit Pairing 1 is Goligoski-Daley, Pairing 2 is Demers-Benn, and Pairing 3 is Klingberg-Oleksiak/Jokipakka

From Toronto to Edmondton, Pairing 1 is Daley-Demers, Pairing 2 is Goligoski-Klingberg, and Pairing 3 is a mix of Benn, Oleksiak, and Jokipakka.

The first thing that jumps out here is that great big spike of Demers and Benn. I think this pairing is trending in the right direction (three games is too little data to shout ‘success!’), and I really hope that Ruff continues to play them together. Per Stats.HockeyAnalsis.Com, their Corsi when on-ice together is 56%. Their Goals/20 differential is negative, but then….it’s the Stars. Almost every D pairing is on ice for more goals against than goals for right now.

The second concern is that dark blue pairing 1 line. With Goligoski and Daley together, the most positive it gets is +0.295%. When it’s Daley-Demers, you see an uptick, but Goligoski and Klingberg are similarly disastrous (red line from Toronto onwards).

Season-wide, Daley-Goligoski have put up a 45% Corsi and a -.137 Goals/20 differential. Goligoski’s Corsi without Daley? 55%. Goligoski-Klingberg is a 53% Corsi and a +1.036 Goals/20. Again these are season stats relative to the competition, so not quite the same measure as the graph above.

The Daley-Demers pairing puts up a similarly troubling 49% Corsi, with Demers better off without Daley at 51%. In fact, Daley’s only “good” Corsi pairing thus far has been with Jamie Olesiak at 50% even, on a total of 6 minutes of ice time.

What does this tell us? Well, it means that not only are the rookies having inconsistent seasons, something not unexpected, it shows us that our veteran defense is hurting the team more than helping. If we’re looking at the short term numbers (the last seven games) it looks like Daley is trying to fight his way back from a really rough start, but that Goligoski has lost the plot. If Lindy is going to scratch a defenseman – I argue it should be Goligoski, and the lines could be run like this: Daley-Oleksiak, Demers-Benn, Klingberg-Jokipakka

Which brings me to conclusion #2:

Until Goligoski and Daley improve their 5v5 possession and start acting like the seasoned vets they are, the Stars aren’t going to be able to rely on their defense, and we’re going to see more of these horrible 5-2 losses.

So there you have it. Here’s hoping something turns around soon.

 

An Open Letter to the Dallas Stars

It recently came to my attention that in May of this year, Assistant Coach James Patrick was arrested on charges of assaulting his girlfriend. The official response, as detailed by the Dallas Morning News, was full of confidence in the authorities, followed by a cool “no further comments at this time.”

There have been no further comments since, either.

I understand the PR necessity of keeping the organization away from commenting on a specific case, especially one under investigation. However, as a fan, and more so as a female fan, it saddens me that the Dallas Stars didn’t take this opportunity to speak out against domestic violence.

It’s no secret that the bungled Ray Rice investigation (and subsequent punishments) by the NFL has brought the relationship between domestic violence and professional athletes into the media spotlight. The NHL is no stranger to this either, with Seymon Varlamov being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend last December. While I am glad to see that dialogue around domestic violence finally happening, no professional sports organization has stepped up and said “Domestic violence is a problem, and we want to help solve it.”

In fact, I did some googling today, along the lines of “sports teams against domestic violence” and only two teams were listed: the Tennessee Titans, whose game tomorrow vs. the Jaguars is supposedly “Domestic Violence Awareness day” however, the Game Day info makes no mention of any Domestic Violence helplines, charities, or shelters that benefit from their “awareness”. The other team, the ASU Sun Devils, has a much stronger message – they have posted images of themselves, speaking out against domestic violence, using the hashtag #ItsOnUs. This is a stance that matters. This is a stance that actually takes on the problem and cuts to the heart of it.

Domestic Violence is everyone’s problem. #ItsOnUs to make sure that victims feel supported, not blamed. #ItsOnUs to make sure that everyone feels safe. #ItsOnUs to call out domestic violence when we see it. #ItsOnUs to make this world better.

And it’s on you, Dallas Stars, to make sure that your fans understand that you, as an organization, recognize that what happens on the ice needs to stay on the ice. Because right now, your silence sounds like you just don’t care.

Sincerely,

Carolyn

If I Created A Boyband, They’d Be the Bandwagoners*

Can we talk a minute about the term Bandwagon Fan?

I only ever hear it applied to either sports teams or musicians. My thoroughly fact-checked research** says that the term “jumping on the bandwagon” came about when politicians used to literally put bands in wagons to attract crowds to their speeches, which yeah, does sound pretty lame. No lamer than what politicians do today to attract crowds, which mostly seems to involve making people pay large sums of money to hear them drone on over a limp spinach salad and overcooked filet.

But back to the point – what the hell is a Bandwagon Fan? And more relevantly, why does anyone care?

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Grown-Up Chicken Fingers For the Little Kid in You

Oh man, have I ever been bad about updating this blog! There’s a lot going on in my life right now – I’ve actually recently started attending Le Cordon Bleu to get my certificate in Pastry and Baking, so I have very little time to myself, and even less time to write.

But I still need to eat! I’m also on a bit of a health kick, so I’m trying to cut back on processed foods, eat more vegetables, yada yada yada. Still, who can resist a tender, juicy, flavorful bit of breaded chicken that’s seasoned with herbs and that salty creamy tang of parmesan cheese?

Well, not me, obviously. And when I posted the picture of of them to facebook, I was asked for the recipe, and instead of just emailing it to my friend I thought it might be a great time to break out the ol’ blog again.

I apologize in advance for the lack of step-by-step photos!

Parmesan and Herb Chicken Tenders

Parmesan and Herb Chicken Tenders

So juicy, so crunchy, so dip-able into the homemade ranch…awwwww yeah.

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