Saturday, May 30, 2015
Authors Posts by Gus Katsaros

Gus Katsaros

Gus is the McKeen's Hockey Director of Analytics & Pro Scouting and has been writing at MLHS since 2009.

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BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 01: Mikhail Grigorenko #25 of the Buffalo Sabres falls against the boards while Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs reaches for the puck on April 1, 2015 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Passing along a quick conversation with Morgan Rielly from later on this past season:

On your personal development: This was your sophomore season; a bit of a tough one to go through as a player that’s still developing. What’s it feel like to go through so much adversity at a young stage of your career?
I think you have to treat it like a positive. There’s lots of players who are older than me who haven’t had a chance to experience what I’ve experienced, and I think that’s a good thing. Obviously the team is going through a tough time as a group. There was a coaching change and everything else like that.  It’s easy to get down, but it’s experiences like that that help you grow as a person and a player. You’ve just got to handle it in stride and learn on the fly.

Is there anything that you’ve seen personally from the times that you’ve played in junior to where you are now? Any changes in your game, maybe not necessarily implemented by coaching staff, but just something that you’ve worked on on your own?
I’m not sure if there’s just, you know, one area. I think it’s just a matter of playing the game as a two-way defenceman as opposed to just being one-dimensional. I think that’s the main thing with me. I want to be able to play in each area of the ice, and I think I’ve been able to improve on that.

Is there something that you’re trying to get out of your game?
There is always times when you’re trying to get better at everything. There are habits that players have when they get tired on the ice; they might just whack the puck away as opposed to holding it and trying to make a play. That’s one of them, but there are lots of areas.  There’s no perfect player in the world, so it’s always a matter of trying to get better.

Did you watch a lot of the World Juniors considering you were there last year?
Yeah. It’s always cool to get a chance to watch them. When the team is playing that well, it’s a lot more fun.

Being a sophomore now, is there anything that you would tell yourself back in your draft year to prepare you for now?
People are always offering advice. They always say how bad the Toronto media is, what it’s like playing against pro players, but I think you really just have to experience it and learn from it.  There’s no way to know exactly what’s going to happen over the course of two years. You just have to learn in stride and experience it.

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    The Blackhawks and the Maple Leafs are the only remaining teams using the "Czech Press" PK system against the popular 1-3-1 PP system.

    A systematic explanation of the Leafs penalty killing isn’t fully available to explain the dramatic drop off. There isn’t enough of a systematic change from what made the units successful in ’12-13.

    This is wrong. I should know, I wrote it

    The unchanged system WAS the explanation, as we shall see explained below. The phrase irked me from the moment of publish. It felt incomplete, anticlimactic. There had to be more and there was.

    The quote was taken from a block of posts on Maple Leafs systems for Maple Leafs Hot Stove, focusing on the defensive zone coverage, offensive and neutral zone forecheck and the final instalment focusing on the Leafs penalty killing system.

    While I did my best to identify the system, the consequences of utilization weren’t evident enough to provide insight for the woeful penalty kill in 2013-14 that proved successful in the shortened 2012-13. Identifying system utilization is only partial analysis in the absence of the counter, the system designed to counteract the intended result.


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    I’ve always had an keen interest in systems, the X’s and O’s technical side, with a desire to document team systems across the entire NHL.

    Systems are mostly a coach’s implementation, and once there is a coaching change there is the system change, even if it is only tweaks. I’ve found that doing a little systems analysis helps in the overall scouting process as well, a concept I won’t go into detail on here, but I’ve written about its benefits on my own blog.

    In an effort to document the Leafs systems, I’m going to dedicate a three-post series breaking down implementation in the defensive, neutral and offensive zones, followed by special-teams.

    This first post is dedicated specifically to the defensive zone, with a focus on trouble clearing the puck out, leading to other positional failures, scoring chances, penalties, shots on goal, and eventually goals scored.


    I’m going to leave zone entries for another post, because I believe that is more relevant to the neutral zone. This post focuses on when the puck is in the defensive zone; how the Leafs set up to create turnovers, regain possession, and handle the pressure of a sustained forecheck.

    Before getting right into the main points, I wanted to address the concept of the  system’s fundamentals as forcing the opponent to the perimeter (outside) and allowing shots from a greater distance.

    I find that to be a slight misconception. It is natural to be in a defensive position between the puck and the net at all times, and pushing players to the outside has a more philosophical bent and is defense 101 rather than a component for which to build a system around.

    Teams would be satisfied to keep players on the perimeter moving the puck without penetration into scoring areas. So the main part of a defensive system has less to do with clogging up the middle and keeping opponents to the outside, and more about regaining possession, quick ups and transition.

    The word transition, bandied around by Leafs coaching and management staffs, is one of the weaker areas addressed by Randy Carlyle’s systems as we shall see.

    Opponents controlling the puck leads to what Randy Carlyle dubs as “receiving,” where the defending team withstands the barrage of shots, with the hope that scoring chances are few and far between whether set up properly or not in the defensive zone.

    System implementation isn’t meant to make “receiving” a typical defensive philosophy. The goal is to isolate the puck carrier, engage with (hopefully) numbers (one engaged, one support/layer), regain possession and transition to offense all while facing varying degrees of forechecking pressure.

    Defending off the rush isn’t controlled by a systematic process and is reliant on individual player skills – gap control, skating ability and agility, and not coaching implementation. Defenders are at the mercy of the onrushing player with the puck and must react accordingly. Coaches desire players between the puck and the net and emphasize taking out players along the boards, since it eases creating a turnover while aligning with the philosophy of isolating the puck and engaging.

    An invaluable resource for detailed comprehension is Coach Nielsen’s blog touching on a variety of systems concepts. The site contains diagrams and video that explains his specific concepts and ideology, but the ideas are adaptable.

    1 - D-Zone Systems

    For instance, this diagram (right) with converging lines from the corners into the slot area is a good guide when focusing on how the team moves in relation to where the puck is in the zone, without any specific detail on any implemented system.

    The puck in the top right corner should have the forward line up on the same parallel line as it appears. As the puck slices through the perpendicular lines, the forward slides down through the slot along the converging lines, jumping along each parallel line, and staying in line with the puck.

    An interesting concept was presented in the Coach’s video – that of the inverted house, which looks like an inverted scoring chance home plate, where the focus is closer to the net and the crease area with less focus at the top of the zone. If the goalie can see it he can stop it, is the logic here.

    That sounds analogous to Randy Carlyle logic in a statement by Bobby Ryan on the differences in styles as featured in Elliotte Freidmanís 30 Thoughts blog.

    23. Ryan said there was one on-ice adjustment with his transition from Anaheim to Ottawa. Senators head coach Paul MacLean wants his forwards to engage opponents who go to the half-wall with the puck in the defensive zone. Ryan remembers then-Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle demanding they stay in the middle of the ice. “If the goalie can’t stop it from out there, we’ll get another one,” Ryan said Carlyle would say.

    As the puck moves out of the corner, the strong side forward and defenseman lineup along the parallel line, with the forward following the path of the defenseman at the point. Players on the weak side converge to the middle of the ice and essentially cut it in half. This is called an overload and looks like the image below. Note the amount of space given up on the one side while cutting down the ice in half.

    2 - D-Zone Overload

    Formations can vary depending on a high/low box shape, or loading up in one half of the ice. The zone is broken down as outlined below from the invaluable Blue Seat Blog.

    3 - Zones

    It is common knowledge that Carlyle prefers a system which collapses forwards down low, while attempting to cut the ice in half, forcing an overload, which carries a risk of open space if the puck gets to the other side. This contributes to additional zone time when the opposition applies pressure, especially along the boards, an area that’s been difficult for the Leafs.

    4 - low zone overloadOne of the drawbacks of having forwards so low is what I refer to as “the accordion.” If I am an opposition coach, I would get the puck in deep (even as a dump in play), force the natural collapse of forwards and  get the puck back to the point, forcing the defending forwards to turn around and get out there quick.

    If there is a clear shot on goal, low-zone forwards converge to the net. If there isn’t a direct shot to the net, the puck can be sent back down low and have the process start again, collapsing the forwards and kind of playing them like an accordion. Not only does this tire out the defending team, it creates holes and passing lanes in the middle of the ice that can be used as additional space for the attacking team forwards to encroach looking for a better position for a shot on goal.

    Now, that’s how it’s supposed to work conceptually. Forwards collapse, the puck carrier would be isolated, the turnover occurred, and  a breakout follows based on a quick transition.

    Reality bites, however. The Leafs have had a terribly difficult time breaking out of their own zone and try to clear the puck out into the neutral zone and fight to get it back out there. Adding to the difficulty skating it out, they don’t set up for good distribution outlets, causing them to try to regroup or change the flow to the other side of the ice while looking for an opening and leads to more confusion, clearly an undesired effect.

    The Leafs struggle to move the puck out leads to an exceptional amount of zone time and sustained pressure indicative of their suspect possession stats, a clearly undesired element. I believe that this actually starts in the neutral zone.

    At the beginning of the season, they played forwards a little deeper in the zone and clumped up to the point that they were an easy target for forecheckers. More recently, forwards are stretched out a bit further out into the neutral zone, attempting to move the puck out of the zone easier with long stretch passes. That, in turn, creates gaps that introduce additional risk. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a similar problem with an immobile blueline aside from Kris Letang, exploited by the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, but this isn’t about the Penguins.

    This short video shows how the Leafs clumped up at the beginning of the season. The image taken from the video shows some disorganization.


    5 - LeafsHabsInLine

    When Montreal successfully moved the puck back to point, the amount of space given up in the middle is fairly evident.


    6 - LeafsHabsMiddleSpace

    One week later, as the Leafs took on Minnesota, more disorganization in their zone emerged. It is visible that, once they try to get into formation and are overwhelmed, the structure breaks down leading to clearing attempts by chipping it off the glass – if successful. When they finally do retrieve the puck, they have very few outlets and struggle to move it up.

    Once again, they line up the forwards so low into the zone they could almost lay a blanket over all players.

    7 - Lowzoneoverload

    Pay attention to the end sequence, where Mason Raymond has to turn and go back behind his net to pass it off before Carl Gunnarsson does the exact same thing on the other side. Even then, Raymond is forced to pass it across the ice to an awaiting Dion Phaneuf that finally clears it out of the zone.

    In this next video, the Leafs are under pressure versus Edmonton, Anaheim, Buffalo, and in the 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Capitals.

    8 - LeafsOilersLowzonecollapse

    Notice how everybody is lined up deep in the zone as the puck was skated out from behind the net and directed towards the blue line. David Clarkson had to turn around and quickly get to the point, which he did in this instance successfully, forcing the puck to the middle of the ice.

    Every instance of sustained pressure starts with, and features, that low zone collapse. Here is Anaheim.

    9 - LeafsDuckslowzonecollapse

    Here are the Washington Capitals.

    10 - Mcclementlowzonecollapse


    The game against the Predators on November 21 was a good example of how breakdowns can lead to sustained pressure and eventual scoring chances. Cody Franson made a couple of rough errors in this video which is essentially a continuation of a very difficult season. Isolating Franson wasn’t the main goal, it just happened to be a good example of what happens after a mistake.

    11 - LeafsNashlowzonecollapse

    Of course, who could forget “the shift?” That two-minute long barrage from the Bruins at the beginning of November. If you’re looking for the ultimate in defensive zone breakdowns, perimeter play and sustained pressure, look no further.

    Despite the length of time on that one shift, most of the puck movement was from the outside as coaching staff would probably trade-off rather than a lot of movement in the slot and crease area.

    This could very well be the worst shift of the Leafs’ entire season.

    I will finish this off with this particular video; there is an element inside related to the neutral zone.

    Notice how the Leafs clear the puck out of the zone and how easy it is for the Wild to reenter, especially with control of the puck.

    That’s a neutral zone issue and we’ll talk about that next post.

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    Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images

    It seems like a fruitless endeavor to make full season predictions with the uncertainty of when the actual season does begin.

    Regardless, here we are. Under ideal circumstances, the season would start as per the current schedule and should both parties salvage a full season, we need to be ready.

    Every summer we get the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook together and about this time, I’m usually done with Leafs predictions.

    It’s a summer tradition to post Leafs predictions here, and I wanted to continue the custom.

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    Zone starts, zone finishes and a bunch of QoC.

    Get ready for a lot of charts.

    New metrics surfacing rapidly are being put to use. The charts below are being more-widely used to visually demonstrate usage of players in comparison to the level of competition they face.

    Plenty of different examples exist.

    OZQoC charts were architected by Rob Vollman of Hockey Prospectus. A full explanation is spelled out here.

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    An annual tradition, here’s the scoring predictions for the 2011-12 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    I won’t get too much into player specifics since my scouting reports are in the Maple Leafs Annual with further expansion in the McKeen’s Yearbook to be released soon.

    Some minor commentary on Kulemin winning the scoring title. When coming up with predictions, the hold of the top spot was so delicate any slump/streak could cost some player the scoring crown. If it wasn’t Kulemin, it could be Grabovski coming off a breakout campaign (and entering a contract year) or Kessel for a third straight season.

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    Matt Frattin
    Photo Credit: Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images

    Below are a few notes on Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin from their Leafs debut.

    Before getting to the scouting reports, I want to state that it is inconceivable to judge these players based on their performance from Saturday night, or based on a single game at the NHL level, so take these as viewings with a grain of salt. I thought they both handled themselves well and were both assertive and contributed something on every shift.

    Colborne has had the benefit of playing in the AHL, while Frattin is coming in fresh out of a successful stint in college.

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    Goals For in proportion are trending down since lockout

    The point system comes into scrutiny earlier and earlier each season. Regulation time stalemates are badges of honor, garnering ‘at least a point’ and driving fans crazy with the ‘loser point.’

    Aside from minor differences, the point system doesn’t really matter. It’s not about points and systems.

    It’s about motivation.

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    Cinderella story, outta nowhere, about to become a Stanley Cup Champion. It looks like a mirac...IT'S IN THE NET! IT'S IN THE NET! (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

    He's back. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

    Updated scouting reports for recent call ups Nazem Kadri and Matt Lashoff (with files from Clayton Hansler):

    Nazem Kadri
    Ranked 7th in AHL rookie scoring with 41 pts (44-17-24-41) and second overall in the AHL with eight first goals .. Kadri has adapted to some added bulk and cranked up the toughness .. isn’t afraid to engage in tight and along the boards .. physical game isn’t his forte however, despite improvement, and he relies on skills and dangles .. can waiver with intensity blending into the background, yet explosive enough to be able to exploit breakdowns and set up scoring chances seemingly out of nowhere that can change the tide of a game (first goals to open the game are an example) ..

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    NHL Team Records in B2B Games vs Tired Teams

    With the NHL trade deadline now over, attention turns to the stretch drive for a playoff spot. The concept of a 3-point game will be in vogue as teams – and fans – cringe at the sight of so many teams entering extra time to determine the final outcome of games, while each club banks a point.

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      Having taken in Joe Colborne’s debut in today’s Marlies – Griffins game, here is Kats’ first blush scouting analysis of the newest Leaf:

      Big, rangy pivot, fairly swift and quick .. first two-step quickness leads into wide horseshoe stride, only a few required to hit top speed .. stride gets slushy when hurried .. net presence, if not directly in front – especially on PP today – he’s hovering in dirty areas .. entered dangerous slot area to pick up rebound and snap first as a Marlie .. seemed to handle the puck very little, passing it off and trying to get to the net – also part unfamiliarity being his first game .. gravitated toward where the puck was defensively leading to openings where a center would cover, like down low by the top of the crease .. also follows puck carrier instead of finding open space to be an option off the rush .. has to open the gap between himself and mates .. doesn’t utilize size well enough and doesn’t finish checks .. could be more intimidating, especially with his wingspan .. will improve fighting along the boards when he’s filled in .. fighting off physical pressure will improve as well, while sporting good puck protection instincts .. successful debut scoring his first, but there is still some work.

      (Toronto – Gus Katsaros) I tried to put together something that leads to the state of the Leafs, but it gets pretty intense and too much for a single blog so I’ve broken it down in two. Before we move forward we should acknowledge what is happening with the current club and I do that with just some observations.

      I’ve broken down what I feel are some of the more important points of the Leafs forwards and defensemen while not being entirely thorough, leaving something for future blogs. I’ll follow this up on Friday tying in the coaching, the Burke regime and vision of the team in the future.