Nicholas J. Cotsonika

  • Toronto assistant GM Kyle Dubas talks Leafs, luck & analytics: 'It's not magic'

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 7 hrs ago

    BOSTON — The summer of analytics has turned into the winter of discontent. Several NHL teams hired data-oriented people in the off-season and some have struggled so far. The list includes the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs – four of the bottom seven teams in the league standings.

    “Those teams haven’t magically transformed overnight into good teams, and people will jump on and say, ‘I told you that analytics [stuff] didn’t work. Those teams are no good,’ ” said Toronto assistant general manager Kyle Dubas, the summer’s highest-profile hire. “You go on my Twitter timeline after any game the Maple Leafs lose and see that firsthand.”

    There is a simple explanation, though.

    “It’s not magic,” Dubas said. “It’s not really magic. It’s a process, and it’s hard work, and it’s difficult, and you have to push your way through it.”

    To have the best chance of success, no matter the philosophy, you need buy-in throughout the organization and time for the parts to align. You need management to draft, develop and acquire players that fit. You need the coaches to use the players in a way that fits.

    “It just takes time,” Dubas said.

    * * * * *

    * * * * *

  • David Clarkson for Nathan Horton: Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets trade problems – and it's best for all involved

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 2 days ago

    This is one of those trades where you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s simple. It’s brilliant. It helps both sides.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets had a problem. They had signed winger Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract on July 5, 2013. But they didn’t insure his contract, and he had debilitating back problems, and his career was almost certainly over. They faced the prospect of paying him $26 million not to play for the rest of this season and the next five.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs had a problem. They had signed winger David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract on July 5, 2013. But he had turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NHL history, and because of the structure of his contract, they couldn’t buy him out without severe pain. He had a no-move clause. They seemed stuck with him.

    So Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen called Leafs GM Dave Nonis with a proposal: You take our problem. We’ll take yours. Clarkson waived his no-move clause, and the teams struck the deal Thursday night, shocking the hockey world.

    He didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations.

  • Three Periods: Long live the Kings; Wild redemption for Dubnyk; NHL notes

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 2 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include why the Los Angeles Kings decided to be aggressive and get Andrej Sekera; how a goalie trade fixed more than goaltending for the Minnesota Wild; and notes on Devan Dubnyk’s improvement, Patrick Kane’s injury impact and Alex Petrovic’s cross-check.

    FIRST PERIOD: Why the Kings decided to be aggressive, acquire Sekera

    He felt they deserved it. He felt he almost owed it to them.

    General manager Dean Lombardi traded a first-round pick and a prospect to the Carolina Hurricanes for Andrej Sekera on Wednesday – a high price for a rental, even the top rental defenseman on the market – because of what his Los Angeles Kings had accomplished the past three years and how they had looked on an eight-game winning streak.

    “Haven’t we seen this before?” Lombardi asked.

    In 2011-12, the Kings struggled so badly Lombardi changed coaches, replacing Terry Murray with Darryl Sutter. They finished strong, and with a dominant 16-4 playoff run, they became the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.

    In 2012-13, they finished fifth in the West and returned to the conference final.

    THIRD PERIOD: Notes from around the NHL

  • Business as usual for red-hot Los Angeles despite Stadium Series circus

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 6 days ago

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jonathan Quick made a save and pumped his glove as the final horn sounded. Drew Doughty gave him a hug. The Los Angeles Kings patted heads, high-fived and started to leave the ice as if they had played in any old rink, not Levi’s Stadium.

    As fireworks blasted into the sky, a few had to be called back to salute the announced crowd of 70,205, third-largest in NHL history. Even then, coach Darryl Sutter kept on walking – through the landscaping, down the tunnel, on to the next game.

    To the Kings, Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks was not about the spectacle. It was about business.

    They have won two of the last three Stanley Cups. They hosted the first NHL outdoor game in California last season at Dodger Stadium. This did not compare.

    And two weeks ago, they had four teams between them and a playoff spot. Now they have won seven straight and moved past the Sharks and into third place in the Pacific Division.

    “We’re kind of used to it,” Doughty said. “I think the guys kind of had fun. It’s a cool experience. But at the same time, it’s better just playing at Staples or something like that.”

    Better just playing at Staples Center in L.A.?

    Yep.

  • Why Sharks-Kings might be the most meaningful outdoor game to date

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 8 days ago

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Patrick Marleau grew up playing pond hockey on a farm in Aneroid, Saskatchewan. He and his brother would brave the cold and snow, and they’d try to keep pucks from falling through a hole in the ice. There was a hole in the ice so their cows could drink.

    He was drafted second overall by the Sharks in 1997. He has played in San Jose ever since, 17 seasons now. The past few years, he has watched several other NHL teams host outdoor games. Last year, he even saw the Los Angeles Kings host the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium.

    “I was wondering if we’d ever get a chance to do it,” he said.

    Now here he was Friday afternoon practicing at Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers. At one point, someone fired a puck over the glass, and it splashed in a water feature between the rink and the stands. There wasn’t a cow in sight, but there was a fake shark fin.

    The Sharks will host the Kings on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of more than 69,000, the largest in franchise history. Only two Sharks have played in an NHL outdoor game before, so they used words like “shock” and “awe” and “excited.” This is their turn. This is their time.

  • NHL takes next step in analytics evolution

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 8 days ago

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When the NHL introduced “enhanced stats” to its website Friday, it used some of the same stats that people have been using on their own for years. Only the league didn’t use the names Corsi and Fenwick. After considerable internal debate, in an effort to be accessible and user-friendly, it decided to use shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts.

    To Matt Fenwick, it was like when the NHL went from the Wales and Campbell conferences to the Eastern and Western conferences. The league gained clarity but lost character. It lost a sense of history, part of its charm.

    “It’s an awkward argument for me to make, and I’m certainly not going to make it that loudly because it seems kind of self-interested,” Fenwick said. “I won’t have my name plastered on something for eternity. But on the other hand, having a bad acronym or something instead of it just saying Corsi or Fenwick doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I don’t think the perceived benefits exist.”

    “I think it’s neat,” Fenwick said. “For sure it shows that it meant something and that we weren’t all just wasting each other’s time on the Internet in 2007 and 2009 and all that, right? It was something real.”

  • Three Periods: Tampa Bay lights it up despite power outage; Ducks seek defense; NHL notes

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 9 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include the Tampa Bay Lightning’s baffling power-play struggles; the Anaheim Ducks’ slump and defensive problems; plus notes on Ben Bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jonathan Drouin and Steve Montador.

    FIRST PERIOD: Lightning scoring a lot, but not with the extra man

    The Tampa Bay Lightning leads the NHL in goals per game at 3.22. Steven Stamkos is tied for third in the league in goals with 31.

    The amazing part? They’ve done it without a decent power play.

    They have scored 35 power-play goals, tied for 14th in the NHL. But they’ve had 207 power-play opportunities, the most in the league. So their percentage is only 16.9, ranking 24th overall. They have been especially inept lately, with only four power-play goals in their past 16 games.

    The positive is that the Bolts are one of the NHL’s best 5-on-5 teams, and if they ever get the power play going, look out. But the negative is obvious.

    “Without a power play going, that’s maybe three, four, five more wins throughout the year,” Stamkos said. “That’s going to make a big difference.”

    Pause.

    SECOND PERIOD: Ducks are struggling defensively, and help is hard to find

  • Max factor: Pacioretty matures into leading man on and off the ice in Montreal

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 10 days ago

    Max Pacioretty sits in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room when the reporters approach – cameras, microphones, notebooks, recorders. In the past, he might have stayed seated. If he weren’t scoring, he might have brooded. Now, no matter what, he makes sure he stands and speaks.

    It’s a little thing. He feels almost silly acknowledging it. But it’s a conscious thing.

    “People do notice things like that,” Pacioretty says away from the media scrum. “So at the end of the day, I think it is important for me to give off that image and make sure I handle myself a certain way in front of the cameras.”

    In front of the team, too.

    “Sometimes it can be a difference of attitude for your teammates,” Pacioretty says, “and you want to give off the right impressions and the right body language and set a good example as a leader.”

    Pacioretty, 26, is stepping up this season literally and figuratively.

    He’s scoring goals at virtually the same rate he did last season, when he scored a career-high 39. With 26 goals, he’s on pace for 38. He ranks ninth in the NHL and has nine more goals than any other Canadien – critical for a team ranked 23rd offensively at 2.57 goals per game.

  • Three Periods: Maple Leafs problems run deeper than coaching and more changes are in store

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 16 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include the Toronto Maple Leafs’ personnel problems; Brett Hull’s perspective on Vladimir Tarasenko’s shot; the advice Brett Hull received from his father; Hull on Ken Hitchcock’s evolution; Wayne Gretzky’s prized piece of memorabilia; Tim Murray on tanking and Ted Nolan; and a Russian referee on the horizon.   FIRST PERIOD: Maple Leafs’ slide confirms their problems run deeper than coaching   The day the Toronto Maple Leafs fired coach Randy Carlyle, they were 21-16-3. They had 45 points and the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.   They have gone 2-12-1 since.   Today they are 23-28-4. They have 50 points and sit 13 points out of a playoff spot. They rank 25th in a 30-team league.   But that doesn’t mean the Leafs were wrong to fire Carlyle. They had good reason to fire him long before they did, and remember, they were in a 2-7-0 funk at the time. They were headed in the wrong direction already. Management felt it could see where things were going.   All this does is confirm that the Leafs’ problems run much deeper than coaching. If there was any illusion that Carlyle was the problem before, not just part of the problem, it’s gone now.   “As much as we’ve been assessing guys throughout the season, it’s another opportunity for us to see guys under a different coach and see how they respond and react,” said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan three days after the Carlyle firing.   He said it was up to the players how they would be defined.   “I also want to make very clear to them that we’re watching and that we’re on it,” he said. “Whether we’ve seen good things or we’ve seen some bad things, they’re not getting by us. They’re not escaping us. We’re not going to be a group that is afraid to act if we feel that we’re going to be able to make ourselves better.”   Interim coach Peter Horachek has made some positive changes. He has brought a lighter touch and better communication. He has helped the Leafs cut down on their shots against dramatically some nights.   But until the last two games, be it bad luck or bad hockey, the Leafs struggled to score. And when they did score four Tuesday night against the New York Rangers, they gave up five in a flat performance. Horachek said their “give-a-[bleep] meter” needed to be higher.   How can their give-a-bleep meter need to be higher when the team president already has fired a warning shot?   Horachek is trying everything. He has scratched David Clarkson and had an animated talk with him on the ice in front of the Toronto media. He has demoted Phil Kessel and watched him be the first one off the ice after practice as usual.   It doesn’t matter for Horachek’s sake. He isn’t going to be the coach next season. But it does matter if management is watching how the players respond and react.   Defenseman Cody Franson and forwards Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik are on expiring contracts and could go before the March 2 trade deadline. The question is who else might go now and in the summer, when teams are freer to make moves.   The Leafs might be stuck with Clarkson, in the second year of a seven-year, $36.75 million deal. He is virtually untradeable, and he can’t be bought out without immense pain thanks to the structure of the contract he received from general manager Dave Nonis.   But will the Leafs trade Kessel? Captain Dion Phaneuf? Winger Joffrey Lupul? Others?   Will Shanahan replace Nonis?   Shanahan didn’t make major changes when he took over in April. He didn’t give timelines or make promises, either. He set out to evaluate and move methodically, hoping to improve bit by bit, focused on the long term.   One day, he fired executives Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin, and he hired assistant GM Kyle Dubas and created an analytics department. Then one day, he hired Mark Hunter as director of player personnel. Then one day, Nonis fired Carlyle with his blessing.   More is coming. This is still early in an ongoing process.   The Leafs might want to hire Mike Babcock, the best coach in the NHL, who is in the last year of his contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Or they might want Todd McLellan if he’s fired by the San Jose Sharks. Or someone else. The GM situation might be tied to the coaching hire.   But no matter who is behind the bench, this is a team – built by Nonis and his predecessor, Brian Burke – with a ton of holes, most notably at No. 1 center and No. 1 defenseman. It has some assets. Morgan Rielly, the 20-year-old defenseman, has been a revelation lately. But it is not a Stanley Cup contender. It is not close to being a Stanley Cup contender. It hasn’t even made the playoffs but once since 2005-06.   A lot of these players have defined themselves. The Leafs need to clear out veterans and add younger talent with an eye on becoming a Stanley Cup contender in the future. If they aren’t afraid to act, we should see it.   SECOND PERIOD: Hull calls Tarasenko’s shot ‘scary,’ but different than his   Brett Hull had a hell of a shot. He would get open and fire one-timers, sometimes putting so much into them he dropped to one knee. He scored 86 goals in a season, more than anyone other than Wayne Gretzky, and 741 in his career, more than anyone but Gretzky and Gordie Howe.   Now he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame and an executive vice president of the St. Louis Blues, marveling at Vladimir Tarasenko, the 23-year-old whose 28 goals are tied for fourth in the NHL.   “His shot is scary,” Hull said. “You sit up in the press box, and you see it, and you go, ‘God, what a shot.’ But I had a chance to do a commercial with him the other day, and we were shooting, and it is so impressive and so hard and so accurate, and the release is so quick. He’s going to be scoring goals for a long time.”   Hull and Tarasenko filmed a spot for McBride & Son Homes with Kelly Chase, the Blues’ radio color analyst. Hull, a righty, stood in the left circle. Tarasenko, a lefty, stood in the right circle. On their forehands, they took passes from Chase and fired one-timers at an open net … Wide.   Tarasenko threw up his hands. Hull muttered something and shook his head. They threw down their sticks.   “Hold on a second,” Chase said.   Chase pulled out a bicycle pump. In a spoof of the New England Patriots’ Deflategate scandal, he pretended to inflate the pucks. Suddenly, Hull roofed one. Tarasenko picked a corner. Chase, who never scored more than four goals in a season and finished with 17 in 458 NHL games, delivered the punchline.   “I could have scored 86 with air in the pucks,” Chase said.   Ha. The commercial made Hull and Tarasenko look like mirror images, and they often are compared to one another now. But in real life, if you look closely, their styles are different.   “I don’t know if you notice,” Hull said. “He never really takes a one-timer. The game is so much different now. Everyone backs in, and those lanes aren’t really there anymore. So he’s created his own space.”   Tarasenko excels in small spaces. He can keep his hands close to his body and control the puck without stickhandling much before shooting. He doesn’t necessarily move his hands outward, signaling to the goalie the puck might be coming, or settle the puck, taking precious split-seconds. The puck can travel three or four feet before the goalie realizes it’s on its way.   “He just takes one quick move to the left, and he’ll fire a quick wrist shot through someone’s legs and the goalie will just go like this,” Hull said, looking back. “When guys score on wrist shots on goalies in the NHL now from 30, 40 feet, you know that thing is humming, because these goalies are good nowadays.”   But Tarasenko scores in many different ways. He knows angles and nuances – when he has a defender vulnerable. He’s a deft passer, too.   “I wasn’t as agile as him,” Hull said. “I kind of got to spots and scored. He can score from out, and you know, he plays the game right. He’s give and go. He’s not a puck hog. He doesn’t just shoot from anywhere. I’ve actually told him he’s overpassing.”   THIRD PERIOD: Notes from around the NHL   -- Hull went to spots and scored after receiving advice from his father, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who had a hell of a shot himself. “He said, ‘Son, the further you are from the play, the closer you are to it,’ ” Hull said. “And it took me a long time to figure out what that meant. Obviously he meant that, ‘Don’t be going into the corners in the pile, because somebody’s going to be coming out of that pile with the puck and it’s coming to you if you’re open.’ So the further you are from the play, the closer you are to it. And after I figured it out, it made great sense, and I think it really helped me develop my ability to find the open places.”   -- Hull won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. He clashed with Ken Hitchcock over his defensive system. That regular season, the Stars ranked eighth in goals per game (2.88) and first in goals-against (2.05). Now Hitchcock coaches the Blues and preaches the 200-foot game. They rank third in goals per game (3.04) and eighth in goals against (2.43). Different times. Different team. Different approach. “His ability to coach skilled guys has evolved,” Hull said. “Before it was just like, ‘I want the plumber that’s going to work their butt off.’ But this team is packed with skilled people that have a lot of talent. I’m sure he still drives them nuts, but he’s allowing them to play and score goals.”   -- Gretzky has one piece of memorabilia in his house: a replica of the Rocket Richard Trophy. He led the NHL in goals five times. He holds the records for goals in a season (92) and a career (894). But the league didn’t start awarding the trophy to the leading goal-scorer until 1998-99, Gretzky’s final season. Before Gretzky’s New York Rangers played the Montreal Canadiens one night, Maurice Richard presented him with the replica. “He said, ‘I know you’re not going to win a trophy, but you scored a lot of goals. You should have one of these trophies,’ ” Gretzky said. “Of course, I had a picture taken with Rocket, kept the trophy.”   -- General manager Tim Murray met with captain Brian Gionta for a long time Wednesday before the Buffalo Sabres made a huge trade with the Winnipeg Jets. Everyone knows Murray is tanking to increase the odds of getting the first or second pick in the draft lottery – Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Still, it had to be hard for the players to see management trade for Evander Kane, who can’t play the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury – even if he’s talented and could be on McDavid’s or Eichel’s wing next season. “Nobody’s happy,” Murray said. “Nobody’s trying to lose. Nobody buys into this tanking stuff. These guys want to win. They want to have individual success which translates to team success. Right now there’s no team success. But that’s not for a lack of them trying.” Note Murray said “these guys,” “they” and “them.” Also note that his sympathy goes only so far. “I’m not saying that’s easy in this situation at all,” he said. “But it’s not really the worst job in the world to come to a rink every day and have to play hockey for a living and make decent money.”   -- There’s no point in firing Ted Nolan now. But when Murray was asked to evaluate his coach, this was the first thing he said: “Um, we’re in 30th place.” He acknowledged the Sabres weren’t “the most talented team in the world” but said he wanted more consistency. Remember that Murray didn’t hire Nolan; he inherited him when took over last season and later removed the interim tag. The leading contender to be the Sabres’ coach next season is Luke Richardson, who is head coach of the Ottawa Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate. Murray came to Buffalo from Ottawa.   -- Evgeny Romasko has a shot to become the NHL’s first Russian referee. There are no plans to give him an NHL game yet. But he has been working in the American Hockey League, and the reports have been good.

  • Risky business: Sabres gamble on Evander Kane in blockbuster trade with Jets

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 17 days ago

    Before the Buffalo Sabres acquired Evander Kane in a major trade Wednesday, general manager Tim Murray discussed it with owner Terry Pegula. He said he answered Pegula’s questions honestly, that it wasn’t “all unicorns and rainbows and jujubes.”

    The Sabres would be getting a 6-foot-2, 198-pound left winger with so much talent that he was drafted fourth overall in 2009 and scored 30 goals in 2011-12 at age 20. But they also would be getting a guy whose production had declined and whose role had lessened, a guy who had clashed with coaches and teammates, a guy who had, to be frank, quit on his team.

    Kane reportedly broke dress code for a meeting last week and a teammate threw his track suit in the shower to send a message. Either he didn’t show up for a game afterward or was told not to. He elected to have surgery on a torn labrum and end his season when he could have kept playing hurt, with the Jets trying to make the playoffs for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011.

    What does it say about Pegula that he took a chance on Kane?

    Pause.

    “I made a trade for him,” he added, “so I’m not worried about his character.”

    And, of course, the key: What about Kane?