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Anyone that follows my work either here or on Twitter knows I like to take shots at talking heads in any sport. It might be unfair because generally they are just doing what they are paid to do. Unfortunately, they are paid to maximize ratings and capture the attention of the viewers. Most of the time, many of these talking heads provide no real insight into the game, rather it’s just some tangent that can come off as xenophobic (Don Cherry is famous for criticizing Europeans and French-Canadians), backwards thinking (Mike Milbury seems to think checking from behind is the hittee’s fault) or plain idiotic, as a well-known Canadian talking head proves to us in this tweet:
Corsi is a waste of time let’s leave the hockey to the hockey experts!
— Steve Kouleas (@stevekouleas) June 4, 2013
The reality is that guys like this are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The insane train was rolling on Saturday night during the first intermission of Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals, when the aforementioned Milbury tore into Jaromir Jagr for his lack of production and general “laziness.” Being from Canada, I wasn’t privy to his analysis during the intermission and instead have to rely on quotes from Boston.com. I’m going to go through the three important ones one by one to see what merit (if any) there is to Milbury’s rant:
“”You can’t count on him on the forecheck, he’s not going to participate as a group effort to go retrieve the puck, and so using him in selective areas I think, is important but Claude [Julien] just throws him out one after the other. God bless Claude, I love him, but I don’t get it because he’s got no goals, he’s got no goals.”
The use of players in specialized situations is nothing new in the NHL. Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Marc-André Bergeron is famous for being used primarily in an offensive role, given that this year he started a whopping 74.7% of the time in the offensive zone, which led all NHL players by a fairly wide margin. The point made by Milbury here is that Jagr is too slow to maintain a forecheck and his value is minimized even further when trying to retrieve a dump-in. This does occur, I will concede that to Milbury. But to say that Boston coach Claude Julien just “throws him out one (shift) after the other” is far from the truth; Jagr ranks 21st out of 132 players in offensive zone starts (60.4%) in these playoffs among any team that made it past the first round. This ranks third among Boston forwards, behind Nathan Horton (69.9%) and Shawn Thornton (64.6%). In fact, in the very game that Milbury went on this rant, Jagr had the greatest defensive zone – offensive zone spread among any Boston player. Oh, use him in selective areas you say, Mike? How about the fact that Jagr leads the Bruins in Time-On-Ice per 60 minutes on the power-play? Milbury also seemed to miss the fact that there’s been at least one instance in this series where Jagr’s line started in the defensive zone without him, opting for a second centre instead. Could Julien use Jagr even more selectively? Sure. However that wasn’t what Milbury was saying at all.
“He doesn’t hustle to get to the right place,” … “He’s smart enough to know where to be, and he’ll pick up the garbage.
Talk to any coach at a high enough level, I would say Junior or College hockey would be a good start, and one of their concerns will always be wasted energy. Is it necessary to finish every check? Do you always have to fly into the zone as fast as you can to get on the offensive attack? The greatest defenseman in NHL history weighed in on this recently:
Bobby Orr on how NHL hockey has changed on the Team 1040 “I think there’s a lot of unnecessary checking.” Obviously never played the game.
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) June 14, 2013
Milbury also seems to contradict himself in back-to-back sentences. He doesn’t hustle to get to the right place, yet he’s smart enough to know where to be? That doesn’t make sense. Instead, it should be “he doesn’t hustle to get to the right place because he’s smart enough to know where to be.” The greatest players know where to be before the puck gets there, that’s just called anticipation. This isn’t a generational thing either, the greatest player of this generation doesn’t stand in front of the net and get battered, he finds open ice and uses that to his advantage.
I’m not arguing that Jagr is the player he used to be. You just need to watch him try to beat a defenseman on a one-on-one or two-on-two rush to see that. But there’s a difference between being lazy and being opportunistic.
“…That to me is a guy that is too tired to play in this final. That’s a guy that has to be replaced.”
This is the postseason. There aren’t trades or free agents to be had. If you take Jagr out, you’re replacing him with rookie Carl Soderberg, sometimes-AHLer Jordan Caron, zero regular season points-man Jay Pandolfo or Gregory Campbell. The only one there who might warrant consideration is Campbell, but there’s no way he plays with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. This means someone else has to come off another line and this all has a cascading effect. What would Milbury say if Julien juggled his lines coming off an overtime road victory in the Stanley Cup Finals?
But let’s look at what we’re replacing:
- Jagr has the highest On-Ice Corsi (Corsi-On) among all regular Boston forwards these playoffs at +17.13/60 minutes of 5 on 5.
- Jagr has the second-highest Corsi Relative (CorsiRel) among all regular Boston forwards these playoffs at +17.5, just trailing Bergeron’s +17.8. This means that of all of the Boston forwards, the Bruins create the second-best puck possession differential when Jagr is on the ice.
- Do you think Jagr is piggy-backing off of Marchand and Bergeron? It is possible. But remember this; Jagr leads the forwards in On-Ice Corsi, and has a higher Corsi QoC (Quality of Competition) than either Marchand or Bergeron and has actually faced the second-toughest competition of all Boston forwards, just trailing David Krejci. In fact, Jagr leads the team in CorsiRel QoC (the relative Corsi of opponents), meaning you could make an argument that Jagr is playing the toughest competition of Boston’s opponents, and excelling.
- I will concede Jagr has zero goals this postseason. However, Jagr also has 51 shots. The next-highest shot total for any forward without a goal this post season is 24, a tie between Shawn Thornton (one of the members of Boston’s fourth line) and Corey Perry, whose team got eliminated in the first round. Jagr is a career 14% shooter and shot 13.9% in this year’s regular season. If Jagr hadn’t been so unlucky and scored seven goals as his shooting prowess would indicate, are we even having this conversation?
Who is Boston bringing in that can replace this? I will admit that perhaps Jagr’s Corsi numbers may be a bit inflated because of the zone starts, but Nathan Horton has a higher offensive zone start percentage, yet a lower Corsi-On than Jagr while facing easier competition. So how bad can Jagr possibly be?
Milbury might have a small modicum of a point in that maybe Jagr is a little bit lazy on line changes and probably doesn’t back-check with the most intensity. However, you try being 41 years old and doing that.
To assert that Boston is using him improperly (they aren’t), that he’s too lazy to hustle to be in the right spot (but he’s smart enough to always be there?) or that they should replace him (good luck with that) is all pretty much dead wrong.
But hey, why let evidence get in the way of a good rant, right?
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