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Randall Flagg

Cataloging depth scoring again, again

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I got back in the mood for hockey watching some old games from the 2006 and 2007 playoff runs. A graph shown in the middle of game 6 of the Philly series turned my attention back to our current team.
1306071899_bufphilscoringdepth.thumb.PNG.21634c4e86f7bc26f1cd4aa3a8f83e40.PNG

Our forward depth probably ties goaltending for the most-talked-about problem with this team, rightly so. Those old teams were so effective because of their ability to roll their lines and consistently beat up on whoever they were playing against, all game long. The current team features a top line (comprised entirely of pre-Botterill assets) that can outscore its opponents reasonably well (though whose effectiveness really takes a hit if pretty much any skater goes out for a significant amount of time, ie, their depth struggles to step into roles when they have to because too many of those players already are above where they should be) and a bottom line that can outscore theirs while being a good shutdown unit (Larry is a plus 8, and all three of these skaters are pre-Botterill assets as well). The rest is a disaster of acquisitions laid at the feet of Jason, for the most part. As I recently posted:

jason.thumb.PNG.9adcc9199a379edbacc0eb1d3bc82cca.PNG

Vesey, Lazar, Sheary, Frolik, Johansson, Skinner-without-Jack-at-9-mil, Simmonds eventually, following up Vlad, Berglund, Elie, Mitts, Tage, Josefson, Nolan, Griffith, Pouliot, Wilson as Jason's attempts to address the forward depth over the last three years. We all watched these teams and saw how ineffective these forwards were, and talked about it at length. I decided that this rainy afternoon was the perfect time to do what I've done several years now - count the total point production of every team's forwards behind their top 3 as a proxy for that team's offensive depth (the production of lines 2, 3, and 4 essentially). It's obviously not perfect as it's rare for a team to stick with one top line all season, and it's not always true that those three players will lead the forwards in scoring. I still think it's useful for fleshing out organizational scoring depth. 

As a refresher, here is the distribution for the 2016-2017 season, which Tim Murray was fired for. The Sabres were tied for 20th, just outside of the bottom 10 teams, forward depth was not their main concern, though it was a concern:
1066216664_201617nontop3scoring.thumb.PNG.dfa0bf9646efec1a2a8ca55cf2fd6505.PNG

 

Jason came in with a whole bunch of forward signings that he clearly intended to beef this up, aiming to replace the loss of Foligno, Ennis, Carrier, and Grant. This shouldn't have been hard to do, as two of these guys were awful for us and the other two didn't score points, but we tanked our depth production (while goaltending and defense were also abominable) and it resulted in the dead last 2017-18 Sabres season, which still traumatizes me. Here was the distribution of depth scoring that season:
1277452119_depthforwardscoring201718.thumb.PNG.a6cb355abb710a36629de074c8f316f2.PNG

Dallas is about to be a fixture here too, they've been a one-line team riding Vezina goaltending for a few years now. We hang out with a budget Arizona tank-buddy, though they received better goaltending and defense that year, elevating them above us in the real standings.

We needed to fix the culture and trade guys who actually get eaten up by losing, and so we made the big move after this year to finally actually fix our depth, trading quality for low-quality quantity, such as Bergy, Sobotka, Tage. We brought Mitts in to lead the 2nd line. After Eichel-Reinhart-Skinner, we had our fourth line (more of a 3rd line), and then a Mitts/Tage/Vlad/Sheary/Smith/Elie/Wilson conglomeration for the other lines all season. Our depth scoring ranked as follows:
805143759_LastyearNontopscorers.thumb.png.9f5fade343b8514ad7ffc36197ccabf0.png
Still in the tank, off a cliff from the pack, hanging out with the Dallas rubble and the janky Edmonton rosters we've seen of late. A swing and a miss for a second time. Fine - Johansson, which is a good move, followed by an Olofsson growth that pushes Skinner down a line (to play with the lowest event forwards in the NHL all season long, brilliant) and a Vesey addition, should finally get it done!
NHLNonTop3Scorers.thumb.PNG.7b11cb00bae92f4fd0e870a678178f87.PNG

Womp womp. Only the worst non-expansion team ever saves us from last place. Long-term plans aside, there is no escaping the fact that three straight attempts were made, with high volume, to fix what was an issue, though not a league-basement one, and all three have had abominable results, and have been one of two major reasons each of the three seasons were lost before March, twice FAR before March. 

This is an offense-only view, but no sane fan has argued that this area of the Sabres roster has done its job for the current Sabres in any fashion, or has provided future-season value as far as prospect development goes. Tage and Mitts were set back by their presence in these units. I'm worried that the same thing will happen to Cozens. We are lucky that Olofsson avoided having to play there, at the expense of suddenly having the worst-looking contract in the entire NHL. 

You can count SO many attempts by Botts to improve the forward group below the first line: Simmonds, Kahun, Frolik, Vesey, Johansson, Lazar, Skinner, Sheary, Berglund, Sobotka, Tage, Mitts, Wilson, Nolan, Josefson, Griffith, Pouliot, Elie. Eighteen forwards, three of which have been good NHLers for the Sabres, in Skinner (who has also had a disastrous season at 9 mil this year), Kahun (for six games so far), and Johansson (who I will combine with Vesey to create one season's worth of a good NHL player, as each have had really bad stretches as well as differing-length effective ones). 3/18 is abysmal WITHOUT the asterisks they each currently have. No wonder a problem became a disaster. 

It has been seen as a positive that Jason will have lots of cap space and lots of roster spots to fill. Let's look at the spots:
Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart
Skinner - xxx - xxx
Kahun - xxx - Johansson
xxx - xxx - Okposo

Five spots to fill, at a 17% success rate, gives us less than one good hockey player for those spots. I am incredibly worried about this offseason. Will he/his scouts suddenly be able to acquire a 2C, a 2W, hang onto Zemgus and Larry, and find one more good depth player? That's what they need, 3 good players from outside the organization and maybe five if 22/28 leave. It's possible, but you'd wonder where it comes from when it's taken three years and 18 tries to find just three solid guys for six of those nine spots that wouldn't have been set otherwise. Why should we trust him to get it right? If he doesn't, especially at 2C, we will punt again, and tie the record for the longest playoff-less streak in NHL HISTORY, wearing Jack ever thinner, tempting fate with the assumption that he will be a healthy Sabre for years to come. 

This is, of course, an unacceptable outcome for even the strongest Botterill supporters. For the first time we can all at least agree that this team had better be in the playoffs next spring. There is no more time to screw around and put together a roster even us fans can accurately call out as nowhere near good enough before the season starts. If Jason stays, either this gets figured out, or it's going to get exponentially uglier. 

 

 

Edited by Randall Flagg
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And man, is it so painful and frustrating to watch those games. Flawed teams make the playoffs. More than half the league does. There's no reason outside incompetence we had to miss 9 straight years, or any of the last 4. 

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Let's track the progress for other teams that struggled in 16-17:

San Jose tied us. They then finished: 7th, 1st, and then collapsed to 26th this year. 
Florida went from 22nd to: 14th, 12th, and then 15th.
Boston was 23rd that year, then finished: 2nd, 14th, and then 21st. They leaned heavier on their top 3 and defense each year. 
Arizona was 24th, then went: 30th, 24th, and then 14th this year.
Philly was 25th, then went: 27th, 15th, then 5th. 
The Kings are a franchise heading in the wrong direction since their second cup win. They finished 26th in 16/17, then went: 26th, 28th, and 25th.
Ottawa was 27th, then went: 22nd, 3rd, and 12th. A team that hemorrhaged their good players still managed to backfill far better forward depth under budget than we have.
The Devils were 28th, and then went: 11th, 13th, and 17th. 
Vancouver finished 29th, and under the leadership of a supposed incompetent GM, went on to finish: 10th, 27th, and 9th, taking a clear leap ahead of us in a rebuild that we were supposed to be several years ahead in.
Finally, the worst scoring depth team in 16/17, a historically bad Colorado, has gone 20th, 20th, and then 3rd since, capping off a tremendous stretch of competence in working with their young guns and trading away non-fits to build a team that is far ahead of us despite their bottoming out coming after ours, and starting from 30 points below us in Jason's first offseason. 


The Sabres' depth forwards behind their top three scorers finished 29th, and then 29th, and then 30th after those Botterill offseasons outlined above. 

But don't worry - we're doing this the RIGHT way. It was SUPPOSED to happen this way, so that we can be good again in 20XX. 

 

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I think I’ve exhausted my ability to present the evidence. But thank you.

If Jason stays, our best hope is the slight hope that several of Thompson, Casey, Cozens, Asplund, Kahun, Joki, Ras and Linus take big leaps.

Because Jason has done little to show us he can bring in good forwards and I’m pretty sure two of our three useful foot soldiers are walking this summer and will need to be replaced as well.

Edited by dudacek

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Obviously impressive research but all irrelevant. Analytics has changed the game and especially the way coaches deploy their players leaving a completely different spread of production.

On top of that is the fact that similar to how Diggs changes the Bills’ receiver core from below average to above average, a legit 2C changes the Sabre’s depth dramatically, assuming that said 2C impacts Skinner’s production.

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Silly to draw conclusions. Botterill hasn’t gone after the cream yet in his deals, or at least, not a good enough offer to any of them. 
 

Now he has cap. Unknown territory 

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I'm just here to read botterill apologists ignore further evidence and call facts irrelevant. I think my favorite lie is that he hasn't had the cap even though, he himself is the reason for not having cap.

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4 hours ago, tom webster said:

Obviously impressive research but all irrelevant. Analytics has changed the game and especially the way coaches deploy their players leaving a completely different spread of production.

On top of that is the fact that similar to how Diggs changes the Bills’ receiver core from below average to above average, a legit 2C changes the Sabre’s depth dramatically, assuming that said 2C impacts Skinner’s production.

Believe me, there is neither film nor another metric that elevated Botterill's attempts to fill forward depth over the last three seasons above the bottom of the league. 

Unless you have that analysis, which I'd love to see.

And if you isolate the three forwards' production this analysis ignores, the Sabres are 18th (and if you take injury into account, 14th). They have a fine top 3 that will get better as Olofsson grows, but as far as the point of all of this, they and the only other functional part of our roster is comprised 100% by players Botts had nothing to do with acquiring.

And this reads like you're forgetting about the three needlessly wasted seasons our players painstakingly dragged themselves through on these crippled rosters, and the damage that decisions have done to players' developments, both obvious (Mitts/Tage) and not (where would Jack and Sam be as players had they been somewhere where good things happen up and down the organization the last three years? Nobody knows, but it'd definitely be different ). The Pegulas certainly don't forget this, which is why the rumors that Botterill may lose his job because expectations haven't been met are swirling, even though "Hey, we have cap space in the worst UFA season in memory! Even though I got it by burning through three years of Jack's prime for nothing, and now have half of a roster to build after showing I have no idea how to acquire good forwards!"

I can't wait to see him use his cap (spoiler alert: he had cap space to try and make those 18 depth additions he failed on) to fill so many spots at once. Track record suggests we're in for a treat alright

Edited by Randall Flagg
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10 hours ago, dudacek said:

I think I’ve exhausted my ability to present the evidence. But thank you.

If Jason stays, our best hope is the slight hope that several of Thompson, Casey, Cozens, Asplund, Kahun, Joki, Ras and Linus taking big leaps.

Because Jason has done little to show us he can bring in good forwards and I’m pretty sure two of our three useful foot soldiers are walking this summer and will need to be replaced as well.

He's already indicated that this is largely the plan. We know Asplund will take one of the fourth line slots. He wants Simmonds back and is ready for Cozens to make the team, both per his last interview. That leaves room for two acquisitions, which history tells us to expect basically another Vesey and Johansson at best. Unless a team wants to gift us a Skinner again, but o don't see any situations like that brewing. Actually, Mitts and Tage could well be slotted in for those spots in his mind.

 

And, just like the last few years, the possibility that it could work exists. The issue is like the last few years there would be too many question marks in critical spots, and too many things needing to go right compared to the likelihood that they do, for us to get anywhere  

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2 hours ago, triumph_communes said:

Silly to draw conclusions. Botterill hasn’t gone after the cream yet in his deals, or at least, not a good enough offer to any of them. 
 

Now he has cap. Unknown territory 

And you present the bolded like it’s a good thing. Three years later!

Instead of going “after the cream” he used:

$4 million on Michael Frolik

$5 million on Matt Hunwick and Conor Sheary

$7 million on Patrick Berglund and Vlad Sobotka 

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6 minutes ago, dudacek said:

And you present the bolded like it’s a good thing. Three years later!

Instead of going “after the cream” he used:

$4 million on Michael Frolik

$5 million on Matt Hunwick and Conor Sheary

$7 million on Patrick Berglund and Vlad Sobotka 

$3.9 million on Colin Miller.  The whole cap space argument is irrelevant.  Aside from displaying the overall incompetence of the Sabres recent GMs, who haven't the Sabres signed because of cap space?  Who are the targets that Botterill missed because the team couldn't afford them?

Give Botterill an extra $10 million in cap space the last three seasons; who does he sign? Tavares? Duchene? Probably not.

Even with the extra money, the guy still would sign dregs like Miller, Frolik, and Simmons.  He'd still stuff the roster with borderline third liners.

While it's frustrating to have one of the worst teams in the league over the last decade pressed up against the cap, giving a guy who has no idea how to evaluate talent or build a NHL roster more money will do nothing to improve the Sabres.

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If into the @Randall Flagg recordings you go, only pain will you find.

23 minutes ago, dudacek said:

And you present the bolded like it’s a good thing. Three years later!

Instead of going “after the cream” he used:

$4 million on Michael Frolik

$5 million on Matt Hunwick and Conor Sheary

$7 million on Patrick Berglund and Vlad Sobotka 

And we'd still have Berglund for ... two more seasons?... this deal is getting worse all the time. Until now, as all the big salaries are off the cap and we have our draft pick out of it.

The other sad part is to look at the UFA centers this offseason. Having money to throw around on them isn't exactly the most interesting idea. It almost certainly requires a trade to land a 2C. And I like Mitts, but until he plays a full 200-foot game in Rochester he doesn't deserve to get back to Buffalo. 

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4 hours ago, tom webster said:

Obviously impressive research but all irrelevant. Analytics has changed the game and especially the way coaches deploy their players leaving a completely different spread of production.

On top of that is the fact that similar to how Diggs changes the Bills’ receiver core from below average to above average, a legit 2C changes the Sabre’s depth dramatically, assuming that said 2C impacts Skinner’s production.

Don't know that it's irrelevant, but agree that simply fixing (no just filling, but fixing) 2C adds enough goals to this roster between the 2C, Skinner, and added production from the 3rd scoring line, to be up around Moe-ray-all & the Yotes.  Combine that with a highly functioning 1st line and an above average D-corp (even if 1 RHD gets shipped out to fix 2C, and the only thing the teams needs to be truly competitive with the top dogs is improved goaltending. 

A trade for a 2C, a FA G, and ideally a FA 2W (though my expectation is we don't see a FA 2W brought in as my expectation is they expect 1 of Kahun or Thompson to fill that slot), along with the return of Girgensons & Larsson and suddenly Botterill's reputation follows Benning's trajectory.  Benning was a genius w/ the Sabres and still respected as an assistant elsewhere and then couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time as recently as making the Miller trade (he gave up a high end lottery pick for a guy that won't be nearly enough to fix all the problems!).  Now he's good again.  Good goaltending and a useful 2nd scoring line fixes a lot of flaws.

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5 hours ago, LGR4GM said:

I'm just here to read botterill apologists ignore further evidence and call facts irrelevant. I think my favorite lie is that he hasn't had the cap even though, he himself is the reason for not having cap.

A) I didn’t call facts irrelevant. I called comparing eras irrelevant 

B) nobody who has been paying attention would call me a Botterill apologist

C) my point all along has been if he acquired JT Miller instead of Johansson, no one would talk about lack of depth.

D) we are in complete agreement with regard to last sentence

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7 hours ago, LGR4GM said:

I'm just here to read botterill apologists ignore further evidence and call facts irrelevant. I think my favorite lie is that he hasn't had the cap even though, he himself is the reason for not having cap.

Dude — you need to stop throwing this around when you disagree with someone.  

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3 hours ago, tom webster said:

A) I didn’t call facts irrelevant. I called comparing eras irrelevant 

B) nobody who has been paying attention would call me a Botterill apologist

C) my point all along has been if he acquired JT Miller instead of Johansson, no one would talk about lack of depth.

D) we are in complete agreement with regard to last sentence

It's as if I wasn't directly talking to you. 

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23 minutes ago, LGR4GM said:

It's as if I wasn't directly talking to you. 

I may be wrong but I believe I was the only one who used the term irrelevant.

 

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19 hours ago, tom webster said:

Obviously impressive research but all irrelevant. Analytics has changed the game and especially the way coaches deploy their players leaving a completely different spread of production.

On top of that is the fact that similar to how Diggs changes the Bills’ receiver core from below average to above average, a legit 2C changes the Sabre’s depth dramatically, assuming that said 2C impacts Skinner’s production.

If only Botterill had shown the proclivity to add even a single centre to the roster in 3 years. "Middle 6" (see, 3rd line) left shot wingers are his jam. 

Edited by Thorny

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15 hours ago, Randall Flagg said:

He's already indicated that this is largely the plan. We know Asplund will take one of the fourth line slots. He wants Simmonds back and is ready for Cozens to make the team, both per his last interview. That leaves room for two acquisitions, which history tells us to expect basically another Vesey and Johansson at best. Unless a team wants to gift us a Skinner again, but o don't see any situations like that brewing. Actually, Mitts and Tage could well be slotted in for those spots in his mind.

 

And, just like the last few years, the possibility that it could work exists. The issue is like the last few years there would be too many question marks in critical spots, and too many things needing to go right compared to the likelihood that they do, for us to get anywhere  

The crux I've been a preachin' for a long, long time. 

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14 hours ago, tom webster said:

I may be wrong but I believe I was the only one who used the term irrelevant.

 

Do you actually believe the Buffalo Sabres are using analytics in a meaningful way?

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I remember a team that made "small" moves that improved the team: Grier, Numminen, Lydman...

It's crazy to me that people might think Sheary, Vesey, Frolik, Sobotka etc. are irrelevant in the big picture. Critical mass creates depth and gets players slotted into roles where they can succeed. These are roster-building truisms that haven't hasn't changed since 2005.

Edited by dudacek

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1 hour ago, LGR4GM said:

Do you actually believe the Buffalo Sabres are using analytics in a meaningful way?

Better but still not enough with regards to “in game strategy” but they’ve made a decent commitment in team building and planning. 
Just because someone makes decisions that we don’t agree with doesn’t mean they aren’t using all the knowledge at their disposal. RK is probably one if the most brilliant minds in sports and is an economics genius. We might not agree with what he chooses to believe but to think that he doesn’t know the numbers inside and out is naive or arrogant. I respect you and your opinions and hockey knowledge but I don’t know enough about you to judge your mindset.

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59 minutes ago, tom webster said:

Better but still not enough with regards to “in game strategy” but they’ve made a decent commitment in team building and planning. 
Just because someone makes decisions that we don’t agree with doesn’t mean they aren’t using all the knowledge at their disposal. RK is probably one if the most brilliant minds in sports and is an economics genius. We might not agree with what he chooses to believe but to think that he doesn’t know the numbers inside and out is naive or arrogant. I respect you and your opinions and hockey knowledge but I don’t know enough about you to judge your mindset.

I haven't seen a decent commitment to using analytics for player acquisition. In fact we keep witnessing the very opposite of that type of approach. Krueger may know the numbers but he seems to fail just like Botterill at understanding which numbers to focus on and when. Frolic is the microcosm of this. They knew they PK was bad and instead of changing it from the passive box they so desperately love, they went out and traded for a player with good PK numbers. He didn't have any other good numbers but here we are. That is my problem, game management at this point is just useless when the team hasn't acquired enough forwards to create enough offense to win consistently. 

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22 minutes ago, LGR4GM said:

I haven't seen a decent commitment to using analytics for player acquisition. In fact we keep witnessing the very opposite of that type of approach. Krueger may know the numbers but he seems to fail just like Botterill at understanding which numbers to focus on and when. Frolic is the microcosm of this. They knew they PK was bad and instead of changing it from the passive box they so desperately love, they went out and traded for a player with good PK numbers. He didn't have any other good numbers but here we are. That is my problem, game management at this point is just useless when the team hasn't acquired enough forwards to create enough offense to win consistently. 

As I said before, I believe Botterill has failed miserably. Where we differ is the question of how far off they are. I believe that a true 2C makes a world of difference and changes the rating of the rest of the forwards.

I will add that Frolic was a complete disaster and made little sense.

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