Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Offering up some New Season’s Resolutions for 2019–20

A new year of NHL action is almost here, which makes it a good time for some New Season Resolutions. Nobody’s perfect, and whether we’re diehard fans, relative newbies or cantankerous media, we can all strive to be a little bit better. The start of a new season is a chance for hockey fans to begin the year right, by setting goals for some self-improvement.

While your own personal resolutions are of course up to you, I can offer up a few suggestions to get you started. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a half-dozen potential resolutions for the new season.

Let’s not pretend that every bad team is this year’s Blues

Last year’s Blues were an amazing story. They went from preseason contender to first-half disappointment to dead last in the league to obvious trade deadline sellers to hey wait a minute to the Stanley Cup, all in one year. It was great. If you’re a fan of sports, stories like that are easy to love.

They’ve also very rare. Teams aren’t supposed to do what the Blues did last year. In fact, just about none of them do. That’s part of what made last year so fun.

And it’s something we’re going to have to remember this year, because oh man, every team that starts out slowly is going to point to the Blues as reason for optimism.

You can already feel it coming. Heck, we’ve already seen it during the offseason, when GMs were eager to tell us that if the Blues could win, their team could too. And it’s going to be out of control once we get a few weeks into the season and teams that have stumbled through a disappointing start are insisting that it’s all part of the plan.

It’s not hard to picture, right? Some poor GM or coach or team captain will be asked to explain why his team is already seven points out of the playoff race and whether fans should be worried that everything seems to be falling apart. And instead of actually having to come up with a reason for optimism, or worse, accept that the team isn’t all that good, he’ll just point to the Blues. They were bad. They were even in last place. And they won it all, so everyone just be patient and everything will be fine.

Let’s not fall for it.

For one thing, the Blues were always a good team, at least on paper. They’d made a big trade in the offseason, in an effort to get better. When they started slowly, they made a big move by switching coaches. And they solved their biggest problem by, uh, finding an amazing goaltender in the ECHL. Might not want to put that last one on the recommended list, but they pulled it off.

The key point here is that Doug Armstrong and friends didn’t just shrug and say “Oh well, we stink, let’s just stay the course and hope for a miracle.” And we shouldn’t let bad teams get away with doing that over the next few weeks and months.

Have you made a blockbuster trade? Did you fire the coach? Did you switch out your starting goaltender? Fine, do all of that and then maybe you can claim to be a candidate for Blues status. But if you’re just standing pat and trying to buy time by pointing to some other team’s miracle season, the rest of us shouldn’t be falling for it.

Let’s accept that we’ll need a learning curve on player tracking

At this point, we’re not completely sure when we’ll get full puck and player tracking. It was supposed to arrive this season, then it was going to be the postseason. The league recently dropped its technology partner, but says that won’t delay the implementation. We’ll see.

But whenever player tracking does finally arrive, there’s one thing we can count on: Nobody will be quite sure how to use it.

The teams won’t know. The analytics experts you follow on Twitter won’t know. The average fan sure won’t. We’re all going to be figuring this out as we go.

That’s going to lead to a lot of confusion and to a lot of information being thrown out into the world without enough useful context. What if Connor McDavid skated further in tonight’s game that Auston Matthews did? OK. Is that good? Does it matter? Do any of these numbers tell us anything useful about who’s going to win?

While we’ll all be struggling with those sort of questions, they’ll especially apply to TV broadcasters, who are going to be flooded with new information that they’re not quite sure what to do with. TV is a visual medium, so you know we’re going to be inundated with flashy graphics and rapidly updating numbers about things like skating speeds and cumulative pass distances. Some will be helpful. Most probably won’t.

And when that happens, it’s going to be tempting to get up on a soapbox and put on a big show of complaining. Some of that will be justified, especially when our screens are all clogged up with obvious nonsense. But let’s resolve to remember that there’s going to be a learning period here for everyone, just like there was when we started getting better statistical data near the start of the cap era. We didn’t get it all right from Day 1 back then, and we definitely won’t now.

Eventually, we’ll look back on the first few years of players tracking and shake our heads at all the misplaced attention and useless red herrings we wasted our time on. We’ll figure it out. But in the meantime, let’s accept that some of this will get silly and that we won’t get anywhere if we don’t let people make some mistakes along the way.

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