Randy Carlyle was introduced as the Anaheim Ducks’ head coach Tuesday morning in a press conference that lasted just a hair over 20 minutes. Though brief, Carlyle was needled by reporters on everything from his coaching style, his rapport with his star players, to his view on analytics. He said all the right things, casting himself as someone who’s benefited from two seasons away from coaching.
Any coach can sound like the second coming of Scotty Bowman at the podium, so it’s tough to extract any meaningful information in a sea of platitudes. However, when asked about some changes that could come, Carlyle, in reference to his players, had this to say: “Your role might change, some might change more than others.”
That’s an interesting statement in that it’s oddly specific for a press conference. It hints that he has at least some ideas as to how this roster could be better optimized. Analytics are one very efficient way to examine what roles players ought to be in, and if Carlyle is honest in saying that he’s a believer in the NHL’s numbers revolution, then here are three changes he should implement immediately:
3. Jakob Silfverberg In A More Offensive Role
Silfverberg has been a part of one of the best shutdown lines in the league alongside Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano. Bruce Boudreau played the three in a heavily defensive role, starting the grand majority of their shifts in Anaheim’s zone and drawing some tough assignments.
That’s where Kesler and Cogliano should be. Kesler, though once considered a goal scorer, is far removed from his prime in Vancouver. Cogliano is a speedy checker, but he’s limited offensively. Silfverberg is a different story. He’s gifted with the puck, has great vision, and possesses a lethal wrist shot. The numbers reflect that, as he’s one of Anaheim’s better forwards in terms of shot generation. On a line with Rickard Rakell, a 25-goal season wouldn’t be out of the question for the 25-year-old Swede. Do it Randy.
2. Cam Fowler’s Strengths Need To Be Accentuated
Carlyle sang Fowler’s praises in his press conference, saying that he’d gone from a, “185 pound stringbean who could skate, to a 215 pound man”. Fowler might be the best skater on the team, but that hasn’t translated to a strong all-around game. He’s prone to mental lapses in his own zone, and just hasn’t been the premier defenseman that many perceive him to be.
Boudreau had Fowler starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone alongside Kevin Bieksa (more on him later), a situation that simply didn’t yield positive results. Someone of Fowler’s skating ability should be dominating the shot attempt battle, not barely breaking even. Instead of trying to make Fowler fit a defensive mold, Carlyle would be wise to give him more starts in the offensive zone, and maybe even give him a partner who can actually play defense to shore up his frequent lapses. A coach’s job is to accentuate his players’ strengths. This should be a no-brainer.
1. Reduce Kevin Bieksa’s Role
Outside of a handful of power play goals, Bieksa had an atrocious season. His inability to protect his own blueline was reflected in the numbers, as he posted one of the worst relative possession ratings of any Ducks defenseman. Thanks to Dimitri Filipovic’s work over at Sportsnet, we know that Bieksa allowed the most opposing controlled zone entries of any Anaheim blueliner during the playoffs. That’s not good.
The scary thing is that Carlyle has often been credited with contributing to Bieksa’s early development. There’s a real possibility that Bieksa could see more ice time under the new regime. If Carlyle is serious about analytics as a useful tool, he’ll quickly notice that Bieksa can’t be used in a meaningful role anymore. Take him off the power play and limit him to third-pairing minutes. Maybe Carlyle will even have a few words with him about his tendency to take notoriously bone-headed penalties. No analytics needed there.
The Ducks’ new coach has an opportunity to make some really intelligent moves. Let’s see if he’s up to the task.