Boots on the Ground

For a lot of sports fans, statistics are the end all, be all of how to evaluate a player that they know nothing about. There have been several articles posted lately with a back and forth taking place about sabermetrics for hockey. For hockey? Really? No thanks.

In this sport, nothing beats "Boots on the Ground". You cannot fully grasp the skills and abilities of a player unless you a) know the game and b) watch the player in a real game. There are far too many fans that will over value a player based on where they were taken and stats captured.

First, I want to de-bunk AHL statistics. The NHL HITS personnel go to great lengths to be as objective as possible. However, there are always the odd and random innuendos flying around about shots. Roberto Luongo used to face 50+ shots a night in Florida, yet their former beat writer called the shot totals into question. I do not see the same level of objectivity at the AHL level.

Example: Saturday, October 22, 2011: Chicago Wolves at Rockford Ice Hogs.

During this game, I keyed in on several different players. The first player which gained focus was Matt Climie for the Wolves;
At first glance, he was just calm, cool and collected in net. I thought his butterfly technique was a little weak, but passable. He did not flop around like some AHL goalies and was more of an angles goalie. Climie is 28 years old and there honestly isn't a lot of press about him. He was an un-drafted free agent signed by the Stars out of Bemidji State.

Here is where the stats from the game are exceptionally misleading. According to those same stats, Matt Climie faced 48 shots and made 47 saves. That is a whopping .979 save percentage! But wait... Did he really face 48 shots? Not that I could tell. There were several times that I saw the shot counter go up one where Antti Miettinen would have been proud to have gotten a shot that close to the net. Another example was an actual shot, which rebounded to the corner, and when cleared to the blue line, the puck came within 15 feet of Climie. Two shots went up on the board and what's worse? The clearing attempt was made by a Billy Sweatt of the Chicago Wolves. Two shots were registered on that one play.

This is not to take away from Matt Climie's game at all. He made at least four out of five saves out of what I would call great scoring chances. He was calm and cool under pressure, but his 5 goals against in the Phoenix system really emphasizes how much faster the NHL game is when compared to the AHL. If an NHL goalie takes that long to go from post to post, well, he'll let in 5 goals.

At the other end of the ice, Alexander Salak embodied what I've become accustomed to regarding Ice Hogs goalies; Floppy Fishies. That is what I call goalies that tend to act like a fish, flopping around the ice trying to block shots. Corey Crawford was a mess the numerous times I saw him play in Rockford. Salak was very much like that on Saturday night. However, again, the stats captured during that game are very misleading, saying that Salak only faced 16 shots, letting in 3 goals. That is most definitely *not* good. Yet, the inverse of the gift shots to the Ice Hogs was true for Salak. During a stretch of five minutes of play, I counted six Chicago Wolves shots that were expertly placed directly into the logo on Salak's jersey. Marek Zidlicky would have been proud! The shot counter? The shot counter was stuck on the number 10 for all six of those shots. The shots faced by Salak did not seem to increase until over 7 minutes into the third period. Maybe the Friesen goal woke up the stats keeper, because at that point, but only half of them, were being counted. One would think that when the puck thunks off of a goalies left leg pad (and loudly) it would be a shot. Evidently, I'd be wrong.

Another player that I couldn't help but pay attention to was Kyle Beach. If you read HF Boards at all, the majority of the Chicago Blackhawk fan posters have a very high opinion of Kyle Beach. If these same fans are trying to get a player to help their Blackhawks in random trade proposals, Kyle Beach is a piece that a lot of them will throw into the mix.

Here is what Hockey's Future says about Kyle Beach: Drafted 11th over-all in 2008.

Well, we here at First Round Bust don't buy into the potential of a first round draftee!

There is one word that I could use to describe Kyle Beach. Pylon.

This is probably the fifth or sixth time I have seen Kyle Beach play in person. Each time, the only word to describe him is "pylon". Yet, nearly every Blackhawks fan says things like; "I really think he's going to find a niche as a spark plug on the third line. Hit, fight, agitate, and score around 50-60 in his prime. Think Alex Burrows but actually willing to back up his smack talk". Meanwhile, the few Blackhawks fans that bag on his skating get roasted alive. In person, his skating is abysmal, he lacks any defensive awareness, has no nose for the net, and had the HITS worker not been handing out gimmee shots, would have only really registered maybe, and I'm being nice, one shot on goal, not six. Since he can't skate, how can he hit? If he doesn't talk on the ice, how can he agitate? Sure, he can fight...

For the Chicago Wolves, there were two positive stand outs. Billy Sweatt looks to be nearly NHL ready. Mike Duco, for being somewhat undersized, could really add some Cal Clutterbuck style grit to the Canucks line up, if there is ever room. Since the one stat that you really cannot muck with, even at the AHL level, is plus/minus, these two guys were both a solid plus 3.

A negative stand out, but only really because he is
  1. From Minnesota
  2. A first round pick
  3. There were quite a few Wild fans that thought we took the wrong Minnesotan
Jordan Schroeder.

He has not grown an inch and he still looks tiny. His skating speed looked fine in college, but for a player that is as small as he is, I expected a lot more speed at the AHL level. Unfortunately, I didn't see that and what I did see was choppy skating and getting burned by his opponents in a lot of different situations. He couldn't out muscle anyone on the ice and I would also be intensely curious as to what his average time on ice was during that game.

Of course, I am not going to judge these three guys based on one sample game. Now that Vancouver is the parent club of the Chicago Wolves, this is the first time I've seen them play. Bill Sweatt and Mike Duco could have just been having a good night. Jordan Schroeder might have forgotten to get his skates sharpened. Kyle Beach, on the other hand, brings very strong consistency to his game.

In summary, I have yet one more new perspective on how NHL teams work. NHL scouts have a very difficult job. First and foremost, they need to have Boots on the Ground in order to form an opinion. Video scouting needs to be a thing of the past for any club. Stats scouting should never even be attempted at the NHL level. Nothing is black and white with the sport. So while Jonas Brodin seems to be the only positive on a relatively horrible Swedish team, I think I'm going to side with the scouts on this one.

Also, in the future, I plan on taking all things said about a player I haven't seen in person with a grain of salt. After all, I understand that sometimes, used car salespeople aren't exactly the most honest lot on the planet.


  1. great article. you need to watch a prospect before making inferences about them from stats on the internet. this is why i just laugh at everyone on HF talking about prospects. Unless you have watched MANY FULL games focusing on the prospect you don't know ****!

  2. only thing i took away from watching Beach (once) was "LOL he beat up Marc-Andre Bergeron! Tough guy!"