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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, Hi Todd

It’s not every day that an NHL coach subtweets you in real life. I’ve been told that I live rent-free in a lot of people’s heads, but I figured these guys had thicker skin.

No, I wasn’t mentioned specifically. He didn’t @ me. Like I said, it’s a real-life subtweet. And yet…well, you decide who this nameless embodiment of outsider stats nerd who dislikes Russell (as a player) could be. Here is what McLellan said per NHL.com writer Tim Campbell:

Kris Russell is a character individual and that’s why our team cares so much about him. Whoever’s criticizing this individual probably has never played a competitive sport in their life and if they have and they’ve been perfect and that event never occurred to them, then they should be in the Hall of Fame somewhere. Mistakes happen. There was no intent for him to shoot it in our net. That’s one video clip we don’t even review. What are we going to look at?

But what he means to our team … and I know all the analytic nerds out there find ways to run him into the ground but he means a lot to our team. Every single one of those players, regardless of the goal the other night he put into his own net will tell you that any day in any place. I’m pretty sure a lot of guys in that locker room down the hallway would tell you the same thing. So analytics that, if you want.

Alright, maybe it’s not me…maybe?

Here’s the thing. This shot at the mean stats nerds who haven’t played before is coming off the heels of almost no negative Russell articles whatsoever. Where is the pile on happening that caused McLellan to protect his player? I haven’t seen it. I haven’t written it. No one else here did either. As for the game itself, most people were talking about it being Russell’s best offensive game as an Oiler. He even had one of the highest shot attempt percentages on the team that night. His analytics were good.

One thing I appreciate McLellan clarifying was that Russell didn’t mean to shoot it into his net. Glad that got cleared up.

I have some issues with things that McLellan brings up, but let’s be real about what’s going on here. He’s picking the stats nerds here because they (we) are total outsiders in the Edmonton sports media. You want a few sympathetic articles written and the criticism to stay at bay for another week? Talk about how those unfair rat geeks are taking a run at a heart and soul defender from Alberta who rides bulls and blocks shots.

Free pass granted.

Apr 22, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan meets with his players during a timeout against the San Jose Sharks during the third period in game six of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 to win the series. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Todd McLellan might not have ever won a Cup as a head coach, but he’s certainly no idiot. He knows the guys he’s speaking with will follow along to his pied piper tune. The second the game was over Edmonton’s sports reporters were chomping at the bit to not just defend a guy who scored 5-hole on his own net for the game winner but to take swipes at the analytics guys in the process.

Check out these opening sentences from Mark Spector directly after the game:

Kris Russell gets lost in today’s National Hockey League, a throw-back, 1980’s, blood ‘n’ guts defenceman who dies on the table for the numbers surgeons in 2017.

The analytics folks? They can’t stand the poor guy, whose intangible attributes are unquantifiable, and certainly no match for the Fancy Stats his game spits out.

I would challenge any Oiler fan who’s been around long enough to tell me that he would have written the same two lines if Tom Gilbert had panicked in a puck battle and blasted a shot through his goalie with a minute on the clock.

Todd McLellan is in need of wins, and since he’s not getting them on the ice, he’s set his sight on the analytics community. This is little more than a cheap distraction. McLellan and co have Connor McDavid — on the last year of his ELC — and are in lottery position. The power play is non-existent. The penalty kill is historically bad at home and could be costing the team more than Peter Chiarelli’s trade history.

But let’s get back to the embattled blueliner. Here are a couple basic facts about Kris Russell that McLellan will be familar with:

-Kris Russell’s ice time has dropped roughly 3:30 per game this season.

-Kris Russell is 5th in average time on ice among Oiler defenders despite the fact that Sekera still hasn’t returned.

Whatever else I (or anyone else in the analytics community) thinks, the Head Coach of the Oilers trusts Russell less than four other defenders according to his usage. If Todd McLellan has a problem with that then he should speak to the Head Coach of the Oilers about it.

If McLellan wants to hear criticism of the goal, which he apparently refuses to even review, then I’m happy to give it. It was a panicked play by the defender and if he had executed Edmonton still wouldn’t have been clear of danger. Or maybe he thinks only former players should be able to criticize hockey plays? Imagine dozens of articles about Team Toughness wrought with quotes about Tough players playing Tough. Thrilling!

I’m sorry if the Russell own goal triggered Todd McLellan into some sort of episode where he was lashing out the analytics community or at articles I’ve written months ago. I’m just skeptical. Is this a coach teetering on the edge of unemployment? Maybe he’s distracting us by choosing spreadsheet loving targets, and jangled the keys around until someone paid attention.

We’re a quarter of the way into the season and the coach who can’t correct his team and meet even the most cynical of expectations. According to recent reports questioning if McLellan could be on the hot seat before Christmas. Maybe he wants to rally his troops around Russell with an ‘us vs them’ thing and I get that. If this actually brings the team together then it might be the most positive impact he’s had.

  • oilcanz

    Matt simmer down. Why are you so insecure about analyltics that you feel the need to defend anyone who can “math”? Your arrogance is embarassing. There is no debating the perception of Mr. Russel by YOUR community and it is in direct oposition of the perception of the “hockey” community. By your own logic, Russel had a great game against the leafs except for one event. I think it is petty of you to use this as an opportunity to suggest his play somehow vindicates analytics. I would suggest stepping away from your calculator and reading a book or two on team building. You do read don’t you?

    • fan forever

      Is it insecurity or is it ego. I doubt Todd gives a load of crap about Matt but this seems to be the type of stuff that comes out of the mouths of people that want to make hard and fast decisions relying only on analytics. Like Todd said he wondered how many of these people had ever played a organized team sport.

  • Big Nuggets

    I’m not seeing why everyone is so angry at this blogger. Not saying I agree with him but I started reading this site about a year ago and I probably wouldnt have even noticed Henderson’s name if it weren’t for all the vitriol in the comments. Do you guys need to agree with everything written on the internet? Do you think nobody would criticize Russel if Henderson wasnt here to point out his poor anaytics? Or did I miss something?

    • Stack Pad Save

      The coach rallying the troops isn’t meaningful to you? I think the last sentence of the article pointed out the meaning. Henderson doesn’t think he was taking jabs at the analytics community because he hates analytics, he thinks he is taking jabs at the analytic community because the coach is on the hot seat. The coach on the hot seat is worth talking about.

  • PandaBearJelly

    Well, you can’t say Matt’s articles don’t generate clicks… Seriously though, what the hell is this article? It contributes absolutely nothing of value the any discussions. That’s the problem with Henderson. I am all for reading about different perspectives and I actually appreciate analytics. The thing is, analytics mean nothing without context and that is where Matt fails every time. He is the type that just looks at the numbers and takes them as gospel without taking the time to understand them. He also comes off as a whinner the majority of the time. Frankly, he is not good for the analytic community. He makes them look bad. This article is embarrassing and this garbage shouldn’t be on ON. There are plenty of analytic guys out there who actually understand hockey as well. Hire one of them instead please.

  • Ginbaby

    I have read that when a person is proven wrong it causes physical pain. So much that they will dig their heels in more so and hang on to their position. Seems like coach struck a nerve with this guy, who probably wasn’t the focus of this rant. Saying that chemistry is meaningless implies that every team built before without the use of finite math, was just luck and nothing more. I like that people dig into games for the bigger picture, I struggle to understand how to quantify what some of these numbers explain but that doesn’t mean I think they are useless. I watch Russell give his all every night, not always with great results but with full effort. I will take that all day.

  • Old school

    I think Henderson makes a valid point .. this is misdirection by the coach .. the issue fans have with Russel isn’t analytics it’s that the GM has overpaid for a 5- 6 defence man .. we all appreciate his “ try” but the NHL is a “do” league and that’s how all players are judged .. the same can be said for the coaching staff .. l notice the calls to replace the special team coaches when it’s the head coach who is accountable for their performance .. lastly if you don’t like Henderson don’t read him

  • Deported to Ottawa

    Well, I don’t think you have a large enough impact to get called out by the coach.

    I also think people are quick with opinions without the knowledge to validate those opinions.

    He’s a member of the Oilers and the analytics guys seem oblivious to other areas of the game.

  • Derian Hatcher

    MH – what will become of you when Russell eventually retires? Who will you direct your vast hockey knowledge and analytics towards? Do you have a Registered Retirement Analytics Plan? If you insist on stepping into the spotlight to assuming that a professional hockey coach is directing comments towards you – which in of itself is laughable – you might want to hire an agent. Maybe Tyler Dellow can help you out here…although how both of your massive egos could fit into one room will be near impossible.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    The statement made that when Russell is on the ice the puck ends up in our net is inherently untrue. (He seemed to be on for a few too many in the third last night but those were on LB). But fact is that as far as goals against us go he’s best on team and was up there last year as well.

    I love how the Anyalytics guys don’t get the positives that Russel provides. And I don’t mean heart, grit, effort… the intangibles that the metrics can’t quantify.

    No. I’m talking about making hockey plays to get the puck out of dangerous areas so as not to be scored on. I’m talking about an ability to quickly retrieve a dump in and get the puck moving North. Metric guys try and persuade us that Russell can’t do these things and it’s totallly false. Time and again he does these things and often makes a pass they ends up forcing a zone entry on an Oiler forwards stick.

    This player appraisal done looking at nothing but numbers has a massive ways to go before it’s anything close to reliable. I think that’s one of the reasons there’s so much cynicism surrounding the fancy stats is that the guys who are proponents seem to literally lack the ability to watch a player and dissect their abilities by eye.
    Isn’t that what a pro is supposed to be able to do?

  • Joy S. Lee

    I’m not sure if I’m unusual, but I am a stats/data guy, but also one who played sports and uses his eyes to make most of my sports judgments. The numbers usually work to support the eyes, but not always, as there are always degrees and permutations involved.

    What I will say is this: I trust my eyes more than the numbers, every time. I believe that the experts running NHL teams do the same, simply because they have a close relationship with the game and understand the players and the strategies being employed. The variance of opinion is precisely why management and coaching types move around the league, because there is no single way to run a team or deploy a player. My point is, trust the eyes first, and use the stats as a tool for more in-depth strategizing. Both can be highly beneficial.

    You don’t have a thin skin, that much is obvious by how willing you are to put a controversial opinion out there, and you should be complimented for it. McLellan’s rant, however, was for the benefit of the player, and he was merely trying to get out in front of what he figured would be an onslaught of more stats guys attacking the guy who made a big boo-boo while having his best game in a while. It was the fatherly thing to do, and besides, he’s right: I strongly suspect Russell’s teammates love and respect him and want him by their side. There are no analytics to tell those kinds of stories, so lighten up and try watching with your eyes as well as your numbers. I enjoy your articles whether I agree or not… but try to keep cool and your articles relevant, bud.