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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.

  • D'oh-ilers

    So the news story is Matt Henderson, the bitter blogger who can’t stop writing articles about how much he hates Kris Russell, still hates Kris Russell? That’s a twist I didn’t see coming.

  • Jordan88

    Hey Matt Henderson,

    I am sick of your poor articles, every time I come on here I read about Russell’s bloated contract, or how he can’t play hockey or he isn’t worth a bag of pucks. Then when this team rallies around a player who had a bad turn of events after he has a solid game except for that god awful goal you write this tripe essentially calling out the head coach for standing up for his guys.

  • Johnnyo

    Recent report, Matt? That ‘hot seat’ McLellan was on was circa 2014.

    I rarely wade into the stats versus ‘hockey guys’ debates because I see both sides have reasonable arguments at times and don’t believe either or is “the way”.

    To be frank though, it’s no wonder the condemnation that gets directed at the ‘geeks’ at times from the establishment: it’s likely a reaction to the arrogant and unprofessional ways many in the geek crowd choose to deliver their critiques.

  • 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.

  • Oilerchild77

    Matt, what I’m about to say is not done out of anger or malice, but the truth is, you’re the worst writer on ON. You know why I think so? It’s because of articles exactly like this one. Your claim that no negative articles are being written about Kris Russell is laughable. You’ve written plenty and now that a coach has called people like you out for your unfair and, at times, unprofessional assessment of a player on his team, you fire back immediately and claim he’s talking to ghosts. If he was talking to ghosts, why did you feel the need to defend yourself so quickly? Don’t answer that, because I’m gonna tell you why. It’s because he’s right and you damn well know it.

    • IRONman

      Matt keep going. More articles to read, the better. Everyone has an opinion, I believe Russel is a good guy and tough for blocking shots. Need to clean house.

  • 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.

  • Blueliner44

    We call players that can’t take the media heat here whiners. When a coach vaguely references a stats nerd, we get a 3000 word dissertation. Sensitive?

  • Svart kaffe

    Wow, if there ever was a guy full of himself. I don’t particularly like Russell, he’s a #5 or or if I’m pessimistic a #4 on a lot of teams.

    Henderson on the other hand: if hockey bloggers was a D corps he’d be a decent AHL:er. I don’t hate the guy but don’t quit your day job. Maybe a #8 on a bad team.

    Baggedmilk, how is this guy still part of your roster? Before he was just whining, now he’s whining and patting himself on the back. Is this even an article? Boy am I glad I don’t pay for this.

    • Klef abs

      If BM got rid of Matt for being a bad blogger it would set a precedent to force him to get rid of the bad posters too…so 90% of you idiots on here would be banned.

      • Svart kaffe

        Are you this stupid or just acting out? Comments are comments. This is a community and I think most of us reading this site and caring enough to write here like having a bit of debate and different opinions on things. This “article” on the other hand is just worthless whining from a borderline narcissist who somehow thinks he’s important enough to be called out by the coach. He’s not. He made the mistake of making it personal.

        And for the record I think a lot of criticism on Kris Russell is legitimate, reasonable. Henderson just isn’t the one to do it.

  • hockey1099

    Wow. The worst blogger on this site with the least knowledge of the game has the biggest ego. My question is; is Todd right? You have never played competitive sports? Would explain everything about your articles.

  • slats-west

    Find it kind of funny for “stats nerd” to cherry pick his minutes as your only stat argument against the Coach? The game in in question he had a 1G 2A – did that get lost somewhere? He’d already taken Kadri off the puck and with a little puck support all could have been averted – he didn’t get it. Russell is not the Oilers biggest problem – far, far from it.