Analysis: Roope Hintz is more elite than you might think, but there is a catch
I’ll be clean. I didn’t see the emergence of Roope Hintz coming. Not in contrast to the 2019-2020 season. Of course, I knew all the reasons my amateur instincts could lie. There was minimal ice time, lineup juggling (a lot), and Rick Bowness’ more dump than chase system. But 23 years old is a bit old in the prospect years. In an 82-game season, Hintz was on pace for 45 points that year: excellent for a first (ish) year player, but it’s nice if we’re talking about the future Dallas number one center. To go from 45 points to 85, over a full season, it would take a Wallace-like shine.
I’m happy to report that Hintz has, finally, lost his inner-Wallace. Although oddly enough, not much has changed from this year to the last. In 2019-2020, Hintz’s average ice time was 11.38: ninth among Dallas forwards. This season, Hintz’s average ice time was 13.14: ninth among Dallas forwards. Of course, thisseason, it made sense for players like Blake Comeau, Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa to average more ice time than Hintz (or not: how do you harmonize Comeau by getting as much ice time as Jamie Benn, for example?) . I guess last season we could attribute that to the NHL’s Can’t Trust Rookies Just Yet logic, which wouldn’t explain Jason Robertson this year, but whatever. The point is, this season he didn’t even have his full pelvis. Literally.
But first, I want to talk about the things that make Pierre McGuire roll his eyes every night: fancy statistics. If you’ve watched the playoffs, all of Peter’s analysis comes down to preemptive attacks on analysis. “You can’t reduce a player’s value to crude numbers,” he said, as if someone had ever said something so childish. For the childish things say, we no need to look far. Of course, that’s not what the numbers are for. Even professional mathematicians know this. Like physicists, biologists, and virologists, you do your homework, and sometimes the numbers give you an organized look at general patterns that are difficult to see with the naked eye. Which brings me to:
Understanding GAR and the point of numbers
How do you decide who plays and who doesn’t? The easiest way is to use a set of numbers. If Forward A scored twenty goals last year, he will likely get more time on the ice than Forward B, who only scored four. Chances are, the player with the most points plays the most minutes. I know: mouthwatering stuff. But how do you decide between two players with twenty points each? Divisions between goals and assists could help. But what if they both scored ten goals and ten assists?
In Dallas’ unfortunate 2017-18 season, Devin Shore finished 7th in the standings. Did that make Shore Dallas 7th top scorer? Of course not. Being 7th in scoring and 7th in scoring are two separate things. This is not just a retrospective analysis. Separate the attack generated by Shore evenly, the defense he provided, his offensive and defensive contributions on special teams, and the ripple effect he has on both with penalties taken and penalties. drawn – and you probably end up with a much different one. image, right?
Now compare those numbers to the average production of a striker outside of the top 13, or a defender outside of the top 7 (i.e., replaceable production), and the replacement of goals above is the model brighter minds have come with it. Effectively, we end up with a different Soothsayer.
Does that give us the big picture? No. Does that mean Shore was the team’s third worst forward that year? Also no. This whimsical stuff just tells us that in this particular season, Shore provided some value on power play and defensive functions, but didn’t generate offense of any kind in the most state of play. important, nor helped shorthanded. It might not be a smoking gun, but it gives us better language as to where we think Shore falls in the spectrum of inherent talent and value that is provided.
Funny how analysis is often seen as counterintuitive despite the fact that we regularly talk about overachievers versus underachievers. What this has to do with Hintz is simple. It is good. Even without having his entire lower body. But did we know he was this good?
Some of these names might sound strange, but that doesn’t negate the general point here. As mentioned, I was skeptical of Hintz not only because of his modest point total for his first full year for a potential elite striker, but because the gang didn’t convince me either. I saw a great shooter in 2019. But a great shooter who may not have created enough room in the tight corners. I saw a functional passer-by. But a functional passer who perhaps wasn’t creative enough to open the ice beyond what he was given in the race. And I saw a flexible, albeit modest, playmaker. But a flexible and modest playmaker who may not have had the vision of making more patient plays with the puck.
That’s when I decided to watch some games again because why not? I would have put together some sort of highlight package, but realized very quickly that most of Hintz’s routine games are the highlight coils.
His help at 1:34 is Pyromancer sorcery: in traffic, let the puck pass between his legs for a behind-the-back pass through the defender. The complete control of the puck he has when he shoots it at 0:44, you’d think he was holding a cesta instead of a stick and playing Jai Alai instead of hockey. He is the commodity. But we already know that.
A lot of what it does well is “blink and you’ll miss it” type. I think this is where I underestimated the strengths of Hintz. Analyzing the true worth of a player is difficult, at least I tell myself. That’s why numbers help: to separate the good of course from the good of the routine, and the obviously bad from the bad of the routine. They can also help separate the dynamics of a player’s worth from season to season. Just compare and contrast the last two seasons of Hintz with those of Denis Gurianov. Totally different, right?
How do you know which season best represents each player? I don’t think we can. Gurianov may not have been as good as he showed, but he wasn’t half as bad as he seemed to be watching either. Hintz, on the other hand, is only making progress. It’s not a science, but the best a team can do is leverage a player’s strengths to the best of their ability and drop chips and pucks where they can. Systems are important, and understanding these strengths is how teams can get the most out of their players consistently rather than intermittently; it’s no coincidence Old Man Spezza’s I got it anyway.
Analysis, in all forms of sports, whether it’s math or a head pounding your head with the cliché Will Beats Skill, tends to have a horrible blind spot. We are victims (and I include myself) of the idea that every athlete is a sum of static truths about their abilities. When they are revealed, a good shot is a great shot, and the creative passage is a creative passage. We believe these talents are immutable. When they are hidden, it must be because the opponent has closed them, they have had a night’s rest, they have played injured or they have been passed. It’s easier to logically accept than to admit that, say, hockey games are inherently volatile and each game operates on a continuum of luck and skill. In this way, the elite talents in the ice hockey mobocracy are like Brazilian river otters: totally OP when left on their own, but in such a hostile environment even the best skills can appear in danger.
The Edmonton effect
If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton drama, you know the story. The organization has looked at the bigger numbers – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl being the top three NHL point producers since the 2015-16 season – and paid little attention to the rest. This tunnel vision has led to ill-advised contracts for players like Zack Kassian and Milan Lucic, among others. I don’t think Dallas and Edmonton have too much in common. Although it’s interesting that Dallas was on Lucic when he went to free agency.
However, there are a few things in common: it is not enough to have elite players. Dallas has a nice banner for what they accomplished last season, but they’ve only made the playoffs once more than Edmonton since Jim Nill took over. Former DBD scribe Robert Tiffin said it best two years ago, and it’s something that I think is still true.
In the end, I believe the Stars faltered when Jim Nill stopped trying to make the team a consistent contender and started looking for the missing pieces that would make them one. Stanley cup prefer.
If you’re wondering what’s wrong with Hintz, it’s okay. I made you watch, didn’t I? Hey. I didn’t say I was on top or that I had never put childish things away. Hintz looks like an elite player. If Dallas has 85 points in the bank of a healthy Hintz next season, so much the better. But then, nothing is guaranteed.
There’s a reason Dallas took such drastic swings, from offense at the expense of defense to defense at the cost of offense. This is for the reasons Robert set out, but I would add that Nill never traded his way into a window (Seguin, Spezza) or bought his way into a window (Bishop, Radulov, Pavelski), making the team much more susceptible to artificial fluctuations. Nill never had a core determining the identity of the team. No matter what Dallas’ defaults at the drafting table, and there is a lot, at least they can say that’s not the case anymore.
Dallas deserves a makeover this season. Fans and the media have largely given the organization a pass for good reason. But missing the playoffs shouldn’t come as any sort of consolation, especially with a team that still has a mostly aging core.
Dallas will start next season as a very good team on paper, with some very good players on paper. If their goal is to be good, they are already there if they are healthy. If their goal is to improve, that will require some real analysis – something beyond just adding a ‘veteran’ but determining who the team is going forward and taking action to. leverage that identity so matches are never won or lost just because of poor health or extra goblins.
Hintz is more elitist than you might think. But is Dallas less elite than they or they thought? An honest appraisal is the only way to ensure that Hintz is not just an elite performer during the regular season, but a constant threat once it ends.