09 July 2009

Building a Winner - The ‘7-Player Profile’

As with any business executive, NHL GM’s have a very clearly defined #1 priority—to create and maintain a winning formula for the present and future of their organization. For this to be true, GM’s essentially have to predict which business plan and which product will be most successful now as well as in the future and, like any good forecaster, must carefully study and digest past results and trends while constantly adapting to emerging tendencies and evolving realities within their market. Analytics in tow, GM’s and other such executives are left with the final responsibility of compiling their findings and theories on success and projecting them into a comprehensive strategy by which to attain it—or, more accurately, they make an educated guess then wing it as needed. four%20figures%20putting%20together%20puzzle%20pieces

One such theory in NHL circles (and the only one I know in any detail as NHL GM’s typically don’t make their strategies public) is put forward by former NHL Coach & Scout and current TV Analyst & Prognosticator, Pierre McGuire. Dubbed “The 7-Player Profile”, McGuire’s theory focuses on amassing 7 crucial elements, which, according to the Profile, are: 2 very good centres (C); 1 effective power forward or ‘big-body’ presence (PF); 1 offensive defenseman (OD); 1 ‘stabilizing’ defenseman (SD); 1 elite goaltender (G); and 1 versatile impact role player (RP). Build this core, the theory claims, and success will surely follow.

A theory, though, is only as strong as it is accurate, and its validity must be judged against two basic criteria: first, it must be aligned with and neatly capsule recent historical observations; and secondly, it must be judged across time as it is pitted against future outcomes. As mentioned above, a theory’s conception ought to be based upon careful study and analysis of past results; if a theory does not support recent realities, it is automatically and inherently flawed. Once a theory is developed that can accurately explain the successes of the past, it is presented as a quasi-rule and conceptual map of the future.

In the case of McGuire’s ‘7-Player Profile’ then, we may want to look at recent Stanley Cup Champion teams and their completion rates in comparison to the profile. The past two seasons in particular offer an interesting comparison point as Pittsburgh and Detroit battled in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.

zetterberg_calderIn 2008, the Red Wings were the victors over the Penguins in a 6-game battle. Filling McGuire’s 7 lynchpin positions were: Pavel Datsyuk (C), Henrik Zetterberg (C), Johan Franzen (PF), Brian Rafalski (OD), Niklas Lidstrom (SD), Chris Osgood (G) and, well, take your pick of impact role players on the Red Wings roster. Of course, lines become blurred by regarding Lidstrom as ‘stabilizing’ when he’s also extremely good offensively, but the 7 key elements are filled nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the Penguins made up their 7-Player Profile as follows: Sidney Crosby (C), Evgeni Malkin (C), Ryan Malone (PF), Sergei Gonchar (OD), Brooks Orpik (SD), Marc-André Fleury (G) and, well, they didn’t exactly have a Kris Draper or Kirk Maltby in their lineup (a 19 year old Jordan Staal?). Overall, the Pens’ 7-Player Profile was outmatched by that of the Wings (particularly considering Malkin’s poor play in the Finals), and the Wings emerged the victors.NHL-PENGUINS-RED-WINGS

The two teams’ tales were reversed in 2009 with nearly identical profiles. For the Red Wings, Mikael Samuelsson, Dan Cleary and Darren Helm played the role of versatile impact players (RP) as an aging Maltby and Draper played less of a role, while the balance of their profile remained in tact. For Pittsburgh, Malone was replaced by the likes of Marian Hossa, Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin (PF), while Malkin was much better and Staal and Maxime Talbot (RP) each had a tremendous impact on the series. On this go around, it was one of Detroit’s two centremen in Pavel Datsyuk who was not 100%, and so the balance was tilted towards Pittsburgh.

In terms of analyzing even minor deviations within the profile schematics then, McGuire’s theory appears to hold water. Two teams with great players in the 7 key roles battled through two hard-fought Sanley Cup Finals, each winning once when everything came together.

The last lop-sided Stanley Cup victory, meanwhile, was staged in 2006 when Anaheim disposed of Ottawa in just 5 games. For the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf (C), Andy McDonald (C), Dustin Penner (PF), Scott Niedermayer (OD), Chris Pronger (SD), Jean-Sébastien Giguère (G) and Sami Pahlsson (RP) were all pivotal throughout the playoffs. On the Senators’ side, Jason Spezza (C), Mike Fisher (C), Wade Redden (OD) and Chris Phillips (SD) fleshed out the core of their profile, which conspicuously lacked a true power forward, elite goaltender (forever their Achilles heel) and impact role player on the level of a Sami Pahlsson. The result, 5 and out.frozen_inside060907 Remarkably, McGuire’s ‘7-Player Profile’ rather concisely capsules some apparently determining factors in the results of the past 3 Stanley Cup Championships. The true test of a theory, though, is how accurately it predicts future occurrences. In fairness here, McGuire’s theory can be traced back at least as far back as the start of the 2006-07 Playoffs, and so it can be attributed with a rather good degree of success in three consecutive instances.

Regardless, it will be interesting to keep this profile in mind as the NHL enters a new season with (perhaps) a new Champion, and new Champions after them. How many pieces of the profile does your team have in place? How do your 7 pieces compare against those of other teams? What will you need to do to match up against the best profile in the league?

As far as I can see, and if the ‘7-Player Profile’ bears fruit, Chicago is the next great up-and-coming squad (ok, we didn’t need any theory to tell us that), and Los Angeles isn’t far behind. Other teams, despite tremendous expectations, just might not have what it takes, should the profile prove definitive.

1 comment:

  1. After a quick parousal I can't wait for more posts. Hell I'm glad Kovy and Higgins won;t be able to hit them in MTL anymore, but You Hit this!