Let's Have A Hockey Autopsy

Let's Have A Hockey Autopsy Comment Count

Brian March 13th, 2019 at 4:23 PM

Hockey's season went out with a whimper as they were swept at the hands of Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. That's disappointing but not particularly surprising for anyone who watched most of Michigan's season.

What went wrong? Michigan's various problems follow.

Age

Michigan was one of the youngest teams in the country, and the bottom of the age standings are pretty ugly:

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ND and Denver are in the top 16 of the pairwise. Otherwise this is a list of the teams that generally recruit the best across college hockey and are struggling in the new over-30 NCAA. Not one of Minnesota, Michigan, BC, BU, or Wisconsin is in position for an at-large bid. It should be noted that 50-52 are Quinnipiac, Providence, and Harvard, who are all set for at-large bids, but even those teams in close proximity by rank are almost a half-year older than Michigan and the rest of the "we recruit the NTDP" class.

Under Pearson they've moved to taking more overagers, but those guys are all underclassmen. Michigan is in the process of having some 23 and 24 year olds; they are not there yet. At some point Michigan's going to be a mix of older players and high-level NHL prospects. Currently they are young and had 1.5 high-level prospects. Speaking of:

Talent level

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Norris was M's only PPG scorer and missed half the year [Bill Rapai]

As discussed in the previous post about Michigan's gap year, this year's freshman class had zero drafted players for the first time in probably 20 years. Michigan found a good fourth line as Moyle and Van Whye emerged midseason; that line then became their de facto second line because nobody else was doing anything. Compounding matters was the previous class, which was Hughes and Norris (woot woot!) plus Mike Pastujov, whose star fell precipitously after his commitment, and then whatever Mel could scrape up. That turned out to be Becker and Raabe, two guys who have chipped in but aren't scoring line players at this point in their career.

So when Norris goes out midseason, they have zero underclassman forwards capable of playing on a scoring line. This is untenable for a program that is constantly getting raided by the NHL—you aren't getting Cooper Marody back for a senior year.

Michigan did have some guys: Lockwood put up 31 points in 36 games; Slaker and Pastujov put up 25 and 24. It's not a coincidence that two of the three top scorers were older draftees. There just weren't enough of them. Michigan has always been more talented than all of its opponents, which is how they make up the perpetual age gap. This year they weren't. Opposing goaltenders put up a .914; Michigan was 41st in shooting percentage. Even more telling: Michigan's power play conversion rate nearly halved from 19% (average-ish) to 10% (national worst) when Norris went out.

[After THE JUMP: woe! fie and woe!]

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Hockey's Gap Year

Hockey's Gap Year Comment Count

Brian February 26th, 2019 at 1:49 PM

Dave and I got into a discussion on the podcast about the source of the hockey team's woes; this conversation made me want to lay out the case that this is the least talented freshman class in the recent history of Michigan hockey.

This isn't a hard case to make. The freshman class has eight guys in it who've seen more than a game worth of action. Zero of these players are drafted. The joint top scorers are Nolan Moyle (7-3-10) and Garrett Van Wyhe (4-6-10), and Van Wyhe is pretty clearly the best forward Michigan brought in this year. He's +8, which is a titanic accomplishment as the center of a line that was very clearly the fourth line at the start of the year and is now Michigan's… second line? On a team without a top line? 

Don't get me wrong: I love me some Van Wyhe. But he's a guy who came in as a 20 year old off a 23-point, 59 game USHL season. Before he flipped to Michigan he was headed to Army. The gap between Van Wyhe and Larkin/Connor/Lockwood/Norris is giant. Maybe Van Wyhe will have more overall program impact since he's going to be around for four years. If he's your best freshman forward that's a problem. Especially when your entire top line exits. 

The story is the same on defense. Michigan is playing Nick Blankenburg and Jack Summers on a nightly basis now. Blankenburg leads the team with a +12 and is clearly a strike; Summers has done okay. Blankenburg was a flier coming off a single AJHL season. At this time last year I was trying to figure out whether he was a walk-on. (I still think he and Van Wyhe are on light money.) He was drafted by the NAHL, the second-tier feeder league that usually sends Michigan healthy scratches.

There's a version of Michigan's program that could take a class like that in stride, but it's not this one. Last year's class was Hughes, Norris, a Pastujov who'd been out for most of the last two years with injuries, and then whatever Mel could scrape together. This turned out to be Jack Becker and Dakota Raabe. With Norris out, it's the wildly talented but wildly wild Hughes and zero other players who would be on a scoring line or top pairing on a tourney-streak-era Michigan team until maybe their senior year.

Lockwood, Pastujov, and Slaker are all guys you could be happy with if they were filling out scoring lines led by stars. There are no stars—there's barely anything in the freshman and sophomore forward classes other than scramble guys. This is why they're .500. 

[After THE JUMP: why this is happening now]

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Extra Point: Ohio State

Extra Point: Ohio State Comment Count

Adam Schnepp January 16th, 2019 at 1:30 PM

What Happened? Michigan ground out a 2-1 win against #4 Ohio State in Columbus Friday night, then fell 4-2 to the Buckeyes (one goal was an empty-netter, so meh) on Saturday.

*Blank stare* Okay, yeah, context. Michigan beat Notre Dame in an outdoor game at Notre Dame Stadium January 5th for what appeared to be a win that could propel them to a second half akin to last season’s, then looked like a completely disinterested team during a rare Tuesday night game against Merrimack (the team, not the boat). Friday night’s win again left some hope for a second-half run, then Saturday night’s game… actually, Michigan didn’t look that bad Saturday night, either. There’s hope yet.

Things don’t look great from a Pairwise perspective, though. A cursory glance at the comparisons chart doesn’t reveal one big thing Michigan could do to make a move. They only have 11 games remaining and have to come as close to running the table as possible to steal some comparison points back. That would help, at least as long as the general volatility of the conference continues unabated; the top two teams, Ohio State and Minnesota, are 6-3-3 in conference play and third-place Michigan is 4-5-4. Beating Penn State in their next series (this weekend is a bye) would be a nice start, as Michigan is currently tied for the head-to-head comparison point. (If you’re looking for a Pairwise explainer, USCHO has a good one here.)

So this is another one of those years where Michigan has to win the conference tournament to earn a bid and gets matched up with Penn State, isn’t it? Sort of looks that way.

Anything to take from last weekend that might give us insight into what could happen during the stretch run? Seems like the kind of thing we should put after THE JUMP, no?

[Hit THE JUMP for weekend takeaways that might give insight into the stretch run]

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