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Randy Carlyle says he's no 'Neanderthal' on hockey analytics

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Randy Carlyle said his methods as a coach are not outdated by any stretch. He doesn’t believe that his team needs to out-slug its opponent to win games. And he said he understands the fact that an NHL group needs to hold onto the puck and make plays with the puck in the offensive zone in order to win games.

“I don’t believe I’m a Neanderthal from a standpoint of wanting knuckles dragging and fighting,” the 60-year-old Carlyle said. “I don’t believe that. I’d like to have rough n’ tumble hockey. I like to play physical hockey. But the game has changed. You have to have skating ability. You have to be able to move the puck, you have to play a pace game.”

Much of Carlyle’s news conference re-introducing him as the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday was about shooting down the belief that he is a coaching relic who doesn't believe in advanced stats. This is a narrative that developed during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2011-15. Carlyle coached the Ducks from 2005-11. 

“As far as the analytics issue – that was never ever an issue from my perspective. I feel there’s a place for analytics in the game. It’s a place for us as a hockey department, as a coaching staff, to decide what analytics you want to use. There are different statistics made available to you some people find important,” Carlyle said. "Analytics in my name is just an expanded view of stats. It’s proven there are positives that come from it and I think that I’ve never been adverse to using analytics and the people in Toronto will tell you that." 

Around the Maple Leafs, it was believed Carlyle didn’t push puck possession and in some ways shunned it.

The Washington Post noted how the Maple Leaf’s score-adjusted Corsi 5-on-5 dropped under Carlyle.

During Carlyle’s next stop in Toronto he made the postseason only once, and the puck possession numbers under his reign started at 49 percent when he was hired and subsequently dropped to 46, 44 and 46 percent over the next three years, which eventually resulted in his firing. The first season without Carlyle on the bench saw an immediate jump to 51 percent.

The Post also pointed out Carlyle’s so-so possession numbers with the Ducks in his first stint there. Those continued to nudge downwards as analytics and puck possession/shot attempts became more important around the league. 

For example, during the 2007-08 campaign, the earliest data we have available, the Ducks put 50.8 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor after adjusting for score effects. That dropped to 44.4 percent the year before he was fired in favor of Boudreau. In the team’s last season under Boudreau the Ducks had climbed to 53.3 percent, the second best mark in the league and a rate that is consummate with Cup champions.

With the Ducks some of this may have been personnel related as well – most notably the retirement of Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer after 2009-10. But as organizations put greater emphasis on these numbers Carlyle’s teams (both in Anaheim and Toronto) didn't seem to catch on.  

On Tuesday Carlyle hit all the right notes, pointing out the importance of holding onto the puck in the offensive zone.

“I think what you look at is, there’s a saying that Al Arbour, a great defenseman, a great coach and Hall of Fame coach said, ‘the least amount of time you can spend in your own zone, usually if you spend less time in your own zone you’re going to have success,’” Carlyle said.

Carlyle called the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed game “dramatic” and said that was the reason why they won the 2016 Stanley Cup. It sounded like he wanted to use this type of style moving forward. Pittsburgh’s puck possession numbers climbed after they hired Mike Sullivan and he implemented a more quickness-oriented system.

“I would say you’re going to see a lot of copycats that are going to try to follow that lead. From a personal standpoint I’ve always taken on the attitude the least amount of time you can spend in your own zone, the better off you usually are and your chances of having success to move forward,” he said.

Carlyle said he spent the past winter at his home in Encinitas, California and would come to Honda Center to watch teams in order to stay current with playing styles. This gave him the ability to understand the best way to grow as a coach if he ever got another chance to get back in the game.

“If you’re not prepared to evolve as a coach you’re going to get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “I’ve paid close attention and done my homework on what’s going on in the league and I’ve been afforded that luxury by coming to this building the last six months.”

Even though Carlyle’s system has drawn criticism, the bottom line in pro sports is wins and he has delivered those in Toronto and Anaheim. He guided the Ducks their only Stanley Cup in 2007 and he’s the only coach to take the Maple Leafs to the playoffs in the post 2004-05 lockout era. Plus general manager Bob Murray pointed out that there’s more to coaching than just systems and shot attempts. The decision to go with Carlyle also had to do with his calmness behind the bench and his ability to make in-game adjustments to help maximize his players.

To Murray, this was as important as any factor surrounding Carlyle.

“This team, again, we all know, this team, this group has a little window here; three years, maybe, whatever,” Murray said. “You had to get a guy in here that knew some of the players and knows that it’s time. That knows how to win. Everybody talks about the Stanley Cup era. We went to the semi finals the year before, and we went two years later, a (bad) goal in Detroit that beat us, we go to the conference finals again. He knows how to win. That’s critical right now. Again, can’t emphasize enough how good he is behind the bench when it come to making those bang adjustments.”

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