Trevor Linden on fighting in hockey, the use of analytics, and all sorts of other nuggets

As part of the Team 1040’s ‘President’s Week’, Trevor Linden joined Matt Sekeres as a co-host this afternoon with Friend of the Blog Blake Price out of commission. This wasn’t your typical radio spot that only serves the purpose of being a filler, either. 

In the two hours or so that the show ran, quite a few different topics – really hitting all the points on the spectrum – came up and were discussed in some detail. Linden gave his thoughts on the team’s expectations for their young players heading into training camp, how the franchise plans to potentially honour Gino Odjick sooner rather than later, the usage of analytics in hockey, and some surprisingly choice words on fighting. On a more light-hearted note, he also addressed the strange marketing ploy that took his Twitter account by storm last week.

More on all of it just past the jump.

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Initially there was quite a bit of time devoted to discussing the outlook for the prospects in the system heading into this coming season. Of particular interest was Bo Horvat’s name, and specifically how his unique circumstances will play into the decision that’ll need to be made on him:

“I think Bo has played extremely well at the Junior level. Bo is going to have every opportunity to make our team, but at the same time he has to come in and earn a spot.

I think there’s probably that thought [being that if he’s close, they’ll give him the benefit of the doubt]. Bo is in an interesting situation; with the success he has had at the Junior level, we’d love for him to take the next step. Having said that he has to prove that he’s ready.”

On whether having him spend some time with the Canucks before sending him off to represent Canada in the World Juniors is in play:

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“That’s always an option. The biggest thing is — we don’t want to have to rush players into our lineup. We feel that Utica and Travis Green and Nolan Baumgartner are going to play huge roles in developing our young players. You want to make sure the player is in the right spot. It’s a possibility, but it’d be great to have him playing too well to loan out, too.”

A more generalized point on the entire prospect group as a whole, and whether there’s a desire to move some of the older assets should some of the recent draft picks be deemed ready to step into the lineup immediately:

“You know what we’d love to see? Look at Detroit and how they’ve handled their young players; they go to Grand Rapids, they play well at the AHL level, which makes them better pros. Everyone is in a rush to get these young guys in the lineup, but having said that it’d be great to have some of our young guys have real successful AHL seasons where they’re not pushed into spots that ask too much of them. You’ve got to be careful with young players, it’s a big jump from Junior to Pro. We want them to grow organically.”

Further along those lines, differentiating between the concept of a “rebuild” and a “retool”:

“Blow guys out, blow the whole team up.. it just doesn’t work like that. It’s not realistic. We feel we can accomplish both; we feel we can be competitive and retool our prospect pool (which I feel like we’ve done). We’re going to be a good team this year, we’ve got too many good players to go down that path. We have to support Sedin, Sedin, Burrows, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Edler. Ultimately fans want to be entertained and see winning hockey, AND we want to develop our younger players in a winning environment.”

On how he views his place in the organization:

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“One of the many conversations I had with ‘The Family’ was about autonomy, having the ability to do what I needed to do. I think the commitment that the ownership has made to this franchise, and to this fanbase, in allowing me to do what I needed to do.. and that included writing some very large cheques. I think they definitely looked at bringing me in as an opportunity to bring a brand in, a face of the franchise, but at the same time I think they valued my ability to make the right decisions from a hockey standpoint and advise them as such.”

On the potential of inducting Gino Odjick into the Ring of Honour:

“Obviously I’ve been visiting Gino many times over the past few months, he’s actually back in Ottawa as we speak. One thing about Gino is that he has tremendous spirit, in just sitting and talking with him he’s a huge fan. Internally we’re working on plans to celebrate Gino’s career, and we want to encourage him to stay strong and give our fans to participate in that and show support for him. That’s obviously what he needs right now.”

“It’s not really my decision, we have a committee and they have a criteria of things they need to consider. This is obviously a special circumstance, so we’re going to have to talk about that. We’re keeping tabs on thing and we’re in constant contact. We’ve got a group that’s fully on top of it and working through things.”

On what makes himself and the franchise as a whole believe that they can make it back to the playoffs next season:

“We had some players underperform last year that can be better. We’ve got to recapture those guys, and that’s going to come down to how we coach. I think we’re going to be a deeper team up front, we’ve gotten younger, we’ve gotten quicker.”

Are the Canucks satisfied with where they are right now, or are there more moves to come?

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“We’ve undergone a lot of change if you look at the entire organization. We’ve made significant changes and we’re happy with them. I think this is the way we’ll go into training camp. We’re not currently looking..”

This is where the conversation became really interesting (at least to myself, and I assume the readers of this blog). A question came up about the usage of analytics and how the team plans to use them:

“That’s a huge part of the game. And Laurence has done a great job with this (him and Jonathan Wall), I believe we’re cutting edge when it comes to analytics. Those are tools that our coaches will use, but I think in anything there is not an end-all, be-all. It’s not all about analytics, it’s a piece of the puzzle. You can use it to help your team, to help pre-scout, to see trends. It’s become a part of the game, but at the end of the day it’s another tool to help you assess your club.”

I do genuinely look forward to the day when people affiliated with hockey in whichever capacity stop feeling the need to snidely point out that analytics are “just a piece of the puzzle” and that there’s more to breaking down the game. As if anyone in their right mind has ever claimed to the contrary. 

With that being said, even if Linden is just saying these sorts of nominal things to appease segments of the fanbase, he’s pretty on-point in terms of where analytics can be useful. Shortly thereafter, a listener asked Linden about fighting in the game and what his stance on it is:

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“I think that our game is such a great one. It’s built around speed, and skill, and hard-hitting, not unlike the NFL. Can you imagine an NFL game where a linebacker puts a good lick on a running back and the linemen get in there and drop their helmets and start bareknuckle punching each other in the face. It seems rather odd. And you can see why there are some fans in the States that have a tough time with that. They say ‘I watch the NFL on Sundays and they hit hard, play hard, and pop up after hits and run back in the huddle’. That’s part of the game. 

Hockey has a different culture, of course. I think there are a lot of fans that don’t care for the needless fighting. The staged “I’m supposed to fight, you’re supposed to fight, so let’s fight. We’re not really mad at each other, but that’s our job” type of thing. I tend to agree with it. I think the NHL moving forward – whether it be a Steve Yzerman or various others – have come out and had significant stances.”

“I recall this incident when I was playing — Mattias Ohlund came across and just levelled someone with a great bodycheck, which is a great part of the game that should be celebrated. Next thing you know he’s got some guy that can’t even skate chasing him around the ice. That isn’t right, that’s not the way our game is played. But it’s a mentality that has been coached in, talked in – you know, Coach’s Corner influence. We see it in the playoffs all the time; extremely hard hitting, and there’s no fighting. And I’m not sure that the intended use of fighting – which is to protect our stars – actually works. I think it’s something that as we go down the path the NHL is going to have to look at.”

Some juicy stuff, there. Reading between the lines, this could be the beginning of the end for Cult Hero ‘Top Sixtito’, who led the league in fighting majors with 19 last season. The most likely outcome seems like a trip back to his hometown of Utica, especially with the conceivable logjam that awaits the coaching staff in the bottom-6. But as we’ve learned with Sixtito, anything really is possible.

And finally, closing the books on the biggest mystery of them all:

“My personal life has changed. I don’t Instagram anymore, you know. I’ve got to be very careful. My Twitter account got hacked last Friday..”

What happened there? You got hacked?

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“You think? *laughs* I hope I got hacked! Or I’ve got very fast fingers, because I sent out hundreds.. Big Buns 21.. crazy stuff, right? It was quite entertaining actually. Some of the responses were the best part.”

There was a bunch of other stuff that you may find interesting and can listen to should you choose to do so right here. Things like making Vancouver a more desirable location for free agents to come to, a new Johnny Canuck jersey, and the in-arena experience all came up. But all of that pales in comparison to the revelation that Linden opts to drive to work these days rather than taking the bike. Change really is coming.

  • “I do genuinely look forward to the day when people affiliated with hockey in whichever capacity stop feeling the need to snidely point out that analytics are “just a piece of the puzzle” and that there’s more to breaking down the game.”

    Didn’t Kyle Dubas use the exact same phrase during one of his recent interviews?

    Thanks for the transcript.

    But I do genuinely look forward to the day when defensive bloggers are comfortable enough with their work that they do not need to make every insecurity known to their readership…

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      That was in response to asinine comments labelling him as solely a “stats guy”, as if it’s an indictment against him as some sort of one trick pony. He, just like many others, puts a lot of time and thought into how he thinks the game (which includes watching tape, crunching numbers, etc etc). Using numbers hardly restricts you from taking into account all of the other stuff, which has been a common sentiment I’ve been hearing more and more lately.

      But moving past that I thought Linden’s point about using analytics as a tool to prepare and look for trends was pretty on-point.

      • andyg

        Thanks for breaking down the interview.

        One thing that I find refreshing is having someone in charge who is willing to communicate with fans and the media. Linden does it very well.

      • “Using numbers hardly restricts you from taking into account all of the other stuff, which has been a common sentiment I’ve been hearing more and more lately.”

        You would do well to simply ignore the Steve Simmons strawman in its various forms.

        And, if I might also add, you could educate your fellow blogger brethren to consider the limitations of their monosyllabic work such as “Why a simple statistical method is more successful than a complex scouting program” or some other such nonsense…

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    The danger here is fans, i have seen a few users convinced virtanen is a bust and horvat is a bust because they were impressed with a canucks army article and even cited it as proof the wrong draft pick was made. One user for instance delved into other advanced stats numbers on hfboards that painted virtanen in the opposite context to the canucks army article.

    If you read this blog and dont understand advanced stats they can be very dangerous to some readers, especially if you dont have an entire picture of the stats.

    The dubas article was great because it gave context, when you crunch numbers and see someone like mccanns point totals, but then you read dubas say things like they wanted mccann to focus on the defensive aspect of the game and he even passed up offensive opportunities at the expensive of his defensive responsibilities.

    Its all important context beyond just the numbers and while you may know this i dont think some fans do. Sometimes i think canucks army does not realize the readers that you attract think you guys can predict the future and the numbers are all that count.

  • andyg

    I haven’t heard a lot of encouraging stuff from this management team until now. I’m glad that Linden is in the “fighting is pointless” and “fancy stats are useful” camps.

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      I agree! Especially after that first time he was asked about analytics and all he said was something about having to, “Download all the data.” I previously thought he was being a little snide, sort of like, “What do you I look like to you? A math nerd? Yeah, right. And right after this press conference I’m going home to play World Of Warcraft in my basement until 4 o’ clock in the morning.”

      Hearing Trev talk about it for more than one sentence certainly clears up his stance a little and gives one reason to be (cautiously) optimistic about the club’s direction regarding usage of analytics.

      I like his stance on fighting, too.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Really interesting interview. Thanks for transcribing, Dimitri. Linden’s comments about fighting in particular are encouraging. When he was first hired I was skeptical. I thought Linden was a flashy bandaid to fix a fanbase that had soured on the team a bit. I didn’t think he was qualified for the job. I’m pleased to see that Linden seems to have a very solid base of knowledge and a more modern approach to the game.

  • The whole thing about fighting worries me. Wasn’t Linden praising Shawn Thornton as such an important player for Boston just a month ago? If that importance doesn’t come through fighting, well…

    What is it Trevor Linden thinks Shawn Thornton does, exactly?

    (Or has Linden already changed his opinion?)

    • Thornton had an (undeserved and inflated in my opinion) reputation as a good honest player and locker room guy. I think that’s what Linden was referencing in his past comments. I think he’s really wrong and if anything I think more than anything advanced measures can help get rid of useless plugs like Sestito off bottom six lines than help what we already know about star players, that they are good for a reason. I think making the intangibles “grit, truculence, team-ness” more precise is long overdue

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      That was the first thing that came to my mind as well. Just another issue in a series of “what is this management team talking about”, “didn’t they say something ompletely different last week”.

      Also, can Linden seriousl expect us to believe that they use advanced stats when they took Bonino/Sbisa in a Kesler trade? Caman. Not possible.

      • Dimitri Filipovic

        “Also, can Linden seriousl expect us to believe that they use advanced stats when they took Bonino/Sbisa in a Kesler trade? Caman. Not possible.”

        Because if they really used advanced stats the return would have been Getzlaf & Perry…

      • Dimitri Filipovic

        Yes we all know that advanced stats can make a player waive his NTC and his desire to go to just one team and refuse any other options. It’s clear that if the Canucks were REALLY serious about advanced stats they would have only settled for a 30-year-old ex-Selke Trophy winner with identical abilities. You are so right.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Kevin Hayes (Hobey baker finalist) 2010 1st round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks is unlikely to sign with Chicago. Here’s a chance for Vancouver to get bigger and younger as he will be a UFA August 15th.

  • The value of guys like Shawn Thornton is much like the value of nuclear weapons – it’s a deterrent value.

    If a Shawn Thornton-type can keep others teams a little bit more honest AND play some semi-useful minutes, there is value there.

    If, like Sestito, they are liable to go off on every shift, take dumb penalties and/or spend all their time on the ice deeply underwater, then their value is extremely limited.

    I certainly have issues with the current “culture” in hockey. Watching a guy get chased around the ice because he had the temerity to deliver a clean body check is one of the MOST annoying. But within this current culture there is no doubt that guys like Shawn Thornton make their teammates feel a couple of inches taller out there – and that matters in a physical sport where outright intimidation is practiced.

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      .. then why did the opposition constantly feel comfortable savagely concussing Shawn Thornton’s teammates on numerous occasions while he was still “in the lineup to keep people accountable”?

      • Dimitri Filipovic

        I think you’re deliberately misinterpreting my comments.

        I said that a Shawn Thornton-type player has some usefulness within the CURRENT CULTURE of hockey.

        That statement does not mean I love the current culture in the NHL, just that I recognize what it is.

        In a game where violence and intimidation are accepted strategies, violent and intimidating players have value.

      • Or how about Martin Hanzal taking out 3 Canucks in 1 game? Dustin Brown running into Luongo accidentally on purpose? Tom Sestito’s presence was sure useful in those instances.

        Deterrence at its best.

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      Are those couple of extra inches what made Savard, Horton, Bergeron, Eriksson, etc more susceptible to concussions while on the same team as Thornton?

      The idea of deterrence would hold more water if goons like Thornton, you know, actually deterred injuries to star players. Instead they usually result in after the whistle idiocy as in the Orpik incident.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    The key takeaway here is that the Canucks did not sign an aging goon in Shawn Thornton.

    They did acquire Derek Dorsett, though, that will hopefully allow Mr Sestito to fulfill his optimal role as Utica mascot.

    Simpletons really need to stop lapping up everything that a hockey executive says…

  • Thanks for the transcript. I was happy to hear that Linden is up-to-date now on a couple of things, like analytics and Thornton. I never heard of Jonathan Wall before, but a quick search shows that he has been going to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with Gilman. His bio says he has a degree in Sports Mgt from UBC. Not sure what one learns in a degree like that, but I wonder if he’s actually knows statistical analysis, as opposed to knowing how to look up stats, advanced or not. Or Gilman for that matter. There’s a lot of loosy-goosy analysis out there, because the writers (bloggers or MSM) don’t actually know how to evaluate the numbers they use. I don’t mind it for reading up on players and strategies, but I hope the Canucks actually have someone who *does* know what statistical significance and regression are. If not, they should quickly get someone, like the Devils did with Sunny Mehta:

    @Pheenster: LOL!

  • I’ve talked to Jonathan Wall myself, and they really are on the cutting edge. They know everything we know, and they also have direct measures of puck possession and a host of other statistical models and numbers.

    Only tangentially related, but I don’t think people realize just how irrelevant current advanced statistics will be in just 2-3 years as SportsVu moves in. The Canucks are poised to jump on that, and the people in the blogging community will need to be as well.

  • I dislike a lot of the moves made by this management team, but I applaud Linden wholeheartedly for speaking frankly about fighting in hockey, what it is, what it looks like, and what it does(n’t).

    And also for taking a shot at Don Cherry (although this will no doubt lead to more blackballing by CBC).

    The Öhlund incident he’s talking about has to be the game against Minnesota around 2005 or so, I’d think. Where Öhlund hilarious referred to Matt Johnson as a “terrible player”.

  • @Austin Wallace:

    Thanks! That’s helpful. Do you know if they do any of that analysis for junior players, before drafting? Even short sets of games? Have you or someone else written about this somewhere?

    I still think that there’s a difference between knowing how to gather or access a huge data set, and knowing how to evaluate the numbers statistically. That takes advanced knowledge of statistical modeling. So I still have that question.

    Although I’m always skeptical of claims of complete changes, what’s SportsVu?

    • SportsVu is a camera system that tracks the movement of of all players. Basically, you will be able to know everything about what a certain player is doing on the field/ice/court. It’s pretty much the future of scouting in all sports.

      The NBA already employs this and some of the things it can tell you are really in-depth, like how many miles a player travels in a game to something even more ridiculous like how many dribbles is most efficient for a certain player before they take a shot.

      Stats that we use now like corsi might be phased out when SportsVU is introduced to hockey. Why use a proxy for puck possession when you can finally track actual possession?

    • I don’t know what they do with Junior players, but they do something at least. How much of their work is taken into consideration by management is another story. Some of the stats they are tracking take thousands or even tens of thousands of events before they stabilize (become a reliable statistic), and they are going to wait until they are sure they have something useful before using it in management or coaching decisions.

      They have had people with PHD’s from Harvard/Yale apply to work for their stats team, they have no lack of talent.

      J.O. is spot on about SportsVu, and I think the most interesting thing is that we will finally be able to measure defensive value, which is awesome.

  • @ J.O. & Austin Wallace:

    Thanks! That’s fascinating. Especially to think that they’re tracking a ton of stuff that might not be impacting management/coaching decisions yet.

    So with SportsVu, will we finally have a definitive stat for grititude? 🙂

  • “I do genuinely look forward to the day when people affiliated with hockey in whichever capacity stop feeling the need to snidely point out that analytics are “just a piece of the puzzle” and that there’s more to breaking down the game. As if anyone in their right mind has ever claimed to the contrary.”

    Maybe you should swing over to and see for yourself.

    Or, have you ever read one of Cam Charron’s articles?

    They don’t blatantly say that, but the fact that they mention no other points is where the insinuation comes from.