Hockey Tactics Retrospective, Part 1 (1975-86) (by Jack Han)

How can coaches teach Soviet-style possession hockey? Why were the '70s Montreal Canadiens & the '80s New York Islander such juggernauts? What can...
By jhanhky · Apr 3, 2021 · Updated Apr 7, 2021
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  1. jhanhky Registered User

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    Book Title: Hockey Tactics Retrospective, Part 1 (1975-86)

    Author: Jack Han (edited by Michael Farber)

    Publisher: Self-published PDF ebook via Gumroad.com

    [​IMG]

    Author Note:
    Jack Han (Twitter @jhanhky) wrote for the Montreal Canadiens, the ATP World Tour and The Athletic. Between 2017 and 2020 he worked in analytics, player development, scouting and coaching in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. He is currently a coaching consultant for NHL, AHL, European and women's professional players.

    Michael Farber (Twitter @MichaelFarber3) is the winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame, the top honor for a hockey journalist. His work appears in Sports Illustrated and on TSN.

    About Hockey Tactics Retrospective, Part 1 (1975-86):
    - How can coaches teach Soviet-style possession hockey?
    - Why were the '70s Montreal Canadiens & the '80s New York Islander such juggernauts?
    - What can today's players learn from Wayne Gretzky & the high-flying Edmonton Oilers?
    HT: Retrospective, Part 1 is a loving tribute to the great teams and players of the 1970s and 1980s
    The author uses detailed video analysis to break down and diagram the genius of hockey grandmasters Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Gil Perreault, Slava Fetisov, Wayne Gretzky and many, many others.

    Excerpt from "Game 1: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres 1975"

    [​IMG]

    Reign of the Bullies

    1975 sees the first all-expansion-team Stanley Cup final, pitting the Philadelphia
    Flyers against the Buffalo Sabres.

    The Broad Street Bullies are at the top of their game, having manhandled the Boston
    Bruins en route to the 1974 title. Meanwhile, the fast and skilled Sabres are on the
    rise. Led by the franchise’s first (and first-overall) draft pick Gilbert Perreault, BUF
    eases past the Chicago Black Hawks and then the Montreal Canadiens to book its
    maiden final appearance.

    Game 6 is the only match won by the away team. After being shelled in his first two
    appearances at the Buffalo Auditorium, reigning playoff MVP Bernie Parent posts
    a shutout in the 2-0 Cup-clinching victory and wins his second consecutive Conn
    Smythe trophy.

    Despite Philadelphia’s intimidating style winning the day yet again, Buffalo’s
    attacking play provides a template for other teams against PHI’s physicality.
    A year later the Flyers’ budding dynasty would end, in large part due to a serious
    neck injury suffered by Parent in preseason but also because of adjustments made
    by coach Scotty Bowman’s Canadiens.

    Power Play: Early Experiments With 4 Forwards
    Experienced Fred Shero (PHI coach) and rookie Floyd Smith (BUF) are faced with
    the same conundrum: neither have access to an offensive defenseman with a fluid,
    creative transition game like that of Bruins legend Bobby Orr or the New York
    Islanders’ 21-year-old Denis Potvin.

    In the post-expansion era, dominant Ds are seldom available on the open market.
    Boston snagged Orr with an infamous C-Form in the Original Six era while Potvin
    was NYI’s reward for finishing last in the league in 1972-73.

    The ingenious Shero’s solution is to play his best puck carrier, winger Bill Barber,
    at the point with defenseman Tom Bladon. Philly’s first wave also features proven
    scorers Rick MacLeish, Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach arranged in a 2-1-2 “Box
    Plus One.”
    [​IMG]

    As the Left Back, the agile Barber (PHI7) is the primary puck carrier on the power
    play breakout, working in concert with 50-goal scorer MacLeish (PHI19) to enter
    the zone with either a pass or, more often, a trademark dump-and-chase.

    Center Bobby Clarke (PHI16) is a do-it-all player for his team, not unlike the role
    Sean Couturier occupies for the current-day Flyers. But the captain seldom handles
    the puck in transition due to the one blatant flaw in his game: he can’t move his feet
    and his hands independently.

    This inability to skill blend means that although he is extremely effective in winning
    pucks and making small-area plays in the end zones, he needs his linemates to do
    the heavy lifting between the blue lines.

    Right Winger Reggie Leach (PHI27) also has little interest in transporting the
    puck. The “Riverton Rifle,” recently rescued from the inept California Golden
    Seals, is a sniper capable of scoring with a wrist or slap shot from nearly anywhere
    in the offensive zone. Against most 1970s’ goalies, at least. Think of him as his era’s
    Patrik Laine.

    The other big shooter is defenseman Bladon (PHI3), who blasts away from the
    right point at every opportunity. This volume-based approach would later ensure
    Bladon’s place in NHL lore. On December 11, 1977, against the lowly Cleveland
    Barons, Bladon will become the first D-man in NHL history to record eight points
    (4G, 4A) in a single game.

    Buy Hockey Tactics Retrospective, Part 1 on Gumroad (197 pages, PDF ebook)
     
    Last edited by moderator Theokritos: Apr 3, 2021
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  2. jhanhky Registered User

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    More from the ebook, featuring original illustrations by Bruno C. Boudrault:

    2021-04-03_9-02-21.png


    2021-04-03_9-02-42.png


    2021-04-03_9-03-01.png
     
  3. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Thanks for joining us!

    We've had plenty of interesting books over the last months, but this one is pretty unique as it is based on video analysis of historic game footage. Jack, with your background in analytics and scouting, how did you arrive at the idea of looking at the history of the game?
     
  4. overpass Registered User

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    I've read your other book about hockey tactics! Looking forward to picking this one up soon!

    Good observation about Bobby Clarke being unable to move his hands and feet independently. I've said before that was the biggest flaw in Jason Spezza's game but I never noticed that about Clarke.

    Just wondering, what was the reason you titled the section about Philadelphia's power play "Early experiments with 4 forwards?" My understanding is that 4F 1D was the most common power play personnel in the Original 6 era and going back to the 1930s. 3F 2D became more common in the 70s and only became the standard setup in the 80s after the Bobby Orr revolution in offensive defencemen. Star forwards in the Original Six like Max Bentley, Doug Bentley, Milt Schmidt, Ed Litzenberger, Andy Bathgate, Bernie Geoffrion, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita often played the point on the power play.

    Does that have to do with the power play tactics, where the Flyers innovated having only 1 player stay back at the blueline? Or does it just refer to the personnel?
     
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  5. jhanhky Registered User

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    Pretty simple: it was one of the first things that got me really interested in hockey.

    My family moved to Montreal from China when I was in first grade. I was introduced to hockey right away. But unlike most kids I interacted with the game mostly through old library books rather than playing or watching it religiously. I wasn't a naturally athletic kid so initially I was more interested in sitting down and reading about the sport's history rather than actually going outside and playing. As a result Habs legends Morenz, Richard, Beliveau, Lafleur etc left a deeper impression on me than say Lindros, Forsberg, Yzerman and the other '90s players that people my age typically grew up with.

    I ended up playing high school hockey and low-level juniors, coached minor hockey, wrote for the Canadiens' official website, then eventually made the NHL as a front office analyst with the Leafs. But those early memories of doing historical research at the library stayed with me.

    Now I'm able to go back and analyse those '70s-'80s games through the eyes of a pro hockey scout and coach. It was a great exercise because I saw how the greats of the past were ahead of their time in how the played and though the game. By breaking things down visually, players/coaches/fans today can gain a lot of perspective on how far the game has come and what qualities stand the test of time.
     
  6. jhanhky Registered User

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    Regarding Spezza: As you mentioned, his relative inability to "skill blend" is what led his game to go downhill in Dallas as he aged out of his physical prime. The hands, vision and strength he still has in spades. In Toronto this has certainly been a focus for him and the TOR development coaches. I scouted him the summer we signed Tavares as a potential alternative if we didn't get JT. His game is in much better shape now than it was back then. I actually belonged to the same tennis club as Spezza did when I worked for the Leafs. Really smart tennis player, but also stuggled with getting his hip activated to lengthen his swing and get some pop on the ball. Clever and crafty 3.5 level player rather than a strong 4.5-5.0 tournament player like Nylander and Kerfoot (who both move better on the ice as well).

    Regarding 4F1D on the powerplay: You may be right that it was a common setup before the '70s. I recall reading about Geoffion and Rousseau playing point on MTL's PP in the '50s. I didn't go back before 1975 because of lack of good quality full-game videos, hence the incomplete information. What I did notice is that teams simply had the extra forward playing D rather than actively participating in the play low in the OZ like on today's 1-3-1s. So regardless of personnel makeup, teams essentially behaved like a 3F2D.
     
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  7. tinyzombies Registered User

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    Just a brilliant and unique book. I've read the sections on Perreault, Clarke, the Soviet-Habs game. Can't wait to read the rest. Might be one I have to reread a few times.

    Question: What systems or tactics from back then are still prevalent in today's extremely structured game?
     
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  8. jhanhky Registered User

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    The amazing thing is that there's at least one tactical element from EACH chapter that still applies in today's game:

    1975 PHI-BUF: PHI 2-1-2 OZ FC
    1975 CSKA-MTL: Soviet NZ long regroup/inversion entry
    1976 PHI-MTL: MTL OZ entry tactics (attack between checks & cutback)
    1976 Canada Cup: Active D, beat F1
    1979 MTL-BOS: Savard defensive footwork
    1980 CSKA vs MTL/BUF: 1-2-2 OZ and NZ forecheck
    1980 USSR vs USA: Putting a F on D (Dave Christian), 1-3-1 trap
    1980s NYI: Creating offense via dump-and-chase
    1980s EDM: Weak-side lock OZ FC, all-out offense at 5v5

    Etc.

    Almost all the good stuff we see strong NHL teams and players do today, we can identify in the best teams & players of the past.
     
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  9. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Thanks. This makes it even more regrettable that we don't have more extensive game footage from the O6 era. A "Hockey Tactics Retrospective, Part Zero" covering the 1950s and 1960s would be incredibly interesting to me and I believe many other members of this forum.
     
  10. tinyzombies Registered User

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    Is there a different expectation of points that can be scored depending on the systems played and can those be Quantified by system and by Era?
     
  11. jhanhky Registered User

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    Of course. Lots of analysts over the years have developed models seeking to adjust scoring output for era.

    In the book I didn't get too hung up on point totals or on trying to compare across eras. I just tried to reveal certain tactical and technical details no historian has ever discussed before.
     
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  12. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Jack, were there any notions you went into this project with that were proven wrong or partially wrong by the video material?
     
  13. jhanhky Registered User

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    Here's a few:

    1) The Soviets' style of play is actually quite structured, in the sense that it's governed by a few key principles. 1975 vs MTL we see how they use inversion (Ds up-ice, Fs curl back to build speed) on NZ regroups to burn through the trap. In 1984 Larionov sucks in 3 CZE defenders then wins that 1v3 with a singer slip pass. The inversion movement and the overload/underload are actually quite simple (if not easy) to teach to young players today. Once those 2 things are internalized, you'll be able to recreate that USSR possession game.

    2) The 1982 Canucks (coached by Roger Nielson) were actually quite offensive in their tactical approach. Despite not having many high-end Ds, they often got 4 players into the rush like many modern NHL teams. Of course they were heavily outmatched by NYI in the final. But VAN definitely did not fit the lockdown-defense mold many playoff overachievers fall into.

    3) The 1980s Oilers were certainly as offensive-minded as advertised. Paul Coffey was in on basically every rush. But Kevin Lowe and Charlie Huddy were also quite active at joining the rush and creating exits & entries. They were more Devon Toews than Karl Alzner, let's say. At least more than I initially thought.
     
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  14. plusandminus Registered User

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    1. Can you give an example of a coach/system that had a huge positive effect on the on ice success of a team?
    For example, Fred Shero and the 1970s PHI?

    2. Speaking of the mid-1970s PHI... Why did they do so much better at home than on the road?
    Did they play differently? Was they allowed to play more dirty than on the road?
    How come their top-line produced good number sboth at home and away, while their other players didn't?
    (It's okay if you haven't deeply analyzed particularly the mid-1970s PHI.)
    Example, PHI 1975-76 at home:
    NHL Stats
    compared to on the road:
    NHL Stats
    (Teams usually were a lot better at home, but PHI was extreme. I know about the intimidating atmosphere, but maybe they played differently too?)

    3. How entertaining/boring do you find the NHL of today compared to past decades?
     
  15. overpass Registered User

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    Interesting comments on Spezza and it makes sense that he lacked some athletic ability to complement his skills. I think he could have been a Hall of Famer if he was better at skill blending in his prime. I remember his 2011-12 season with Ottawa was just incredibly impressive. His linemates Greening and Michalek both lacked the skill to bring the puck off the wall under pressure in the offensive zone, so the whole line was dependent on cycling the puck along the wall until Spezza could get it off the wall and make a play. Or if Karlsson was out there he could make a play. I don't think I've ever seen a first line so dependent on one player to make plays.

    Another comment about special teams from the pre-video era. You wrote in your newsletter that teams should consider using 3F1D on the penalty kill when trying to come back in the third period. Did you know the New York Rangers actually used 3F1D at least some of the time to kill penalties in their Cup-winning 1939-40 season?

    How Innovation Helped the Rangers Win the Cup in 1940 - MSGNetworks.com

    NHL.com shows the Rangers allowed 11 power play goals that regular season and scored 10 shorthanded. In the playoffs they allowed 2 power play goals and scored 3 shorthanded. Forwards Neil Colville, Mac Colville, Bryan Hextall, Phil Watson, and Alex Shibicky were the main SH scorers.

    Of course power play tactics were not as advanced at the time so it's not directly comparable to today's game. Teams were not permitted to pass the puck forward across their own blue line before the introduction of the red line in 1943, so a common tactic both at even strength and on the power play was to just get the puck deep and send numbers after it. It was before Max Bentley who was later said to have been an innovator in the "point" position on the power play. But I think it's interesting how many of these ideas have been tried before. Maybe we will see 3 forwards on the PK come back when a team is trailing.
     
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  16. tinyzombies Registered User

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    Spezza's hands were enough to send Montreal defenders flying into the corner back in the day... he didn't need anything else apparently. Wicked backhander too.
     
  17. Nerowoy nora tolad Registered User

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    Fundamentally a bullies-style is always going to be more effective at home than on the road because of last change.

    If youre playing in the Forum and Shero sends out the Schultz line, Bowman can send out all-goons, a top line they cant handle, etc, etc.

    If youre playing at the Spectrum and the same situation happens, theres nowhere to run, as Shero has the decision on matchups.
     
  18. Nerowoy nora tolad Registered User

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    Interesting that Clarke is shown as a net front presence here, which he is not suited to at all, given his smaller size. IIRC Gretzky mentioned that Clarke was somewhat the originator of playing behind the goal, although that could have been more at ES?
     
  19. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    @jhanhky: Are there prominent players that didn't come as advertised, for better or for worse? Or not-so-prominent players that looked surprisingly good?
     
  20. jhanhky Registered User

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    1) It appears to me that Shero was pretty instrumental at getting PHI to play a dump + 2-1-2 OZ forecheck, which really is what allowed the Broad Street Bullies to keep play up-ice, overpower opponents physically and overcome their inferior rush play to that of BUF, BOS or MTL. That would be the biggest tactical piece for me.

    2) More recent analytical research has found that home teams tend to play better than away teams in terms of shot differentials, goal differentials and also (in some cases) penalty differentials. I think this is what could be at play here.

    3) The game is in the best shape it's ever been, in my opinion. Tactically every team is pretty sound for the most part and there is more skill than ever before.
     
  21. jhanhky Registered User

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    I do recall Gretzky crediting Clarke for that as well. What stuck out to me was Clarke's ability to play between checks in the OZ. At 5v5 he did use the space below the goal line quite a bit. On the power play, however, he wandered the slot as a bumper and was good at creating small-area 2v1s wherever the puck was. A bit like Bergeron on BOS' PP.
     
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  22. jhanhky Registered User

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    Bobby Clarke didn't have a much of a dynamic element in his game (unlike Gil Perreault), so he was somewhat of a let down when considering his production.

    I've always had a fondness for Pete Mahovlich (6'5" winger-turned-center who could make plays) and still believe he was a much better player than Jacques Lemaire on MTL's top line in the 1970s. I only realized recently that knowing Mahovlich's path was what led me to suggest that Pierre Engvall should be converted from LW to C with the Toronto Marlies. TOR was very deep at wing so that versatility fast-tracked his career. He is now a 6'5" winger-turned center who can make plays, though more of a bottom-six player than a top-line guy like Mahovlich.

    Stefan Persson is criminally underrated. He could've been a #1 D on a Cup-winning team, I think. Just as critical to NYI's success in the '80s as Potvin.

    Jean-François Sauvé is a fun case study for how the game has become more welcoming of extremely undersized players.

    Pat LaFontaine was such a good player. Without the concussions and with a couple of Stanley Cups he'd be considered an all-time great.
     
  23. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    @jhanhky: If you could have extensive modern-quality video footage of any game or any team in the history of hockey, is there something specific you would pick? Something you have already seen to enjoy it in better quality? Or something you haven't seen but heard of that you think would give you interesting insights on the development of tactics and techniques?
     
  24. plusandminus Registered User

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    Among other things here, Clarke is famous for the low number of even strength goals against when he was on ice. He might have used his skillset quite optimally considering what you seem to think?

    Being from Sweden I'm curious about what you mean by this. Potvin is a top-10 all-time defenseman according to the core members here. What was so good with Persson?


    If you wish, you are also welcome to give your thoughts on Nicklas Lidström. Fact is that his presence on DET coincides with them being the by far best team in the league (not every season but in the long run).
    I got quite flamed here a year or so ago, when I pointed that out here. Names like Yzerman, Fedorov, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, etc, etc. come up. Yes they had many great players (unlike how things usually were in BOS where Ray Bourque played).
    It seems most people here rate Bourque higher (I'm not saying it is wrong). I think most people also find Bourque to be a better player according to the eye-test. It's easy to see his greatness. Lidström might look a bit less impressive. But then I hear the experts praising Lidström, talking about all the "little", "subtle" things he did. A pro Lidström approach might be that he played half the game, in every key situation, laying the foundation for the team as a whole to succeed. Or replace him with prime Bourque and you would likely get even better team success?
    Is Lidström among the players you have looked into? If so, what's your take on him?
    Edit: And how good defensively was Bourque, compared to Lidström?

    New Jersey with Brodeur is another interesting theme. Was NJD able to build their success from his presence. Or did he somewhat benefit from a great team defensive that helped his save percentage and goals against stats? (Yeah, likely a mix of both. But I still ask.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
  25. jhanhky Registered User

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    Joe Malone, Howie Morenz and Rocket Richard shifts.
     

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