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Counting on Corsi: Jackets' new developmental coach focused on goalies

Jim Corsi talks to about the system's depth in net, origins of the Corsi stat, his fabulous mustache and more.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

The offseason has brought about significant changes to the Blue Jackets' developmental goaltending staff.

Columbus has promoted Manny Legace from goaltending coach of the Cleveland Monsters to the same role in Columbus - where he replaced Ian Clark - and the Jackets also hired Jim Corsi as a developmental goaltending coach.

Legace will focus primarily on Blue Jackets goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo, while Corsi will work mainly with younger netminders scattered across the globe.

Bolstering goaltending development makes sense for any NHL team, but that's especially true for the Blue Jackets. Thanks to keen scouting and drafting stretching back to 2012 - when Columbus acquired Bobrovsky in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers - the Jackets have stocked their system with talented netminders.

In fact, Bobrovsky was just ranked as the best goalie in the NHL by NHL Network, while Joonas Korpisalo, his backup, is just tapping into his NHL acumen. The Jackets also acquired Jean-Francois Berube from the Chicago Blackhawks to handle the No. 3 role on the depth chart, and behind him there's a bumper crop of goalie prospects making their way through the system.

It's headlined by 24-year old Elvis Merlikins, named the best goaltender in the Swiss National League for 2017-18, and includes Daniil Tarasov (Russian juniors), Matiss Kivlenieks (AHL), Peter Thome (NCAA) and Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen - who led Karpat to a championship in the Finnish league (Liigue) last season.

That's a lot of goalies to monitor, let alone coach, which means Legace and Corsi have their work cut out. It also means the future looks bright in net for the Blue Jackets, who know the quickest way to the Stanley Cup is by fortifying their own net.

Not long after his hiring, caught up with Corsi, who's held similar roles previously with the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues.

Corsi, whose protégés included Dominik Hasek, Martin Biron and Ryan Miller, spent the 2017-18 season coaching for Concordia University, his alma mater, but his resume is packed with experience. The former NHL goalie has coached in the NHL, with national teams, with collegiate programs, with junior teams and also at the European professional level.

His last name, "Corsi," has also become synonymous with advanced statistical metrics that assess players and teams through measures other than hockey's traditional stats. Corsi count, which tracks possession based on overall shot attempts, stems from Corsi's work coaching with the Sabres, when he began tracking overall shot attempts as a measure of goalie workloads.

While it wasn't his idea to morph those numbers into "advanced stats" for the masses, the 69-year old goaltending guru has thoughts on how those metrics have taken off - along with thoughts about the Jackets' goaltending depth and more, including a well-groomed mustache he claims to have started at age 4.

Here are some of Corsi's thoughts:

On his job with the Blue Jackets …

"The role is exactly what the title says. It's goaltending development for the organization. So, I'll be in direct contact with Manny, who is going to be managing it. I'll be talking with him quite a bit, but I could end up showing up in Columbus to catch a game and I'll be in Cleveland, watching over Berube and whoever else we decide to keep there, making sure their development and readiness to step up to the big league is there.

"I'll also be traveling around, checking on our drafted goaltenders around our system, so I could end up in Russia or I could end up in North Dakota or Switzerland or Finland. So, physically being in a spot will be part of it, but another big part of it is using video, which is a very important and valuable part of understanding the development of the goalie. You can watch things in slow-motion, repeat it and see, 'what the heck was that?' … that kind of thing. All this information will then get sent to Manny and we'll be able to chart progress and chart a future plan. We'll see how this evolves that way."

On the Blue Jackets' goaltending depth in the system …

"Well, I know we have [Merzlikins], who was goalie of the year in Switzerland, which has a pretty competitive group of people. We have Tarasov, and I really liked the way he looked in the world juniors. He was a man amongst his peers and seems to be doing well, which is great. There's good depth in the organization, notwithstanding the fact that 'Bob' and Korpisalo are ... pretty … frickin' … good goalies. So, it's really a wealth of good talent."

BOBROVSKY: NHL Network ranks Bob best goaltender in the league

On the excitement of being with a new NHL team …

"It's a really tight network of people [in Columbus], so as a coaching staff it's exciting. Managerially, off ice, I know the strength and conditioning guys, one from Buffalo and one from St. Louis. I know [assistant coach] Brad Shaw. Goodness … [Blue Jackets president of hockey operations] John Davidson and I used to cross paths a long time ago, when he was with the Rangers doing television, so there's a long, strong history. I was really pleased at the welcome I got and the fact they were considering me for this role. I really was."

On the needle pointing up for the Blue Jackets …  

"Well, yeah, if you look at the depth of the organization, there's a wealth of talent - and that's a reflection of the scouting and the decision-making by [general manager Jarmo Kekalainen] and [assistant GM Bill Zito] and the scouts. What I see right now, I'm a very blessed guy to be given this wonderful palate of colorful goaltenders that really fit the bill for NHL success. That's really a blessing for me and the organization. There's a depth that would be second-to-none in the NHL, really, at least from my first look."

On whether he'll get on the ice at training camp next month, afterundergoing hip-replacement surgery this summer …

"Oh, yeah. If I'm coming, I'm coming to skate."

On whether he's often asked whether the 'Corsi' stat is connected to him …

"Are you kidding? We'll put some bookends on it. I got out of surgery [for the hip-replacement] and you're not allowed to walk out of the hospital. So, they put you in a wheelchair. So, I get in the wheelchair and the orderly wheels me out. I get up and I walk to the car, and he says, 'Hey, it says 'Corsi' on the sheet here. Are you in any way involved with the 'Corsi' stat?' And I go, 'Yeah … that's me.' And he starts doing cartwheels, eh?

"On the other end of the bookend, I was doing a thing for the NHL Coaches Association at the world championships, and I did a presentation, and one of the fellows comes up to me - a Swedish fellow who's the goalie coach for a team in Moscow - and he's telling me that between periods, they look at their Corsi number. They look at that number and they hang their hat on it, like: 'We've got to get that number up, we've got to generate more and work better in our end to avoid that, because our Corsi number is low and we're not going to win.'

"And this is the simple one [Corsi]. This is the simple one that I've used. It tells you how much work your goalie is getting and how much work their goalie is getting, and I've used it to find a way of projecting our goaltender's workload and what he needs for rest the next day. I combine it with the chances that the late, great Roger Neilsen, and Lindy Ruff have used. I've combined all that stuff and I've used that, and these guys in Moscow are, like, hanging their hat on that number between periods."

On how 'Corsi' is sometimes used by coaches in games …

"At the end of a period, here's how it goes in the coaches' office: 'What's the PP? What's the PK? What happened on this specific play? What are the chances?'

"You've got, like, four minutes and then you've got to go in the room and talk to the guys. So, you go in and say, 'What's the Corsi number?' and it gives you right away: 'Well, they've had 20 attempts and we've had 15 attempts, so obviously, I get the feeling that they're in our zone a lot.' Then you look at it, and see that, yeah, they've got 20 attempts and we've got 15 … so why the injustice? So, then someone brings up, 'Well, the PP, there was a lot of [power-play time] or penalty-killing.' The fact of the matter is that it's a quick picture.

"Now, the statistic has moved on, the way it's being applied to every player, the amount of time and the comparativeness. What's the ratio based on what the team is doing versus the rest of the league? What's the ratio when you're a goal ahead? What's the ratio at an even score or one goal less? You can see how the analysts can take these three little numbers and run."

On where he falls in the debate between statistical vs. observational analysis …

"Here's where the most important part of it is. When I do presentations, and I'm often quizzed on this, I tell people, 'You've got to remember, statistics are like a lamp post for a drunk. You can use it to lean on or to illuminate.' Indeed, statistics are a very important part of the evaluation of performance. We need to improve our ability to quantify the quality of the player, but to hang our hat on it completely, it's a little more difficult - especially in our game.

"You look at [Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella's] background and history, and then I come in with a statistic … with his history and his ability to inform himself, of all the years of his experience, to completely discount all that because of a number? I don't know …

"The game of hockey is still not as quantitative as other sports, that when you have the ball, you have a more controlled workplace. In hockey, a simple poke-check can be a 2-on-1 the other way, and then what happens? I could shoot from my blue line and still score. You know?"

On whether the addition of advanced stats has helped the game overall …

"Totally. We need a better way to evaluate the talent. We need a better way to evaluate what we see and how we perceive it. Remember, if you think with your heart, you end up with heart disease. The gut feeling also has to be in the cold postgame analysis, though, supported by the [statistical] evaluation. Otherwise, it's not going to be a very solid plan. It's a great way of communicating what's happening on the ice to our fans. It's a terrific way of giving a lot more interest to our fans. It gives them an idea of what's going on. Everything is happening so fast, but it's not all happening by chance."

On his use of 'Corsi' before it was labeled as such …

"When I first started tracking this, I was in Austria. I was an assistant coach and manager of the team. I had a rudimentary program with the team there. I don't think I even had [Microsoft Excel]. I have a degree in engineering and education, so it's always fascinating for me, all this information and the way it's gathered and how to use it. So, I got to Buffalo, I asked for a laptop and they said, 'Well, what for?' I said, 'It's because I want to keep a statistic.' That's how it started."

"Like I said, I think it's a wonderful thing that [now] they're trying to evaluate and quantify what our wonderful game is all about. It gives an interesting perspective, especially to the fan. It's valuable information for the coaches and managers, and at the same time, you've got to give credit to the fellow who took this rudimentary idea of mine and ran with it himself on the internet. There's a lot of people who've made this evolve, so that today the numbers are there and it's being calculated - whereas 20-plus years ago, I was like, 'Six plus two plus three, minus four.'

On whether he's ever met the person credited with turning 'Corsi' into the most commonly-used advanced stat, Vic Ferrari (nee Tim Barnes), who told TSN's Bob McKenzie he named it 'Corsi' because he liked Jim Corsi's mustache …

"No, we've never crossed paths. But the fact my mustache, which is still attached under my nose, was the lynchpin … is still quite funny."

Lastly, about that 'stache …

"I remember, for 'Movember,' once, in Buffalo, I shaved it off in solidarity. Everybody was growing one for 'Movember,' so I said, 'Well, I've had one since I was 4-years old, so I'll shave mine off in solidarity.' Two days later, Ryan Miller comes up to me and says, 'Hey, Jim … you've got to put that back on. I don't even know who the heck you are. I don't even recognize you.' So, I grew it back in like two minutes. I'm a hairy guy. I've had a mustache or a beard, like I said, since I was four."

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