Friday, December 30, 2011

Preaching To The Choir - On Why Plus/Minus Is Stupid, Part 38

Plus/Minus is often maligned by fancy stats types as not descriptive - it doesn't take into account the quality of competition or teammates. It doesn't acknowledge whether your team's goaltending is great, horrible, or somewhere in between. There's yet another reason why it's dumb - it describes game states that are not entirely relevant.

Let's take as an example my favorite team, the New Jersey Devils. They are having quite a bizarre season so far - 8-1 in shootouts, their record in regulation is a mere 10-15, but right now they're holding on to a playoff spot. More strange is their special teams play - they've scored a mere 17 power play goals, while allowing a whopping total of 11 short handed goals. Yet while shorthanded, they've only allowed 10 goals and have scored 7 short handed goals themselves. In addition, they've allowed 4 empty net goals and have scored none at even strength. All this has made the team plus minus even more useless than it already is, since as we know, plus/minus includes short handed and empty net goals.

Let's just look at the top 9 forwards' plus minus:

Adam Henrique7
Petr Sykora2
Dainius ZubrusEven
Patrik Elias-4
Zach Parise-5
David Clarkson-10
Ryan Carter-11
Ilya Kovalchuk-12
Mattias Tedenby-14

Looks pretty bad, right? But when we take out short handed goals for and against as well as empty net goals, it looks a lot different:

Forward+/-+/- at ESDifference
Adam Henrique770
Petr Sykora29-7
Dainius ZubrusEven8-8
Patrik Elias-46-10
Zach Parise-52-7
David Clarkson-10-4-6
Ryan Carter-11-10-1
Ilya Kovalchuk-12-1-11
Mattias Tedenby-14-12-2

We see a lot of pluses where there were minuses before. If we were using +/- to talk about even strength play on the Devils, most players have a radically different even strength +/-. We might erroneously think that Ilya Kovalchuk is having a horrible season at even strength, but he's merely been average-ish. What are we even looking to describe when we talk about +/-?

Conclusion: Plus/Minus is stupid. Again.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is the Power Play Its Own Beast?

To what extent are even-strength and power-play performance linked? If your team is an offensive juggernaut five-on-five, should you expect them to dominate with a man advantage?

One might say that hockey skills are hockey skills and whatever helps you score at even strength should carry over. Thinking more about it, though, there are lot of aspects of the game that are in one but not the other. If your team excels at the breakout, On the Forecheck or has a mean neutral-zone trap then that won't help you too much when the other team simply clears the puck and waits for you at the blue line.

In the analytical community, the most-cited metric for power-play quality is shooting rate. See the recent article that got me thinking about this by Derek Zona or the definitive article on the subject by Gabe Desjardins. Since I am using 5-on-4 shots for per 60, the most obvious stat for comparison is 5-on-5 shots for per 60. So the question at hand is how correlated are 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 shooting rates.

Using data from BTN, over the last four full seasons the correlation between shooting rates 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 is 0.4. Normally I would put out an R^2 interpretation, but for this relationship it isn't one driving the other but some hockey skills and tactics driving both. Here is a graph showing the relationship:

With a correlation of 0.4 one could say there is a relationship between the two, but it isn't particularly strong. Luck is obviously one factor. We tend to focus on shooting rates because that reduces the luck factor, but it is still present. That is particularly true for the power play due to reduced sample sizes.

Here is a chart showing the average difference between 5-on-4 shooting rate and the one predicted by the above regression formula for each team. You can think of this as how good they have been 5-on-4 compared to offensively 5-on-5.

S.J 8.19
ANA 7.94
DET 6.21
MTL 3.93
WSH 3.57
VAN 3.41
N.J 3.31
MIN 2.04
T.B 1.89
DAL 1.64
L.A 1.57
CBJ -0.17
FLA -0.22
BOS -0.76
COL -1.03
PIT -1.09
BUF -1.67
CGY -1.75
NYR -1.75
TOR -1.9
PHI -1.99
OTT -2.44
STL -2.45
NSH -2.69
ATL -2.76
NYI -2.89
PHX -3.62
CHI -3.67
CAR -4.25
EDM -6.59

As you can see, the Sharks, Ducks and Red Wings are outliers at the positive end. Their power plays have performed better than you would expect based on their 5-on-5 shooting rates. The Sharks under McLellan have been very strong with the man advantage. The huge outlier in the graph above is the ungodly 72.6 5-on-4 shots/60 they put up last year. They currently lead the league this year at 68.8. Getting slightly off-topic, I think a safe prediction is for the Sharks to improve their power-play results since they top the league in 5-on-4 SF/60 but are only 10th in PP%.

On the bad end, the Edmonton Oilers stand alone. This is saying something, since the Oilers haven't exactly been machine gunning pucks at the net 5-on-5. Going by 5-on-4 shots for per 60 they have finished the last four years 30th, 30th, 30th and, you guessed it, 30th. This year Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can barely miss on the power play and perhaps he's helped their shooting rate out as well since they are currently all the way up to 24th in the league.

Given how consistently the Sharks, Ducks and Red Wings have outperformed expectations with the man advantage and how terrible the Oilers' power play has been, I think it's pretty clear that there is some skill component of the power play that is distinct from 5-on-5.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CBA Look - Part 2 - The Salary Cap

Salary caps are now as big a part of our sports lexicon as touchdown, goal, and sex scandal. 3 of the 4 major sports have them, and the 4th has a luxury tax system that effectively functions as a salary cap for most of the MLB franchises.

Let's take a look at each sport's system (the Revenue Split is Players %/Owners %):

LeagueRevenue SplitCurrent CapCurrent FloorRoster Size
NHL57/43$64M Hard Cap$48M23
NBA50/50$58M Hard Cap¹$49M12
NFL50/50$120M Hard Cap89% Of Cap47
MLBNone$178M Luxury Tax²None25

¹ Hard Cap to become Soft Cap with Luxury Tax in 2013 and each year thereafter.

² The MLB Luxury Tax Threshold year to year is set in the CBA and not as a function of revenues.

Salary caps have a two-fold function - first, they limit the amount that top revenue teams can spend on players. This is under the guise of competition, but we'll see that it doesn't exactly work that way. Second, they depress salaries for top players. Both the NHL and NBA have a maximum dollar amount per year for a player contract, yet while the NBA has had several max contracts, the NHL has only had one. It's not just that the cap-bending huge deals have altered the NHL landscape for player contracts - despite the fact that revenues have clearly returned to pre-lockout levels, the salary cap restricts teams from signing players to the kind of deals we were seeing before the introduction of the salary cap. People with long memories will remember the summer of 2002, when both Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik received $9 million per season. Both of these guys were fine players, but neither one is going to the Hall of Fame except perhaps to visit. The only player currently making that more than that over the entire length of his contract is Alexander Ovechkin, and I suspect it will stay that way.

One thing that is interesting about the present NHL salary cap is that players on one-way contracts who are sent to the minors or overseas don't count on the cap. It's unclear whether or not this will change in the next CBA - on the one hand, someone like Wade Redden probably doesn't want to play in the AHL, but on the other hand, he certainly makes more money doing that than if he were bought out or signed to a less risky contract. The rumblings in journalists' columns suggests the NHL wants it so that all one-way contracts count against the cap, but we'll see how the NHLPA reacts - I can't imagine they're married to the idea of guys riding buses for millions of dollars, so they could give that up in exchange for NHL concessions.

The salary cap as a whole doesn't interest me all that much - anyone paying attention will see that it will come down if the revenue split changes. I'll show just how much it might come down when I focus on the NHL's escrow system in a later post. What's more interesting to me is the salary floor, a mechanism that forces teams to spend money whether it's in their best interests to do so. We already saw a strange move earlier this season when the Dallas Stars picked up Eric Nystrom because otherwise they would have been under the salary floor.

Salary floors have three functions:

A: Ensure that teams receiving revenue sharing spend it on player salaries

B: Ensure that teams do not intentionally lose by fielding a horrible roster (see also: 2004 Penguins)

C: Ensure that players are properly compensated

In practice, however, salary floors often necessitate superfluous free agent signings or superfluous trades. Some markets quite simply won't be appealing to free agents and will, for whatever reason, have a dearth of existing expensive contracts. We saw that as a possibility this summer when the Florida Panthers had less than $25 million in contracts on the books, but the Panthers quickly signed half the available free agents. Regardless, the salary floor is currently $9 million above where the salary cap was set in 2005 - have hockey-related revenues in markets near the floor really risen that much since then? I doubt it.

These are estimates, but Derek Zona via Putting On the Foil provides us with these numbers for the profits that NHL clubs reaped in 2010:

Top Six Most Profitable Teams (average): $37.9 million

Everyone Else (average): -$2.79 million

Now since these are estimates based on estimates, we can't be sure that these are even close to correct, but it doesn't take a financial whiz to figure out that there are some teams in the league whose revenues are off the charts, and likewise a lot of teams at the bottom of the food chain who struggle to make anything.

(This will be a feature on each of my CBA articles outlining what I think should happen. I by no means think that they will happen - that will go in my predictions.)

Triumph's Take: The salary cap should come down from its current high of $64 million, as it is driving the middle market teams to spend above their means. The NHL should institute a luxury tax above a soft salary cap - teams would pay $2 for each $1 spent above the salary cap, with that money going towards revenue sharing. There should be a hard ceiling of 15% above the soft salary cap where teams interested in paying luxury tax can spend to. Furthermore, all one-way contracts should count on the cap whether or not the player is playing in the NHL.

The salary floor should reflect the revenues of the bottom teams, and not the league as a whole. The salary floor should be set according to a percentage, say 60%, of the revenues of the bottom 15 revenue teams in the league plus, say, 80% the total amount of revenue sharing received by these teams divided among them equally. This enables the NHL's lower revenue teams to spend without having to spend above their means.

The NHLPA's ability to increase the salary cap by 5% each year by placing a greater amount of their money into escrow should be eliminated or scaled back.

What Will Happen: I think despite the clear need for reform, the NHL owners will be persuaded that a falling salary tide raises all their boats. The system in place will remain largely the same, all that will change is the percentage of revenues, which will likely fall at 50/50 as they have in the other two major sports leagues that have a salary cap. This revenue change will also result in salary rollbacks and the possibility of amnesty buyouts.

Now a question for the reader - was this post clear? Should it have more citations from the NHL CBA? The NHL CBA is written so jargon-y that it's usually best to avoid it unless we need it for some sort of clarification, but I'm not sure if I'm assuming too much knowledge here (for instance, on what the revenue split means).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Corsi and Fenwick Power Rankings through Dec. 18

Here are the updated power rankings through yesterday. If you are unfamiliar, I get these by using a logit model to take into account schedule, score effects and special teams.

The big movers this week were the Kings and Jets. The Kings are an interesting case as they jumped up this week largely on the back of their performance against the Red Wings, who have topped these and other Corsi/Fenwick based power rankings since early in the season. This is somewhat odd since the Kings got beat 8-2. In that game, the Kings put up a Corsi of +8, 54.4% at even strength. We expect a team to win the territory battle when they are behind, but given how good the Red Wings have been those are still strong numbers. They also had two more shots on the power play than the Red Wings.

Winnipeg is more straightforward - they played a weak schedule: Minnesota, Washington and Anaheim all at home. While they got two wins out of that, their possession numbers were bad. At even strength with the score tied they put up a Corsi percentage of 47.1%, 48.7% for Fenwick. They were worse taking all even-strength time, which is to be expected given score effects. Still, their shooting stats were pretty weak when you consider how bad their opponents were as a group and that they were playing at home.

Corsi RankteamCorsi%FenwickFen Rank

I'm working on testing this with older data, and quite likely will be tweaking the formula to improve the way I deal with special teams.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Assessing Zone Entry Methods

Over at Broadstreet Eric T. and Geoff Detweiler have been collecting and analyzing zone-entry data for all Flyers games this year. They track each entry into the offensive zone, recording who is on the ice, how many shots and scoring chances there were before the puck left the zone and whether the puck was carried in, dumped in, passed in etc. Here is a post archiving some of their previous work. I think it is an excellent idea and the early data look promising.

In recent articles, which can be found here and here, Eric uses early data to make the argument that carrying the puck into the offensive zone is better than dumping it in and teams, or at least the Flyers they've got data on, should be more aggressive, carrying it in more often. He does put in a couple caveats that the fourth line should be more inclined to dump the puck in and top 3 lines should perhaps be more cautious late with the lead. While intuitively I think he's correct, the extra pressure you put on your opponents with the puck seems more valuable than the risk of a bad turnover, I don't think the results he cites tell us anything about whether or not teams should try to carry it in more often in marginal situations. I have a different interpretation of the data.

Their results: teams do better when they carry the puck in.

One thing there is no doubt about whatsoever is that in their dataset teams get substantially better outcomes when they carry the puck in than when they dump it or even pass it in. (Before you ask, they exclude situations where a team dumps the puck and makes a line change with little to no effort to go after the puck) As an example, when the puck was carried in the team doing so generated 0.57 shots before the puck was sent out of the zone. The similar number is only 0.22 when the team dumps it in.

On the face of it, it seems reasonable to think that this means carrying the puck in is smarter and that teams should be doing it more often. However, this ignores the circumstances. Most of the time when a player can easily carry the puck across the blue line into the zone it is both correct to do so and what he does. These situations tend to overwhelmingly favor the attacking team. In extreme cases you have breakaways and odd-man rushes. In general the defense will not be very well set up - if they were the offensive team would not be able to waltz into the attacking zone without risking losing the puck.

Now think about times where it would be very difficult for the player to cross the blue line with possession of the puck. The defense is set up, putting pressure on the puck handler. He is likely to be facing a very good defenseman. He might even have multiple defenders perfectly executing a trap. In these situations, dumping the puck is the correct move and usually what is done.

Looking at the two together, when the situation is favorable to the team about to enter the offensive zone they tend to carry it in. When it is unfavorable, they will usually dump it. Let's flip that around - when teams carry the puck in the conditions are usually very good for the offensive team and when they dump it in they are usually bad. I think it's pretty clear that the circumstances would drive the numbers in exactly the way they appear. From the numbers alone it's not clear whether or not the teams in question attempt to carry the puck into the offensive zone too rarely, too often or about the right frequency. Intuitively I agree with Eric's conclusion, but I don't think the data provide any evidence for it.

Let's shift the focus.

In my view Eric focused too much on the decision the puck carrier makes and not enough on what is happening on the ice when, and just before, he makes it. I'm not saying this to be negative, in fact it's quite the opposite. He, Geoff and Broadstreet in general write some of my favorite hockey stuff, and that's saying something since I'm a Pens fan and the Flyers are my least favorite team. I love the idea of looking at zone entries and, perhaps paradoxically, my interpretation puts more value in these metrics than his does.

Let's take a different view of some of the data from the three recent articles, including comments:
- the top line (Hartnell, Giroux and Jagr) carried the puck in 3.1 times as often as they dumped it in. For second and third liners this drops to 2.2 times as often and for the fourth liners it's all the way down to 1.4 times. Better players tend to carry the puck in more compared to dumping it.
- when the puck is carried in the results are better than for any other type of entry going by shots/entry, chances/entry, goals/entry and how often the next play is in the defensive zone.
- the team carrying the puck in gets the next shot off 69.8% of the time, just above passing it in (68.6%) and well above both deflecting (62.4%) and dumping it in (56.3%)
- carrying the puck into the zone is substantially more advantageous than getting a faceoff in the offensive zone, going by any of the above metrics.
- when the Flyers have a lead of 2+ in the first two periods or any lead in the third, so their opponents are taking risks, 58% of their zone entries are carried in or passed in where they maintained control. When trailing, their opponents are more defensive minded, this figure drops to 48%. When the game is close and the opponents are more balanced it is in the between at 55%.

What does all this say to you? To me it screams out that the ability to carry the puck, or pass it in with control, is a fantastic proxy for winning the neutral-zone and transition-game battle! Giroux isn't good because he carries the puck in, he carries the puck in because his strong play has given him the opportunity. The more the conditions dictate the decision, the better controlled entries measure how well teams and players are doing in the neutral zone. It is precisely because as I see it the conditions drive the entry decisions that I think it's such a good thing to track.

Conclusion and Suggestions

While Geoff and Eric only have 22 games so far this season, a preliminary look at the data indicates that zone entries, especially those where the puck is carried in, may tell us a lot about who is excelling in the neutral zone, on transitions from offense to defense and vice versa. This is quite promising and I have a few quick suggestions for ways they could use these stats.

Firstly, I would put it in percentages as we do for Corsi. In other words carried-in entries for divided by carried-in entries for and against. I would also consider weighting them differently to come up with one overall number. People often ask about high-value shots and other notions related to shot quality. In this case, there appear to be high-value entries and low-value entries. Another thing to look at is how often the opponents carry it in with different defenseman on the ice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Power Rankings through December 11th

First off, you, dear reader, have my humblest apologies for the lack of update last week. I made a bonehead move and didn't save my name database and by the time I had everything set up again it was late in the week so I decided just to wait until the end of the weekend. In the future, I'll try to make updates every Sunday night and if that fails I'll make them on Monday with results through Sunday.

As I explained in the previous version, these rankings use a simple logit model to account for schedule, score effects and special teams. The numbers you see in the chart represent the expected even-strength score-tied Corsi/Fenwick if the team played each team once, at home and away, and the total number of shots per game stayed the same.

Before getting to the rankings, here are a few notes, comments and anecdotes.

- Things have stabilized for the most part. The average team's rating has moved up or down only 0.6 percentage points for both Corsi and Fenwick. That's with the addition of about 6-8 games per team.

- Minnesota continues to amaze and... bewilder. Their rating dropped off the most in the league since the previous version, going from a mighty expected Corsi rating of 45.1% down to 43.2%, a drop of 1.9 percentage points moving them down to worst in the league in both Corsi and Fenwick. Their record in that time? 7-0-0. Is Tebow secretly suiting up for them?

- The team with the second-biggest drop in rating is Washington. The model has the Caps' effects-adjusted Corsi at 50.4%, a drop of 1.2 percentage points. The last time I did these rankings was just before Boudreau was sent packing in favor of Hunter, so the change is all on Hunter's watch. The Capitals have put up a Corsi of 45.2 since Hunter took over. Six games is a meaningless sample size, but it'll be something to keep an eye on.

- Remember when people were talking about the Stanley Cup hangover for both Boston and Vancouver? With Boston's fantastic November and Vancouver's great last 4 or 5 weeks, both have pulled themselves up in the standings after somewhat slow starts. They are both in the top 5 in the Corsi ranking. I don't think anybody expected the Canucks, at least their skaters, to forget how to play hockey but that is an improvement for Boston - the Bs were pretty average last year.

Here is the table:

Corsi RankTeamCorsiFenwickFen Rank

Monday, December 5, 2011

NHL Trends That I've Spotted, November Edition

I like JaredL's Power Rankings, though they do take some of the wind out of my monthly column about NHL trends. Since this column is just a hodgepodge of stuff I notice, I'll just focus on the player level. Today's edition will involve forwards.

Predict The Future And Win The Praise Of Basement-Dwelling Bloggers Everywhere, aka Finished Or Not Finished

Shots on goal trends are starting to emerge - information-wise with regard to shots, we begin the NHL season with chaff and build slowly up to wheat. A decline in shots on goal rate can have many causes - the biggest one, it seems to me, is shifting ice time. Since shot rates increase on the power play, less time on the power play and more time on the penalty kill is going to take a bite out of a player's shot rate. Still, we're at the point where we can begin to make pronouncements about a player's direction.

#1: Jarome Iginla

Finished or Not Finished? Finished.

Iginla's ice time has been cut slightly, but his shot rate is lowest since 98-99. With over 1100 games at the age of 34, it's hard to imagine Iginla's numbers coming back up, but perhaps a change of location would help him out.

(Naturally, Iginla had an 8 shot game in between when I first wrote this and when it will be published. Still, I think Iginla will not be a 30 goal scorer for much longer.)

#2: Brad Richards

Finished or Not Finished? Not finished.

Richards's shot rate has to be worrisome, but right now his shooting percentage is making the issue. His shot rate is a full shot below his career mark, and nearly a shot and a half below last year. My suspicion, however, is that linemate Marian Gaborik is 'taking' his shots - he's a full shot higher than last season. Richards has 13 5 on 4 shots according to behindthenet - last season he was credited with 108 - he essentially went from a shot and a half per game on the PP to a half-shot. Sometimes tactical changes can reduce a player's shot rate.

#3: Alex Ovechkin

Finished Or Not Finished? The jury's out.

Alex Ovechkin came into the league and led the NHL in shots on goal for 6 straight years. He's still shooting nearly 3.5 times per game, a rate which most NHLers would envy. Still, at his peak he shot over 6.5 times per game.

Let's see if we can't identify some causes.

1: Ice time reduction. Ovechkin's career average ice time is nearly 22 minutes a game, but he's only averaging 19 minutes a game so far this season. Assuming the decline to be linear between power play ice time and even strength ice time, that should result in a reduction in his shot rate - in fact, assuming that Ovechkin and his linemates still have the same true talent, we'd expect him to shoot 4.51 shots per game instead of his career 5.22. Still, that doesn't explain the decline completely, as he is below 4 shots a game.

2: Linemates. As we saw above, his linemates may be taking shots away from him. This doesn't seem to be the case - Ovechkin shot just over 1 time per game on the power play last year, and while he is shooting less often than that this year, it's the entire Washington power play that seems to have fallen. Last season, it generated 59.1 shots per 60 minutes, good for 3rd in the NHL. This year it's generating 48.2 shots per 60 minutes, which ranks it solidly in the middle of the pack. The difference is only 1 shot per 5 power play minutes, which doesn't seem like a lot, but over the course of a season, it adds up to 8 expected goals.

3: Shooters have a peak, perhaps Ovechkin has passed his. If we look at the careers of pure scorers, like Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, and Phil Esposito, we can see that they had a clear prime. Kariya had 6 years where he was top 10 in the league in shots, and a 7th year where he would've led the league in shots had he not both held out and been injured. Brett Hull led the league 3 straight years, then finished 2nd in the league 3 straight years, and was never again top 10 in the league in shots after his 33rd birthday. Esposito had 5 straight years where he had 5+ shots per game, but never had a season where he approached that number either before or after. This is sobering news to Ovechkin and Washington Capitals fans, but it's entirely possible that Ovechkin will never lead the league in shots on goal again. We can't make that pronouncement for sure, but players have leveled off at his age from being a top 5 player to being a top 20 player.

Wayne Gretzky said that 100% of the shots you don't take don't go in, and it's a truism that NHL fans don't quite understand. When your favorite player isn't generating as many shots as he once did, it's a sign that he probably won't return to his previous level of play.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The NHL CBA - A Very Long Series of Articles - Part 1

NBA fans and NHL fans have always had a kind of rivalry. Whereas baseball and football seasons have minor overlap, people don't often identify themselves by not liking the other sport. However, NBA and NHL fans tend to look down on one another - their seasons run concurrently, and in my experience, you will rarely meet a passionate NBA or NHL fan who also has a serious passion for the other sport. There's only so much time in the day for professional sports.

For the past few weeks, if you're like me, you've been enjoying a few chuckles at the NBA's expense watching the league circle the drain and nearly throw away the season. Schadenfreude isn't mankind's noblest feeling, but if you've heard years of jokes from smug fans weaned on SportsCenter about how no one likes the NHL, it might tickle you to hear that that sport might miss a season. You might've been looking forward to sports-starved NBA fans learning how to pronounce David Krejci. All that is over with now that the NBA and NBAPA has settled their differences - they have a new collective bargaining agreement, with the league set to begin in less than a month.

Thus, my glee turns to dread as I remember that the NHL's CBA expires in September of next year. We've seen both the NFL and NBA lock out, and I'm virtually certain that the NHL owners will once again lock out the players. Furthermore, unlike the NFL and NBA whose CBA expiration dates were well in advance of the beginning of the season, the NHL's CBA expires less than a month before regular season games are scheduled. If the two sides cannot agree to a new CBA before that time, we're going to see at the very least another shortened regular season.

So far, there's yet to be much saber-rattling. Larry Brooks commented in his November 13th Slap Shots column: "A high-ranking executive of one of the league’s most successful clubs on and off ice matter-of-factly told Slap Shots during the course of a conversation about something else entirely this week that the players, “will get 48 to 50 percent, and there will be a rollback” in the next CBA as if it is a fait accompli and [NHLPA president Donald] Fehr doesn’t exist." '48 to 50 percent' refers to the revenue split between owners and players as enforced by the salary cap. At present, the NHL players receive 57% of the revenue. Doing a little basic math, this means that the salary cap and likely NHL salaries would be rolled back by between 10 and 15%. Now we know that Larry Brooks is an NHLPA shill, as we'll see in the coming months, but I can recall him breaking the news during the summer of 2004 (at least to me) that the NHL was prepared to offer the NHLPA a $32 million salary cap. This seemed totally bonkers, since there were many teams spending upwards of $50 million on player salaries in the 2003-04 season. Yet when the dust settled, the salary cap was $39 million and the players were earning three-quarters of their 2003-04 salaries. Brooks will attempt to spread fear and panic, but his sources are generally good.

Between the salary cap machinations of the Devils in 2006, the Malakhov fiasco, and the Kovalchuk circumvention, I've gotten to know my way around the current NHL CBA pretty well. Furthermore, as a former philosophy student, I think I've trained myself to plow my way through jargon into what the hell a thing is actually saying. I will also be looking at the other three major team sports' CBAs, since they all ratified one this year, seeing what the NHL and NHLPA should look into and what they should shy away from. I'll focus more on the NBA CBA as that sport seems to share a similar mindset and similar problems and will be discussing issues related to:

- The Salary Cap and Salary Floor
- The Revenue Split
- Revenue Sharing
- Free Agency and Contract Length
- Entry Level Contracts
- Escrow, Escrow, Escrow!
- Guaranteed Contracts
- Other Stuff TBD!

I will also be discussing some of the 'unintended consequences' of the present CBA and how those issues might be resolved in a new CBA. I don't have a lot of faith in either the Players' Association or the owners, but I'm hoping that like the NBA, everyone can return to their senses long enough to at least get a season played.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Power Play Trends: Why We Shouldn't Focus on Merely Results

As I was watching the CSN-Philadelphia broadcast of the Coyotes/Flyers game on November 18, during a break in the action of the Flyers’ first Power Play the following chart was shown to the viewer, entitled “Special Teams Reversal.”

First 8 GamesLast 9 Games
Power Play27.5%9.3%
Penalty Kill82.9%90.2%

Presumably to reinforce play-by-play voice Jim Jackson’s comment at the beginning of the Flyers’ first man-advantage that the power play had been “struggling here of late,” I see a completely different trend when I look at the same numbers.

As Gabe Desjardins pointed out in this article, “The PP is all about directing shots on goal,” and I’m feeling daring enough to assert that the PK is all about preventing shots towards your own net. Looking at the Flyers’ shot rates per 60 minutes on special teams during the first 17 games once again thanks to JaredL, it becomes less surprising why such a reversal took place:

First 8 GamesLast 9 Games
PP SF/6050.740.7
PK SA/6039.439.6

As of today, if the Flyers were to sport 50.7 SF/60 on the PP, they would rank 12th in the NHL according to BTN and 40.7 would put them 28th. Their PK numbers would rank them 2nd in both occurrences. What is more, if we look at the shooting data from the same span we see another trend bolder than Jaromir Jagr’s Movember ‘stache:

Power Play

ShotsGoalsShooting %
First 8 Games531120.8
Last 9 Games4648.7

Penalty Kill

ShotsGoalsSave %
First 8 Games437.837
Last 9 Games445.886

In addition to their more potent shot-generating PP in the first 8 games, the Flyers were shooting at an unsustainably high rate and opposing goalies were stopping an unsustainably low number of shots. The numbers are more reasonable on the PK, though the Flyers’ opponents were still running a bit warm with their shooting. As the sample size began to grow, we see the Flyers’ shooting percentage come back down to Earth as their opponents began to stop a more reasonable number of shots. Philadelphia’s PK numbers also even out by a bit less of a margin as we might expect based on the unit’s consistency.

Though such a turnaround may be alarming to those who still choose to judge power play success based on results, the fact of the matter is that the Flyers PP of the first 8 games was merely a mirage. As the season rumbles along, expect the Flyers’ special teams to mirror the second half of CSN’s chart rather than the first.

Weekly Power Rankings #1

Every Sunday night, I will be posting updated objective power rankings. Instead of only focusing on 5-on-5 play with the score tied, for each of Corsi and Fenwick I use a logit model to take into account score effects, schedule and special teams. Using the numbers the model spits out, I generate what each team's expected even-strength score-tied Corsi and Fenwick percentages would be if they played a balanced schedule. It is important to note that my model ignores goaltending. Also, while it adjusts for special teams, it does not reward or punish teams for getting there. So teams that are mediocre on the power play but get there a lot or bad on the penalty kill but very disciplined will be underrated.

As usual with these sorts of things, they should get better as the season goes on and we get more data.

A handful of teams jumped out, that I'd like to comment on:

- Colorado has put up decent, much-improved possession numbers at even strength. In special teams they have been above average getting pucks toward goal on the PP and very strong suppressing shots on the PK. They have not gotten the goaltending or bounces at either end. I think this ranking overrates them, but a deeper look points to them being better than I initially thought. Perhaps mediocre is more accurate than bad.

- The Jets are another team that this ranking puts substantially above where they are in the standings. They have put up better than average possession numbers but whatever combination you like of bad bounces in their own zone and bad goaltending has done them in. They have also haven't been disciplined, ranking dead last in the league at times shorthanded. If the team hadn't moved, this would be familiar to Jets fans since they had a similar pattern in the second half of last season.

- They won't win the rest, but I think we can expect the Canucks to continue their rise and pull themselves up near the top of the standings.

- The Rangers are in trouble. They've had an unsustainably high save percentage and a ridiculous shooting percentage at even strength (9.9%), both of which are almost certain to drop. They are getting dominated 5-on-5 and are fourth worst in the league in shooting rate 5-on-4 (BTN). I don't see them making the playoffs.

Here is the ranking, sorted by Corsi%

RankTeamCorsi%FenwickFen Rank
1Detroit Red Wings57.957.61
2Vancouver Canucks5655.13
3Pittsburgh Penguins55.354.84
4St. Louis Blues55.156.52
5Boston Bruins54.153.16
6Chicago Blackhawks5354.45
7Colorado Avalanche52.852.48
8San Jose Sharks51.852.77
9Washington Capitals51.650.712
10Philadelphia Flyers51.451.610
11Winnipeg Jets5151.89
12Florida Panthers50.850.213
13Montreal Canadiens50.751.511
14Ottawa Senators50.149.914
15Phoenix Coyotes49.748.918
16Los Angeles Kings49.748.419
17Columbus Blue Jackets49.549.616
18New Jersey Devils49.549.914
19Buffalo Sabres49.247.624
20Calgary Flames49.249.317
21Toronto Maple Leafs48.147.822
22Carolina Hurricanes47.947.723
23Edmonton Oilers47.448.121
24Dallas Stars4748.419
25Tampa Bay Lightning46.346.525
26New York Islanders45.645.328
27Minnesota Wild45.14626
28New York Rangers45.145.827
29Nashville Predators44.644.529
30Anaheim Ducks44.543.930

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anomalies: Why Are Crosby's Possession Numbers Merely Good

This will perhaps be the start of a continuing series in which we analyze and discuss strange things we've noticed about hockey statistics. A feature of these articles is that we won't have all the answers, so comments and discussion are strongly encouraged.

In this installment, I want to discuss something that has irked me since I first got into hockey analytics. After reading about Corsi and Fenwick stats I went to BTN to look at the numbers for my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. I was quite surprised by how bad the team was according to these metrics, this was in the Therrien days, and in particular Crosby's numbers were downright mediocre. They have improved since but over the last two seasons, in which he played a season and a half, his even-strength Corsi/Fenwick stats are merely good instead of great. To state the obvious, he is considered by many to be the best player in the game and nobody reasonable would put him outside the top 5-10 players, head injury aside. What gives?

5-on-5 Corsi

Here are his Corsi numbers from 2007-2008 through 2010-2011. I include his rank among forwards that played 40 games or more for the given year.

SeasonCorsi On/60Rank

Even with the improvement, including the huge points streak taking up much of the 2010-2011 season, you can see that his stats aren't close to the elite level most everyone would put him at, including us nerds. I have a couple possible explanations, but would love to hear from you if you've got more.

Weak Linemates

For Pens fans, a frustrating part of having so much strength at center is that there is not a lot of money to go around for wingers. If you look at the guys consistently at the top of the Corsi rankings, you tend to see pairs or groups of top guys that play together or perhaps an elite player with at least one good player. Examples include a number of Detroit combinations, whichever combination of Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa you like, the Sedins, Ovechkin with Bäckström and Kesler with Raymond. Crosby has spent most all of his time with guys like Dupuis and Kunitz who aren't bad but are definitely role players and don't compare well to those names.

Let's take a look at the Corsi QoT for selected players in the last 3 full seasons. Corsi QoT is the average Corsi rating off all skater teammates for the player's ice time. It isn't perfect because a player influences his teammates' ratings but gives a rough idea how good the teammates are.

Sidney Crosby-3.6285.2975.779
Alexander Ovechkin12.9538.4384.013
Pavel Datsyuk17.24612.2297.363
Jonathan Toews11.62914.8588.437
Henrik Sedin1.3687.4358.28
Ryan Kesler-0.1497.0217.624

You can see that going by this metric Crosby's teammates have not been as strong as those of other elite players.

An exception to this rule is that he has played a bit of time with Malkin. How has that duo been? I haven't pulled data from 2007-2008, but I do have it from the last three years. Here is a chart with their Corsi rates together. Unsurprisingly, they are all much better than Crosby's overall numbers.


I'll have more on that 2008-2009 season in a bit, but in the last two years for the time they've been on the ice together they have dominated. I didn't list the score-tied numbers but they are actually pretty similar.


People are making similar arguments for Ovechkin this year, which I think is at least in part an overreaction to some brutal shooting luck, but it seems like in the early years the cautious, defensive approach espoused by Michel Therrien may have held the Penguins back. It's beyond my area of expertise to analyze the particulars of this, but there are data to back this up.

Courtesy of time on ice here are the Corsi percentages (Corsi shots for divided by Corsi shots for and against) the seasons before during and after Bylsma took over for Therrien. While the Pens were and still are a young team, the jump is pretty big and the 2008-2009 season is damning.


A problem with this analysis for the 2008-2009 season is that Gonchar, Pittsburgh's best defenseman that year, was out most of the early part of the season coming back right around the time Bylsma took over 25 games from the end. Here are the numbers from 2008-2009 for all time in which Gonchar was off the ice, whether or not he was in the lineup, under Bylsma and Therrien.


For that 2008-2009 season, here are Crosby's on-ice Corsi numbers with each coach:


Of course there are many many other factors like overall team skill going up and variance may have played a role. That said, based on these splits I think some of the blame for the first couple years goes to Therrien, or you might say the praise for the last few goes to Bylsma.

Putting It Together

Let's look at Crosby's Corsi numbers with and without Malkin since Bylsma took over:

With Malkin57.7%20.239
Without Malkin53.0%7.12

That's in 421 minutes of ice time with Malkin, or over 7 full games worth of time. If Crosby played 75% of his time with Malkin then his Corsi% would be about 56.5% and his rate about 17. Both of these numbers would be right up at the top of the Corsi rankings.


These are my ideas, I'd love to hear more if you've got them. I'd also be interested in your thoughts on what I'm putting out there. I think the biggest factor by far is the relative weakness of the wingers. This is supported by how dominant Crosby was when Evgeni Malkin played the top-winger role for him over the last couple seasons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can Rinne Earn All That Money?

The Pekka Rinne contract extension a couple weeks back remains the most interesting off-ice move of the season. It touches on a lot of things we have written about and discussed behind the scenes, most notably the role of luck and skill in results and whether it's better to build a team by spending big on goaltending or leave that money for the skaters - see Matt's thought-provoking post on the subject. The Predators are also in a peculiar spot as a team that has spent near the floor in the past but now will perhaps change gears and spend closer to the cap. This is all happening, and almost certainly related to, with Weber (RFA) and Suter (UFA) coming up as free agents this next offseason. Chase covered the cap/budget impact quite well last week. There is a lot to unpack here and we'll be revisiting this deal, looking at Nashville's situation and trying to answer more general questions like how much top goaltenders should be paid over the course of the season.

In this article, I will look at how his contract compares to those of other top goaltenders, at least those paid like one. The question at hand is how much he has to contribute for his $7M a year to be reasonable compared to other big-money goaltender deals. I am ignoring several key things like regression to the mean that might impact the overall value of goalies. In other words, I'm not looking at more general things like whether goaltenders as a whole are overpaid, or even if Rinne will be but rather what he has to do for us to say he's not overpaid relative to other top-dollar goaltenders.

Everywhere Is WAR

The nice thing about analyzing goalies is that we have a large number of discrete events and while there are teammate, opponent and rink/scorekeeper effects, the strength of a goaltender's performance pretty much boils down to how well they stopped the puck in different situations. Goaltender analysis is more similar to hitters in baseball than it is to skaters in hockey. The metric I'll use is WAR, Wins Above Replacement, which is very similar to the baseball stat of the same name. The idea is to look at how many goals the goalie in question gave up and compare that to what a typical replacement-level goalie (think free agent paid the minimum salary) would have allowed on the same number and type (ES, PK, PP) of shots. We can translate this number into wins to see how many wins each goaltender gave their team over what a replacement-level goalie would have.

I'm far from the first to use this method. As far as I understand it, GVT follows a similar approach for goalies. For a few other examples, Gabe Desjardins did something very similar two years ago over at Puck Prospectus and there was a fanpost on the subject by DoctorMyBrainHurts at Gabe's usual home, Arctic Ice Hockey. Philadelphia's goalie issues and the signing of Bryzgalov motivated some similar work by our friends Kent Wilson and Geoff Detweiler. With skaters it's rather more complicated, but for goalie analysis this approach is pretty clearly the way to go.

This is already one of the longest intros of all time so I won't go too far into detail about exactly how I calculated this. For replacement level, I took took the combined results of goalies that were not in the top 60 in games started for each season after the lockout. Another difference between my work and the others linked above is that I use 5.52 goals per win instead of the usual 6.0, which I feel is more accurate based on regressing league points on non-empty-net goal differential since the lockout. This warrants an article of its own, which I'll post later this week.

What does $4+ million buy these days?

Capgeek only goes back a couple years and nhlnumbers, which I used, only stretches back to 2007-2008. In those four seasons, we have a sample of 60 in which a goaltender had an annualized cap hit of $4M or greater. Here is a scatter plot showing the relationship between goaltender wins-above-replcement and the cap hit minus the minimum player salary. Something to note is that there isn't a very strong relationship between a goaltender's cap hit and how much value in wins he turned out to provide to his team. This is a sign that maybe high-price goaltenders as a group are overpaid, but I'll leave that for future work as it's outside the scope of this article.

The regression equation you see tells us what we should expect a goaltender to produce for a given cap hit over the minimum salary. The last two seasons the minimum has been half a million dollars. Going by that, here is what we should expect out of goaltenders in this range:

Cap Hit ($M)WAR

So 4 million dollars buys you about three and a half wins.

How productive must Rinne be?

And finally we are ready to answer the question at hand. How well does Rinne need to play for his contract to compare well to other high-dollar goalie contracts? Looking at the last row of the table, we see that producing a WAR of about 8.57 a year is about right. Here are his last 3 seasons, which comprise 167 of his 168 career starts:


This averages out to a WAR of 6.56 per season, far below the expected 8.57. However, there might be two reasons to be optimistic. His number of starts per year has gone up each season and even on a per-start basis his WAR was substantially higher last year than the first two. While our gut instinct may chalk the latter up to random variance, the starts going up each year is obviously important since it's hard to provide value from the bench or IR. This raises two issues, how much he needs to play to get his WAR up to the 8.57 range and/or how much his save percentage might need to improve to do so. Let's consider those separately.

Rinne has faced an average of 24.35 shots at even strength, 4.32 shots on the PK and 0.67 shots with the Preds up a man per start in his career up to the current season. Based on his career save percentages in these spots (0.928/0.877/0.903) and the replacement group's (0.907/0.845/0.908) he has a WAR of 0.118 per start. To get to 8.57 for the season, he would have to start about 72 games a year! Keep in mind that this would be starting almost every game without seeing any dropoff in save percentage from his career average. Only Lundqvist has gotten close to that many starts and based on what Rinne has done the last three years I think we can all agree that this isn't realistic.

So, then, it would appear that he has to improve on his already high save percentage that most of us would guess is over expectation. How much improvement? Let's take his 64 starts last year as the jumping-off point. If he faces the same number and type of shots per start as he has in his career thus far that would be about 1,877 shots a season. A replacement-level goaltender would allow almost exactly 3 goals per start, or 192 goals for the season. At 5.52 goals per win, Rinne would need to concede about 47 fewer goals to be worth 8.57 wins above replacement. This translates to a save percentage of 0.923. Here is a table with all goaltenders with a career save percentage of 0.923 or above, minimum of 500 games played:

PlayerStartsCareer Save %

Just off the list is Dominik Hasek with a career save percentage of 0.922.

For his contract to be about about equal in value to other goaltenders making $4M a year or above, all Rinne has to do is play at the Hasek level for 65+ games a year for 7 years.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Look at the Pekka Rinne Extension

This past Thursday, the Nashville Predators announced they had signed franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne to a 7-year, $49 million extension – the largest deal awarded in team history. After this season, Rinne’s average annual salary of $7 million will represent the highest cap hit for a goalie in the NHL, up from his $3.4 million number this season. On the surface, locking up a player that the franchise sees as “the best goaltender in the NHL” for the foreseeable future may seem wise, but there are a few underlying reasons that make this deal foolish for the Preds.

Let’s think about this again: 7 years, $49 million. For a team that is only spending $49,588,730 towards the cap this season and spent $50,903,696 last season, Rinne’s new $7 million cap figure would represent roughly 1/7 of Nashville’s entire budget. What is more, this doesn’t take into account the inevitable contract situations of both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

Weber, of course, was awarded a $7.5 million salary in arbitration this past summer and is entering his final season of restricted free agency. He will once again be arbitration-eligible and shouldn’t command a salary less than $7 million. Without signing him to a long-term deal making his cap hit more favorable, Nashville would likely be committing $14+ million to two players next season. Even if they choose to extend Weber long-term, I don’t see him taking much less than his current salary, further guaranteeing an emerging cap constraint.

Suter’s situation is equally sticky. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the clear prize of the defensive UFA class. Considering there hasn’t been a defenseman of Suter’s caliber on the open market in quite awhile, he could easily command a salary upwards of $6 million for multiple seasons. Once again, if the Predators plan to keep Suter they will have to back themselves into a corner salary-wise.

Even worse, all of this hasn’t taken into account Nashville’s dire need for forward depth. If the Predators continue their trend of spending ~$50M relative to the cap, any combination of Rinne-Weber/Suter will easily cost $12-14 million and approach $20 million should they decide to keep all three. Here’s where it gets dicey – the Predators are already on the hook for 11 contracts next season (including Rinne) for a total of $30,710,833. Should they keep one of Weber/Suter, they will be at roughly $36-38 million with 12 players signed. Should they keep them both, they will be approaching $43-45 million with 13 on the roster.

This is where the rubber meets the road. If they choose to spend to the upper limit, the Predators would have roughly $2.8 million per opening to fill out a 20-man roster. If that number seems high, it probably is. It’s very rare for teams to field only 20 players on an active roster for lack-of-depth reasons. No team will go through an entire season with the same 20 players intact, and for each additional skater they chose to ice the Predators would lose about $358,735 per available roster spot. Also, for every $1 million below $64.3 million ownership chooses to spend, that $2.8 million number would drop another $142,857. I’m skeptical that the Predators are ready to step into the arena with the NHL’s heavy spenders just yet, meaning they could easily be looking at $1.6 million (or less) per salary opening just to ice a 21-man roster.

Previewing next year’s offseason, Nashville currently has 8 players not named Shea Weber set to become restricted free agents at the end of this season – seven skaters (4 forwards, 3 defenseman) and G Anders Lindback. Their current salaries total $9,004,167 which wouldn’t take into account any potential raises each player would earn. It is very unlikely Nashville will find the cap space to even address their RFA needs, let alone address their weakness up front in the UFA market. For a team that claims to be solidifying its future, the idea begins to look counterintuitive.

What, then, is the answer to the equation if both Weber and Suter can't fit under Nashville's cap? The difference between Weber's upcoming RFA status and Suter's UFA status may be the deciding factor here. If another GM wants to shoot Nashville an offer sheet for Weber this offseason, they would stand to lose at least two first round draft picks because of the high salary Weber would command. As we saw this past summer, GMs are very reluctant to offer sheet high-priced RFAs for this exact reason, thus giving Weber more certainty to be back next year. Should the Predators find themselves out of contention by the trading deadline, shopping Ryan Suter could fetch a ton of offers for a playoff run because of his affordable $3.5 million cap hit. While a trade may be the best option moving forward, if Nashville is in the playoff picture it seems less likely any deal would happen. Should Suter decide to test the UFA waters come July, the Preds may lose out on receiving compensation for his departure. If it became clear that he wasn't going to re-sign, they could trade his negotiating rights before July 1 but any return would be less than what they could get at the deadline.

Regardless of what happens to both defenseman this summer, there is no way around the fact that having Weber and Suter on the ice is a heavy positive for the Predators. While Nashville ownership claims to be making every effort to re-sign them both, having the Rinne contract on the books will make it extremely difficult. At the end of the day, $7 million is an astronomical salary for a goaltender, especially for a team on an internal budget. Without taking nearly all of that salary and pouring it into better options up front, it may be awhile before we see Nashville capable of producing a positive shot differential per 60 minutes at even strength. In the end, it was GOB who said it best:

Next up will be JaredL delivering your statistics fix by taking taking a deeper look into the actual values of Rinne and other goaltenders to their teams.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

October Trends, A Week Late and Possibly A Dollar Short

I don't know if there was an equivalent in hockey for all you Canadian readers, but as a child I loved summer Sundays. That was the day the newspaper printed the statistics of all the baseball teams. Some guy I never heard of was hitting .353 - fascinating! Why's so and so hitting so poorly? It's easy to forget what it was like without having access to all the information you want, all the time. We're so awash in data that talking heads are constantly spinning narratives about what a particular hot or cold streak means. Well, I'm here to tell you what they actually mean.

I was doing some clicking around for this year so far, now that we're more than an eighth of the way through the NHL season - narratives are already emerging. I intend to make this a monthly column, and next time I won't think of the idea on the 4th of the month.

The Red Wings Stink Right Now

Will This Continue? No

Why: The beginning of the season is when people notice things. A team on a 105 point pace having a mediocre 10 game stretch in February gets noticed, but it's not alarming. That team is still a big favorite to make the playoffs. Anyway, the Wings' problem is simple - they're getting the shots but they're not going in. It's almost impossible to win consistently in this league shooting 5% at even strength, as the Wings are so far this year. During the Wings' losing streak, they're shooting 1.9% at evens - it's almost impossible to win this way.

Since I wrote the above, the Wings spanked the Anaheim Ducks, both on the scoreboard and territorially. They're going to be just fine.

Michael Grabner Is Perhaps Not The Tactical Genius I Thought He Was

Will This Continue? Yes

Why: Fortune favors the bold; predictors of others' fortunes doubly so. That's an Edward De Vere original quote that I just made up. Whatever the case, Michael Grabner's having a rough start to the season. 11 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, -4. What's most alarming are Grabner's 17 shots on goal through his first 11 games. I think Grabner will continue to be a play driver and dangerous forward, but I am not convinced that he is an elite player. I would not be shocked to see him end this year with 35 points over a full season.

Manny Malhotra Is Looking Like The Player The Rangers Threw Away for Martin Rucinsky

Will This Continue? Kind Of

Why: Manny Malhotra currently has 0 goals and is a -10 on the season. Last year, many close observers of hockey felt he should win the Selke Trophy. Malhotra starts his shifts in the defensive zone more often than just about any player in hockey - right now he has a Zone Start of 24.8%. Last year somehow he was a plus player in spite of this usage, but that was in part because of a .944 SV% while on the ice at even strength. I don't expect that to continue - while Malhotra will likely finish the year at or around -10 (right now his SV% ON is .844), it's really difficult to maintain a positive plus-minus when you're behind the eight ball that often.

Trends To Watch Out For:

Anaheim and Nashville do not look like playoff teams so far this year
While the Leafs are riding a ridiculous hot streak, they are also better than last season
Evander Kane just might be ready to break out
Triumph might write his post about playoff teams' records against non-playoff teams

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Splitting Up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook

Outside of Patrick Kane's impressive move to the middle, perhaps the biggest story in Chicago's impressive 7-2-2 start has been Joel Quenneville's decision to split up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The natural reaction to a coaching move so major is curiosity - why would the Blackhawks decide to split up one of the game's best pairs?


The most obvious explanation is that the move is Joel Quenneville's way of mitigating the loss of Brian Campbell. On a simple level, separating Keith and Seabrook ensures the Blackhawks will play the vast majority of their even strength minutes with at least one of their superstars on the ice, especially given Nick Leddy's relative inexperience in playing top-4 minutes.


It's pretty obvious that the organization is high on Leddy (Scotty Bowman compared Leddy to Phil Housley), and I can't help but think that their confidence in his ability to eventually play top-4 minutes helped to ease the blow of trading Brian Campbell, as evidenced by the team choosing not to sign or trade for any top-4 defensemen (I believe Montador was primarily signed to solidify the bottom pair, though he obviously has shown the ability to do well in a heavier role).

I think the surprise comes not from Leddy's presence in the top-4, but mostly from who is primary defense partner has been.


I'll note from the outset that using QualComp or any variant thereof is useless at this point in the season. There is just too much variance in strength of schedule to draw inferences from those numbers. What I will use instead is PBP data (h/t Jared).

The first section of data only focuses on Zone Starts and their Corsi numbers based off of where they started a shift.

Keith-Leddy % of TOI Corsi Rate
Ozone Faceoff13.6%33.277
All neutral79%3.127
Dzone Faceoff7.4%-38.889

Seabs-Hjalm% of TOICorsi Rate
Ozone Faceoff13.3%
All neutral74.6%
Dzone Faceoff12.1%

From here we can see that the Seabrook/Hjalmarsson line is much more likely to take a defensive zone draw. We can also see that the Seabrook/Hjalmarsson pairing has performed much better territorially, no matter the situation.

As I said above, I am not using QualComp or any variant of QualComp to adjust for the toughness of the minutes. Instead, I'll use forward pairing as a proxy, as the roles in which Chicago forwards are used are pretty rigid. As we can see below, the Keith/Leddy pairing is most often used alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp in any situation. As for Seabrook/Hjalmarsson, the forward they play with most often is David Bolland.

None of above5.5%

None of above16.4%

None of above9.1%

As I briefly mentioned above, I believe we can validly infer that the Seabrook/Hjalmarsson pairing has played tougher minutes, mainly because of how much more likely they were to play with David Bolland, whose role for the Blackhawks is well-defined as a shutdown Center. If you guys feel this is an unreasonable assumption, let me know.


Here are the results of the three centers, along with the rest of the ice time, with the Keith/Leddy and Seabrook/Hjalmarsson pairings. As you can see, the Seabrook/Hjalmarsson pairing has gotten better Corsi results with each of the top three lines in the small sample we have.



To be honest there are numerous explanations for why the Keith/Leddy pairing hasn't performed as well as the Seabrook/Hjalmarsson pairing. The first is that Seabrook/Hjalmarsson have played together more (in previous seasons) than Keith/Leddy have and the disparity is largely driven by a lack of familiarity. The second is that Nick Leddy isn't as good (yet) as Keith, Seabrook, or Hjalmarsson - it is possible that Leddy is dragging Keith down a bit. Finally, this could merely be variance.

As for my recommendation, I honestly see no issue with keeping these pairings together. As I noted above, all 4 players are off to solid starts, and while there is no doubting the chemistry and effectiveness in a pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the fact that the Keith/Leddy pairing has done as well as it has speaks volumes to both of those players. The eye test leads me to believe reason #1 above is the best explanation for why there has been a disparity in their possession totals. I believe that as the Keith/Leddy pair grows and each player becomes more comfortable with each other, the net result for the Hawks will be positive, couple that with the long-term developmental benefit of pairing Keith and Leddy, and I see no issue with continuing this pair.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Short Note On Second Contracts

I should've posted this last week, but the David Booth trade was interesting to me for a few reasons. If you recall, and who would in this information overload society, the trade was:

From FLA: David Booth, VAN's 3rd round pick
From VAN: Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm

The things that are interesting:

- Vancouver dealt a player they signed in the off-season. Marco Sturm played exactly 6 games for Vancouver before being dealt. That's rare, but I suspect it will become slightly more common.

- Vancouver took more risk in the deal despite getting the younger player. David Booth is only 26, soon to be 27, but taking on his contract which has 3 more years after this one on it, is without question a large gamble. If he tanks, that contract may be difficult to move. Meanwhile, both Sturm and Samuelsson are on the final years of their contracts, and both could probably be moved at the trade deadline for extra draft picks.

The second contract can be an albatross just as much as a contract on a late 30s player. Take Derick Brassard, a player fighting for ice time in Columbus. He's getting less than 15 minutes a game, despite having been signed to 4 year, 12.8 million dollar contract. In the old days, a player like Brassard would never command that kind of money, and would almost certainly be in another organization by this point. This is something to keep an eye on as we see more and more of these enormous second contracts - some players will be cap albatrosses at 25, and some players' careers will be significantly hurt by contracts they sign at age 21 or 22.