Thursday, September 29, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: 15-11, The Contendahhhs

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Brendan Shanahan suspension video to continue the Driving Play season previews for teams 15 through 11 in our countdown. I was assigned the ‘playoff’ tier of our rankings, consisting of teams who should have legitimate claims to playoff positioning come April.

Just as a quick refresher – I’ve listed a few basic stats that I like to use when evaluating teams as a whole. Each team’s Corsi and Fenwick percentages with the score tied at even strength will come first, followed by their shots for and shots against per 60 minutes at even strength. Finally, their special teams will play be accounted for with SF/60 numbers on the power play and SA/60 numbers on the penalty kill. All numbers are courtesy of Behind The Net, except the Corsi and Fenwick percentages which are courtesy of Time on Ice.

15. New York Rangers

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 48.9/47.8
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 29.2 (20)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 29.2 (11)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 48.6 (16)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 49.0 (11)

The Rangers slipped into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference last year, due in most part to stellar goaltending, above-average defense and a fairly average offense. Their possession numbers weren’t anything special, and when push came to shove they just couldn’t manage to control the play against #1 seeded Washington, losing in five games.

Offseason Changes:

The Rangers landed C Brad Richards via free agency in the offseason with the hope that he can take their offense to the next level. The only problem with that is, Brad Richards doesn’t really seem to be a player who is carrying the play forward on his own at even strength. He was given fairly easy ice time in Dallas last season, yet he failed to put up a positive Corsi ON score despite a favorable zone start. On the power play, Richards should help the Rangers generate more scoring chances and improve what was a mediocre unit a season ago.

Season Outlook:

In order for the Rangers to take that next step, they needed a forward who could carry the play forward in some capacity at 5-on-5. Unfortunately, Brad Richards can’t. Will he be able to improve the power play scoring enough to have the same effect? Probably not, considering there’s so much luck that comes in to play with PP data. The Richards effect will most likely be negligible as the Rangers figure to be fighting for one of the final three playoff spots in the East.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 50.8/50.1
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 29.5 (18)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 28.9 (10)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 53.7 (8)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 53.4 (24)

The Blue Jackets finished 13th in the West last season, despite having fairly average possession numbers and an above-average defense. Their main problems were found in their below average offense and terrible goaltending. The Jackets also suffered from a bit of bad luck, shooting just 7.9% at even strength.

Offseason Changes:

Columbus GM Scott Howson wasn’t afraid to shake things up this offseason, trading for Jeff Carter in exchange for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks. Howson also signed defenseman James Wisnewski to a 6-year/$33 million contract in an attempt to shore up both his blue-line and power play. He imported Vinny Prospal from New York to help the team's secondary scoring, a move that has a bit of upside considering Carter’s added tough-minutes production. Columbus' lineup up front should definitely be able to improve their shooting totals from a year ago.

Season Outlook:

There seems to be at least one surprise team to make it to the playoffs every April, and we’re casting this role to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jeff Carter gives the Jackets an elite forward to complement both Rick Nash and the rest of their secondary scoring. If Steve Mason can somehow figure out how to stop a puck or two, Columbus will be a legitimate playoff team.

13. Buffalo Sabres

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 51.7/50.9
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 32.3 (3)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 29.6 (14)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 55.3 (6)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 50.9 (16)

Buffalo finished 7th in the East last season and boasted one of the league’s most prolific attacks at generating shots. Unfortunately, a 7.8% shooting percentage at even strength is going to hinder that a bit. Still, Buffalo’s offensive numbers were above average, while their defensive totals fell more toward the middle of the pack. Ryan Miller & Co. gave the Sabres fairly solid play between the pipes, providing Buffalo what it needed to be a playoff team.

Offseason Changes:

Let’s get one thing clear – these aren’t the same Sabres we saw at the end of last season. In a move that proved new Sabres ownership was serious about burning spending money, they signed Ville Leino to a 6 year, $27 million contract. They also imported Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million*) and Robyn Regehr (peanuts to Calgary) from Western Canada in an effort to shore up their blue-line. While the Regehr move probably figures to be the best of these three major changes, backing up the truck for two soft-minute players might not give this team the boost that the front office is hoping for.

*Not a typo.

Season Outlook:

While they may not be allocating their money in the most optimal fashion, Buffalo certainly didn’t make itself any worse with their offseason moves. If Tyler Myers continues to get better, a Regehr type shutdown player should improve their defense from a season ago. As long as they can stay relatively healthy, this team certainly lays claim to legitimate playoff aspirations.

12. Philadelphia Flyers

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 52.0/51.6
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 31.6 (6)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 30.3 (18)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 46.1 (26)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 42.9 (1)

Last season saw the Philadelphia Flyers burst out of the gate to the best record in the NHL on the heels of a surprising Stanley Cup Finals run a season before. Problem was, Chris Pronger went down with a hand injury soon thereafter and the Flyers weren’t the same team without him. They would struggle mightily in his absence, nearly losing the Atlantic Division lead to Pittsburgh by the end of the season. In the end, the Flyers would prevail as the #2 seed and go on to face Buffalo in the first round. After erasing a 3-2 series deficit to the Sabres, they moved on to the second round where I seem to have lost all memory of what happened. How strange.

Offseason Changes:

Who would have thought a hand injury could have triggered so much disaster? In a reactionary move to whatever it was that happened against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus. In addition to the infusion of youth that he received back in the trades (Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Coutirier), GM Paul Holmgren also awarded new contracts to former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot, and steady D-man Andreas Lilja. He was also quick to make good on his opportunity to sign Ilya Bryzgalov for a small fee, perhaps the Flyers’ cornerstone move of the 2011 offseason.

Season Outlook:

Losing Richards and Carter is a big deal for this team. Some of the Flyers’ new talent is promising, but there are a lot of question marks going into the season. It is still unclear how some of the rookies (and veterans) on the roster will be able to hold up during such a long season. Richards and Carter played an important role on both offense and defense, and it may be a few years until Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier & Co. are able to fully replace what the Flyers lost. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov also figures to only be a slight improvement over Sergei Bobrovsky from last season. For now, they’ll most likely make the playoffs in the bottom half of the East.

11. Boston Bruins

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 50.4/50.7
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 32.4 (2)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 32.1 (29)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 50.7 (11)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 52.9 (23)

Boston made the playoffs as the Northeast Division Champions sporting a very good offense, terrible defense and stellar goaltending. As they progressed through the playoffs, their ability to put the puck in the net held true as Tim Thomas cemented one of the greatest seasons by a goaltender in recent memory. The Bruins would capture the Stanley Cup in 7 games over the Vancouver Canucks.

Offseason Changes:

Not too much to report on here. Fake-shot master Tomas Kaberle jumped ship to Carolina, and in to replace him is Joe Corvo, acquired from the Hurricanes for a 4th round draft pick. The team also signed Benoit Pouliot to a 1-year contract to help replace the departed Michael Ryder and retired Mark Recchi. Corvo should provide a slight improvement over Kaberle, but this team looks fairly identical to the one that lifted the Cup in June.

Season Outlook:

The only problem with the team that lifted the Cup in June is that it wasn’t very good defensively. That doesn’t figure to change, so Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask will be asked to stop quite a few pucks this season. If Thomas can keep playing like Dominik Hasek, this team has a good chance to repeat. Problem is, while Thomas may be a very good goalie I’m skeptical he has another all-time great season in him. Boston should be a solid middle-of-the-pack playoff team in the East.

I’ll be back with teams 10 through 7 on Saturday Sunday! Our list so far:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. NY Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22. Phoenix
21. Winnipeg
20. Anaheim
19. Carolina
18. Calgary
17. St. Louis
16. Nashville
15. New York Rangers
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
13. Buffalo Sabres
12. Philadelphia Flyers
11. Boston Bruins

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Projecting Steven Stamkos's Goals

"I've made a huge mistake" - GOB

In a recent article on the role of luck and skill in shooting percentage, I used Steven Stamkos as an example of a player who shot for a very high percentage last season and who should see his goal tally drop this year as a result. Why I didn't choose Corey Porey, I have no idea. I don't play fantasy hockey, but I looked over a few projections and noticed that they all had Stamkos over 50 goals. Since I suggested he'd have a drop from the 45 he made last year, it seems like a deeper look at is in order.

To forecast Stamkos's goals for this season, I am using a method many others have used - finding comparable players to see how their numbers changed. For comparable players, I took all players that had a 40+ goal season at or below age 20. My source for this list is There are a couple guys that fizzled out and some current players we'll have to wait on, but this is an elite list: Brian Bellows, Rob Brown, Jimmy Carson, Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pierre Larouche, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Rick Martin, Rick Nash, Owen Nolan, Alex Ovechkin, Barry Pederson, Luc Robitaille, Geoff Sanderson, Craig Simpson, Tony Tanti, Pierre Turgeon and Sylvain Turgeon.

Because Stamkos is about to start his age-21 season, I will forecast his goal total by looking at the relationship between goals per game for the above players for the seasons where they were 20 or younger and the season where they were 21*. Fortunately, there is a strong relationship, as you can see in the graph below:

Let's pause for a second to marvel at that 92-goal season for Gretzky. I left it zoomed out so you can see just how amazing that was. The other outlier was Mario Lemieux scoring 54 goals in only 63 games.

The regression spits out this equation:

GPG21 = 0.0362 + 1.0019*GPG1820

where GPG21 is the goals per game in the age-21 season and GPG1820 is the total average goals per game for all seasons where the player was younger. Notice how close the coefficient is to 1. That tells us that typically there is a direct relationship between average goals per game before 21 and at 21. The average difference between two guys is almost exactly the same the season they turn 21 and their careers to that point. Because that coefficient is very close to 1, we can see that the average elite young goalscorer improves by about 0.036 goals per game in his age-21 season. So if a guy only played full seasons, we'd expect him to score about 3 more goals than his career average for all years before age 21.

Thus far Stamkos has scored 119 goals in 243 games, or 0.49 goals per game. Using the above formula, this forecasts him at 43.2 goals for next year, a small drop from last season but up from his career average of just under 40 goals per season.

You might argue that Stamkos has improved a lot since his rookie season - he only scored 25 goals his rookie year and has put up 51 and 45 the last two. To look into that, I used the same methodology but only used the seasons where the player was 19 or 20 to forecast the year 21 season. The downside of this method jumped out - dropping that first season makes the earlier data far less descriptive and predictive of the 21-year-old season. Here's a graph:

While they look similar, you can see that there is less of an up-and-right pattern. The R^2 is 0.125 for this regression and was 0.292 for averaging all three seasons. So instead of explaining 29% of the variation in goal scoring at age 21, the average of the previous two seasons only accounts for 12.5% of it. So for that reason, I don't put as much stock into this regression. This forecast puts Stamkos at 49 goals this season.


Like most forecasts, it's all messy and things change when you tweak the model a bit or change the group of comparables. I didn't include it, but I changed the comparable group to be all players who scored at least 80 goals before age 21, which excludes several of the above names and includes Crosby, Trevor Linden and Steve Yzerman. That model also came out with a prediction of about 43 goals. While I think the first model above is the best, his rookie year Stamkos both took substantially fewer shots - 181 compared to 297 in 2009-2010 and 272 last seasons and his shooting percentage was substantially down - 12.7% compared to 17.2% and 16.5%. There is some reason to think that first year should be given less weight.

I think somewhere in between the two predictions is best and something very close to last year's 45 should be expected. This is an expectation, it's definitely possible that he could go on a tear and get over 50 and about as likely that he scores below 40, especially with injuries possible even for a guy with few injury problems.

* ages as defined by hockey-reference - the age the player is on February 1st of the season. Ilya Kovalchuk would have been 21 the year of the lockout so I used the season after for his count. Rick Nash turned 20 the season of the lockout so I shifted everything back a year for him as well.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: 16-19, The Almost Average

And we keep rolling on. Here is my writeup for teams 20-22, with a description of the stats I'm using, here are Triumph's on teams 23-26 and 27-30.

#19: Carolina Hurricanes
Initial thought: Can the Canes draw their way into the playoffs?

5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 47.3%/48.8%
PDO: 1.005
PP%: 15.9% (24th)
PK%: 81.2% (20th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 35.763 (21st)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -42.514 (19th)

2010-2011 Summary:
In a word: mediocre. Carolina was somewhere below average but not horrible in pretty much every category last year. They did get some decent play out of Cam Ward in goal, who had the 12th highest 5-on-5 save percentage among starters, according to BTN. As has been the case for the last several years, they drew a lot of penalties, so expect that to continue.

Offseason moves:
In what worked out like a trade, the Canes signed Tomáš Kaberle who was at Boston and then traded Joe Corvo to the Bruins for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick. Shutdownline covered this well here and here. I personally think Kaberle will be a bit more of an upgrade on the PP than Corey Sznajder suggests in those articles, mainly because he's put up slightly better numbers than Corvo with worse teammates. That said, I do agree that it's not likely to be a massive jump. Something to keep in mind is that because Carolina draws so many penalties, a small improvement there would lead to more goals than it would for other teams.

They will make the playoffs if...
Skinner is able to build on his rookie season. Here's shutdownline's projection for Skinner, which is quite detailed and covers his great rookie year very well. I'm inclined to agree that a drop in his raw scoring numbers should be expected since he shot lights out. To be honest this is more for down the road, but if Staal can keep producing in relatively tough minutes and Skinner can make the second line a big scoring threat then that will make the Canes a tough matchup.

I don't like the Canes' chances of making the playoffs this year. Last year they finished just two points back from the Rangers, but all of us expect for New Jersey to be much improved this year. They definitely have a shot though, particularly if they improve on the power play and maintain their secondary scoring.

#18: Calgary Flames
Initial thought: How much weight can Iggy carry on his back year after year?

5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 52.4%/51.6%
PDO: 0.998
PP%: 19.5% (8th)
PK%: 81.2% (21st)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 48.551 (5th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -49.905 (26th)

2010-2011 Summary:
Calgary were good in possession and on the power play. So how did they miss the playoffs? They were not very good defensively, whether 5-on-5 or on the penalty kill, and Kiprusoff was simply not good enough. He was 23rd at 5-on-5 save percentage among starting goalies and 26th best when his team was down a man, courtesy of BTN. Getting back to team 5-on-5 performance, the gap following each type of faceoff is remarkable. The Flames were devastating on faceoffs in their offensive zone but every bit that bad in their own zone.

Offseason moves:
In line with most teams, the Flames didn't do much in the offseason. Other than going after Brad Richards, which they were rumored to have done, I suppose they didn't have a lot of options. Even Florida thinks the Bouwmeester and Kiprusoff contracts are awful.

They will make the playoffs if...
Iginla can keep it up. Iggy provided the biggest assist by a Canadian since World War II and has put up very impressive numbers well into his thirties. At 34 we would expect a dropoff sometime soon. The Flames finished 3 points out of the playoffs a year ago and should be in the mix this year.

Right now Capgeek tells me that the Flames have $3.6M in cap space. I think this will give us a preview of their long-term plans. They had been more than willing to shell out the cash, so we could definitely see a trade or two during the season to help them make the playoffs. On the flip side, there are rumors and suggestions that Calgary will soon be in rebuilding mode, in which case they will likely sit on it and maybe even be sellers at the deadline. I think a lot will rest on how they come out of the gate.

#17: St. Louis Blues
Initial thought: Feel free to make your own pun.

5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 52.4%/52.2%
PDO: 0.993
PP%: 18.6% (10th)
PK%: 81.7% (18th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 41.963 (15th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -36.241 (12th)

2010-2011 Summary:
St. Louis is one of these teams where the numbers just don't seem to add up. Their possession numbers were good, they were good on the power play and close to average on the penalty kill. They did have goaltending problems - Halak finished 22nd among starting goalies at 5-on-5 save percentage and 20th 4-on-5. What really killed them was the third lowest 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league. I think we can expect that go to up this year. Another factor is faceoffs. The Blues were third worst in the league in faceoff win %. This lead to their merely decent faceoff-shift numbers; they were best in the league once a substitution had been made following both offensive-zone and defensive-zone faceoffs.

Offseason Moves:
There weren't a lot of interesting moves. Not a lot to say about the Blues signing vets Arnott and Langenbrunner to one-year deals. Next year things get far more interesting. St. Louis will have Chris Stewart, TJ Oshie, Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo all come up for resigning. The former two will be restricted free agents. Early last season they were able to extend Backes, we'll see if they can keep their core together since they have some decent young talent.

They will make the playoffs if...
they shoot better. Something close to league average gets them in.

St. Louis is a really interesting team when you look at how they're perceived by different types of fans and analysts. They had the lion's share of possession but mediocre scoring results. According to TOI, at even strength they broke even scoring (167-167) but outshot their opponents by 161 shots (1989-1828). Looking at individuals with 40 or more games, they have 6 with a 5-on-5 Corsi rate higher than +10 (BTN) but David Backes was their only 30-goal scorer with 31. I think we'll see an improvement in their shooting numbers that will put them well into the mix for a playoff spot despite finishing 10 points back a year ago.

#16: Nashville Predators
Initial thought: Can't lose if you don't concede.

5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 48.1%/48.9%
PDO: 1.015
PP%: 15.2% (26th)
PK%: 84.9% (5th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 33.555 (24th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -44.536 (12th)

2010-2011 Summary:
It may surprise you to learn that Nashville had a better goal differential last year than Detroit - +25 to +20. They did it the old-school way with top quality defense and goaltending. Why that is considered old-school I have no idea since all the old games I've ever seen featured awful defending and worse goaltending. In any case, the Preds allowed the second fewest goals in the league, had dominant penalty killing and Rinne was the best goalie other than Tim Thomas. He was second among starters in save percentage both 5-on-5 and 4-on-5. Offensively, Nashville were far from spectacular.

Offseason Moves:
The biggest offseason thing was the Shea Weber arbitration deal. I don't think $7.5M was fair, but I don't think it'll make a big difference for this season. It is, however, a bad omen for the future. Unless Poile can get ownership to open the checkbook, it's going to be tough to keep this group together. Weber will come up as an RFA again next year, as will Kostitsyn, Wilson, Geoffrion and O'Reilly. Tootoo and Weber's defense partner Suter and, perhaps most importantly Rinne will become unrestricted free agents. It'll be interesting to see what happens with all those contracts and if Nashville is willing to spend close to the cap.

They will make the playoffs if...
they keep it up. I like Nashville for the playoffs. If Rinne pulls a Thomas in the postseason they could even make a deep run, but I think they'll need to improve offensively to be a real threat.

Not a lot more to say about the Preds so I'll use this space to give a shoutout to ontheforecheck, one of my favorite blogs.

That's all I've got. Chase is up next with #7-15.

Our list so far:
30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. NY Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22. Phoenix
21. Winnipeg
20. Anaheim
19. Carolina
18. Calgary
17. St. Louis
16. Nashville

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: 20-22, The Mediocre

And we're back, slogging our way through the Driving Play season preview. I got what could be called the playoff bubble teams. I'd prefer to think of them as the guy in your apartment building that plays his guitar all the time - not good enough to be impress you but, unlike the guy in your dorm that played his guitar all the time, not awful enough to be impressively bad.

To the surprise of no one, I am taking a nerdy approach. For each of these previews, I'll give the team's Fenwick and Corsi percentage, power play and penalty kill percentage, and Corsi rate for the first shift following a faceoff at each end. Fenwick/Corsi percentage is the percent of shots, including missed shots and for Corsi blocked shots, taken by them. 50%, taking as many shots as your opponents, is average. PP% and PK% are the usual stats. PDO is a measure of luck. It's the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage, in this case I'm using all even strength. Ozone/Dzone faceoff shift Corsi are two new stats I've been working on. They're the Corsi rate for the time between the faceoff and the first player leaving the ice. Here's a link to a fuller description.


#22: Phoenix Coyotes
Initial thought: Please move to Portland somehow.

5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 49.5%/50.3%
PDO: 1.009
PP%: 15.9% (23rd)
PK%: 78.4% (26th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 41.97 (14th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -35.628 (10th)

2010-2011 Summary:
Last year Phoenix was a little-above average 5-on-5. They split possession pretty evenly with their opponents and got good enough goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov to make the Flyers go insane, which Chase covered quite well from the Flyers' perspective here, here and will do again in an article he's said would be up in a few days for the last three weeks. Special teams were a problem all the way around. Last year they were actually better with a man advantage than they had been the last few years, having finished third from the bottom in PP% for both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em:
Bryzgalov wasn't coming back so the biggest move that didn't make itself was trading Lee Stempniak for Daymond Langkow. Scott Reynolds at Copper and Blue argued that it was a good, risk-reducing move for the Flames. I think it was a good deal for Phoenix, but definitely risky. As noted in that article, Langkow's possession numbers have been good but his scoring has taken a dive as he's aged. The risk is that on top of aging, he missed all but 4 games last year with neck and spinal cord damage suffered at the end of the 2009-2010 season. If he can get back to driving play, that'll look like a steal for Phoenix but there's some chance they traded a decent winger for very little.

They'll make the playoffs if...
they get some decent goaltending. Doing some research for this preview, I found an article on the coming Phoenix goalie battle that started "When the Coyotes signed goaltender Mike Smith during the off-season, some assumed the starting job was his to lose." Him?


I rated Phoenix 19th, while my colleagues' average put them 25th. This is probably because I don't value the goalie position as much as most. They've got a decent group of skaters with the potential to be even better if Langkow can produce. Like a lot of teams in this group, I wouldn't be surprised to see them comfortably in the playoffs or well out of the hunt.

#21: Winnipeg Jets
Initial thought: Meet the new Jets. Same as the old Jets?

2009-2010 Stats
5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 49.9%/48.8%
PDO: 99.1%
PP%: 18.3% (12th)
PK%: 77.5% (27th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 33.431 (25th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -60.533 (30th)

2010-2011 Summary:
Last year, the Thrashers Jets were a team of two halves. Triumph covered this quite well here. The short of it is that in the first half or so of the season, Atlanta did quite well by goal-differential standards but their possession numbers weren't good. In the second half they picked up their possession numbers but their goals went negative. Goaltending was mixed as Chris Mason was bad but Ondrej Pavelec did well. All signs pointed to a team closer to average than most people realized, but a little below.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em:
Normally I'd talk about a big offseason move but Winnipeg really didn't make any that jump out. The biggest change is probably bringing in Claude Noël as head coach. Noël has a decent amount of experience coaching hockey, including professional hockey, including professional hockey in Winnipeg but has only been head coach in the NHL for 24 games for Columbus in 2009-2010. The highlight of his resume is leading the Milwaukee Admirals to their lone Calder Cup in 2004. He spent last season in Winnipeg as head coach of the Moose. I don't think it's too high in terms of risk or reward.

They'll make the playoffs if...
they play like they did in the second half of last season but the shots go in like they did in the first half. See above. To be honest I don't like Winnipeg's chances. Of the teams above them last season, they are better than Toronto and about even with Carolina but far below New Jersey, and all the playoff teams. They'll need a lot of bounces to go their way.


I will like the Jets' chances better if and when they move to the West. At the risk of opening a can of worms, I think the West is stronger near the top but has a weaker group of teams fighting for those last few spots. Something I'm going to be watching for is home-ice advantage. The atmosphere at MTS Centre should be amazing and the Jets will benefit from their opponents often coming in from a long trip. Given Winnipeg's tough travel themselves, I think we'll see a big difference between home and away results.

#20: Anaheim Ducks
Initial thought: There are 10 teams worse than them? Wait, they finished in the top 10 overall last year?

2009-2010 Stats
5-on-5 Fen%/Corsi%: 45.3%/44.5%
PDO: 100.6%
PP%: 23.5% (3rd)
PK%: 81.3% (19th)
Ozone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: 31.991 (27th)
Dzone Faceoff Shift Corsi Rate: -56.561 (29th)

2010-2011 Summary:
I'll start with the positive. Anaheim had one of the best power-play units in the league. Despite Corey Perry's 50-goal season, Teemu Selanne actually led the way with 16 PP goals. This does not appear to be a fluke; they finished 5th in PP% the previous two seasons and last year they were second in 5-on-4 shots for rate, according to BTN. 5-on-5 the Ducks were just dreadful.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em:
I was trying to decide which trade with the Oilers to write about - giving up Sutton for Foster or a 2013 second-round pick for Cogliano. Then I fell asleep.

They'll make the playoffs if...
they start, shall we say, drawing penalties like the Hurricanes. Another factor is the health of Jonas Hiller. He has been quite good over the last few seasons but missed a lot of last season with vertigo. He played well his first preseason game against the Canucks but it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his health or relapses like Lucille 2. Elite goaltending and power play should get them in.

Anaheim are an interesting case for something Matt brought up and we'll be working on. They have top goaltending but terrible possession numbers 5-on-5. Add to that a top PP and an argument could be made for them being anywhere from the top 15 to one of the worst teams. I rated them 24th, for what little it's worth. Despite that low ranking, I think they are the only team in the group I'm writing on that has a shot to make a deep run in the playoffs if it all goes well for them at the right time.

Coming Tomorrow: 19-16

Thursday, September 22, 2011

JaredL's Principles For Evaluating Roster Decisions

Now that the long part of the summer is over, hopefully along with all the horrible news stories, training camps are open and preseason games have started, a lot of the focus goes to roster decisions. This includes who should make the team and who should be shipped back down to the minors, what the best line and defense combinations are, who should play on the power play and penalty kill, which lines should get the offensive starts and who should get the tough minutes. In the style of fellow Driving Play author Triumph, who wrote on evaluating prospects, I humbly present my principles for evaluating the decisions made by the coach and front office of your favorite team.

You'll see that as I go on a lot of these principles will be focused versions or combinations of previous ones. I'm trying to convey not only particular ideas but what I feel is a good overall thought process.

Principle #1: It's Complicated!

Hockey is not an easy sport to analyze. A lot of the things we love about the game make it tough - the game flows instead of being chopped up into individual plays, substitution and coaching adjustments happen on the fly, there are many different styles of play, there are a million different hockey skills and most of them can't be isolated or measured and luck is a big enough factor that in a few minutes or even several games just about anything can happen. Other than a penalty shot, nothing is isolated to just one player so teamwork is very important; players must complement each other and be able to work well together. On top of all this, the players get tired much more quickly than in other sports so that puts more limitations on what a coach can do with his lines.

I'm not saying these things make it impossible to analyze, far from it. We can offer a lot of insight on what coaches and GMs should do. We certainly have and will continue to criticize what we feel are bad decisions and at some point we might even get around to offering praise. These problems are very difficult so we should expect even the brightest hockey minds to make mistakes. Also, the level of complexity could make what we on the outside think is a blunder a smart move for reasons we don't know about.

Principle #2: Keep Tradeoffs in Mind

Perhaps I should have titled this there is only so much ice time to go around. One reason for the complexity I discussed above is that there are tradeoffs all over the place. If your coach goes from rolling lines to focusing on matchups then his guys aren't going to be quite as fresh, or at least their rest time won't be as regular. If you give your top line more starts in the offensive zone then that's fewer Ozone starts for the other lines. Your favorite gritty young player earning a spot on the fourth line means someone else is getting dropped to the minors. Putting your second-best scorer on the same line as your top guy lessens your scoring depth. Separating them means your top line won't be as powerful.

Every single roster decision is riddled with tradeoffs. They are unavoidable. You can't only consider the benefits of making a change but must consider the drawbacks as well. More on how to do that below.

Principle #3: Beware of Unintended Consequences

Principle #2 was about there only being so much ice time to go around. This is the other side of that coin - someone has to take up every kind of ice time. In addition to the tradeoffs I talked about above you have to think up a level. If you give your top guys more Ozone faceoffs not only does that mean that there are fewer of those to go around, but they are also not going to be able to take as many Dzone faceoffs so the rest of the team will have to take more of those. You can't have the Sedin line getting 3 faceoffs in the offensive zone for every 1 they take in their own end without the other lines taking worse starts than average - most of it being Malhotra with the ratio reversed. Kane can't get all those easy minutes without someone else picking up the slack and taking on the toughs - in this case Bolland and Hossa.

Principle #4: Be Reasonable!

Especially with matchups and zone starts, there are limits. With matchups, you have very little control in your away games. Beyond that there is the rest issue plus the opponents are only going to put their worst guys out there for so long. You can't give a line nothing but easy minutes, at least in the regular season. You can't give a line nothing but tough minutes, either. The same goes for zone starts. Sometimes two or even three lines are dead tired and you have to put the fresh one out there no matter where the faceoff is.

There is only so far you can go.

Principle #5: Cater to Sensitive Players

In an earlier draft I had a bunch of econ jargon but it was a Catch-22; it would only be understandable if you were already familiar with the concepts. You didn't, but if you feel like you missed out on something here's a link to the wikipedia page on comparative advantage.

So you realize it's complicated, have kept tradeoffs in mind, are considering unintended consequences and are reasonable. How should you make the case that X should get more Ozone starts, with Y picking up the extra Dzone starts or Z should face the toughs with W getting protected minutes? The answer is that you should pander to the sensitive players. In other words, you want to give the players where zone starts or quality of competition matters the most the easier minutes.

Put differently, whichever group has the largest gap in performance between easy and tough competition or after starts in the offensive zone and defensive zone should get the more sheltered time. I'm big on number crunching, but it's still a better way to think about divvying up the time if you just use the eyeball test and your own intuition. The key is to focus on the relative importance of each situation for the players, not in absolutes.

Principle #6: Context Matters

The last few were mostly about line usage, but when evaluating personnel decisions remember to take context into account. Maybe the fourth liner you think was good for nothing and should get the drop actually did well, fourth-line well at least, but faced tough opposition or spent a lot of time in his own zone. It is especially important to look into context stats for fringe players because their starts and especially Qualcomp numbers can be more extreme due to the small sample sizes. According to BTN, of players with 40 or more games Nicklas Grossman had the highest 5-on-5 Corsi QoC last season facing opponents with an average Corsi rate of 1.742. If we drop the games-played requirement to 10 then there were 8 players that faced tougher competition on average than Mr. Grossman, led by Petr Prucha at 3.259.

Principle #7: This Season Isn't Last Season

A lot changes from season to season. In addition to personnel changes, players age and their offseason workouts or time at the Byfuget table can mean big differences in productivity and style from one year to the next. Be especially cautious projecting young players, old players, players coming off injury, players moving to a new team and, I suppose, players who had their linemates/defensive partner leave town. I made this mistake myself in an offhand comment in this article when I said that we should expect Stamkos's stats to take a hit this season. I'm not completely backing off from that statement, look for a post projecting his goal tally in the near future, but I certainly should have thought about it more.


Using the above principles you will not always reach the right conclusion. Sometimes players perform above expectation. That's true for you, your GM and coach as well as your favorite bloggers. Sometimes what we expected of a player is flat out wrong or for some other reason we make bad judgments. While it doesn't guarantee that you get the right answer, the principles above should help your thought process, improve how you look at these sorts of decisions and make you more likely to get it right.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Thought Experiment about Goaltending, Fenwick, and Lineup Construction

Before I go any further, I must note that this piece is an introduction, and to be honest, I don't quite know exactly where it will go.  I do know that I'd like you, the readers, to give any input in the comments, as this topic will certainly be revisited in the future.

One of my favorite elements of NHL analysis is looking at line-up construction in the context of the salary cap.  My favorite team, the Blackhawks, are like a number of other teams in that they will almost always spend to the externally imposed cap, but frankly, this analysis can extend to every team in the league, as they will almost always be working with internally imposed constraints.  

The question is simple: What is the best way to put together a line-up that can consistently compete to win a championship?

Here is where Fenwick and Goaltending come into play, to illustrate my point, I ask these questions below:

What is the lower bound of goalie performance for a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations?  Is it saving 87% of shots? 88%? 89%?

What about Fenwick (puck possession)? Is it 44%? 46%? 48%?

Spending big money on a goaltender likely comes at the expense of signing better skaters.  What is the optimal solution? Is it the team that has a goalie saving 90.5% of Even Strength shots but has a Fenwick of 55% more likely to win a Cup than the team that has a goalie saving 93% of Even Strength shots but gets crushed territorially, only managing to Fenwick 46%?

While we can safely assume that there is a correlation between salary and ability in goaltenders, we cannot escape the reality that dollars are fixed, and money spent on goaltenders cannot be spent on skaters.  This makes it difficult for teams that spend large chunks of salary on goalies to build teams that dominate at even strength. There are exceptions to this to the first rule, both in terms of mediocre goalies making big money (Cam Ward), elite goalies making back-up money (Tomas Vokoun, though this is only one year), and in terms of teams who have managed to build a team with excellent goaltending and excellent puck possession (Montreal and Vancouver come to mind), but by and large, teams that spend big money on their goaltenders put themselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to competing for a Stanley Cup.

My position is that goaltending, like rebounding in basketball, doesn't matter until it matters.  That is to say it is not as important as say, winning at even strength.  I recognize that this is a controversial position, and I hope that this opens up some discussion.  I will come back to this with more data throughout the season, but right now I want to limit this to a philosophical discussion.

Boston showed us last year that a team can be mediocre 5v5 and still win a cup, so long as the goaltending is on point, but there are few who peg them as favorites to repeat, which is pretty telling when we consider that most of their team will return.  People generally recognize, whether it is conscious or not, that relying so heavily on your netminder is not a recipe for success over multi-year timeframes.

Winning at even strength is important, but are we in the statistics world overrating its importance?  Is it as important as having a world-beater between the pipes?  How does a rising cap change this picture?

Let us know your thoughts, we believe this is a pretty interesting topic.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview - Teams 26-23 - The Not-Quite-So-Bad-As-The-Oilers

The Driving Play Season Preview continues.

#26 Minnesota Wild

Overall Game Plan: I have absolutely no idea. I think GM Chuck Fletcher is trying to put together a winning team, but I'm not sure how he plans to do that.

Why They Stink: 43.7% Fenwick with the score tied. How they were ever in the playoff race at all last season, I don't know. Great goaltending and riding the luck train, I suppose.

Good Idea(s): Trading Brent Burns, an expiring contract, for an NHL player, a legitimate prospect, and picks.

Bad Idea(s): Continuing to trade with San Jose, who fleeced them in the Heatley for Havlat trade.

Closing Remarks: The Minnesota Wild are easily the most boring team in the league. They have some solid tough minute players, but they are deficient in skill players all over the roster. One has to think that Fletcher's deal of Brent Burns signals that he'll be around for longer, because it's doubtful that a GM on the hot seat would trade his best player for mostly future considerations.

#25: Ottawa Senators

Overall Game Plan: A rebuild. Somehow GM Bryan Murray, who oversaw his team falling apart due to free agent defections, poor drafting, and poor trading, is still around to try to pick up the pieces. There are some excellent pieces here, but there are also giant holes which Murray did not even try to fill.

Why They Stink: Most of the reason last season was goaltending, but with G Craig Anderson, they should be better in that department. The problem is they sloughed off much of their talent at last year's trade deadline. Depth is Ottawa's main issue - they could be okay if they stay largely healthy, but there's a thin line between Ottawa contending for a playoff spot and Ottawa being down here with the Andy Dufresne crowd.

Good Idea(s): Signing Zenon Konopka to be a 4th line center, I guess? Acquiring Nikita Filatov for a 3rd round pick is a no risk move.

Bad Idea(s): That GM Bryan Murray has not resigned his post in shame.

Closing Remarks: The Senators have some pieces in place for a good team in the next 5 years. Erik Karlsson is a legitimate offensive star. Still, it could very well get worse before it gets better.

#24: Toronto Maple Leafs

Overall Game Plan: I think GM Brian Burke wants to make the playoffs this year. There's certainly the makings of a good team here, but the organizational depth is still woeful. If the club stays healthy, it could exceed this projection by a lot, but if a few injuries hit at the same time, the team will be down to the dregs quickly.

Why They Stink: 44.4% Fenwick with the score tied isn't going to cut it. There's some young players that should hopefully improve that number, but I don't see it cracking 50% this year.

Good Idea(s): Signing Tim Connolly to be the 2nd line center - even if he plays 60 games, he will likely be worth it. Dealing for Franson and Lombardi was also a shrewd, big-market GM move.

Bad Idea(s): Striking out on all the major free agents. Toronto desperately needed an upgrade that did not come.

Closing Remarks: The Leafs are slowly getting better. Next year, they might even have most of their own draft picks! Burke has been able to make some solid smaller moves, but that Kessel deal has gone about as wrong as it could go. I'm not sure how much longer the powers that be are going to let Burke flop around in this quarter of the standings, especially while he advertises that he is putting his team at a competitive disadvantage with his feelings on front-loaded contracts.

#23: Florida Panthers

Overall Game Plan: GM Dale Tallon had as much cap space as anyone's ever had in this league. He basically had a clean slate. He did about as poor a job as possible filling that space, largely signing average players to bloated contracts. I don't have a clue what this team's game plan is.

Why They Stink: I'm not sure, because honestly, nothing that happened last year matters at all with this team. There's 10 new players in their starting lineup.

Good Idea(s): Using Rosti Olesz to get Brian Campbell, who has a big-time contract that they probably wouldn't've been able to sign on their own.

Bad Idea(s): Not getting anything more out of Chicago than the Campbell contract in that deal. Oh, and signing 8 UFAs.

Closing Remarks: If Florida had signed some of these players for less money and backloaded their deals, they might've been able to deal some of these UFAs away. As it stands now, they're going to have to be unloading them if and when some of these prospects ever make their way to the NHL. Tallon should have used his cap space to acquire undesirable contracts while picking up picks and prospects for that service. Instead, it appears he will have blown his shot to build a real winner in Florida.

Rankings to date:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. New York Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22-1. TO BE CONTINUED, by Jared

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview - Teams 30-27 - A Journey Through The NHL Underworld

If you read hockey blogs, you'll no doubt come upon a deluge of season previews. We bloggers can't wait for the season to begin, so we write endless articles about line combinations and roster battles and people who have to prove themselves, etc. Me, I'm not a fan; most of those articles won't be worth the paper they're not printed on by the time the season actually rolls around. Still, we here at Driving Play exist to serve you, the reader, and your insatiable demand for season previews. So we decided to informally rank the teams 1-30, based on where we think they will end up at the conclusion of the coming season. If our rankings turn out poorly, we will be outed as frauds, the blog reviled as a sham built on number juggling and self-congratulatory nonsense. I, however, think we will be lauded as visionaries, our predictions making economists blush in shame and weathermen agape with fear and envy. So without further pomp, I give you the Driving Play Season Preview.

I got assigned to write about the worst teams, since I am far more giving of my contempt than of my praise. If you're a fan of these teams, I am sorry for what follows. But I will be frank, and by frank, I mean, you know, devastating.

30. Edmonton Oilers

Overall Game Plan: GM Steve Tambellini and company's overall team-building plan seems to be much like Andy Dufresne's - crawl through a river of excrement to reach freedom, or in this case, a Stanley Cup. While it may or may not work, you've got to admire his willingness to stick to the plan. The Oilers should be picking in the top 5 (again) in next year's entry draft.

Reason They Stink: A 45.6% Fenwick with the score tied isn't very good. Neither is the league's worst penalty kill. They also continue to employ Nikolai Khabibulin as a starting goaltender despite his .890 save percentage and league-leading loss total the previous year.

Was it Ren and Stimpy that had the 'Good Idea, Bad Idea' gag? I think so. Whatever the case, I will do this for each team I look at - I will look at a good idea they've had this off-season, and a bad idea.

Good Idea(s): Signing veteran Eric Belanger as a third-line center to take faceoffs and kill penalties. Belanger's exactly the sort of player they've failed to retain in Edmonton.

Bad Idea(s): Signing defenseman Cam Barker to do anything. Barker's been a terrible player for years, and it can only be his status as a 3rd overall pick in 2004 and his 40 point season in 2009 that keeps a team like Edmonton thinking he's worth a roster spot.

Closing Remarks: Incidentally, I ranked Edmonton 24th best, whereas all my colleagues ranked them 30th. I don't know if that's because I've absorbed dangerous levels of optimism from the Oilogosphere, or I just think that Taylor Hall is a really good player. Whatever the case, this team will be bad.

29. Colorado Avalanche

Overall Game Plan: GM Greg Sherman traded his first round pick this season, so he must think that this team is playoff-bound. Common sense seems to disagree, as this team is dangerously young and largely without star players. Sherman may think that the Avs' 2009-10 playoff berth was earned and that 2010-11's poor result was a fluke, but he'd be wrong about both things.

Why They Stink: 47.4% Fenwick with the score tied isn't very good. Their defense is no-name and bad. While they're set at center with Duchene, Stastny, and McClement, there isn't very much around them to make the club better.

Good Idea(s): Trading for a young franchise goalie. Goalies can boost a mediocre team into the playoffs. Varlamov may be an elite goaltender.

Bad Idea(s): Dealing a 1st and 2nd round pick to acquire said goalie. Other bad ideas include not doing anything of note this off-season, besides signing tough-minute D Jan Hejda to a 4 year contract.

Closing Remarks: Yet again, my colleagues disagree with me - I have Colorado as the 22nd best team, merely based on Varlamov and the strength at center. I also think they'll make some in-season moves to bolster the team. Still, the most likely outcome for this season is a playoff miss and the end of Greg Sherman as Colorado GM.

28. Dallas Stars

Overall Game Plan: Who knows? They retained Brad Richards and even added Jamie Langenbrunner in a futile attempt to make the playoffs last season. Brad Richards then skipped town, as expected. Also, they're apparently declaring bankruptcy. Dallas doesn't have many prospects and they're not a good team - they might be entering a tailspin like the ones Edmonton and Colorado are beginning to pull themselves out of.

Why They Stink: 46.6% Fenwick with the score tied isn't going to win many games, unless you get obscenely lucky, as the Stars did for the first half of last season.

Good Idea(s): Signing Michael Ryder isn't a bad move; he can still put the puck in the net.

Bad Idea(s): Signing Adam Pardy for 2 years and 2 mil per? Signing Sheldon Souray to a one-way contract after he wasn't doing well in the AHL? These contracts don't have much risk, but they sure don't seem to have much upside, either.

Closing Remarks: Kari Lehtonen is a good goaltender, and if the team can stay healthy, they might be able to ward off total collapse. Still, without Brad Richards and with nothing at all to replace him, I suspect it's going to be a long winter for the Dallas Stars.

#27: New York Islanders

Overall Game Plan: Build from within. The team boasts an impressive young forward corps, and some of their younger defensemen are underrated. GM Garth Snow has tried desperately to attract a marquee free agent, but has had no luck. The future is looking bright for the Islanders, and I just stole that line from the last 15 years' worth of season preview writing on the Islanders.

Why They Stink: 46.1% Fenwick with the score tied, plus Rick Dipietro's horrendous .886 save percentage adds up to being one of the worst teams in the league. Again.

Good Idea(s): Signing Matt Moulson, John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Michael Grabner to long-term contract extensions. I don't think the Islanders will regret any of these deals.

Bad Idea(s): Maintaining the three headed awfulness at netminder - Evgeni Nabokov, who is hopefully average, Al Montoya, who has to prove last year's solid performance wasn't a fluke (it probably was), and Rick DiPietro, who is well below average and signed for 10 more seasons.

Closing Remarks: The Islanders have the pieces in place for a prosperous future. They just have to not undermine that future by panicking when one of their prospects doesn't quite develop the way they want him to. The team may not be on Long Island when it finally gets good, but I do think that this version of the Islanders will actually become a playoff team in 2 or 3 years.

Coming soon: Teams 26-23

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Zone Starts - Team Situational Stats

Here are the team situational stats. For more information see the original article.

Ozone, faceoff shift - the most recent faceoff was in the team's offensive zone. All players that were on the ice for the faceoff remain on the ice.


Ozone, on-the-fly - the most recent faceoff was in the team's offensive zone. At least one player who was on the ice for that faceoff has left.


Neutral Zone - the most recent faceoff took place in the neutral zone.


Dzone, on-the-fly - the most recent faceoff was in the team's defensive zone. At least one player who was on the ice for that faceoff has left.


Dzone, faceoff shift - the most recent faceoff was in the team's defensive zone. All players that were on the ice for the faceoff remain there.


Here is a table giving the rankings for each team in the 5 categories:


On Zone Starts

How valuable are offensive-zone faceoffs? How much should we adjust the Sedins' stats to take into account that they take three faceoffs in the offensive zone for every one at the other end? Are coaches using their guys effectively, or should they almost turn them into specialists like Vigneault does in Vancouver? Is it better for a coach to focus on zone starts, matchups or just roll lines to keep his guys fresh and the best playing the most?

These are just a few of the many, many questions that relate to zone starts that come up in hockey analysis. We'll put off dealing with most of those until later, this article will be more of a broad discussion and introduction to what I feel is a novel approach that we'll be using a lot.

The Data

I'm going to start with team stats. This is pretty strange because zone starts aren't a team issue. A team that has more offensive-zone starts than defensive has earned them; good zone starts aren't just handed down to the team by some suit. In contrast, a player only reaps what he sows, as it were, if he or a teammate ices the puck or possibly after a very short shift. Most faceoffs are taken with fresh players that were on the bench when the stoppage occurred. Despite that, using team stats is a good place to start because we can get a pretty good idea how the location of the most recent faceoff affects results.

The data come from a common source: NHL play-by-play and roster reports. In this case, I am using every game available for the 2010-2011 regular season. As usual, it's even strength with both goalies on the ice. Using the roster reports, which say when each player was on the ice during the game, I isolated these 5 situations:

Ozone, first shift - the most recent faceoff was in the team's offensive zone. All players that were on the ice for the faceoff remain on the ice.

Ozone, on-the-fly - the most recent faceoff was in the team's offensive zone. At least one player who was on the ice for that faceoff has left.

Neutral Zone - the most recent faceoff took place in the neutral zone.

Dzone, on-the-fly - the most recent faceoff was in the team's defensive zone. At least one player who was on the ice for that faceoff has left.

Dzone, first shift - the most recent faceoff was in the team's defensive zone. All players that were on the ice for the faceoff remain there.

To clarify, once any of the original faceoff guys have left the ice the rest of the time before the next stoppage is in the on-the-fly category. So the faceoff shift is only that first shift, even if later it so happens that the 10 skaters that were on the ice are out there together.

Note: I have separated out the team results to keep this post about the general concepts. If you want to see how good your team is in each situation, you can find that here.

Ice Time and Goals

Let's take a look at how much time was spent and how many goals were scored on average in each situation. This will give us a very rough idea how important faceoffs are in the offensive or defensive zone.

SituationIce Time%Goals%
Ozone, first shift452.511.4%21.213.8%
Ozone, on-the-fly765.119.3%32.321.0%
Dzone, on-the-fly765.119.3%34.822.7%
Dzone, first shift452.511.4%11.47.4%

The first thing I noticed is that the first shift only accounts for about 37% of the ice time following a faceoff at either end. Part of that is that I'm being very strict defining the first shift; it would increase if I allowed for one guy to leave the ice, for example. In any case, you might wonder why we focus so much on who is on the ice for a faceoff when so much of a player's ice time after an ozone/dzone faceoff started with him jumping onto the ice.

The goals columns give you a pretty strong hint. Look at the second and fourth rows. Following a faceoff outside the neutral zone, once a change was made more goals were scored by the team that took the faceoff in their defensive zone! We'll later see that this is likely just due to random chance, but it seems clear that if you come on in an on-the-fly change it's more like a neutral-zone start than being on for a faceoff at either end.


Let's look at the average team Corsi rate for each situation. I use the average team rate for each situation so we don't have the endogeneity effect I wrote poorly about a couple months ago. In other words, if we simply averaged out all the ice time we'd overestimate how important it is to be in the offensive zone because good teams tend to get more faceoffs in the offensive zone than bad teams so we'd be lumping in team quality with ozone-faceoff value.

Ozone, first shift39.957
Ozone, on-the-fly2.603
Dzone, on-the-fly-2.784
Dzone, first shift-40.103

Here you can see how much having a faceoff in the good zone helps your team out territorially. I'm sure that there is an effect didn't surprise you, but suspect how large it is might have. It's also interesting to note that this almost completely goes away once the first change happens. This shouldn't be a surprise either, teams don't change without the puck leaving the zone, but one might have expected more of a ripple effect. The most common way to change lines is to dump the puck and give the other team possession, albeit starting behind their own net. It does not appear that being able to breakout the Flying V gives you much of an edge.

This is a nice segue back to why we should care so much more about who is actually on for the faceoff and not just ice time afterward. Let's exaggerate and suppose that Henrik Sedin and Manny Malhotra spend the same amount of post-offensive-zone-faceoff time on the ice but Hank's is all first-shift time while Manny doesn't take a single offensive-zone faceoff. Sedin's ozone time will be extremely favorable, and Malhotra's only slightly so. In this extreme scenario we would need to adjust Sedin's stats a lot to take his type of ice time accurately into account. Being out there on the faceoff in front of their goalie is over 15 times as favorable as jumping on the ice after.

Conclusion: More To Come

When I thought of this method of separating out the ice time, I did a little fist pump. While I don't think this, or really any metric, will blow everything else away it seems like a good way to analyze zone starts and give us better insight into player value and coaching decisions. We will be using this and related methods a lot in the future, especially the coming weeks leading up to the season. Coming down the pipe is a new player metric to adjust for zone starts. We'll also do in-depth analysis on zone starts for the two teams that focus the most on them: the recently rivalrous Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks. Are Vigneault and Quenneville outsmarting the rest of the league or is it a case of fancy coaching syndrome? If you ask nicely, we could probably do something similar for your favorite team, or even your favourite team.

Here is a link to the team data.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Luck, Skill and Sample Size in Playoff Shooting Percentage

In a discussion on a message board about my previous article on luck and skill in shooting percentage, someone asked about the numbers for the playoffs. The average series runs a little under 6 games. That makes the entire playoffs pretty close to a quarter of a season for the teams that make the Cup finals. Here are the numbers for how often the team that shoots at a higher percentage (about 7th best in the league) outshoots the team that is bad at shooting (~7th worst in the league):

Time periodNumber of ShotsA scores moreB scores moreGoals scored equalA > B SignificantB > A significant
Four Games9651%38.1%10.9%7.4%3.9%
Five Games12051.9%38.7%9.4%7.6%3.8%
Six Games14454.1%37.5%8.4%7.8%3.4%
Seven Games16855.4%36.6%8%7.9%3.1%
Second Round27457.4%36.6%6%9%3.1%
Conference Finals41160.5%34.6%4.9%9.4%2.7%
Stanley Cup Finals54862.9%33.1%4%10.7%1.9%

Something worth noting is that on average this gap in shooting from good to bad is worth a little less than a goal (0.88 goals) per series. Despite that, the team with less shooting talent still has between a 35% and 40% chance to get more goals at even strength in a series if they get the same number of shots, and another 8-10% shot at breaking even. The bounces don't always even out. That leaves a lot of room for luck, creating more shots and special teams.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On The Results Of The Flyers and Devils Over The Past 16 Playoff Seasons

In 1995, the Flyers and Devils met in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers had been on a long decline since their 1987 Cup run, a decline that culminated in the acquisition of Eric Lindros from Quebec in 1992. The Devils had reached the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year on the strength of rookie goaltender Martin Brodeur. Both teams were on the rise. The decisive moment in the series occurred in Game 5, when Claude Lemieux's shot from the blueline went through Ron Hextall in the closing seconds of the third period. The Devils broke a tie with that shot and went on to win the game, series, and Stanley Cup. The Devils went on to win 2 more Stanley Cups while the Flyers have reached the Cup Finals twice and have failed to take home the trophy.

The narrative since that point has been that the Flyers have failed to take home the Cup because of their poor goaltending, while the Devils have flourished because of their Hall of Fame goalie. The Flyers have employed 11 different starting goaltenders in the playoffs since 1995, while the Devils have used only one. Devils fans are already beginning to panic that they will 'become like the Flyers' once Brodeur leaves or retires. I'm less concerned about this, as I think that having an elite goaltender is not as important as having elite forwards or an elite defense. So, I decided to look at a year-by-year breakdown of the two clubs' playoff results, while ignoring offense - I wanted just to focus on defense and goaltending.

I suspect that fans of both teams would be surprised to learn that the Flyers have actually won more playoff games than the Devils since 1995. Still, it's hard to ignore goaltending as the difference. Here's a breakdown of the Flyers from 1995 on, numbers courtesy of - MIN is total minutes played by goalies, SA/60 is shots against per 60 minutes:

YearPhi Goalie(s)Phi WPhi LPhi GAAPhi SV%Phi SAPhi MINPhi SA/60PHI GA
2007Missed Playoffs00
16 Years11 Goalies93872.540.90751111127927.2477

Aren't the playoffs strange? The Flyers actually got excellent goaltending in 1999 and 2002 but failed to make it out of the first round. Let's take a look at New Jersey's results:

16 yrs917220.91840941006024.4335

Let's simplify things a little bit by putting the Flyers and Devils total results together:


So the Devils have both had a better defense and a better SV%. I haven't looked at all at offense, but that's not part of the narrative, so I'm choosing to look past it. However, let's just do a fun experiment before we leave these thoughts behind - what if we take out the years the Devils won the Cup? What do the Devils' numbers look like then?

No Cup Devils43532.250.912464588925.1221

They look somewhat similar, but I suspect the two teams were simply built differently. The Devils traditionally relied on an elite defense and above-average goalie, the Flyers, an elite forward corps and above-average D. Whatever the case, the Flyers signed a 'big-time' goalie and the Devils may be heading into the great beyond without one. Both teams figure to be good for quite some time, so it will be interesting to see how these numbers change if and when the tables have turned.