When developing my player ranking system I wanted to isolate the ability of an individual player as much as I can and best factor out both who the player is playing with and who they are playing against. I don’t know how many times I hear things like ‘but he has to face the opponent’s best players’ and things like that when people try to analyze how a player is doing. So I am trying to eliminate that.
For now I am going to spare you all of the gory details of the process I took but basically I looked at every shift every player has played and who they played with and against for those shifts. Thankfully the NHL makes this information available on their website. I also looked at how many goals for and goals against each player was on the ice for. By combining the goals for and goals against with the shift data of who the player was playing with and against I came up with an expected goals for and goals against. By that I mean, based on a players linemates and opponents, how many goals can one expect that he will be on the ice for and against. To get a defensive rating I divided how many goals he was expected to be on the ice for by how many goals he actually was on the ice for. I also eliminated the effect of players playing different amounts of ice time by adjusting the numbers to a per 20 minutes of ice time basis (i.e. how many goals were scored for every 20 minutes that the player was on the ice). A number greater than 1 means he was on the ice for fewer goals than expected and thus can be concluded that the player is a better than average defensive player. A number less than 1 would indicate he was on the ice for more goals than expected and is a below average defensive player. To calculate an offensive rating I took the number of goals his team scored while he was on the ice by the number of goals that were expected to be scored while he was on the ice. A number greater than one indicates more goals were scored by his team than expected and thus he is a better than average offensive player. Conversely, if the number is less than 1 the player is a less than average defensive player. I then calculated an overall rating by averaging the offensive and defensive ratings. For the time being I have just looked at even strength situations. In the future I plan on developing power play and penalty kill ratings as well or maybe finding a way to develop a combined rating system. I am just not sure how to do that yet so for now just even strength ice time was used.
The interesting thing about this method of rating players is that it doesn’t take into account how many goals and assists that that player tallied. It only takes into account how many goals were scored while he was on the ice. This is interesting because it allows us to compare forwards and defensemen and even goalies directly. We know that forwards score more goals and get more points but that doesn’t mean defensemen don’t contribute the same offensively. We also know that defensemen and goaltenders are important in stopping goals, but that doesn’t mean that forwards aren’t equally important. By not looking at goals and assists a player tallied we aren’t biasing the analysis towards point producing forwards.
Ok, I think it is time to look at some results. The NHL started making shift data available on January 18th of last season so I have ranked players using data from January 18th through the end of last season. That’s a total of 549 games or almost 45% of the season. Here are the top ranked players overall. Only players with 200+ minutes of even strength ice time are listed.
|Player||Team||Offense Rating||Offense Rank||Defense Rating||Defense Rank||Overall Rating||Overall Rank|
|JOE THORNTON||San Jose||2.30||2||0.98||250||1.64||4|
|JONATHAN CHEECHOO||San Jose||2.09||6||1.19||112||1.64||5|
|MICHAEL NYLANDER||NY Rangers||2.23||3||1.06||180||1.64||6|
|JAROMIR JAGR||NY Rangers||1.70||26||1.44||38||1.57||10|
|VESA TOSKALA||San Jose||1.74||22||1.03||204||1.39||26|
|MICHAL ROZSIVAL||NY Rangers||1.41||65||1.34||60||1.38||30|
|BRIAN GIONTA||New Jersey||2.03||10||0.69||529||1.36||36|
|RICK DIPIETRO||NY Islanders||1.40||69||1.33||63||1.36||38|
|ALEXEI ZHITNIK||NY Islanders||1.30||95||1.39||48||1.35||39|
Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Martin Gelinas the best overall even strength player? Are you kidding. No. I am not kidding. He was on the ice for 40 goals his team scored even strength which is two more than top Panther scorer Olli Jokinen was on for at even strength, and he was also on the ice for just 13 goals against. That’s an awfully good track record. On the season he was a +27 which is a whopping 12 points higher than his closest teammate (wouldn’t surprise me if this was a league best differential). Shean Donovan is also very surprising but mostly because hardly any goals were scored against the Flames when he was on the ice. In fact, when he was on the ice just 5 goals were scored against since January 18th. That’s pretty phenomenal really. We also need to remember that these ratings don’t represent a player’s net value. A player who is rated slightly less but gets more ice time will have a higher net value. What these ratings are trying to do is compare players when all things (teammates, opponents, and ice time) are equal. After those first two surprised in Gelinas and Donovan come some probably more expected names in Zetterberg, Thornton, Cheechoo, Nylander, Schneider and Armstrong.
I’ve kept the goalies included but their ratings are somewhat suspect because it ends up largely being a comparison with the other goalies on the team. J.S. Aubin is the top rated goalie because he was so much better than Belfour and Tellqvist but I am not sure he was the best goalie in the NHL. I plan on developing a more refined goalie ranking system but for now it is interesting to see how the goalies rate using this system.
Nik Antropov gets a lot of criticism by Toronto media and fans but I have been a big defender of his. And because of this I am glad to see that he ranked very well at 32nd overall.
At the bottom of the list were Marcel Hossa, Clarke Wilm, Eric Weinrich (while in Vancouver), Tim Taylor, Mike Ricci, Alyn McCauley, Alexander Khavanov, Martin Lapointe, Tyson Nash, and Kirk Maltby. There are a few surprising names there but most of them are lower tier players.
Evaluating a player ranking system is a difficult thing to do but one method of doing so is to look at how consistent it is. By that I mean how closely do players get ranked before and after trades and from season to season. Tomorrow I’ll look at some season to season comparisons but for now lets look at some players that were traded at the trade deadline last year and see how things look. I’ve listed offensive, defensive and overall ranking numbers for each player
Mark Recchi (Pittsburgh): 1.10, 0.76, 0.94
Mark Recchi (Carolina): 0.54, 0.97, 0.76
Martin Skoula (Dallas): 1.02, 0.74, 0.88
Martin Skoula (Minnesota): 0.66, 1.18, 0.92
Keith Carney (Anaheim): 0.76, 0.98, 0.87
Keith Carney (Vancouver): 0.88, 0.83, 0.86
Eric Weinrich (St. Louis): 1.49, 0.67, 1.08
Eric Weinrich (Vancouver): 0.56, 0.49, 0.52
Brent Sopel (Islanders): 0.84, 0.74, 0.79
Brent Sopel (Los Angeles): 0.52, 0.95, 0.73
Brendan Witt (Washington): 0.98, 1.44, 1.21
Brendan Witt (Nashville): 1.24, 0.62, 0.93
Brad Lukowich (NY Islanders): 0.91, 0.99, 0.95
Brad Lukowich (New Jersey): 1.46, 0.74, 1.10
Willie Mitchell (Minnesota): 1.14, 0.73, 0.94
Willie Mitchell (Dallas Stars): 0.71, 2.11, 1.41
There is some consistency in the overall numbers as Skoula’s, Carney’s and Sopel’s overall numbers are almost identical before and after the trade and Lukowich’s is fairly close. Overall I would have liked to see more consistency but most players got worse with their new teams which I think is a testament to how difficult it is to learn a new system and learn to play with new line mates.