Before I get into the main subject of this post let me first point out that I have updated stats.hockeyanalysis.com to include all 1, 2, 3 and 4 year player ratings that can be calculated using the last 4 years of NHL data. For more information on my player ratings read this.
I generate offense, defense and overall ratings for each and every player in the NHL and I wanted to get an idea of how much each position contributes to the performance of the team. To accomplish this I multiplied each players offensive and defensive ratings (HARO+, HARD+) by their ice time (5v5 ratings and ice time used) and summed them up by position and then compared the positions total to the overall total. I did this using the ratings calculated for the past 4 seasons combined as well as for each of the past 4 individual seasons. This is the result I came up with :
Average of Offense + Defense:
Note: I split the defense contribution over 2 positions.
Now, the first thing I noticed with these numbers is how surprisingly consistent they are from season to season, especially for defense and goaltending. Up front players frequently shift from center to wing and from left wing to right wing so that may account for some of the (still relatively small) seasonal fluctuations. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at this consistency but it does give me some confidence in my rating system that it is consistent across seasons as well as with multiple season ratings.
The second thing that caught my attention was the importance of defensive contribution to the offense. Approximately 40% of offensive production can be attributed to the two defensemen on the ice and the defensemen are more important than the wingers. Part of this is simply that defensemen get more ice time than forwards since there are only 3 defense pairs versus 4 forward lines. The other part is probably that they play an integral part of collecting rebounds and transitioning the team from defense to offense so they may have greater influence in the percentage of time played in the offensive zone.
Of the three forward positions, the center position is clearly the most important but we probably figured that. Face offs might be a contributing factor but also we might just find that the most talented players end up playing center. Right wings are slightly more important than left wings but the difference is not substantial.
Next I wondered what this data would mean to what teams should allocate for salaries. For a 60 million payroll the average salary for position should work out to the following:
Of course elite players skew the team payroll structure a fair bit. As a LW earning over $9.5M Alexander Ovechkin is eating up the entire Capitals allotment for LWs and Crosby, Malkin and Staal are way over budget for the Penguins but you have to work around the talent you have. A couple months ago Behind the Net Hockey Blog had a post outlining the salary allocated to players by position (split between forwards, defense, and goaltending). Forwards were allocated 59.1% of a teams payroll, defense 32.2% and goaltending 8.7% over the past 4 seasons which compares to 54.9%, 36.8% and 8.3% for my ratings. That would mean that forwards are overpaid (relative to their contribution) by about 4.1%, defense under paid by 4.6% and goalies over paid by about 0.4%.
For interest sake I decided to take a look at the Vancouver Canucks performance distribution since they have a fairly well balanced team and are a serious cup contender. Here is what I found:
(Note: The above is calculated using the current roster using the ratings and ice time over the past season or four seasons regardless of whether that ice time was with the Canucks. This is an evaluation of the team ending the 2010-11 season with the Canucks, not the Canucks team performance over past seasons. Also four season ratings should give a better player evaluation than single season ratings due to the larger sample size so I would consider them closer to true value.)
The Canucks are definitely a team driven by a group of quality left wingers or at least players listed as playing LW such as D. Sedin, Burrows, Raymond, Torres but I suspect some get shifted to RW from time to time. Also, as good as Luongo is the quality and depth of the team in front of him reduces his relative contribution to his team to below average levels. In the future I’ll take a look at some other teams as it’ll be interesting to see how goalie contribution changes from good teams with subpar goalies (Detroit maybe) to bad teams with good goalies (Florida – Vokoun!! Though my ratings don’t value him as highly as many others do).