Oct 302012

Offensive players generally get all of the attention but defensive players are often just as valuable to a team.  Ask any NHL fan who the top offensive centers in the league are and they will quickly ramble off a few names from Crosby to Stamkos to Getzlaf to Malkin, etc.  Ask a fan to list the top defensive centers and the task becomes a little more difficult.  So, I decided to look into defensive centers a little further.

What makes a valuable defensive center?  Well, they should play against tough competition, they should give up fewer goals than expected, and they should be trusted to play a lot on the penalty kill.  So, with that in mind, I decided to set the following parameters in my defensive center search.

1.  I limited myself to players who have played >2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past three seasons.

2.  I only considered players who had an average opposition goals for per 20 minutes of ice time above 0.800 (i.e. only consider players who played against tough offensive opponents, must have OppGF20>0.800).

3. I then eliminated all forwards with a goals against per 20 minutes of ice time >0.800 (i.e. eliminate players who didn’t get good defensive results, must have GA20<0.800).

4.  I then took each players on ice goals against rate and divided it by his line mates goals against rate to ensure that they are performing better than their line mates and make their line mates better defensively (GA20/TMGA20 < 1.00).

5.  I then eliminated any players who didn’t have >300 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time over the past 3 seasons.

After doing this I got the following list of players sorted by GA20/TMGA20, or in English  sorted by how much better defensively they were than their line mates.

  1. Brandon Sutter
  2. Samuel Pahlsson
  3. Mikko Koivu
  4. Frans Nielsen
  5. Travis Zajac
  6. Martin Hanzal
  7. Mike Richards
  8. Brooks Laich
  9. Jordan Staal
  10. Joe Pavelski

Honorable Mentions:  Logan Couture, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Steen missed the cut due to not having enough PK minutes.  Couture would have been slotted second behind Sutter, Datsyuk between Pahlsson and Koivu, and Grabovski and Steen immediately after Hanzal.  Plekanec, Kopitar, Bergeron and Legwand met the PK ice time criteria and would come in after Pavelski except that their line mates had a better GA20 when not playing with them so they were cut from the list.

All in all I am pretty happy with the defensive forward list above.  They all make sense and the only real surprise on the list might be Frans Nielsen but that is mostly because I don’t pay attention to he Islanders (who does really?) and this haven’t really paid much attention to him.  For a player on the lowly Islanders to meet these criteria it probably means he is a pretty good defensive player.

It is interesting to see Sutter and Jordan Staal both make this list as they were traded for each other this past summer.  When I compared these two players after the trade when down I suggested that Sutter is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and this certainly backs that up.

What do you think?  Am I missing someone from this list of elite defensive centers?


Oct 292012

The other week I wrote about breaking down IPP (Individual Point Percentage, which is individual points divided by number of goals scored while the player was on the ice) into IGP (Individual Goal Percentage) and IFAP (Individual First Assist Percentage).  It seems IGP does a decent job of identifying the pure goal scorers and IFAP does a decent job of identifying the pure play makers.  I have always been interested in team/line makeup and how to maximize a lines performance so I decide to take a look at WOWY IPP comparisons for two pairs of extremely talented players who have at times played together and at times played on separate lines the past 5 years.  These are Crosby/Malkin and Thornton/Marleau.  Let’s start with Crosby/Malkin.

Crosby without Malkin 2527:07 35.7% 36.3% 84.7% 1.33 1.35 1.24
Crosby with Malkin 954:29 41.9% 30.2% 91.9% 2.26 1.63 1.80
Malkin without Crosby 3588:42 32.2% 38.3% 86.7% 0.97 1.15 1.00
Malkin with Crosby 954:29 27.9% 30.2% 75.6% 1.51 1.63 1.80

These two players have played significantly more ice time apart than with each other but still the comparison is interesting.  When separated Crosby IGP and IFP are very close together indicating he is relatively balanced between being a goal scorer and a playmaker but when he is playing with Malkin he becomes a more important goal scorer as his IGP rises from 35.7% without Malkin to 41.9% with Malkin and his IFAP falls from 36.3% without Malkin to 30.2% with Malkin.  Crosby got a point on 84.7% of all goals scored while he was on the ice without Malkin which is a very high number, but it rises to 91.9% when he is playing with Malkin which is a truly extraordinary number.

Malkin, strangely, sees both his IGP and his IFAP fall when playing with Crosby which means a smaller percentage of the goal production goes through Malkin when Crosby is on the ice. This makes sense since Crosby is in on nearly every goal scored when the two are on the ice together.  Interestingly, despite being in on a lower percentage of goals, Malkin did see his individual G/60 and individual FA/60 rise dramatically when playing with Crosby due to the fact that when those two are on the ice together they score goals at an exceptionally high rate.

I am not sure what to conclude here other than if you desperately need to score a goal late in the game it would be awfully smart to play these two together.  But, with that said, it may not be the most prudent use of resources during the course of the game because it seems to somewhat diminish Malkin’s ability to drive the play.  Now, lets take a look at Thornton/Marleau.

Thornton without Marleau 2585:10 24.6% 35.2% 79.6% 0.75 1.07 1.01
Thornton with Marleau 2438:22 19.3% 37.8% 74.8% 0.64 1.25 1.11
Marleau without Thornton 2808:03 32.3% 24.2% 69.7% 0.74 0.56 0.77
Marleau with Thornton 2438:22 37.8% 13.3% 73.3% 1.25 0.44 1.11

This shows that Thornton and Marleau are very different players.  Marleau is clearly much more of a goal scorer while Thornton is clearly much more of a play maker, and this is true regardless of whether they are playing together or apart.  When playing with Marleau Thornton sees his goal production drop from 0.75 G/60 to 0.64 G/60 but his FA/60 rise from 1.07 to 1.25.  For Marleau his G/60 rises significantly when playing with Thornton but his FA/60 falls a bit too and his IFAP falls to an astonishingly low 13.3%.  In short, Marleau’s goal production benefits a lot from playing with Thornton, while Marleau’s benefit to Thornton is a little less significant.  I believe if we continued this analysis to Thornton’s other line mates we will find that Thornton’s play making skills are easily the most significant driving force of the Sharks offense.

Having done this IPP WOWY comparison for these two pairs of players we can make some interesting observations and we can get a better idea of which player is driving the play when they are playing together (and apart).  That said, I think more work needs to be done to determine whether IPP WOWY is a useful player evaluation tool in general, or just something that might be interesting to look at in certain situations.  I’m curious what others think, or if you have another pair of players you want me to look at let me know (for example, Spezza/Alfredsson might be interesting).


Oct 192012

There seems to be a lot of pessimism after the NHL walked out on negotiations with the NHLPA yesterday but the reality is that the NHL and NHLPA have come a long way.  The initial NHL offer to the NHLPA was that the players would get a 43% share of revenue.  The initial offer from the NHLPA to the NHL was that the players would subsidize a larger revenue sharing pool for 3 seasons through a reduction in their share of revenue but then bounce back to a 57% share in year 4.  As of yesterday, both the owners and players now agree that in the long term they should split revenues 50/50.  The disagreement is that the owners want the 50/50 share immediately while the players want to phase it in part in order to ensure existing contracts are honored in full (which is a bit of a bargaining/propaganda ploy because contract values were never guaranteed and always tied to revenue and the CBA).

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail has a good run down on the difference between the first two player proposals relative to the owners proposal.  In essence, the players proposals nets the players an additional $500M (approximately) over the next several years before the 50/50 level is reached.  This is not insignificant but it only accounts for approximately 2.2% of the projected $22.5B in projected revenue over the term of the CBA assuming 5% projected revenue growth per year.

The owners had a “make whole” agreement in their proposal which was designed to appease the players by honoring existing contracts but it was a bit of a marketing/propaganda ploy as well because essentially what it did was taking salary from players a couple years from now to make up the short fall in the first two years of the CBA.  The owners proposal called this a “Deferred Compensation benefit” but in reality it was a “deferred claw back penalty.”

The solution to this mess, I believe  is for the owners to step up and volunteer to pay the make whole amount which they estimated as being up to $149M in 2012-13 and up to $62M in year 2013-14 for a total of up to $211M (nicely somewhat close to half of the extra money they players want).  As stated above, projected revenue over the 6 year term of the contract is $22.5B.  I propose the owners take responsibility for the make whole portion of their proposal and they can pay the deferred salary in the amount of 1% of overall revenue until the up to $211M is paid in full.  This will essentially peg the players share at 51% and the owners share at 49% until the $211M in deferred salary is paid in full at which time it drops to a 50/50 split.  This seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise to me.  Now lets get it done and get back to playing hockey.


Oct 172012

Scott Reynolds over at NHLNumbers.com has written a series of articles on individual point percentage (IPP).  Individual point percentage is defined as the number of points an individual has collected divided by the number of goals scored while the player was on the ice.  In other words, it is the percentage of goals scored while the player was on the ice that the player either had a goal or an assist on.  Scott’s articles are on individual point percentages for 2011-12, individual point percentages for the last 5 seasons and individual point percentages on the power play.  Definitely go give them a read, as well as the comments, where some interesting discussions ensued.

At first I was skeptical of the value of IPP because essentially it only tells you how important the player is to the teams offense when the player is on the ice, and not really anything about the actual skill level of the player.  A good player with really weak line mates can put up a pretty good IPP even if he isn’t a great offensive player.  Or, a good third liner could have a similar IPP as a good first liner, but not be anywhere close to each other in terms of overall talent level.  But, upon further thought I figured there would be some value in determining who is leading the offense and who might be deserving of a line promotion (i.e. might be too good for his current line mates) or a demotion (might be holding their line mates back).  So, I decided I would look into IPP a bit further.  I have calculated IPP for the past 5 years for 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time and only considered forwards with >2500 minutes of ice time over those 5 seasons.  The top 30 players in terms of IPP are the following.

Player IPP

The above table is fairly similar to the top players that Scott identified so I won’t go into too much detail.  Some guys that Scott identified, such as Jordan Eberle, didn’t make my list because he didn’t make my 2500 minute ice time restriction and because I am using faceoff adjusted ice time (eliminating 10 seconds after a zone face off) the numbers for others are slightly different.  But more or less the lists are comparable.

Continue reading »

Oct 032012

At this time eight years ago the NHL had locked out the players and the NHL was on the verge of cancelling regular season NHL games, and eventually went on to cancel the whole 2004-05 NHL season.  Back then the issue was related to controlling player salaries so more teams can compete on the ice and more importantly be able to compete, and survive, financially.  Eventually the NHL and NHLPA came to a resolution, after the NHLPA all but imploded, which saw the players salaries rolled back 24%, a salary cap system would be instituted, and the players salaries as a whole would be capped at 57% of all hockey related revenue.  Essentially the players folded and the owners got pretty much what they wanted and Gary Bettman touted the deal as the start of a new era for the league where all teams would be financially stable and we would see greater parity on the ice.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way with respect to the financially stable part.  The Atlanta Thrashers failed to survive in Atlanta and eventually relocated to Winnipeg and we all know about the Phoenix Coyotes fiasco.  Additionally there are a number of other franchises that are in weak, if not perilous, financial situations. The 2005 CBA did not fix the financial problems of the NHL.

Back in October 2004 I wrote about the most important financial problem with the NHL on a now non-existent previous incarnation of this website:

Yesterday Gary Bettman was in Raleigh, North Carolina with Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. telling the world and most importantly reassuring Carolina Hurricane fans that contraction is not an option and he is committed to keeping all 30 teams in the league. But honestly, shouldn’t contraction be an option with Carolina at the top of the list?

According to Karmanos the Hurricanes lost $22 million last year on a $38 million payroll. So, for them to break even they would have had to have a payroll of $16 million. Is that a formula for a successful franchise? This is a team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals a couple years ago and couldn’t capitalize on that success by expanding it’s fan base. Even if a $30-35 million salary cap was put in place like the owners want the Hurricanes will still lose money. How can the Caroline Hurricanes compete with the likes of the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, and others when Carolina would break even with a $16 million payroll and the Leafs and Red Wings make oodles of money with $62 and $78 million payrolls respectively. They can’t and that is the problem with the NHL. The disparity between the rich teams and the poor teams is so huge that only a rediculously low (for the rich teams) salary cap can help many teams survive.

A salary cap does not address the key problem in the NHL. A salary cap will not fix revenue disparity between the rich and poor teams. Only a massive revenue sharing program or contraction of the 4-6 poorest teams will address that problem. But the NHL isn’t talking about revenue sharing to any great extent or it being a key component of a multi-pronged solution.

In February 2005, as we were approaching the drop dead date for saving the 2004-05 season I wrote the following:

According to the NHL’s latest ‘take it or leave it’ offer, the proposed deal will have a $42.5 million salary cap with a $0.50 on the dollar tax starting at $34 million. Under this agreement a team like the Maple Leafs with a $42.5 million payroll would be spending $46.75 million in payroll after taxes. Last year their payroll was closer to $70 million. The players are not going to accept any deal that will see the Maple Leafs, and other big revenue clubs who are already making money, making upwards of $20 million more in profit while they are taking a 24% paycut. The reason the players are accepting a paycut in the first place is to help the small market teams survive, not to line the pockets of the big market owners.

So, the key to any new deal is going to be revenue sharing. If the NHL wants a $42.5 million salary cap the NHL will probably have to be willing to accept significant revenue sharing, possibly seeing the Maple Leafs and other big market teams sharing upwards of $10 million, possibly more, each with the smaller market teams. Should the league be unwilling to accept revenue sharing don’t expect the players to negotiate down their salary cap significantly, if at all.

What the NHLPA is really saying is, we aren’t going to bail out the small market teams if the big market teams aren’t willing to help out as well. The fix to the economical mess has to be a multi-party solution, not a players only bailout and if you ask me, that makes a lot of sense.

In the end, the NHL got it’s salary cap, but the players forced the NHL to commit to a significant revenue sharing program. Problem was, the revenue sharing program was not significant enough simply because the revenue disparity across the NHL is so great, and got even greater over the past 7 years of the CBA.  Once again revenue sharing is an issue for the players and they aren’t willing to take a pay cut without increased revenue sharing.  Here is a quote by Don Fehr after the NHLPA submitted their initial CBA proposal to the NHL.

“In essence, when you boil it all down, what were suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups” -Don Fehr

From all reports, there is a gap in the revenue sharing that the owners have proposed ($180-190M) and the revenue sharing that the players have proposed ( approximately $240-250M) and this is the core of the problem.  The owners want to solve the weaker teams financial problems largely on the backs of the players, while the players want the big market owners to share in the small market assistance plan.  This was the core of the problem in 2005 and is the core of the problem now.

There are solutions to the problem of the financial security of all 30 NHL franchises but the unfortunate problem is the NHL owners can’t agree on the real solution. They can only agree on finding a solution on the backs of the players. The big market owners aren’t reluctant to give up their large profits to assist their fellow owners (who are both partners and competitors) and the small market owners aren’t willing to accept a CBA without seeing their financial situation improved significantly, either through large player salary reductions or significantly increased revenue sharing.

The truth is, the NHL can’t resolve the financial woes of its small market franchises through cuts to players salaries alone. Even if the NHL successfully cuts the salary cap/floor by $10M, that only reduces the small market franchises expenses by $10M. All indications are that the Phoenix Coyotes have been losing upwards of $25-30M per season, even after existing revenue sharing programs.  Reducing player expenses by $10M does not make them a profitable or financially stable franchise, it only cuts their losses to $15-20M. Only when the NHL gets serious about revenue sharing will financial stability exist within the NHL.  So despite what the NHL wants you to believe, this lock out, like the last one, is more about generating more profits for the league as a whole, not about improving the financial situation of the small market teams.  Until they start proposing massive increases to revenue sharing all indications are that this lockout is just an attempt to milk the players for everything they can, and are willing to sacrifice the game we love to do so.

If the owners view the players as nothing more than cattle, they view the fans as nothing more than cattle feed.  Fans are here so they can feed the cattle so they can then milk the cattle for everything they can. What the fans think or what is best for the game of hockey is pretty much irrelevant. It is all about profits.

For more insight on the revenue disparity in the NHL have a read of Kent Wilson’s excellent piece on the topic.