Taking a look at quality of competition
When I updated stats.hockeyanalysis.com this season I added new metrics for Quality of Teammates (QoT) and Quality of Competition (Q0C). The QoC metrics are essentially the average Hockey Analysis Rating (HARO for offense, HARD for defense and HART for overall) of the opponents that the player plays against. What is interesting about these ratings, as compared to those found elsewhere, is that I split the QoC rating up into offensive and defensive metrics. Thus, there is a QoC HARO rating for measuring the offensive quality of competition, a QoC HARD for measuring the defensive quality of competition, and a QoC HART for overall quality of compentition (basically the average of QoC HARO + QoC HARD). The resulting metrics give a result that is above 1.00 for above average competition and below 1.00 for below average competition and 1.00 would be average competition.
Let’s take a look at defensemen first and take a look at the defensemen who have the highest QoC HARO during 5v5close situations over the previous 2 seasons. This should identify the defensemen who have face the best offensive players and her are the top 15.
|Player Name||HARO QOC|
That’s actually a pretty decent representation of defensive defensemen though there is a bias towards the eastern conference in large part because the eastern conference has more offense (the top 4 teams in goals for last year were eastern conference teams while 9 of the 11 lowest scoring teams were from the western conference).
Now, lets take a look at the forwards with the toughest offensive competition.
|Player Name||HARO QOC|
Not a lot of surprises there. They are mostly third line defense first players (IMO Brandon Suter is the best defensive center in the NHL and this is just more evidence of why) or quality 2-way players though as you go further down the list you start to see more offensive players showing up like Alfredsson and Spezza which is probably evidence of a coach wanting to line match top line against top line instead of a checking line against top line.
Where things get interesting is looking at who is 300th on the list of forwards in HARO QoC. It’s none other than Manny Malhotra of massive defensive zone start bias fame. Malhotra’s HARO QoC is just 0.980 while the Canucks center who is assigned mostly offensive zone starts, Henrick Sedin, has a HARO QoC 0.994, which isn’t real difficult but is somewhat higher than Malhotra’s. So, despite all those defensive zone starts by Malhotra (presumably because he is considered a better defensive player), Henrik Sedin plays against tougher offensive opponents. How can this be? Despite Malhotra’s significant defensive zone start bias his five most frequent 5v5close opponent forwards over the previous 2 seasons are David Jones, Matt Stajan, Tim Jackman, Joran Eberle, Matt Cullen. Aside from Eberle those guys don’t really scare you much. It seems Malhotra was facing Edmonton’s top line but not Calgary’s, Minnesota’s or Colorado’s. Henrik Sedin’s top 5 opposition forwards are Dave Bolland, Dany Heatley, Curtis Glencross, Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla. Beyond that you have Backes, O’Reilly, Bickell, Thornton, Zetterberg, and Getzlaf. Despite the massive offensive zone start bias, it seems the majority of teams are still line matching power vs power with the Sedins. The conclusion is defensive zone starts does not immediately imply playing against quality offensive players. It can be argued that despite the defensive zone starts Manny Malhotra plays relatively easy minutes.
Using a rigid zone start system like the Vancouver Canucks do actually makes it easier for opposing teams to line match on the road as they know who you are likely to be putting on the ice depending on where the face off is. If the San Jose Sharks want to avoid a Thornton against Malhotra matchup, just don’t start Thornton in the offensive zone. Here are all the forwards with >750 5v5close minutes and at least 40% of the face offs they were on the ice for being in the defensive zone along with their HARO QoC.
|Player Name||HARO QOC|
Only 4 of the 12 heavy defensive zone start forwards faced opposition that was above average in terms of quality while the majority of them rank quite poorly.
It is also interesting to see who plays against the best defensive forwards. One might assume it is elite offensive first line players but as we saw above, teams seemed to want to avoid matching up top offensive players against Manny Malhotra. So, let’s take a look.
|Player Name||HARD QOC|
Pretty much only tough guys and 3rd/4th liners on that list. Teams are deliberately using the above players in situations that avoid them facing top offensive players and as a result are facing other teams third and fourth lines and thus are facing more defensive type players.
The one conclusion we can draw from this analysis is that quality of competition is driven by line matching techniques more so than zone starts.