Nov 302006
 

A few weeks ago I posted my initial work on developing a player rankings system which got mixed reviews among the more theoretically-based, statistically minded crowd. I am still not going to go down the road of applying pure statistical theory to developing a ranking system (such as what Javageek is doing) but I have significantly rejigged my algorithm and also incorporated powerplay and penalty killing time into the process and I think I have come up with some fairly good player rankings. I have decided not to divulge the secrets of my player ranking algorithm but I have decided to (for now anyway) post the rankings of all the players in the NHL.

The algorithm produces four numbers for each player: an offensive rating, a defensive rating, and overall rating and an overall contribution. The offensive, defensive and overall ratings are ice time independent. By that I mean that players who play less ice time don’t get penalized when compared to players that get more minutes. Someone who plays a lot of minutes on the power play will get a better opportunity to rack up goals and assists and this has an advantage when it comes to scoring more points but not when it comes to getting a better offensive rating. My algorithm accounts for that. When looking at the offensive, defensive and overall ratings consider a rating of 1.00 to be the average NHLer. Ratings less than 1.00 are below average and ratings over 1.00 are above average.

The other number produced is an overall contribution statistic. This overall contribution combines a players offensive, defensive, and overall ratings with a players ice time (not quite overall rating*icetime but close) to get a number representative of what the player has contributed to his team over the course of the season. This statistic isn’t the best when evaluating who is the best player since a lesser player playing more ice time on a worse team has the potential to rank better than a better player playing less ice time on a better team (or due to injuries), it does do a good job at evaluating which player has contributed the most to his team. So while this may not be the best statistic in evaluating who is the best player in the NHL, it might be a good statistic in evaluating who has contributed the most to his team and thus might be a good starting point for evaluating the MVP and Norris trophy candidates.

Ok, before we start looking at some actual numbers, let me say that I have produced results for the second half of last season and also results for the current season and have compared the two. Using a requirement of a player having to have played 300 minutes of ice time to get a valid rating for the season there were 318 players who had a rating for both last season and this season and I did a quick correlation calculation on these players. The offensive ratings produced a correlation coefficient of 0.44, the defensive ratings produced a correlation coefficient of 0.13, the overall ratings were 0.37 and the overall contribution was 0.52. These correlations are generally much better than those I got for my algorithm of a couple weeks ago and I am somewhat satisfied with them. Many of the players who have significant differences between last year and this year are understandable because by no ones evaluation would you say they are having a similarly good or bad seasons. For example, the player with the biggest improvement in overall rating is Thomas Vanek and the player with the biggest drop in overall rating is Jonathan Cheechoo. This makes total sense. Vanek has been awesome this season (16 goals, 30 points, +16) while Cheechoo was awesome in the second half of last year and pretty ordinary this season. That said, I am a little perplexed as to why the defensive ratings don’t produce better correlations. When developing this algorithm I went through several steps of progress and at every step the defensive ratings produced correlations significantly below that of the offensive ratings. And yet when I look at the ratings I can seem to justify why each player gets a good or poor result. It is strange because essentially the offensive and defensive ratings are produced in the exact same way, except opposite in the sense of what is good (producing goals vs stopping goals). I am hoping that as the season goes on that the correlations for all the these ratings improves. In another month or so I’ll maybe revisit the correlations and see if anything has changed.

Ok, so on to some results. Player ratings for every player in the NHL can be found by clicking the division links in the menu on the left. I have also included a page with the top 20 rated players for each rating. Take some time to browse through them and let me know what you think.

Now, I know that there will be some players ratings that will create some controversy so let me address some of them now.

Defensive Ratings in general: As I explained above, defensive ratings are a bit perplexing because they don’t correlate well with last years defensive ratings but also because guys like Lidstrom (0.91) isn’t rated that well when he has the league best +/-. But there is an explanation for it. That is, the Red Wings have one of the worst penalty kill percentages in the NHL and considering that Lidstrom gets a lot of ice time killing penalties his defensive rating gets negatively impacted. I think this is perfectly fair. But there are other examples, such as Pronger, where explaining his 0.90 defensive rating is more difficult since the Ducks have a pretty good penalty kill so his defensive rating might be a bit of an anomaly this early in the season. Incidently, Lidstrom had a 0.96 defensive rating last year and Pronger had a 1.11 defensive rating so Lidstrom is right in line with last year and Pronger is a bit low. I would expect to see Pronger’s defensive rating rise a bit over the course of the season.

Tom Preissing – There are some in the media and among the fans that feel that Preissing has been a disappointment but I find this strange. He has a respectable 10 points in 24 games and easily has a team best +13 rating. Maybe the reason fans are disappointed is because he is only getting 14 and a half minutes of ice time. But don’t blame that on him as in those 14 and a half minutes he has been pretty effective in both producing offense and not letting many goals in.

Anders Eriksson – Somehow this guy managed to get the 12th higest overall rating which doesn’t make a lot of sense. A lot of it is driven by the fact that he is a +3 on a weak Columbus team but being rated that highly doesn’t make much sense. I expect him to drop over the course of the season. But having overly high rated defensemen is par for the course for the Blue Jackets as Ron Hainsey was rated quite highly last season but has dropped to more expected levels this year.

Ryan Getzlaf – Getzlaf is an interesting player to look at because he ranks very highly in the offensive rankings with a 2.18 offensvie ranking. That might strike you strange for a guy who is 6th on his team in points. But it doesn’t seem to be an anomaly as he had a 1.95 offensive rating last season as well. He’s doing something right in the 13 minutes of ice time he gets.

New York Rangers – The trio of Jagr, Straka and Nylander lead the league in overall contribution. It’s no surprise really considering all three are in the top 15 in scoring and top 10 in +/- but it makes you wonder why the Rangers are just 4 games over .500. Inconsistent goaltending seems to be the answer to that (Lundqvist .900 save% is not good enough).

Goaltending- Speaking of goaltending, you may have noticed that I have taken goaltenders out of the rankings. The reason for this is because I intend to develop a goaltender specific ranking systems because although I think this processed used for developing these rankings would do a decent job on goalie rankings I think I can produce better results with a goalie specific algorithm.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ll let you browse through the rankings yourselves and I away all of your comments, suggestions and criticisms. I look forward to hearing them.

Nov 222006
 

This may show my age here but I thought it might be interesting for everyone to see one of my first ventures into statistical analysis of hockey statistics.

Back in March of 1996, the Leafs traded Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty, Kenny Jonsson and a first round pick (turned out to be Roberto Luongo) to the Islanders for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith. Clearly the first round pick and the lost chance at Roberto Luongo made this a bad trade but at the time Toronto media and especially Maple Leafs fans were outraged at the Leafs trading of young defenseman Kenny Johnsson. Many fans thought he was an up and coming Borje Salming (mostly because both are Swedish and Salming also played for the Leafs) and a future Norris Trophy candidate. While Jonsson turned out to be a good defenseman (who had his career shortened due to concussions and I believe is now playing in Sweden) he was no Borje Salming.

My view back then was that Jonsson was unlikely to become the next Borje Salming and I took to statistics to try to make my point and posted my analysis on the USENET news groups. Google has had these groups archived and available to anyone who wants to read them. You can read my analysis and follow on discussion here and some more here. I have included my main posts here as well. I am not sure if I will be able to get any time to do it but it would be interesting to revisit some of the work I did here and update it with some of the defensemen who have played in the NHL since then.

If you are not interested in reading it all, the short and sweet conclusion was that the first couple years of a defenseman’s career pretty much define that player for his whole career. If a defenseman isn’t a top offensive defenseman in his first few years, he likely never will be.

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Oct 102006
 

It’s time for some game predicting fun. I had hoped to get this up and running by the start of the season last week but better a little late than never. I am please to announce that HockeyAnalysis.com has a new feature. That is, an NHL game prediction pool. There are probably a few kinks that still have to be worked out in the software but it should work fine. If you have any problems feel free to e-mail me or post some comments here. For the next little while it’ll be in testing mode but once I am confident that it works fine I’ll get some actual weekly and/or monthy pools going. If all things go well and I can get some good advertising revenue I hope to be able to offer some prizes but only if the revenue is there so tell all your friends, family and coworkers about it. It’s time to put your predicting ability to the test so go enter your picks and lets see how you compare to others.

Aug 232006
 

This Eklund guy is quite amusing because he throws out all kinds of trade rumours but never considers whether they are at all feasable. The recent ones he is tossing about is a trade between New Jersey and Calgary with Gomez heading to Calgary and Lombardi and others, probably draft picks, heading back to New Jersey. Problem is, Calgary is also pretty close ($41.2 million) to the cap and would have a hard time taking on Gomez’s salary without dumping a couple more players in addition to Lombardi. What is even more absurd is that he was on the Team 1200 in Ottawa a day or two ago and discussed the possibility of Calgary also taking Malakhov’s salary in the deal. Well, that certainly won’t happen.

But then today things get even more amusing. Today he writes “I am hearing that Ottawa and Washington would have interest in Gionta.” Washington I can understand. They have a ton of cap room and would probably like to add some more top end talent to their roster. But Ottawa? Ottawa’s salary cap committment currently sits somewhere around $42 million give or take depending on how many players they carry on their active roster. Gionta is likely to command in the $4 million range, if not more. So, who is Ottawa going to trade to free up close to $4 million?

Redden? no.
Alfredsson? no.
Heatley? no.
Spezza? no.
Gerber? no
Corvo? no
Schaeffer? not likely

That is all their players making more than $2 million and I can’t see any one of them getting traded to clear up cap space for Gionta. In other words, Gionta to Ottawa makes little sense and even Muckler himself has pretty much said that he is done making moves.

In other rumours he has the Canadiens interested in Dumont but TSN.ca is reporting today that Montreal is not interested in Dumont.

“We’ve never had an offer from Montreal,” his agent Yves Archambault said Wednesday. “I’ve spoken to several teams. At this point we’re really looking at 3-4 teams.”

I don’t know where Eklund gets his rumours from but most of them don’t make much sense. It is unfortunate he is so clueless about each teams salary situation because with his contacts (and I don’t deny he has some contacts) he should be able to produce more reliable rumours.

Aug 182006
 

In the comment section of another post a reader going by the name of DB and I had a discussion about the importance of experience on a teams chances of winning, in particular in relation to San Jose who has a relatively inexperienced defense. In order to try to get an idea of how important experience was I took a look at the rosters of the last 4 Stanley Cup champions (Carolina, Tampa, New Jersey and Detroit). I then looked at every skater (goalies not included) on those teams that played 10 or more playoff games during their teams run to the Cup. For all those players I then looked at how many regular season games those players had played up until and including the regular season of their playoff run. Here is what I found:

-There are 75 players which qualified for consideration
-13 of those players had played 1000 or more games (17.3%)
-26 players played between 500 and 1000 games (34.7%)
-27 players played between 240 and 500 games (36%)
-Just 9 players played fewer than 240 games prior to their cup run

That means just 9 players (and only 2 defensemen) had played the equivalent of 3 full regular seasons or less in the NHL prior to winning their Stanley Cup. Those players are (with their games played) Jiri Fischer(187), Eric Staal(163), Mike Commodore(147), Brian Gionta(91), Dmitry Afanasenkov(85), Pavel Datsyuk(70), Chad LaRose(49), Andrew Ladd(29) and Eric Perrin(4). Only Carolina had more than 2 players with fewer than 240 games played (they had 4) but one of them is a superstar player (Staal) and another played in game 7 of the Cup finals the previous season.

So if not having rookies, second, or third year players in your lineup is important to winning the Stanley Cup, which teams have the best chance at winning this season? Well, Calgary looks to be in the best shape with only Dion Phaneuf qualifying as young and inexperienced but we all know how good he is. Pretty much every other team will have at least 4 or 5 youngsters in their lineups. Ottawa will have Meszaros, Preissing, Kelly, Vermette, Eaves, McGratton, and Schubert all with under 240 games at seasons end. Buffalo will have Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Gaustad, Peters, Paetsch and Paille, the Rangers will have Prucha, Hossa, Hollweg, Ortmeyer and Tyutin, while Philadelphia will have Carter, Richards, Meyer, Umberger, Baumgartner, Jones and Eager. Carolina will have Ladd, LaRose, Commodore, Hutchinson, and probably another forward but at least most of those guys have the playoff experience. New Jersey has lots of experience but a good chunk of it might have to be traded away to get under the cap which will open up spots to youngsters. Edmonton is currently depending on a lot of young defensemen, Vancouver will have a lot of youth in their lineup as well, as will Nashville, Anaheim and San Jose. Dallas doesn’t look too bad with Miettinen, Jokinen and Daley as the only main young players in their lineup.

So, all in all, if I had to pick a Stanley Cup favourite for next season it would be the Calgary Flames. But then, that is who I would have picked even before going through this exercise.

Jul 182006
 

With the signing of Peca as well as youngsters Wellwood, Bell, Colaiacovo, and Jay Harrison over the past couple of days it seems most of the Leafs off season moves are now complete. There may be some tweaking here and there but for the most part I think what you see is what you get. So, where does that put the Leafs? In the playoffs I think.

Last season the Leafs had two significant problems. They gave up too many goals (10th worst in the NHL) and though they finished 9th overall in goals scored, they struggled to score goals at even strength. This summer they clearly focused on the first of those problems but I think that despite not adding a big name goal scorer they may have helped the second problem as well.

Last year Ed Belfour and Mikael Tellqvist struggled for consistancy and that was a huge part of the Leafs demise. When Aubin came in and played quality goaltending towards the end of last season the Leafs were nearly unbeatable – Aubin had a 9-0-2 record.

The first significant move was made to shore up the goaltending by adding former rookie of the year Andrew Raycroft. Last season Andrew Raycroft had a horrible season but he was downright awesome in his rookie season. Which Raycroft shows up will go a long way to determining how much success the Leafs have this season but I am optimistic. I think with the year off a lot of players struggled to get back in the groove and for Raycroft that was compounded by injury problems. A tandem of Raycroft and Aubin could be a huge boost for the Leafs.

The next moves the Leafs made was to shore up the defense. Gone are Klee, Berg, Khavanov and others and in are Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill. Kubina plays a solid all-round game and would be a #2 defenseman (or better) on most other teams and Hal Gill is a solid defensive defenseman. Rounding out the top six will likely be Carlo Colaiacovo who is ready for a break out season and Ian White who played great last summer. Other options include Jay Harrison, Brendan Bell, Staffan Kronwall and Andy Wozniewski.

The problem last year on defense is that while Berg, Khavanov, Klee, etc. are serviceable defensemen they are not 20 minitutes per game type of defensemen and that required McCabe and Kaberle to get over worked. Kubina and Gill are 20 minute per game defensemen (or more in Kubina’s case) and that should help out both McCabe and Kaberle as they can play 25 minutes per game instead of 28-30. With Kubina and White both being more than capable of anchoring the PP and Kubina and Gill both being more than capable of killing penalties the McCabe-Kaberle duo can spend less time doing that (both played >40% of their time either on PP or on PK) and more time playing even strength hockey. This should be a boost to the Leafs even strength offense. Kubina, Colaiacovo and White should also all produce more offense from the defense than last years crew.

Up front the only significant addition was Mike Peca while the Leafs lost Lindros and likely won’t re-sign Jason Allison. Between them they only played 99 games so really it is more like they lost just one player and a bit. But between them they lost a fair amount of offense, particularly on the PP where Allison was extremely valuable. It will be up to young Kyle Wellwood to jump into the role of second line center, improve on his good rookie season and mitigate many of the losses of Allison and Lindros. Peca meanwhile will have the role of shutting down the oppositions top player as well as being a top penalty kill guy and this is something the Leafs never really had last year. Kilger, Wilm and others do a good job at that but Peca should be that much better.

So, as it stands now, this is the likely lineup for this upcoming season.

Darcy Tucker-Mats Sundin-Alex Steen
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Kyle Wellwood-Jeff O’Neill
Chad Kilger-Mike Peca-Nik Antropov
Pohl-Stajan-Ondrus
Belak

McCabe-Kaberle
Kubina-Gill
Colaiacovo-White

Raycroft
Aubin

Stajan still needs to be signed and Ondrus and Pohl will compete with Erik Westrum, Jeremy Williams, Aleksander Suglobov and Bates Battaglia for the fourth line roles. Belak will likely play the versatile role of rugged winger and 7th defenseman as required.

The two keys to success in my mind are:

1. Can Raycroft and/or Aubin provide top tier and more importantly consistant goaltending.
2. Can Wellwood step up his game into a true second line center in order to offset some of the offense lost in Allison and Lindros. A 65-70 point season would be nice.

If those two things happen and the rest of the team remains relatively injury free I think this is easily a playoff team and one that could possibly do something in the playoffs.

(Note: It would not surprise me if JFJ is looking to move some of those young defensemen for another young scoring forward. A package of one or two of those defenseman with Stajan and/or Antropov might net a nice young skilled forward in return.)

Jul 082006
 

In the new Salary Cap era general managers are going to have to do some interesting accounting to get the maximum benefit of salary cap dollars as they can. The GMs who do the best managing of the salary cap should have the biggest advantage. I say should because money didn’t help the Rangers in the pre-cap era. So far we have seen a couple tricks used.

1. Sign young players to long term deals with escalating salaries. An example of this is the contract that Rick Nash signed in Columbus last year in which General Manager Doug Maclean got widely criticized for. The deal was a 5 year, $27 million dollar deal paying Nash $3.5 million in 2005-06, $4.5 million in 2006-07, $5.5 million in 2007-08, $6.5 million in 2008-09 and $7 million in 2009-10. What Maclean was criticized for was giving so much money to a young player and yes, it was definitely a risk because he only really had one good season. But the risk could pay off big time down the road because they will be getting a star player on their roster for a salary cap hit of something much less than most other star players will. In 2009-10 he might be an MVP candidate making $7 million but the salary cap hit will only be $5.4 million. That extra $1.6 million if spent right could allow the Blue Jackets to added some depth to their roster which in my mind is vastly overlooked in terms of importance. Carolina didn’t win the Cup because they had a bunch of superstars, they won because they had depth. Edmonton didn’t win the west because they had several superstars, they won because they had depth. The Nash signing means that down the road the Blue Jackets might have the possibility of having both stars and depth. It’s a risky move but if Nash develops as everyone expects, it could be a smart move.

2. The other strategy which we have seen utilized a few times this summer is the exact opposite. That is signing older players to longer term contracts in which the pay decreases over time. Bryan McCabe signed a 5 year $28.75 million dollar contract for an annual average of $5.75 million. That $5.75 million average is the salary cap hit. But in fact, according to the NHLPA website, Bryan McCabe is set to earn $7.15 million this season. Now I haven’t seen a break down of what McCabe is getting paid each season but if we assume that his contract is symmetrical (i.e. the average of the first and last years is $5.75 million) then his final year under the contract he would get paid $4.35 million. So what is the big deal about that? Well, what if McCabe’s play degrades significantly over the course of the next four years and the Leafs decided to buy out his contract? The buyout rate is 2/3rds of the remaining salary spread over twice the number of years remaining on the contract. So if McCabe’s final year of the contract was bought out the price tag would be 2/3 of $4.35 million or $2.9 million. That $2.9 million would be spread out over 2 seasons for a salary cap hit of $1.45 million. Had his contract paid him $5.75 million in the final year the buyout costs would be 1.92 million for 2 years. Not significant but not peanuts either. The other advantage of doing this is that the player (though not in McCabe’s case since has a no-trade clause) can more easily be traded to a smaller market team without salary cap issues down the road since smaller market teams are more worried about not going over their internal budget rather than not going over the salary cap.

Jul 042006
 

Today Steve Simmons has a column outlining the Leafs salary situation. What is interesting is the number mistakes listed in it. Mistakes that are completely avoidable and show completely how little homework Steve Simmons does. Man, that guy has a cushy job. He can be a complete moron while writing and talking about sports and get paid for it.

He has John Pohl listed as **John Pohl 450,000 with ** meaning “Unsigned forwards who have limited ability to increase salary” Well a quick visit to the Maple Leafs website would indicated that Pohl is not unsigned but rather that he was signed to a 2-year contract last week. Maybe he missed it because it was disguised as an offficial press release. Maybe the Leafs don’t consider him worthy of being called a member of the ‘press’ either and stopped sending him the releases.

He has Chad Kilger listed at $1.2 million which does appear to be his salary this year but in terms of salary cap commitments the cost is the average of the contract and every media report I have seen indicates that he signed a 3 year $2.7 million contract which works out to a $900,000 average salary for a $900,000 salary cap hit.

He has Andrew Raycroft listed as being signed to a $1.38 million contract but according to the NHL.com website as well as the NHLPA.com website he is still listed as a restricted free agent.

He has Ed Belfour’s salary cap hit listed as $750,000 but I believe the hit to be the full $1.5 million this year and not 750,000 this year and next.

And I am still not convinced that he has the Domi buyout costs correct. It is either $1.25 million this year or $416,000 this year and next depending on which section of the CBA takes precedence. From reading the CBA I believe it should be $416,000 this year and next but Simmons interprets it as $610,000 this year and next (half Domi’s salary this year, the other half next year).

Steve Simmons isn’t the only member of the media who doesn’t seem at all itnerested in doing some homework he is just the worst. Now you know why I spend the time creating accurate (as good as I can get anyway) salary commitment lists (see menu to left). The Leafs salary commitments can be viewed here.

Jun 242006
 

(Since it is draft day I thought I’d bump this article I wrote a couple weeks ago back up to the top of the stack.)

With the Carolina Hurricanes on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup (I think they will do it in game 5), it is time to start looking towards the off season and all the interesting stuff that it brings. One of the first things to happen after the Stanley Cup is awarded is the NHL draft set to be held in Vancouver on June 24th. You can find lots of information about the potential draft picks and what not elsewhere but as usual you will find something different here.

Back when Cliff Fletcher was GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs he traded away several draft picks which drew criticism from the Toronto Hockey Media which led to his famous “Draft Schmaft” comment and implying how he seemingly thought that draft picks were somewhat over rated and are just another commodity to be used however they can best be used to improve a team. So, how valuable are those draft picks? That was what I set out to find out.

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