Jun 302015
 

I am sure this post will rattle some feathers in the Hockey Analytics community but hey, it won’t be the first time I have accomplished that.

I have been looking through the list of potential free agents looking for players that are possibly under valued, possibly over valued, or otherwise interesting for one reason or another. There has been a fair bit of discussion around the three players that are the focus of this post. Justin Williams has been a favourite of the hockey analytics community posting outstanding Corsi numbers year after year. Alexander Semin, who was bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes is one of those guys that seems to be hated by coaches, scouts, general managers, and “traditional hockey people” but analytics people look at his numbers and, last season aside, they look outstanding. Matt Beleskey is an unrestricted free agent that hockey analytics people want to warn teams about because he is coming off a career year with 22 goals driven largely by a high, and unsustainable, shooting percentage. The hockey analytics community are predicting he will be one of those guys teams will over pay for and regret the decision a year from now. So, I figured it would be worth while taking a deep look at these players because from my observations the deeper you look the more interesting things become and the story potentially changes.

I am rushing a bit to put this post together so it may come across as just me throwing out some numbers and charts. I apologize for that but bear with me, there is an interesting story that will develop.

For this post all numbers will be 5v5close numbers to minimize the impact of score effects. I am also going to focus on my RelTM statistics which look at how each player influences his line mates. It is like a combined WOWY analysis where we can determine whether the players teammates perform better with him or apart from him.

Corsi

Let’s look at the corsi statistics first starting with the offensive and defensive components and then corsi percentage.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_CF60RelTM

Here higher is better as it means teammates have a higher CF60 with them than apart from them. The 3-year average is their CF60RelTM over the past 3 seasons. For the most part Williams is the best, Beleskey is the worst and Semin bounces around a bit.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_CA60RelTM

Here lower is better as it indicates there are fewer shots against when players are playing with them than apart from them. Things looked a little differently this past season but prior to that Williams was always better than Beleskey and Semin bounced around a bit. This past season both Beleskey and Semin were better than Williams.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_CFPctRelTM

 

Higher is better on this chart. What we see is Beleskey is getting better, Williams is getting worse and Semin is relatively stagnant or maybe a slight drop off. Last season the three players were almost identical. One has to wonder if age effects are taking place here as Beleskey is 27 years old and has been entering his prime years and Williams is 33 years old and is starting to leave his prime years. Semin is 31 has been in his prime years and may just be starting his decline.

Goals

Corsi is a useful metric but I believe if you have multiple seasons worth of data you have to look at the goal data for trends as well because goals are what really matters. What is interesting is that with these three players it tells a somewhat different story.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_GF60RelTM

Recall that for CF60 RelTM we saw Williams always better than Beleskey and Semin bouncing around a bit. Here we see Beleskey starting off below Semin and Williams but the past couple of seasons has surpasses both of them and has had the better GF60 RelTM. Once again Beleskey is improving, Williams and Semin have fallen off some.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_GA60RelTM

Lower is better so this is pretty much a repeat of GF60 RelTM. Beleskey is improving and has easily had the better GA60 RelTM, particularly the past two seasons.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_GFPctRelTM

As one would expect, Beleskey clearly has the better CF% RelTM the past couple seasons. What is interesting is hockey analytics favourite Justin Williams has had a negative GF%RelTM in 3 of the past 4 seasons despite having a CF%RelTM well above 0 in each of the last four seasons. Beleskey has had four straight seasons with a GF%RelTM above zero.

The Percentages

To summarize the above charts, Justin Williams looks far better when looking at Corsi than when looking at goals while for Beleskey it is almost the opposite. Furthermore Williams seems to be starting to show his age and starting to decline while the younger Beleskey appears to still be improving. To explain the divergence between Corsi and goals data lets have a look at two more charts: Sh%RelTM and Sv%RelTM.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_ShPctRelTM

Higher is better on this chart. Williams has consistently been the worst on this list and has generally been at or below 0 meaning his team mates generally post better shooting percentages when not playing with Williams as opposed to playing with him. Beleskey on the other hand has always had a positive impact and Semin for the most part does as well (save for 2013-14).

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_SvPctRelTM

Beleskey’s Sv%Rel numbers are what really got me to investigate him far more deeply. He has posted positive Sv%RelTM numbers for five straight years (2010-11 not shown) and they seem to be improving as well.  Contrast that to Justin Williams who has had a negative Sv%RelTM in four of the past 5 seasons with only 2012-13 breaking that trend.

Aside: I get that people are skeptical that players can influence save percentage (I’ve seen and done the research) but I have also seen too many players show consistent trends to believe that it can’t and doesn’t happen. I have shown recently that coaches generally don’t dole out ice time based on defensive statistics which leads me to believe that it isn’t a trait that coaches emphasize. If coaches don’t emphasize it, it is understandable why not many players exhibit that skill. This would make it difficult to find league-wide correlations but it doesn’t mean that players with these skills don’t exist. It in fact could actually be a sign of untapped value.

Point Production

The last couple of charts I want to present are related to point production. First lets look at 5v5 close Points/60.

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_PtsPer60

What is interesting here is how much better Beleskey has been the past two seasons and how both Semin and Williams have experienced an equally significant drop off. Is aging a factor in these trends?

SeminWilliamsBeleskey_IPP

 

IPP is the percentage of goals that are scored when the player is on the ice that the player had a point (goal or an assist) on. This is an indication of how involved the player is in the offense that is being created when he is on the ice. Until this past season Williams numbers were pretty good while Semin went from OK to terrible this past season. It appears that both Semin and Williams had anomaly seasons but again, is aging a factor here. Conversely Beleskey appears to be improving and his last two seasons were very respectable, particular for a player who also seems to have good defensive numbers.

In Summary

  • There is ample evidence that Justin Williams possession (corsi) statistics are over inflating his value as he has fairly consistently had a poor influence on both shooting and save percentages.
  • There is also ample evidence that Justin Williams is already into his declining years and giving him a longer term contract may not be wise.
  • Beleskey on the other hand appears to be better overall than his possession statistics indicate and also appears to still be improving in all aspects of the game as he has entered his prime years.
  • Semin once had outstanding statistics no matter what you looked at. He has shown a decline the past two seasons and last season he fell off the cliff in a number of areas statistically. At only 31 if the price was reasonable he is worth the gamble on a shorter term contract because if he can get anywhere close to where he was he’d be outstanding value.

My final thought is likely to generate some buzz and controversy amongst the analytics crowd but of the three players I believe Matt Beleskey may be the best currently and almost certainly will be the best over the next several seasons as Williams and Semin age and Beleskey continues in his prime years. There, I said it. Discuss amongst yourselves.

 

Jun 292012
 

I generally have had little expectations/hope that Burke can dramatically rebuild this team into a serious playoff contender this season because of the large contracts that nobody wants on the roster, but after some thinking, I think there is way he can do it.  This is all pure speculation and hope, but don’t we all like to do that from time to time?  And as Maple Leaf fans, hope is pretty much all we have right now.

When Burke traded for James van Riemsdyk a week ago he indicated that he expects to see him playing the wing, and in particular Mikael Grabovski’s wing.  This is interesting because JVR is a left winger and the left winger for Grabovski the past couple of seasons has been Clarke MacArthur and they have seen substantial success together with Nikolai Kulemin on the right side.  I figured it meant that either MacArthur or JVR would move to the right side, but the optimist in me is hoping that Burke actually has another plan.

That plan, I hope, is signing Alexander Semin as an unrestricted free agent.  Semin is a true right wing with elite level offensive talent and as good as MacArthur has been for the Leafs, would be a significant upgrade.  As good as the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line has been at times over the past couple of seasons, a JVR-Grabovski-Semin line has the potential to be a true #1 line with 80 goal potential.

Signing Semin will not come cheap even though he is coming off a down year (in large part because he played with lower tier line mates like Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perrault and Jason Chimera) because I think there will always be teams looking to add high end talent and there is always the KHL option for Semin.  But what it does mean is that Semin likely won’t command the mega long-term deals that Brian Burke refuses to hand out.  It is quite possible, maybe quite likely, that you could get Semin on a 4 year deal at $6M per year.  That is an increase of $2.75M over MacArthur’s salary but the benefits far out weigh the extra cost.  Not only is Semin is significantly better than MacArthur it will mean not having to play someone (MacArthur or JVR) on the wrong wing and it also means that it makes MacArthur available to trade for other assets.  In particular, a center for Kessel and Lupul.

I am not a fan of Bozak between Lupul and Kessel because he has no defensive abilities, just like Lupul and Kessel don’t.  It’s a bad combination.  I wish we had seen more of Connolly there last year.  He isn’t an ideal option either but at least has some defensive capabilities, but he is undersized too so still isn’t a great option.  So with that said, I think Burke needs to look elsewhere for the center for those two.

As far as pieces we could trade to acquire that center, well, they are actually quite abundant.  MacArthur would definitely be available after a Semin signing.  Kulemin could be traded as well and would be an attractive player to many teams.  Kadri is a trade possibility as there won’t be an immediate opening on the top 2 lines.  Franson is too but with Schenn traded would mean having to acquire another defenseman to replace him.  A package of MacArthur, Kadri and maybe a prospect or draft pick should be able to land at least a second tier first line center, or maybe even a guy like Paul Stastny.  With Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly in the mix at center for the Avalanche I can’t imagine why the Avalanche would want to keep Stastny and his $6.6M salary.  Stastny wouldn’t be ideal because he isn’t great defensively but would definitely be an upgrade on Bozak.  So, now let’s take a look at the top 2 lines if all this unfolded as I laid out.

Lupul – Stastny – Kessel

JVR – Grabovski – Semin

Ok, just reading that has me a little excited.  Both those lines are capable of producing 80+ goals and the Grabovski line in particular is a defensively capable line as well.  I have plugged some numbers into cap geek and came up with the following fictional lineup.

FORWARDS
Joffrey Lupul ($4.250m) / Paul Stastny ($6.600m) / Phil Kessel ($5.400m)
James Van Riemsdyk ($4.250m) / Mikhail Grabovski ($5.500m) / Alexander Semin ($6.000m)
Matt Frattin ($1.200m) / Tyler Bozak ($1.500m) / Nikolai Kulemin ($2.750m)
Colby Armstrong ($3.000m) / David Steckel ($1.100m) / Mike Brown ($0.737m)
Matthew Lombardi ($3.500m) /
DEFENSEMEN
Dion Phaneuf ($6.500m) / Carl Gunnarsson ($1.325m)
Jake Gardiner ($1.117m) / Cody Franson ($2.000m)
John-Michael Liles ($3.875m) / Korbinian Holzer ($0.700m)
Mike Komisarek ($4.500m) /
GOALTENDERS
James Reimer ($1.800m)
Ben Scrivens ($0.700m)
BUYOUTS
Darcy Tucker ($1.000m)
——
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $70,200,000; CAP PAYROLL: $69,303,333; BONUSES: $212,500
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $896,667

You will notice no MacArthur, Kadri (both hypothetically traded to Colorado for Stastny) or Connolly.  I think Burke should be able to find a taker for Connolly as he is on just a 1 year contract with no long term salary cap ramifications (which some teams might find important with the uncertainty surrounding a new CBA) but will not get much in return.  Dallas (to replace Ribiero), Calgary (to replace Jokinen) and Pheonix (to replace Langkow) seem like possibly destinations to me.  For now I have also left Armstrong, Lombardi and Komisarek in the line  and gone with Reimer/Scrivens in goal but some moves could be made with those guys to improve the defense or goaltending situation or improve on Bozak in the #3C position.  With the moves up front, it does make trading for Luongo more unlikely, but if he gets traded to Florida, I’d be ok with acquiring Theodore to backup/mentor/support Reimer.

So Leaf fans, what do you think?  Are you hopeful something like this could happen this off season, or pessimistic that Burke can’t/won’t be able to make any significant moves to improve the team?

 

Jun 152012
 

One of the top NHL unrestricted free agents this summer is the Washington Capitals Alexander Semin.  Semin  has seen his goal production drop from 40 goals in 2009-10 to 28 in 2010-11 to post-lockout low of 21 this past season and as a result peoples general view of Semin’s value has dropped significantly.  The question is, what was the reason for his drop off in offensive stats.  Is it Semin alone, or is there some other underlying reason.

Let’s take a closer look at Semin’s point totals over the past 5 seasons.

Season GP G Pts PP Pts SH Pts ES Pts ES TOI ES TOI/Pt
2011-12 77 21 54 11 0 43 1097:23 25.5 min.
2010-11 65 28 64 18 1 45 904:38 20.1 min.
2009-10 73 40 84 27 2 55 1077:22 19.6 min.
2008-09 62 34 79 30 2 47 850:02 18.1 min.
2007-08 63 26 42 20 0 22 780:48 35.5 min.

When you strip out Semin’s even strength performance you begin to realize that his point total drop off is not near as significant.  The past 4 seasons he has had 47, 55, 45 and 43 even strength points.  Now his time on ice between points increased dramatically this season but a significant part of that is likely due to his line mates.  Three seasons ago Semin’s most frequent line mates were Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin and Tomas Fleishmann ordered by time on ice together.  Two seasons ago they were Laich, Backstrom, Ovechkin and Johansson.  This past season they were Johansson, Perreault, Chimera and Ovechkin.  No offense to Johansson, Perreault and Chimera, but they have combined for just one 40 point season in their careers, and that was Johansson this past season playing with Semin.  That certainly has a little to do with Semin’s drop off.

Another way to look at Semin is to take a look at how his team mates perform when they are on the ice with Semin and when they are on the ice without Semin.  We can do this by looking at some nice bubble charts.

The above chart has GF20 without Semin across the horizontal axis and GF20 with Semin across the vertical axis.  For those new readers, GF20 is goals for (i.e. scored by team) per 20 minutes of ice time.  The color of the circle identifies the year and the size of the circle indicates relative ice time played with Semin.  The larger the circle, the more minutes they played with Semin, the smaller the circle the fewer.  Each forward who played at least 150 minutes with Semin are shown above.

In this chart circles in the upper left indicate that Semin had the greatest impact on his team mates offensive performance as upper-left circles indicate they performed relatively poorly without Semin and relative well with Semin.  Anyone above the 1:1 diagonal line (not shown) means that they had a better GF20 with Semin than without.  As you can see, over the past 3 seasons there is significant evidence that Semin has made his line mates better.  That changed slightly this past season though.  While Chimera and Perreault had better GF20’s with Semin, Johansson and Ovechkin did not.

Now lets take a look at the same chart but for GA20 (goals against per 20 minutes of ice time.

In this table bubbles in the lower right or below the 1:1 line are good as this indicates the player had a lower GA20 with Semin than without.  Except for Ovechkin in 2010-11 the majority of the bubbles are pretty close to the  1:1 line or slightly below.  This would seem to indicate that Semin is not a defensive liability which is relatively rate for quality offensive players.  Frequently producing big offensive numbers comes at a cost of defensive performance but this does not seem to be true for Semin.

The final bubble chart I will look at is goals for percentage (GF%) which is simply goals for divided by goals for plus goals against.

GF% is like GF20, the higher the number the better, so like the GF20 bubble chart, bubbles in the upper left above the 1:1 line are better, especially if they are above 50% (i.e. more goals for than against).  Except for Ovechkin and Johansson this past season and Morrison in 2009-10, all players had a better GF% with Semin than without.  This clearly points to Semin having a significant positive impact on his teams performance.

Maybe the most impressive thing I can point out about Semin is his overall 2-way performance relative to the rest of the league.  Of 125 players with 2500 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes of ice time over the past 3 season, Semin ranks 5th in GF20 (trailing only D. Sedin, H. Sedin, Toews, and Stamkos) and he ranks 13th in GA20.  It truly is a rare combination (for example, the Sedin’s rank 28 and 38 in GA20, Toews 60th and Stamkos 105th).

All that said, it does appear that Semin had a slight drop off in 5v5 offensive performance this past season but without further evidence it would probably be fair to presume that that was a somewhat minor drop off from an otherwise exceptional 4 years and certainly wouldn’t be enough to scare me away from making a significant offer to him as an unrestricted free agent.  He’d be a worthy addition to any NHL team.