Sep 182014
 

Earlier this week TSN announced the creation of an Analytics team consisting of long-time TSN contributor Scott Cullen along with new TSN additions of Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle and hockey blogger Travis Yost. I am all for main stream media jumping on board with hockey analytics but once you go from independent hockey blogger to a significant contributor to TSN I think it opens the door to higher expectations and higher standards.  Scott Cullen has a long track record with TSN and I am confident James Mirtle will bring some intelligent insight as we are all familar with and respect his work. While I am fully aware of Yost and his blogging history I have to be honest in saying that I have not read a ton of his stuff so I was interested to see what he would offer. After reading his first two articles, I have to say I definitely think there is room for improvement.

Yost’s first article was a look at some trends as to how teams use players during 5 on 5 play. The point I think Yost was trying to make most is that teams are phasing out goons and other “specialists” and replacing them with guys that can play bigger minutes and at both ends of the rink. While this may very well be true I am not sure Yost’s evidence to support this is really valid. He produced a chart that showed that more players are getting more 5v5 ice time per game in 2013-14 than in 2007-08 and his conclusion was that this was evidence of teams moving away from goons and small ice time players.

The rightward shift here should seem apparent – a higher concentration of guys playing larger minutes now as opposed to seven years ago and fewer guys picking up scrap minutes in smaller roles. The number of forwards playing ten or less minutes a night has dropped from 109 in 2007, to 65 in 2014. And the number of forwards playing between 13 and 16 minutes a night has moved from 153 in 2007 to 231 in 2014. As a group, teams may still be leaning on their star players, but there’s also been a more balanced spread of total ice time than there was seven years ago.

First off, the rightward shift that Yost talks about is likely almost exclusively due to the fact that there were far fewer penalties and power plays in 2013-14 than there were in 2007-08 as Yost pointed out earlier. This lead to there being more even strength ice time to be doled out to the same number of players. This will almost certainly produce a right shift as observed. As for a more balanced spread in ice time, I don’t see that either. At least not to any significant extent. If one really wanted to look at this properly instead of looking at number of minutes of even strength ice time played one would want to look at percentage of a teams even strength minutes the player played. This would eliminate the difference in total even strength ice time and truly allow you to see whether teams are using a more balanced line up or not. At the very least one should adjust each players ES TOI by an appropriate amount for one of the seasons based on the ratio of league-wide ES TOI between the two seasons. I’d then be interested to see if a “right shift” occurs or whether there is a meaningful difference in the charts.

Yost’s second article for TSN.ca was about Marc-Edouard Vlasic and how he should probably be getting more recognition for how good he really is. Now that is a sentiment I can generally support but Yost’s supporting evidence for this is analytically unsound in my opinion. The first thing Yost does is identify a number of defensemen who are generally considered the leagues best that we should compare Vlasic too. This is a good start and Yost identified guys like Chara, Doughty, Karlsson, Pietrangelo, Subban, etc. What Yost did next is produce a bubble chart that plots even strength corsi% on the x-axis vs even strength goals % on the y-axis with bubble size representing scoring production. To be honest, I have no clue what the value of this chart is. Both corsi% and goal% are significantly  team driven but there was no accounting for quality of team and goal% has a certain amount of luck and randomness associated with it which was not discussed and I really have no idea what statistic was used for scoring production. The conclusion Yost drew from this chart was that Vlasic was right in the mix with some of the best defensemen in the league. Problem is I am certain I could find a number of other defensemen we generally consider mediocre that would be right there with Vlasic.

There are proper ways to do this kind of analysis and there is no way one can do this without taking into consideration quality of teammates. On my stats site I have teammate statistics (denoted by TM) and one can easily do a comparison of how the players on-ice stats compare to their teammates when their teammates are not playing with them. Doing this we get the following:

Player Name CF60 RelTM
ERIK KARLSSON 9.115
DUNCAN KEITH 8.597
ALEX PIETRANGELO 8.202
MARK GIORDANO 6.695
P.K. SUBBAN 6.152
MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC 5.87
SHEA WEBER 2.072
RYAN MCDONAGH 2.032
DREW DOUGHTY -0.448
ZDENO CHARA -0.55
RYAN SUTER -1.518

If we use CF60 as a proxy for offensive production we find the best offensive defensemen are Karlsson, Keith and Pietrangelo while the least offensive are Suter, Chara and Doughty. Vlasic is right in the middle and looks pretty good. One might be surprised at Doughty but the rest kind of make sense.

Now, let’s do the same for CA60.

Player Name CA60 RelTM
MARK GIORDANO -12.251
MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC -9.205
P.K. SUBBAN -4.586
ERIK KARLSSON -2.21
ZDENO CHARA -1.69
DREW DOUGHTY -1.585
ALEX PIETRANGELO -0.211
RYAN SUTER 0.953
DUNCAN KEITH 2.385
SHEA WEBER 4.34
RYAN MCDONAGH 4.468

For CA60 it is better to have a negative number as this indicates you are giving up fewer shot attempts than your teammates when they aren’t playing with you. Here Vlasic is second and looking pretty good.

Now we can combine these two stats by looking at CF% RelTM.

Player Name CF% RelTM
MARK GIORDANO 8.9%
MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC 6.6%
P.K. SUBBAN 4.8%
ERIK KARLSSON 4.6%
ALEX PIETRANGELO 3.7%
DUNCAN KEITH 2.3%
DREW DOUGHTY 0.7%
ZDENO CHARA 0.6%
SHEA WEBER -1.0%
RYAN SUTER -1.2%
RYAN MCDONAGH -1.2%

Out of this group, Vlasic is second best which is pretty good and is evidence that he probably deserves to be in the company of these guys. Now, with that said, this is just a cursory look and in no way a complete analysis. Not only are there limitations by just looking at corsi but there are a lot of other factors that need to be taken into consideration as well (for example, Giordano is probably not that good, only looks good because his Flames teammates are not very good relative to the teammates of the other players on this list). Overall though, this is how I think one should start an analysis of Vlasic and whether he deserves more credit for the player he is. To be fair to Yost, he gets into this a little bit by looking at a timeseries of Vlasic’s Relative Corsi% but in no way is this sufficient and he doesn’t compare it to any of the other defensemen he is comparing Vlasic to.

Overall I applaud TSN for wanting to jump on the analytics band wagon and I am certain Yost has the potential to provide a better analytical view than his first few posts which, to be honest, left me a little underwhelmed if not disappointed.

On the flip side, I saw some good stuff written recently by @MimicoHero that I think is worthy of mention. A recent blog post of his looked at Ryan Johansen’s value to the Blue Jackets and he, in my opinion, did a pretty good job of accounting for usage (i.e. QoT, QoC, zone starts) and comparing Johansen to his peers. I like the tables he produced and how he looked at offense and defense separately. Now I’d probably want to weight QoT far more heavily in the usage metric he came up with but overall a very good methodology for comparing players on different teams playing in different circumstances.

 

Apr 052013
 

Yesterday HabsEyesOnThePrize.com had a post on the importance of fenwick come playoff time over the past 5 seasons. It is definitely worth a look so go check it out. In the post they look at FF% in 5v5close situations and see how well it translates into post season success. I wanted to take this a step further and take a look at PDO and GF% in 5v5close situations to see of they translate into post season success as well.  Here is what I found:

Group N Avg Playoff Avg Cup Winners Lost Cup Finals Lost Third Round Lost Second Round Lost First Round Missed Playoffs
GF% > 55 19 2.68 2.83 5 1 2 6 4 1
GF% 50-55 59 1.22 1.64 0 2 6 10 26 15
GF% 45-50 52 0.62 1.78 0 2 2 4 10 34
GF% <45 20 0.00 - 0 0 0 0 0 20
FF% > 53 23 2.35 2.35 3 2 4 5 9 0
FF% 50-53 55 1.15 1.70 2 2 1 10 22 18
FF% 47-50 46 0.52 1.85 0 0 4 3 6 33
FF% <47 26 0.54 2.00 0 1 1 2 3 19
PDO >1010 27 1.63 2.20 2 2 2 6 8 7
PDO 1000-1010 42 1.17 1.75 1 0 5 7 15 14
PDO 990-1000 47 0.91 1.95 2 1 3 4 12 25
PDO <990 34 0.56 1.90 0 2 0 3 5 24

I have grouped GF%, FF% and PDO into four categories each, the very good, the good, the mediocre and the bad and I have looked at how many teams made it to each round of the playoffs from each group. If we say that winning the cup is worth 5 points, getting to the finals is worth 4, getting to the 3rd round is worth 3, getting to the second round is worth 2, and making the playoffs is worth 1, then the Avg column is the average point total for the teams in that grouping.  The Playoff Avg is the average point total for teams that made the playoffs.

As HabsEyesOnThePrize.com found, 5v5close FF% is definitely an important factor in making the playoffs and enjoying success in the playoffs. That said, GF% seems to be slightly more significant. All 5 Stanley Cup winners came from the GF%>55 group while only 3 cup winners came from the FF%>53 group and both Avg and PlayoffAvg are higher in the GF%>55 group than the FF%>53 group. PDO only seems marginally important, though teams that have a very good PDO do have a slightly better chance to go deeper into the playoffs. Generally speaking though, if you are trying to predict a Stanley Cup winner, looking at 5v5close GF% is probably a better metric than looking at 5v5close FF% and certainly better than PDO. Now, considering this is a significantly shorter season than usual, this may not be the case as luck may be a bit more of a factor in GF% than usual but historically this has been the case.

So, who should we look at for playoff success this season?  Well, there are currently 9 teams with a 5v5close GF% > 55.  Those are Anaheim, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto and Vancouver. No other teams are above 52.3% so that is a list unlikely to get any new additions to it before seasons end though some could certainly fall out of the above 55% list. Now if we also only consider teams that have a 5v5close FF% >50% then Toronto and Anaheim drop off the list leaving you with Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver as your Stanley Cup favourites, but we all pretty much knew that already didn’t we?

 

Apr 082010
 

If you polled hockey fans who the top contenders are for the Stanley Cup, four of the most frequent answers you will get will be Washington and Pittsburgh from the eastern conference and San Jose and Chicago from the western conference. What these teams have in common are very good groups of offensive forwards with multiple star players and some pretty good defensemen to go with them. But what they also have in common are question marks in goal that they will have to overcome if they are to go deep into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
We all know about the Sharks playoff failures of recent years and much of the blame has been placed on forwards like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been an excellent regular season goalie and been OK in the playoffs but he hasn’t stolen a series for the Sharks and his post Olympic play has to be a concern for Sharks fans. As you are all probably aware, Nabokov had a poor Olympics, and in particular, a really bad game against the Canadian team that cost the Russians a shot at a medal. Since the Olympics he hasn’t been any better having posted an 8-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a very mediocre .897 save percentage and in 16 post Olympic games he has given up 4 or more goals 7 times (including 5 goals Sunday against possible first round opponent Colorado). That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. We know Nabokov can play better, but will he turn his game around come playoff time?

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks goaltending is an interesting case study into inconsistency. They lead the league in shutouts and are 6th in goals against average but are 7th worst in the league in save percentage. Cristobol Huet can go on stretches where he looks solid and reliable (in his first 21 starts this year he only gave up more than 3 goals once) but then for other stretches he can look downright awful. The end result though is that he is unreliable. Then you have youngster Anti Niemi who has been the better and more reliable goalie this year and has a respectable .913 save percentage but he too has been inconsistent. In 33 starts he has 7 shutouts which is pretty phenomenal (Brodeur leads the league with 9, but he started 73 games) but in those 33 starts he has also given up 4 or more goals 8 times which is not so good.

Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are not unlike the Chicago Blackhawks as they too have a somewhat unreliable veteren (Theodore) and a quality young goalie (Varlamov) that may or may not be ready to carry the load. I have a little more confidence in the Capitals goaltending though as they have been a little more consistent. As a group they only have 3 shutouts, but they have fewer disaster games too and with the Capitals offensive capabilities that might be good enough but it still has to be a concern for Capitals fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be some that are surprised to see the Penguins make this list but lets look at the facts. As a team the Penguins have the worst goals against average of any playoff bound team and have the fourth worst save percentage in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very mediocre .904 save percentage over the course of the season and a pretty bad .892 save percentage since the Olympics. Since February 1st he has started 20 games and given up at least three goals in 14 of them and four or more goals 6 times. We know Fleury can play well enough to win a Stanley Cup, but his performance this season, and over the past couple months in particular, has not been good enough. To make matters worst for Penguins fans, yesterday on TSN it was pointed out in 17 games against division leaders the Penguins have just 3 wins. Of the top four teams in the east, I think the Penguins are the one team most likely to face a first round playoff exit.

(cross posted at HockeyAnalysis.com)