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.


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


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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?



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 112013

Nathan Horton has been one of the stars of these NHL playoffs as will be an integral component of the Stanley Cup finals if the Bruins are going to beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Nathan Horton is also set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer so his good playoff performance is good timing. One of the things I have noticed about Horton while looking through the statistics is that he has one of the highest on-ice 5v5 shooting percentages over the past 6 seasons of any NHL forward (ranks 16th among forwards with >300 minutes of ice time).

Part of the reason for this is that he is a fairly good shooter himself (ranks 30th with a 5v5 shooting percentage of 12.25%) but this in no way is the main reason.  Let’s take a look at how Horton’s line mates shooting percentage have been over the past 6 seasons when playing with Horton and when not playing with Horton.

Sh% w/o Horton Sh% w/ Horton Difference
Weiss 11.28% 12.84% 1.56%
Lucic 13.03% 16.98% 3.95%
Krejci 11.41% 12.10% 0.68%
Booth 8.44% 11.26% 2.82%
Frolik 6.58% 10.84% 4.26%
Stillman 10.03% 15.38% 5.35%
Zednik 8.81% 13.56% 4.75%
Average 9.94% 13.28% 3.34%

Included are all forwards Horton has played at least 400 minutes of 5v5 ice time with over the past 6 seasons along with their individual shooting percentage when with Horton and when not with Horton. Every single one of them has an individual shooting percentage higher with Horton than when not with Horton and generally speaking significantly higher.  I have previously looked at how much players can influence their line mates shooting percentages and found that Horton was among the league leaders so the above table agrees with that assessment.

It is still possible that Horton is just really lucky but that argument starts to lose steam when it seems he is getting lucky each and every year over the past 6 years (he has never had a 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage at or below league average). Whatever Horton is doing while on the ice seems to be allowing his line mates to boost their own individual shooting percentages and the result of this is that he has the 9th highest on-ice goals for rate over the past 6 seasons. He is a massively under rated player and is this summers Alexander Semin of the UFA market.


2012 NHL free agent forwards

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Jun 052012

With the Los Angeles Kings on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup and teams already making moves towards next seasons (i.e. Vokoun to Pittsburgh) it is time to take a closer look at class of unrestricted free agents.  Today I’ll take a look at the free agent forwards.

As I have mentioned previously, I feel the best and most reliable player ratings are my 5v5 zone start adjusted HARO+ offensive rating, HARD+ defensive rating and the combined HART+ rating (yes, I am biased but as far as single all inclusive ratings go, I feel these are the best) using the past 3 seasons of data.  So, with that in mind, here are how the 2012 unrestricted free agent forwards stack up.

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May 242011

This is the first of several posts I will dedicate to what I expect the Leafs will do this upcoming off season.  In this post I outline where the Leafs are at now and what holes need to be addressed over the summer months.

The Leafs ended the 2010-11 season on a high note being backstopped by solid goaltending from James Reimer and an improved offense including significant offensive contributions from Dion Phaneuf for the first time in a Leaf uniform and Nazem Kadri among others.  This late season surge has given Leaf fans renewed optimism entering the 2011-12 season but before we get to the 2011-12 season we need to take a look at what the Leafs might do during the summer and before we get to that lets take a look at the team that finished the season.  After all the trades made at the trade deadline, this is the lineup that finished the 2010-11 season.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Joffrey Lupul Nazem Kadri Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur* Mikhail Grabovski Nikolai Kulemin
Fredrik Sjostrom** Tyler Bozak* Colby Armstrong
Colton Orr Tim Brent** Mike Brown
Jay Rosehill** Darryl Boyce** Joey Crabb**
Defense Defense
Dion Phaneuf Luke Schenn*
Keith Aulie Carl Gunnarsson*
Mike Komisarek Matt Lashoff*
Brett Lebda
James Reimer*
JS Giguere**
Jonas Gustavsson

*Restricted Free Agent

**Unrestricted Free Agent

There are essentially 6 restricted free agents that need to be re-signed and an additional 5 unrestricted free agents that decisions need to be made on.

Restricted Free Agents

James Reimer – Maybe the most important RFA to be re-signed is James Reimer.  In Reimer the Leafs hope to have finally found a true #1 goalie but as of yet Reimer can’t claim to be that having only started 35 NHL games.  I expect Reimer to get a similar deal to the one Gustavsson signed (2 years at 1.35M/year) after his first season in the NHL in which he started 39 games.  Now Reimer performed better so might deserve a little more but I think 2 years at $1.5M/year is reasonable.

Luke Schenn –  If Reimer isn’t the most important RFA to be re-signed, Luke Schenn is.  The question is, what is he worth?  The New York Rangers re-signed Marc Staal to a 5 year deal at an average salary of $3.975M per season last summer.  It could be argued that Staal is a better defenseman than Schenn but the difference would not be great so I’ll suggest that $4M/year is an upper limit on Schenn at this point in time.  I think Schenn’s contract will probably come in around $3.5M/year on a three year deal or a more Staal-like $4M/year deal if the contract length was 5 years.

Carl Gunnarsson – I like Gunnarsson as a defenseman and he has done some really good things in his brief NHL career.  He has good long term upside but as of right now is still not yet proven.  I think a fair price for him is a 2 year deal at $1.25M/year and lets see what he can do in a full time, possibly top four, role.

Clarke MacArthur – I wrote an article a month or so ago on the progression of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line in which I suggested that MacArthur might not have as much value as we think.  Brian burke was listening to trade offers on MacArthur at the trade deadline and I think he will continue to do the same, especially if MacArthur is asking for $3M/year type money.  I personally don’t think he is worth that.  He isn’t that great defensively and while he was important as a playmaker for Grabovski and Kulemin, I don’t consider him someone that isn’t easily replaced and I think Kadri might be good replacing MacArthur on the wing if the Leafs manage to find a proven #1 center.  If he is asking for much more than $2.0M/year I’d seriously consider trading him.

Tyler Bozak – I am not quite sure what to make of Bozak yet.  He has some offensive skill, but not good enough to be a first line center.  He has shown some ability defensively and on the PK but his defensive ratings are still quite poor (HARD+ of 0.816 over past 2 seasons is actually pretty bad) but he is the Leafs best faceoff guy (54.6%) and I think the potential is there that he can be a solid 2-way third line center.  As such I would like to see him re-signed and see if he can excel in that role.  A fair value might be a 2 year deal at somewhere around $1-1.25M/yr, certainly no more.

Matt Lashoff – I liked what I saw from Lashoff in his short time with the Leafs at the end of last season.  In limited ice time over the past 4 seasons he has a weak 0.611 HARO+ rating but a very solid 1.288 HARD+ rating.  I’d like to see him as the #6/7 defenseman and see what he can do.   He has good size and skates well and as a former first round pick was once highly thought of.  He might be one of those guys that just needs to be given a chance and he’ll be cheap so why not.

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