This is not a drill.
You are very likely to be bombarded with hyperbole today about the return of a human to the lineup of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club
I have a hard time not having a bit of fun with the Sidney Crosby return bandwagon. It was cool to see both CBC and NBC scrambling to be able to get broadcast rights to a mid-week New York Islanders game in November. Usually, the only people who can bear to watch Islander games are about 8 thousand Nassau residents with umbrellas and my dear editor of this great ice hockey blog.
But, of course, with the return of the sport’s greatest face, this game must be internationally televised! Sidney Crosby is back. Happy Sid-mas and all.
This is the Sidney Crosby Emergency Alert System, or SCEAS for short. I repeat, this is not a drill
Don’t worry, I won’t get all wheezy on you and try to choke you up with tales of Crosby being a beacon of innocence and how his mere presence reminds us all of a time when hockey players were chivalrous monks, not like the jocks we see today.
Instead I’m going to do something different, and sort of attack Crosby’s half-of-a-2010-2011-season with regard to the percentages that he put up. While the excellent blog Driving Play has already done a fairly good run-down of Crosby’s average Corsi numbers, and, while we definitely don’t want to get caught using Corsi as a be-all-and-end-all for all hockey analysis since that handicaps us from looking at things in context, this gives us a bit of a framework for an argument that Sidney Crosby’s importance on the Penguins may be overstated.
The SCEAS has no emotional connection to hockey
The SCEAS is merely here to inform
That’s not to say I don’t think Crosby is a damn good hockey player. Whenever he steps out there’s the potential for something insane to happen. His highlight-reel already has a few shelves, and his trophy case is kind of stacked. But is he a truly important player on the Pittsburgh Penguins? Let’s take a look.
One of the best things to look at when analyzing how good a team is and predicting their future success is to see how well a team did at controlling the number of shots with the score tied at even strength. We look at all shots, not just goals, because goals has a certain element of luck to them. We look at it just with the score tied because teams that play with the lead tend to slow down and not take as many shots, distorting the count for teams who play often with the lead.
At any rate, last season, Pittsburgh was the best team in the NHL at controlling shots. Their “score tied Fenwick percentage” which divides Pittsburgh’s shots and missed shots by the total number of shots between them and their opponents, was 54%. Without Sidney Crosby, this percentage would have been 53.7%, still good for third place in the NHL. Without Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been behind just San Jose and Chicago last season. Without Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins are merely a great team, not the best team.
We all know the Legend of Sid’s Lost Season and how he led the team in scoring with 66 points despite playing just 41 games. And, oh yeah, 32 goals, which was good for 14th in the NHL, tied with Alex Ovechkin, who played 39 more games. As amazing as those numbers are, what we need to consider is that that doesn’t mean that Sidney would have had a 64-goal season or 132 points.
Beware of Crosby-related hyperbole
His individual shooting percentage last season was 19.9%, well above his career average, so while we can be sure that number would have regressed, his season didn’t last long enough for us to be able to watch it happen. 60-goal scorer? Probably not. 50-goal scorer? Reasonable, and still very good even from what we’d expect out of one of the best offensive talents in the league. But, let’s not carry away, like the guy who wrote this news story that the SCEAS found on CTV’s website:
In the three prior seasons, the Penguins team shooting percentage when Crosby was on the ice went as follows: 10.9%, 10.4%, 10.9%, so, while Crosby showcased a definite ability to help him and his teammates put the puck in the net at a better rate than the average NHLer, that number in his abbreviated 2010-11 season was 11.8%.
So, what we saw with Crosby last season was all of the good, none of the bad. We had a 27-game point streak, but none of the seven-goal goal-less skids of which Crosby had two of in the previous season. No five-game point-less streaks and no extended Penguins losing streaks. We only pieced together half of the puzzle and never got to see how it looked when it finished.
Crosby is back tonight, and we will all watch, because we are all hockey fans because we were interested. But let’s not make wild assumptions about his 2011 season and expect him to continue at the same pace, and let’s also recognize that Pittsburgh have built a pretty good team even without Crosby in the lineup. This is a very big story, but, as with everything, it must be placed in its proper context.
The context being, national television in two countries. Because, well, why not. Did we really want to see another Montreal and Boston game?
Your SCEAS is fully functional.