It’s still impressively early in the NHL season, and I don’t want to fall into the trap of looking at six or seven games any squad has played and make a bold proclamation on the rest of the season. Still, it’s fun to scour performance numbers found over at Behind the Net and look at some early season trends.
Trends like this…
Crazy Trend No. 1 – No regular Carolina Hurricane has a negative Corsi rate
Corsi is a basic advanced measure, like plus/minus, but rather than counting only goals and goals against it counts every shot attempt including blocks and misses. It’s not a perfect measure of who the best players in the league are, but it syncs up very well with offensive zone time. Playing at the offensive end of the rink is obviously a bonus.
Proponents of the Corsi measure take some heat because invariably, somebody will come along and suggest, as if they’re the first person to do so in the last six years that “well, Corsi doesn’t take the quality of a shot into consideration”. Bloggers for several teams have spend hours of their lives physically recording “quality shots” (or “scoring chances”) into spreadsheets and notebooks, the only thing separating them from watching a hockey game being the finger grease-stained cheap eyeglasses they wear for near-sightendness or astigmatism. As it turns out, the “quality shots” measure syncs up with Corsi better than it does with plus/minus, so maybe there’s something to this whole puck possession thing.
It goes without saying that teams with good possession measures do very well. As it turns out, there are two hockey teams who don’t have a single regular player with a negative Corsi rate. Those would be the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, and the, uh, Carolina Hurricanes.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should be booking a trip to Raleigh for the Stanley Cup finals. The Hurricanes are 3-4 and have a minus-5 goal differential. This indicates they’ve been trailing for some time, which aids them on the shot clock. One or two games where they have a good push when down by a goal late can really warp these numbers. What this does show, however, is that while the Hurricanes may not be the class of any division other than the Southeast, is that the Hurricanes are probably *improved* hockey team. Last season, they were one of the worst puck-possession teams in the NHL, and this season, while they’re still losing, they haven’t shown that they’re a poor team handling the puck. Quite the contrary.
By-the-by, Justin Faulk has a very impressive early stat line playing heavy-minutes on that Hurricanes back line. No way his Corsi rate finishes above +40 per 60 minutes, but the early trend is positive for both him and his club.
Crazy Trend No. 2 – Daniel Winnik and Scott Gomez’ respective On-ice shooting rates are up
I still don’t feel guilty over my defence of Scott Gomez last season. I think he’s an effective depth centreman who lacks scoring talent, but that doesn’t make him in any way a useless player, particularly when like San Jose you got him for 90% off the initial price tag. One of the knocks on him is that while the puck is more often controlled in the offensive zone with Gomez on the ice, it’s never in the opposition’s net.
Daniel Winnik, now with the Anaheim Ducks, has a similar problem, or did in the past. He had good Corsi numbers, but his teammates’ shooting rates were well below the NHL average. On-ice shooting percentage is the combined shooting percentage of all your teammates when on the ice at even strength. It should normalize at around 8% or so throughout the season, depending on the players’ own individual talent as a shooter. Somebody like Steven Stamkos, for instance, should have a much higher On-ice shooting percentage than Winnik because he’s a better shooter, and he takes more of his teams’ shots than Winnik.
Season obviously not completed
If one number being slightly higher than a number that has trended below the mean for the majority of six years doesn’t warm your heart, well, I can’t help you there. Seeing Scott Gomez with two assists and a +1 in five games with San Jose is my version of @EmergencyPuppy.
Crazy Trend No. 3 – Ryan Suter’s advanced statline is hilarious
We’re obviously dealing with a very small sample here, but I have to admit I found this kind of funny when I checked it out:
Sorry about the size (that’s what he said) but basically what this shows is that the new $98-million defenceman in Minnesota is struggling a little bit to start the season. Not only does he have the worst Corsi on his team, but he’s not exactly playing very tough minutes (Corsi Rel QoC basically tallies up the average Corsi of your on-ice opponents relative to their own team. At the end of the season, anything over 2.000 is crazy tough, anything above 0.800 is what a first-pairing D faces).
The Wild are struggling in puck-possession, but Suter should be given a mulligan given he was battling a bout of food poisoning. One bad game at this point can kill you, and it will take at least 24 games to get a good read on which players and teams are playing well.
If Wild fans can take solace in something, it’s that Shea Weber is also struggling with his puck-possession. It might be a bit funnier if either Suter or Weber was doing much better than the other after a few games and we could make wild insinuations about whether their respective 14- and 13-year deals are busts or not. Unfortunately, we may have to wait a few more years to make that call.
Crazy Trend No. 4 – Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are faring no better than Ryan Suter
The Chicago Blackhawks played the Vancouver Canucks Friday night. The Canucks were awful, and I counted just three scoring chances for them. Two of those three, however, came when Chicago’s purported top pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith was on the ice.
The next night, Chicago went to Calgary. While I hate to judge a player based on seven games, judging them on one play is even worse. That said, Duncan Keith looks like an absolute turnstile on this goal in the neutral zone, distracted partially by Andrew Shaw’s hit on Matt Stajan. He then lets the puck carrier past him, and Seabrook picks the wrong time to ‘double bumper’ and Jiri Hudler easily gets the puck in front.
I’m not the best at Systems Analysis, obviously, and there ought to have been a forward back to cover the trailer, but Keith and Seabrook both look pretty lost on this play with Calgary’s quick transition.
Oh yeah… while Nik Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are getting the tougher minutes of the Blackhawks defence, Seabrook and Keith are both negative possession players through nine games. Hjalmarsson and Oduya are also seeing more ice per game at even strength.
For Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s best possession player, “with” Keith on the ice 49.4% of the Corsi events are in the opposition’s end. “Without” Keith on the ice, that number jumps to 61.0%.
Crazy Trend No. 5 – The Toronto Maple Leafs
I’ve also been charting scoring chances for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the returns aren’t very favourable for Randy Carlyle’s fourth line consisting usually of David Steckel, Colton Orr and Mike Brown. Mike Brown sustained an injury earlier this week and was replaced by Frazer McLaren. The trend between Orr, Brown and McLaren is that neither of them are particularly good at hockey, and the line ends up being smoked in their own end, even against easy competition in sheltered, sheltered minutes.
Of course, Orr fights a lot, and that keeps the fans happy, but I’m going to wager that his and Browns’ Corsi rate, dead last on the team by a mile, don’t pick up like Suter’s or Keith’s do. They don’t play a lot of minutes, and when they do play, they get creamed. The other fun thing about Toronto is how American Hockey League journeyman defenceman Mike Kostka is 13th in the league in ice-time per game. He’s played with Dion Phaneuf in all situations, even strength, powerplay and penalty kill, and Phaneuf is visually struggling at this point in the season. It’s a great story that he made the NHL after such a long wait, but shouldn’t a team with a rich bank book and history be a little more selective about which defenceman plays marathon minutes?