San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks

Whether you’re into advanced stats or not, you should definitely give PDO, a terribly named measure of “luck,” a chance.

Our own Cam Charron (well, he’s everywhere, but you get the point) laid it out for us in plain english here, but in a nutshell, it’s a combination of a player (or team’s) on-ice shooting percentage plus his team’s save percentage while he’s on the ice. Basically, if a guy’s PDO is really high he’s had some good luck, really low and he hasn’t, and the idea is that everyone will regress back to 1.000 (or 1000, however you want to write it), because nobody can shoot 20% all year, and nobody is going to be on the ice while the goalie has a .600 save percentage all year. Those numbers are impossibly unsustainable in the NHL today barring them putting me in net and starting me on the daily with magazines taped to my shins for pads.

Only…a lot of good teams tend to have high PDOs, and a lot of bad teams tend to have low PDOs, and I’m unwilling to say that those teams are good and bad because of their luck. One of my current beefs with the advanced stat community in hockey is an over-attribution of luck to success. Hockey players are taught to create luck, and I think some players and teams are better at doing it than others. I’ll get more into that in a sec, but let’s take a look at the numbers.

Cam Charron does a weekly update over at NHLNumbers.com of team’s PDO’s (and more) and where they sit, which I’ve cribbed below:

teampdo

I know, I’m annoyed the teams/numbers don’t align perfectly too, but we’re all in this together, so let’s look past that.

Eight of the 10 teams with the highest PDO in the league are among those currently qualified for playoffs. Seven of the 10 teams with the lowest PDO are among those currently on the outskirts of the post-season looking in, with an eighth, the Islanders, also technically in the league’s bottom half (16th).

My (admittedly somewhat cursory) understanding of PDO is that folks are looking at this data and saying “the teams in the bottom portion are due to improve because they’ve had unsustainably bad luck, and the teams at the top are due to get less lucky going forward, and should stumble” (particularly the Ducks/Habs have been pointed at in this regard, from what I’ve seen). Or “that team has been bad and unlucky, what are the odds?”

Last year, some people saw the numbers and accurately predicted the Kings success and the Wild’s mid-season decline, thus solidifying PDO as one of our most useful predictive stats.

Most people who’ve played hockey at a decent level (not saying pro, just minor hockey into bantam and beyond) have heard a coach talk about creating luck. And I’m not talking about some silly cliche like “You gotta be good to be lucky,” or anything like that (though I may be arguing that in a roundabout way), I’m talking about the things that teams do to create offense.

You try to get screens in front of goalies, you try to walk off the wall and throw the puck into net-front traffic, you shoot at the pads for rebounds, you blindly throw the puck to the danger areas to create chaos, which results in the occasional extra goal. You create luck in hockey. Good players are better at creating themselves that extra inch of room and getting the puck into trouble, versus turning it over. Stuff like getting the puck to trouble zones is an actual, conscious effort from forwards, particularly depth guys, who aren’t going to beat anyone the way Jonathan Toews would (incidentally, I’ve had the Blackhawks in my head the entire time I’ve been writing this). So, having better depth guys should help you create more “lucky” goals, it seems to me.

Even you rec hockey players out there know you do this – you play the odds, and good players know the odds better than others, and will do more dangerous things (offensively) with the puck in a moment of panic.

Maybe one team’s depth forwards are slightly better at elevating their shots 12 inches off the ice so if the goalie is screened they go in instead of catching some butterfly’d leg pad. Maybe luck creation really is a thing in hockey and good teams can maintain “unsustainably high” numbers and and bad teams won’t always regress to getting better.

I understand there are extremes that have to move, and I could be badly missing something advanced stat people have thought of here, but I don’t think it’s fair to blindly look at a hockey team’s PDO and say “they’re due to climb/drop.” Teams try to create luck, and I think the creation of it is a replicable skill in hockey.

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