Early in the 2012-13 season, minor penalties were being called at a significantly higher rate than in 2011-12, resulting in nearly two more minor penalties per game. The renewed commitment to calling obstruction and the addition of penalties for concealing the puck and using your hand on faceoffs seemed to be the culprits.
By the end of the season, however, that trend had completely reversed, with the result that minor penalties were called at almost exactly the same rate as 2011-12. So much for that.
The fact that the number of minor penalties called hasn’t gone up does, however, make what Nazem Kadri accomplished this season even more impressive. Kadri led the NHL in both penalties drawn and penalty plus/minus and it wasn’t even close.
I didn’t have access to the raw numbers used by Frank Dumais, who put the chart together. However I was able to copy and sort of duplicate every season since 2008 from stats.hockeyanalysis.com and do a similar thing. These are only even strength statistics, but I’ve highlighted all the playoff teams:
Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews are two players that have actually performed better against playoff-bound competition. (Bill Smith, Getty Images)
As we near the playoffs, I’m beginning to see a common criticism of certain players around the league. It goes a little something like this: these players only seem to rack up points against lesser competition, but can’t score against playoff teams — once the playoffs come around, these players will wilt under the pressure and won’t produce.
Many have looked askance at Alex Ovechkin’s resurgence for this reason, particularly after he scored a hattrick against Florida. I saw comments pointing out how many of his multi-point games and most of his 9-game point streak came against teams that in all likelihood will not make the playoffs. Scoring a hattrick against the Florida Panthers is no great feat, according to this group of people, as the Panthers are a terrible team set to finish last in the NHL.
Ovechkin isn’t the only target for this line of reasoning. I’ve seen the Sedins derided for padded their stats against lesser competition in the Northwest Division for years, for instance. I’m curious to see if this is true, however. Has Ovechkin scored less against playoff-bound opponents than he has against non-playoff teams? If he has, is the difference in scoring that significant compared to other top scorers from around the league?
The general feeling I’ve been getting this season is that this is the case and that referees are calling far more obstruction penalties, particularly interference, but I wanted to see if this was backed up in the numbers. Are penalties back up to where they were after the last lockout, when the crackdown in obstruction led to a more open game and more scoring?
If you look just at penalty minutes, it certainly seems like the NHL is heading back in the right direction. Penalties were way up in the first season after the 2004-05 lockout, but stabilized for a few seasons after that around 34,000 total penalty minutes. After 2008-09, however, penalties began dropping steadily, reaching 27,570 total penalty minutes last season. Read the rest of this entry »
You can use numbers to prove pretty much anything.
The NHL publishes five types of RTSS, or “real-time scoring statistics”. These are “hits” “blocks” “missed shots” “giveaways” and “takeaways”. They produce a mountain of data and quite oftentimes, there’s so much numbers available that people are constantly adding and subtracting and dividing these numbers to paint a rational picture of why teams are succeeding as they are.
This tweet from Sault-Ste. Marie Greyhounds head coach Sheldon Keefe caught my eye:
Hard to hit when you have the puck all the time.“@robertjftc: Chicago is last in the NHL in hits. Their record is 15-0-3.”
I’ve never met Sheldon, but I have heard that he has “a real affinity for advanced stats”. I’ve seen the RTSS used so many different ways. I saw a blogger two years back mention if Detroit is such a good hockey team, why are they always ranked so low in takeaways and blocked shots? (Her conclusion was that the Red Wings were flawed, not the numbers) I’ve seen people credit Toronto being first in hits for why they’ve improved this season (side note: after 19 games this season, the Leafs have 22 points. After 19 games last season, the Leafs had 22 points). I’ve seen defencemen judged by their “giveaway:takeaway ratio”.
The most egregious over-analysis of these numbers was CBC during last playoffs who added blocked shots and hits together to form some sort of catch-all “grit” rating that had the Rangers ranked very high. PJ Stock alluded to both numbers in the pre-game show for the Leafs game against Ottawa on Saturday. (Don Cherry Saturday mentioned toughness as a reason the Leafs are improved by, again, zero points)
The problem with these numbers is that they lie and that they really mean the exact opposite of what you’d think they mean. In the real world, a “giveaway” is actually preferable to a “takeaway”. In the real world, “blocked shots” correlate so highly with losing you may as well just be counting goals against. In the real world, the importance of “hits” is imaginary.
After 28 games in the '95 season, the Oilers were the only team in a playoff position to drop out.
By now you’ve already seen some sort of variation on what the NHL standings would have looked like after 48 games last season. The way I have it calculated, there would have been no changes in the Eastern Conference as far as teams making the playoffs. There would have been some qualms with seeding, but the same eight teams would have reached. In the Western Conference, the one difference would have been Minnesota replacing Phoenix for a spot.
Again, seedings change, but it doesn’t make too big of a difference anymore. Teams are probably closer together in talent than they were six or seven years ago, and in each of the last two years, the 8th seed in the Western Conference has been touted as “not your traditional 8 seed”.
The Stanley Cup winning team and players won’t also have asterisks engraved next to their names, although there will be some form of debate, because of the shortened season. It’s funny because for the most part, playoff spots are won and lost after about 45-50 games. The remainder is about seeding, and hope. The single point for a loss in overtime or a shootout was carefully crafted to keep playoff races tight and down to the wire.
While it had been hinted at numerous times prior to the lockout finally ending, it seems clear now that the 2012-13 season will be a mere 48 games long. A longer season just isn’t possible at this point, according to Bill Daly. 48 games is how long the 1994-95 season was after that lockout ended, but that league had just 26 teams, making for a relatively balanced schedule.
So what will a 48-game season mean? Hockey fans have grown accustomed to an 82-game season being a large enough sample size to separate the wheat from the chaff. Is a 48-game season long enough to ensure that the best teams in the league get into the playoffs, rather than weaker teams that hit a hot streak at the right time?
In order to get some idea of how to answer this question, I took a look at last season to see how reducing it to just 48 games would have affected the standings.