There is an idea- or perhaps nothing so fully formed as an idea, but a sense or an impression- that advanced statistics are a new thing in hockey. The debate between quantitative and qualitative methodologies is often framed, in a narrative that goes back at least to Moneyball, as one of the new vs. the old, a bright revolution of young radicals setting fire to the staid customs of their fathers’ age.
This is both true and untrue. True, in that before recent years there existed neither the data nor the technology necessary to do the kind of work currently being done. No matter what one’s values or interests, it simply wasn’t possible in the 1970s to count all shots directed at net for every team in the NHL, then to aggregate and distribute that data widely among many different thinkers, all with extensive computing resources at their disposal. The kind of large-scale, league-wide, multi-year analyses that constitute the meat and muscle of contemporary fancystats are a product of the internet as much as of a new ideology.
But despite their limitations, there were plenty of premodern hockey men who experimented with using quantitative methods to get beneath the skin of the game. Conn Smythe, who was so traditional that his views virtually define tradition in Canadian hockey, who believed hard in good bloodlines and beating people in alleys, recorded all Leafs games on film and rewatched the footage, noting who was on the ice for which types of events in pursuit of objective data about quality of competition. Roger Neilson, dissatisfied with shots on net as a measure of team offense, kept his own count of on-ice scoring chances. And, of course, the metric for shots directed at net is named Corsi for a reason. While technological limitations made it nearly impossible for early innovators to do work on the advanced statistics of the NHL as a whole, it is clear that within franchises, some GMs and coaches have been pursuing fancystats for several decades.
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I’m not setting out to trash Anaheim or anything, because frankly, the Ducks are really freaking good. They’re second overall in the NHL with 46 points, they’re 7-0-3 and their last 10, and they’ve only lost three games in regulation this entire season. They just re-signed Getzlaf and Perry, they have some young talent, good goaltending, you get the picture.
But they’re not the Chicago Blackhawks.
I was looking at where they ranked in some statistical categories in the NHL given that the first place Blackhawks are heading into their rink to play them tonight, and as great as they’ve been, they just can’t touch ‘em. Read the rest of this entry »
Last year Backhand Shelf reader/listener Nick put a chart together comparing Steven Stamkos’ goal output to the greatest seasons of all time here. The smart thing is, he didn’t use the raw stat of “goals” to make the comparison – he used standard deviations from the mean. It’s the most logical way to compare stats across generations.
This year he’s back with more, evaluating just how good Sidney Crosby’s numbers are. His assist total, specifically, is impressive.
- Commentary by Nick
First, a look at Crosby’s total goals (against some of the best seasons ever), which aren’t about to blow anyone out of the water.
Conclusion: Crosby definitely isn’t hanging with the greats as far as goals go (not surprising, since his season is impressive due to assists).
His points however (5.19 standard deviations from the mean) put him right in the middle of the greatness pack. The only people ahead of him are four dudes named Lemieux, Lemieux, Gretzky, and Gretzky. It’s safe to say his points totals are about as impressive as any season not had by Lemieux or Gretzky, and even then it’s right near Lemieux’s 1995-1996 season.
Because we’re dazzled by Crosby’s assists and not his goals, here’s the same graph with assists and points (instead of goals and points). Crosby’s point is the red diamond. Read the rest of this entry »
Marek Zidlicky, Jhonas Enroth, and a Corsi Event. Not pictured: a high-quality scoring chance. (Jim McIsaac, Getty Images)
Last week, Cam Charron wrote about the NHL’s counting problem here at Backhand Shelf, bemoaning the secrecy of NHL teams when it comes to advanced statistics. One part in particular, however, caught my eye when he talked about hockey’s “Aha!” moment when it comes to statistics.
There’s a reference in the Friedman piece to Craig MacTavish walking around looking for the “Aha!” moment when it comes to hockey analytics. I don’t think MacTavish has realized that half the hockey world is a step ahead of him in that regard. The “Aha!” moment comes when you realize that shots are a hell of a lot more predictive than goals for determining future events. As soon as you realize that hockey is a game between two teams trying to take shots on goal, I think the rest of it falls into place.
Cam isn’t really wrong, but this is also one of the biggest problems that people seem to have with so-called advanced statistics: they’re almost entirely reliant on counting shots. Corsi and Fenwick are both shot-based statistics that are pretty much the opposite of “advanced.” All they are is adding and subtracting shots. The more shots for your team and the fewer shots against, the better. Outshoot your opponent enough, particularly at the right time of the game (such as when the score is tied or within one goal), and you’ll win a lot more games than you lose.
If this seems like an incredibly simplistic view of hockey, that’s because it is. It’s also a completely inaccurate view of hockey. That isn’t to say that Corsi and Fenwick aren’t useful, because they certainly are. As Cam points out, shot-based analytics have impressive predictive power. But they also are coming at hockey from the completely wrong end.
I believe this is part of the reason why so many people are resistant to shot-based statistics. What matters is winning, winning requires goals, and a high volume of shots does not, strictly speaking, create goals. Shots are a by-product and not a cause.
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(Drew Hallowell, Getty Images)
Coming out of the most recent lockout, there was a lot of talk that the NHL was going to re-commit to cracking down on obstruction. Last season, referees called drastically fewer hooking and holding penalties, leading to a number of claims in the media that the NHL was on its way back to the Dead Puck Era. While that seemed like an overreaction, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department did address the issue of interference at their August meetings, leading to speculation that it would be called to a tighter standard.
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 »
Who’s drawing the most penalties? Dustin Brown is really curious to find out. (Christian Pederson, Getty Images)
So far this season, penalties are being called at a higher rate than in the 2011-12 season. 1720 minor penalties have been called this season, which works out to 4.55 minor penalties per game. All of last season, 9082 minor penalties were called, an average of 3.69 per game. The new penalties for concealing the puck and using your hand in the faceoff circle, as well as the renewed crackdown on obstruction have resulted in a little short of one extra minor penalty per game.
The renewed focus on obstruction should help players with speed draw more penalties and will once again make life hard on big-bodied defencemen with questionable skating or decision-making skills. So which players have been helping their team out by drawing extra penalties and which players have been boosting the ice-time of their team’s penalty killers? Looking at penalty plus/minus will let us know.
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Quick! Tell me something about Dougie Hamilton other than his casual disinterest in Markus Granlund
Some simple math even a scout will understand *pause for laughter*: In a Western Hockey League season, 22 teams each play 72 games. In the Ontario Hockey League, 20 teams play 68 games and in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, 18 teams play a 68-game schedule.
All-in-all, not counting overtime or playoffs, that’s 2084 hours of hockey over the course of a season. If I’m lucky, through various streams, television broadcasts, or even live visits to the rink, that means I’ll watch about two games a week, which is reasonable enough. Suppose that’s the case, and I’ll watch 54 Major Junior games over the course of the season, that’s 2.5% of the season to cover.
A scout could maybe watch 5% of the action. The availability of information is not at all like the National League, where every game is televised—in HD—and several people are tracking statistics ranging from blocked shots to which zone a player absorbed a hit. The avid junior hockey watcher has to put up with stats that don’t make sense or they don’t trust, and viewings of prospects are sometimes restricted to a small computer screen wherein you won’t be able to appreciate the intricacies of a player’s game.
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