Archive for the ‘Statistics’ Category

Jagr carries the puck across the line nearly 3/4 of the time...like an oldtimer.

Jagr prefers the carry-in to the dump-in, as most old-timers would.

If you’ve even been to a “Legends of Hockey”-style old-timers game, you may have noticed a certain, distinct style of play from the old ex-NHLers. It stems from what I believe they would describe as “a general disdain for forechecking,” if you caught them to talk about it before their post-game beers so they could still capably use words like “disdain.” They don’t find working hard to retrieve something they already have appealing. Who does, really?

When they push it up on the rush and find that the d-men are pressuring them before the blueline, they swing it back to their defensemen. They loop back then forward again, looking for the eye of a needle to thread a puck through, don’t see it, then regroup again (usually just the puck regroups, they tend to be too lazy to come all the way back). By then the other team is chasing out of position, the next rush finds a seam, and the puck’s in the back of the net. They’re almost soccer-esque in their attack. Games end 9-2 in favour of 55-year-old ex-pros against 25-year-old firefighters because they control the puck, pick their spots, and don’t dump it in.

As a general rule in hockey, dumping the puck in is never ideal. The goal of the dump is to get the puck in your opponent’s zone then regain possession (while avoiding a turnover), so if you can cut out a few of those steps and just have possession in your opponent’s zone, you would (plus you have it while attacking on carry-entries, as opposed to cycling). The problem is, NHL players are too good to just allow you easy zone access when they have numbers back, and they’re too good to simply run the puck back to your d-men after a stymied rush so you can swing up again like the old-timers. You almost never want the puck moving backwards in the pro hockey game, so when you approach the opposing blue and get cut off, your ideal situation is the soft chip or the hard wrap with puck support – you want to put the puck in a place where your team has the best chance of retrieving it. You don’t want to have to navigate the neutral zone minefield a second time.

Over the past few years hockey’s advanced stat community has done some research on zone entries, specifically the excellent Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey and NHL Numbers, who presented this paper at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. I’m not great with numbers, but I’m trying to keep up because I’m terrified of becoming the old guy yelling about plus-minus while the majority of people inside and outside hockey have long since dismissed the weight it used to carry. Anyway, I recognize from a player’s angle, just as Eric did as an analyst, that entering the offensive zone with puck possession gives you a lot better chance of scoring than the dump. Numbers, eyes, common sense, same page.

Here’s the chart from his Sloan paper that shows the data he came up with after a year of research. They charted the Flyers/Wild for a full season, the Caps and Sabres for half-seasons, and the rest of the league for 7-10 games each. Read the rest of this entry »

(Brian Babineau, Getty Images)

(Brian Babineau, Getty Images)

I’m tired of being told that hits and blocked shots don’t matter. The best advanced stats bloggers generally refrain from saying it outright, but I’ve heard the sentiment too many times. I’m also tired because it’s hard to get sleep when you’ve got a newborn and a toddler, but that’s a side issue.

As I spent some time wondering why the idea of hits and blocked shots not mattering bothered me so much, I started to relate it to the shot quality debate. Many proponents of advanced stats will tell you that shot quality doesn’t matter and that shot quantity is far more important. It’s understandable why many traditionalist take issue with hockey analytics when they’re told that shot quality, hits, and blocked shots are unimportant when all three can play a vital role in the outcome of a game.

It’s clear to me that all three do, in fact, matter and that looking at hits and blocked shots in the same light as the shot quality versus shot quantity debate can shed some light on why.

Read the rest of this entry »

(Noah Graham, Getty Images)

(Noah Graham, Getty Images)

Even as advanced statistics become more prevalent in hockey, it’s still rare to see them used in mainstream media, outside of some outliers like James Mirtle with the Globe and Mail. The doldrums of August can lead a hockey reporter off the beaten path in search of a story, however,  and Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe turned to advanced statistics for a story on Sunday, interviewing Michael Schuckers, a statistics professor who does hockey analysis.

Shinzawa clearly asked Shuckers what was the oddest or most confusing free agent signing of the off-season according to his statistical analysis, which is a reasonable question to ask when looking for a story. What was odd was the answer. Shuckers skipped right past the usual punching bags from the past few months and went with Rob Scuderi, who returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins this off-season on a four-year deal.

According to Shuckers, his signing is “the one that sticks out to me this year” as the statistics show that Scuderi is “well past his prime”  and not worth what the Penguins are paying him. But is that really the case?

Read the rest of this entry »

Hockey Abstract cover

The most well-known book about advanced statistics in baseball is Moneyball, which is odd, as it isn’t, strictly-speaking, about advanced statistics. Instead, Moneyball is a book about economics and finding market inefficiencies. It just so happens that in baseball, those market inefficiencies are generally found through the use of statistical analysis. In many ways, that analysis has its roots in the work of Bill James and his annual Baseball Abstract that was published from 1977 to 1988.

As advanced statistics in hockey grow in prominence, there appears to be a market inefficiency of sorts: there is no equivalent to the Baseball Abstract for hockey. While plenty of material has been published online developing statistics like Corsi and Fenwick and tracking things like zone exits and entries, no one has published a book covering these statistical developments in a way accessible to those unfamiliar with the work done online.

Rob Vollman has attempted to to fill the gap with his new book, Hockey Abstract, available in PDF format or in print from Amazon. While it falls short in some areas, it’s a fantastic resource for those new to advanced statistics in hockey and an engaging and enlightening read for those already familiar with them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks

For the advanced stat community, this post is entirely entry-level thinking, but outside of that annoying niche group of hockey fans (ugh, they’re just the WORST, those guys), there’s a large misconception about how to best understand the simplest numbers we pile up over the course of a hockey game. And, there’s no reason to feel ashamed about that. I’ve played for some pretty decent coaches who weren’t exactly up to speed on things either, but times are changing, so maybe your thinking should too.

Below, I’ll take a look at a few categories of in-game statistics, and try to lay out where many of us have been misusing them.

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The first thing we all need to agree upon before moving forward is that having the puck is a really neat-o thing, correct?  Most rational thinking humans would agree that having the puck, rather than not, gives you a better chance to score goals. I think we’re on the same page so far. That “having” of the puck is simply known as possession. You know this. I’m not trying to be patronizing, just making sure we’re on the same page. In general, the team who maintains possession more over the course of the game will have the best chance to win. No chart, no graph, that just makes logical sense.

Let’s continue down the yellow stat road. Read the rest of this entry »

(Brian Babineau, Getty)

(Brian Babineau, Getty)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tarasov

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.

Read the rest of this entry »