Archive for Analysis
As expected, the New York Rangers have been relatively quiet this off season due to their cap situation. One NHL transaction that they made that can be seen as prominent is the signing of left wing Viktor Stalberg. At first, some people may have been confused over why the Rangers signed a player who played some games in the AHL to a $1.1 million contract, or why the Rangers signed him when they have young guys like Ryan Bourque and Oscar Lindberg still competing for an NHL spot. But the more I look at this the more it seems like an efficient signing by the New York Rangers.
For those who do not follow me on Twitter, I am currently working on a project that can allow fans and maybe NHL employees alike to view a player at any contract and see if he is worth it in the light of numerous stats. However, instead of talking about just millions we will be talking about cap percentage (cap%).
Why cap percentage?
Last week I hypothesized about how the Rangers could make up for the 38 goals they lost when Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis departed and determined that there were plenty of reasons for optimism including Keith Yandle’s potential impact on the power play and improved production from young forwards. Then I began wondering about how having different luck could change things.
Luck has become a buzzword since the emergence of the #fancystats movement, with many theorizing that a team and player’s goal scoring totals could fluctuate wildly due as much to dumb luck as anything else. PDO is the most commonly used new stat to evaluate overall luck, but since the Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal, I’m not too worried about their luck changing on that side of the puck.
We are through three games in the Metro Division Finals against the Washington Capitals, and all three games have been heart-attack-inducing. Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist have almost matched each other save for save, with Holtby stealing one last night to give the Caps a 2-1 series lead.
One of the prevalent observations is that the Rangers are “making it easy” on Holtby by “throwing a lot of shots at his gut.” The problem with this theory is that it discounts how good Holtby has been. Shots hit a goalie in the logo because of the positioning of the goaltender, not the quality of the shot. Holtby is playing to a .949 SV%, and while he’s had to make some spectacular saves, he’s been so good positionally that he doesn’t give the Rangers much to shoot at.
Limiting Rush Chances
It took seven grueling games, but the when the Capitals defeated up the upstart Islanders on Monday night, D.C.’s finest secured a date with the Rangers for the fifth time in seven years. This brings us to our second round goaltending preview of Braden Holtby.
When I sit down to write these posts, I always take a look back to see if I’ve done previews before and see how my current analysis stacks up against my observations from prior seasons. I realized this time around that I’ve already done two (!) previews of the twenty five year-old Saskatchewan native. Those prior looks can be found here and here. Seems like only yesterday he was making his playoff debut.
After flashing serious potential in his first few seasons on a defensively porous Capitals team, Holtby put everything together this season under Barry Trotz. His numbers (2.44 GAA and .923 save percentage) were both single season bests. Additionally, he started 72 games this year, by far a career high (we’ll get to that later). He really cemented himself as an upper-echelon goaltender this season. Read More→
As the season has progressed, two things became very apparent for this year’s New York Rangers: They are not a great possession club, but they are still a very good hockey team. A lot of stats folks are already comparing them to last year’s Colorado Avalanche, who rode an absurdly high SV% from Semyon Varlamov to the playoffs, only to be ousted in the first round. There have been other comparisons to teams that missed the playoffs all together (last year’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the Minnesota Wild of w few years ago, etc).
The facts are pretty simple: The Rangers, when looking at their full season numbers, are not a great possession team. It’s something that’s been beaten to death, and a lot of folks have the Rangers bowing out in the first round. The combination of minimal possession and a high “luck” factor (SPSV%/PDO) have made the Rangers a target for early elimination, the same way the opposite scenario made them a dark horse to make a Cup run last year.
But that’s on the surface. The common “anti-stats” argument is that stats can be bent to prove any argument. While that is true, you don’t see those that apply stats properly doing this. The lazy narrative for the Rangers is taking the full season numbers and marking them as “ripe for the picking.” More analysis needs to be performed.
The New York Rangers are in the playoffs. But Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy raised a question that struck a nerve with a lot of fans: Should the Rangers scare anyone? The article uses raw SAT%/CF% and SPSV%/PDO to justify that the Rangers are a poor possession team that are riding a great season of luck. These were some concerns I raised two months ago. I also revisited it one month ago, and found some interesting trends.
But here’s the issue with using just those numbers: It doesn’t take into account certain variables (like systems and rush shots, more to come), it doesn’t break down trends, and it looks at a full season instead of how a team is playing now. Not all numbers can be taken in a vacuum, some need context. This is one of those times where context is needed.
First things first: Lambert is correct when he says the Rangers aren’t the best puck possession team and that they have an unnaturally high SPSV%/PDO. But that’s about the only thing he’s 100% right with. I’ve tackled New York’s possession in the past, but we can revisit here.
Earlier this season, I wrote a post about how the bubble may burst for the New York Rangers. While an unpopular opinion, it wasn’t without statistical proof. Their possession numbers –a huge correlation exists between possession, playoffs, and Stanley Cup winners– were way down, they had an unsustainable SH%. That combination can spell death for a team.
However the Rangers are winning, somehow, and it forced me to revisit those numbers a few months later. The SH% was still abnormally high, but the possession numbers were starting to improve. At that point, I was cautiously optimistic, but not as optimistic as I was last season, when I correctly predicted a run to the Finals.
Now, after the trade deadline, I find myself wondering: Why not this Rangers team?
By any measure, Cam Talbot’s temporary reign as New York’s No. 1 goaltender has been a resounding success.
The Prince has been an adventure at times, mishandling the puck and giving up the occasional softie. But overall, it’s impossible to complain about Talbot’s sparking 11-2-3 record, 2.35 GAA and .920 SV% since taking over for Henrik Lundqvist (not including yesterday’s game). In fact, as MSG noted on Sunday night, Talbot’s numbers over the last two seasons stack up against any goalie in the league.
The Blueshirts are still counting down the days until Lundqvist’s return, but in the meantime Talbot has quashed any concerns about needing to bring in outside veteran help.
Talbot skeptics will wonder if the Rangers are playing so much better in front of Talbot as a team that they’re masking any of his deficiencies, and it’s a question I’ve asked myself. Indeed over the last few years, it has seemed like the Blueshirts tighten up defensively in front of their backup netminders and feel a little freer to take chances knowing the ultimate safety valve was sitting on his throne in the crease.
Earlier this month, I wrote a post about the New York Rangers and how their underlying numbers weren’t those of a team that can win a Stanley Cup. While that post may have been a bit doomsday/worst case scenario, the numbers didn’t lie. It’s a position that I still take: I don’t believe this team has been playing a dominant puck possession game, like they did last season. Of course, they haven’t been dressing their best lineup, but that’s a horse I’ve beaten to death.
Let’s revisit those possession numbers, using the last two months of games as an indicator of how they’ve been playing. Now this is where things get interesting, as the Rangers have actually played to a 52.9% SAT%/CF% over the past 23 games, since January 1, 2015. All this while playing a possession vacuum on the fourth line regularly (ok, sorry).
Let me be blunt: The New York Rangers did not deserve to win last night’s game over Florida. They started slow, special teams bailed them out, and then they finally played well in the third. This is the exact same way the Rangers played against Carolina, minus the special teams. Hank bailed them out in the first period of that game. Those are two wins with poor performances that they only won because they played against bad teams.
The Rangers lost the two previous games to the Habs and Isles, also games that they did not deserve to win. They beat the Senators before that, and the Rangers certainly played better defensively in that game. However, there was something missing from that game too. That’s five straight games where the Rangers were not the better team. They came out of this 3-2, beating the bad teams and losing to the good teams.