Archive for Analysis
Over the course of the summer there has been one major topic that continues to pop up in the hockey analytics world: tracking zone entries and exits. The concept was originally brought to the forefront of the analytics community by blogger turned NHL consultant, Eric Tulsky. From there the idea of tracking these events took off, most noticeably with Corey Sznajder (creator of the Hurricanes’ blog “Shutdown Line”) who undertook a huge workload this summer by tracking every entry and exit from every NHL game of the 2013-14 season.
That’s just a little bit of the background, but why is tracking entries and exits so important?
The days of chip and chase hockey are slowly dying. Just like everything else in this world, hockey is evolving. Many teams have hired people to head up analytics departments this summer, including the Rangers (Jim Sullivan). Puck possession is as valuable as anything else in the game. The belief is that carrying the puck into the offensive zone is a more efficient play than dumping and chasing, and ultimately results in more shot attempts. At the same time, carrying the puck out of your own end results in more success through the neutral zone than stretch passes through multiple opponents. By tracking these events game by game we will be able to get a sense of which players can sustain high possession numbers and contribute to a teams shot total, which in turn will contribute to goals scored.
Throughout the course of a season, a team will play 82 games in the hopes of playing just four more rounds for the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. These 82 games are no walk in the park. They consist of grueling hits, tough goals and workouts that most of us would pass out or throw up halfway through. These athletes do it because they want to know the glory of being the very best, having their names etched in glory forever on the greatest trophy in all sports.
Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 16 make it to the first round of the playoffs. For certain teams, making the playoffs is a distant dream. For others, missing them is beyond unacceptable. Below is the breakout of the first round from April 2014:
So which of these teams will most likely make it again?
If you’ve been reading us for a while, then you know we are proponents of the new stats that have popped up over the past few years. One that has really taken hold in the community, and led to the hiring of several “stats guys” around the league, is Corsi. Corsi is a measure of shot attempts (on net, missed, or blocked) taken for or against while a player is on the ice. It’s basically the plus-minus of these shot attempts. If Player X is on the ice for three shot attempts for and one shot attempt against, then that shift he was +2 for his Corsi (also a 75% Corsi). Fairly simple concept.
Ignoring some of the noise associated with these stats, the biggest complaint that comes up with the possession metrics is that it doesn’t measure goals, and goals win games. It’s tough to argue with the logic, because it’s partially true. Great work has been done proving that possession directly correlates to wins with large enough sample sizes, but it still doesn’t measure goals. Pucks in the net are what matter.
Luckily, the guys at Hockey Graphs have begun breaking ground on this front. They did a lot of the legwork in measuring goals via possession numbers, and that post is definitely worth a read in its entirety. But to summarize: Players can be separated into four buckets (forwards) or three buckets (defense) based on ice time. Each player falls into a bucket based on ice time, and you can use their Corsi% to project a goal differential across the season.
Montreal Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin made PK Subban the third richest player n the National Hockey League yesterday, locking the defenseman down for 8 years at $72 million dollars or, for those mathematically challenged, $9M a year. This comes after the 25 year old Norris Trophy winner of the lockout-shortened 2013 season made only $3.75M last year. The deal was the first to go to arbitration since 2011, despite being settled independently after the first hearing.
With the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signings being significant, it’s important to take a look at the Subban signing as well. He’ll likely be their next captain, as former captan Brian Gionta left for Buffalo during this offseason, and Subban is viewed to be an enormous talent who is outspoken, to say the least. The defense in light of such figures is that with the Canadian TV deal signed last year should raise the cap enough that, towards the end of this deal, Subban will be a steal. But is this logical? Read More→
I want to preface this article with the fact that I am not a mathematician or statistician. I’m a lawyer. In fact, they lied to us in law school and told us we wouldn’t have to do math once we were out practicing. So even if you love my ideas, I have no real skill set to design or implement them. This is purely for conceptual discussion purposes.
Ok, with that out of the way, I wanted to talk about #fancystats for a minute. It’s becoming clear that organizations around the league are starting to recognize the usefulness and momentum that these types of statistics have, evidenced by more and more front offices disclosing their emphasis on integrating them into their management processes.
However, I think we can all agree that the concepts and statistical methodologies are rudimentary at best at this point. It’s also completely understandable. Baseball has led the way in the revolution of statistical analyses, but it has a massive advantage on all other sports: each play happens in a vacuum, and at most there are 2-4 players involved in any given play. This level of isolation makes it incredibly convenient to look at individual performance within that play and assign value to it. The causal relationship between each player on the field is limited, and unlike hockey, plays happening minutes prior have very little bearing on what you are measuring.
In the aftermath of the free agent frenzy of last Tuesday, it appears that a lot of you (and us, actually) have some pretty strong feelings, mostly negative. Given that Glen Sather is working with a $69M cap hit and roughly every single Ranger succumbing to free agency, I won’t sit here and make a case or assign a grade to one day of a lengthy offseason. We lost a lot, sure, but I’m a huge proponent of the old idea of addition by subtraction. But who was subtracted that’ll hurt the most?
This week has been chock full of articles about how badly we’ll miss Brian Boyle and what a dope Sather was to let him walk. In a perfect world, we keep Boyle and Dominic Moore together on the penalty kill to continue their magic (and their magical bromance when the situation arose). There’s no denying that Boyle played well throughout the playoffs, and for once, the playoffs were a long, joyous time of winning. But we have to think before that, and we have to think about terms, which is something we often don’t do when we have a predisposed feeling about a player.
Rick Nash – There were three Rick Nash’s this season. There was the timid, perimeter, unengaged Nash who sleep walked through parts of the season. There was the hungry, physically dominant, clutch Nash who was joint third in the entire league with nine game winning goals despite missing almost a quarter of the season. Then there was the postseason Nash whose effort and determination couldn’t be questioned but whose production certainly could.
Nash will enter next year closely watched by one and all to see how he responds to what was a hugely difficult postseason for him. Nash needs to produce more, and more consistently, given his contract, reputation and incredible size and ability. Nash managed to score a solid 26 goals in the regular season which was interrupted through injury, but everyone knows he should be the Rangers best goal scorer and he wasn’t. Grade: C
Brad Richards – Thanks for trying Brad. Brad Richards is almost certainly an ex-Ranger as his buyout is a mere formality at this stage. During the regular season, Richards actually produced quite well given his diminishing importance to the club on the ice. With 20 goals and 51 points, Richards was solid. However his second lowest shooting percentage of his career and being arguably the biggest defensive liability amongst Ranger forwards, Richards was very hit and miss.
Next up on our final year report cards come the bottom six (or seven, in this case) forwards. Before we start individually, it should be noted that the bottom six were shockingly good this season, with the third line being arguably the most consistent and productive line towards the end of the season. The chemistry shown on both the third and fourth lines (though moreso with the third) carried the Rangers through the Pittsburgh series in the playoffs and will make for a headache for Glen Sather to keep together during the offseason. On to the grades..
Mats Zuccarello: A. Zucc was the Rangers MVP for this past season. He showed tremendous strength and a major return on his 1 year/$1.15 million contract signed prior to this season. Leading the team with a line of 19-40-59 during the regular season, Zucc kept it turned on during the playoffs with that aforementioned chemistry, with a respectable 13 points in the 25 games played. Perhaps the most promising sign is that Zuccarello is listed at 5’7, yet plays as big (and often bigger) than the 6’4 Rick Nash. Re-signing Zucc must be an absolute priority for management this summer.
Do the math. Five goals in thirty eight playoff games (or 0.13 goals per game) vs. 336 goals in 783 regular season games (or 0.43 goals per game). If anyone wanted to make a case that Nash wasn’t a playoff performer or that he’s a choke artist, the numbers are there for the taking.
But making such claims are easy. The hard part is trying to figure out why this isn’t working. The even more difficult task is prescribing a solution.
Look, I’m not an expert. I have no magic potion, but I think I at least have a theory as to why Rick Nash’s offense has sank to Brandon Dubinsky levels of erraticism. And the only way to right the ship is to make an adjustment.
Scope this out.
Rangers fans are certainly getting a taste of different hockey clubs this postseason. After playing the Capitals four out of the last five postseasons and the Devils three times in the past eight years, the Rangers squared off against Philly for the first time since 1997 and now get the Montreal Canadiens for the first time since 1996.
Unlike 1996, when both teams’ windows to win were closing, this time around both clubs square off with their respective windows wide open. This series will go deep and will be one for the books for sure.