Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Puck Prospectus Article: Shot Quality and the Minnesota Wild

Niklas Backstrom is a mystery to me - is he a great goalie? Or did Minnesota limit his exposure. The Wild's Chris Snow clearly feels that both are true. Depending on your angle, the numbers back up both opinions.

Shot Quality and the Minnesota Wild

I've written about this topic from various angles, here and here.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

New Puck Prospectus Post: The Dangers of Defensive Zone Faceoffs

"What are the risks of losing a faceoff in the defensive zone in comparison to the neutral zone, and does a coach`s usage of players in faceoffs affect player performance?"

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Derrière le filet: Avec or Sans Saku

"Après quinze ans à Montréal, l'ère Saku Koivu est officiellement terminée. Soit démonisé ou sanctifié, selon le jour de la semaine, il faisait partie des Canadiens toute ma vie d'adulte et a joué 792 parties pour eux, dix-neuvième pour tout les temps. Alors, quelle a été sa valeur à l'équipe?"


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Do Fighters Ever Prosper?

New column on Puck Prospectus:

"I looked at every fight during the 2008-09 season where one player received was voted the winner by at least 50% of fans. Since many people vote that a fight was a draw, this picks out only the fights with a clear winner. I then looked at how many goals the winner's team scored and allowed over the next 10 minutes and over the rest of the game. I compared this goal differential with how an average NHL team did given the same initial score and time on the clock. That is, if a team was down 2-1 at the midway point of the 2nd period and won a fight, I compared their performance to all teams that were down 2-1 midway through the second."

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Puck Prospectus: Analyzing The Sharks' Defense

"One of the downsides of writing about hockey statistics is not necessarily getting to watch all that much hockey. So I decided to watch video of every even-strength goal the San Jose Sharks gave up during the regular season this year."


Friday, July 3, 2009

Joe Thornton's giveaways: bad for the Sharks?

Joe Thornton made one particularly egregious giveaway this season. Unfortunately, it was at 14:04 of the 3rd period in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs, making the score 3-0 Ducks and dashing the Sharks' hopes of evening up the series.

Here's the footage:,3,154&event=ANA623


So I set out to figure out how often Thornton made giveaways like that:

"Thornton, though? He spends most of his time skating slowly, fighting for the puck behind the opposing team's net, out-muscling guys along the boards, pushing defensemen out of the way as he carries the puck between them. He's a finesse player, no doubt, but he plays a strength game, and it can at times look almost effortless. Unfortunately, with all that puck possession comes a lot of giveaways. Thornton, because he skates slowly, is never in position to recover his giveaways, which leads to a lot of plays where an opposing player's streaking down the ice, while Thornton is stuck in the offensive zone.

At least it seems that way to many observers, and I've been frequently asked to figure out how many goals Joe Thornton's giveaways cost the Sharks."


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Article on Puck Prospectus: Minnesota High School Hockey equivalencies

"Overall, Minnesota hockey translates to the NCAA (NHLE = 0.41) at approximately 0.18, giving an NHLE of 0.073. The translation to the USHL is 0.195; its translation to the NCAA is 0.65; the overall NHLE is 0.052. Via a similar process, the NHLE via the NAHL is also 0.052. This puts the difficulty level of Minnesota H.S. hockey somewhere between 5.2% and 7.3% - which is not very high: the leading scorer in Minnesota over the course of a decade might be good for 20 points as an 18-year-old rookie in the NHL."

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Friday, June 19, 2009

New Article on Puck Prospectus: One-Goal Games

"While the trend is certainly downwards as scoring increases, several points confirm that it's possible to have both high-scoring and a high correlation between overall performance and performance in one-goal games. As scoring levels rise, the number of wins each team gets in one-goal games decreases, but there was no disincentive for them to play to win these games."


Monday, June 1, 2009

New Puck Prospectus Post: The Right Guy in Goal

"With an unproven goalie, teams can not tolerate a losing streak, so newly-arrived goaltenders have to play well immediately in the NHL. The difference between an NHL All-Star and a fringe goaltender is approximately one goal every other game. It doesn't matter that it might take 60 or 70 games to tell whether a goaltender has a true talent save percentage of .910 or .900 - if he plays poorly in his first 10 or 20 games, he gets sent down and somebody else gets a chance."

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Column on

Who plays the Toughest Minutes?

"Big-Minute Men: Who are teams putting on the ice in the key moments of the game? Who are the centers taking the key draws? Who are the defensive pairings in the final minute of a one-goal game?"

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Puck Prospectus Post: "What Power-Play?"

"After the 2007-08 season, the NHL changed a rule in order to increase offense on the power play. In the past, when a penalty was called, the first power play faceoff was taken wherever the puck was touched. Starting with the 2008-09 season, faceoffs were now going to be in the penalized team's defensive zone. This had the desired impact - teams no longer had to skate the length of the ice when they had the man advantage, so they had the opportunity to spend a little bit more time on their actual power play. The overall impact was a nine percent increase in power play scoring..."

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Monday, April 6, 2009

New Post on Puck Prospectus: Hockey's Different Games

"Let's start with a simple hypothetical. Imagine you have never been to a hockey game before. The referee drops the puck and five on five play begins with both teams forechecking, playing defense and passing the puck with a few shots per minute on each netminder. Suddenly a penalty is drawn, completely changing the dynamics of the game..."


Friday, February 27, 2009

A week of Puck Prospectus

I was quite interested to see the launch of Puck Prospectus, Baseball Prospectus' entry into hockey analysis. While there are lots of people doing hockey analysis, both inside the NHL and on their own, conventional hockey reporting has yet to absorb any of it, not even to the point where hockey columnists need to dismiss its practitioners as "a bunch of guys sitting in their mom's basements."

At any rate, I thought I'd give a brief run-down of Puck Prospectus' first week of articles:

Robert Vollman: Projecting Future Scoring. Similarity scores are a great way to predict a player's future performance, particularly in baseball, where a multitude of statistics and positions can give you a sense of what kind of player someone is. There are things you can suss out about a player's likely aging curve (eg: Ben Grieve, young players with old players' skills) that you would miss with a generalized aging curve. But using just hockey boxcar stats? I think there's not enough information there - I'm guessing that a simple "projection" system like Tangotiger's Marcels would do just as well. Hopefully Rob can give us more details and show us a better system.

Iain Fyffe: The Beginning. I like this approach: since so many readers are essentially uninitiated in hockey analysis, explain the basics. The most important thing you look for in a future NHL star is high point totals at a young age. And of course if you're comparing players to one another, you need to make an allowance for offensive variations over the years.

Timo Seppa: Plus/Minus - A Nonsense Stat?. This article compares Plus/Minus to RBIs, and, after showing the context-sensitive nature of +/-, dismisses it as a nonsense stat, like RBIs. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between RBIs and +/-: because run-scoring in baseball can be separated into context-independent components (singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, stolen bases, etc...), RBIs never come into play in advanced statistics. But a player's value in hockey is, in essence, captured by the number of goals he contributes to, minus the number he allows. There are obviously adjustments to be made for linemates, opponents, defensive zone faceoffs and the like, but at the most fundamental level, a player's plus/minus is his value to his team. In other words, it's very much not nonsense.

Tom Awad: Bayesian Power Rankings. This is a great way of looking at the NHL. You can see, for example, that the Leafs somehow have a 9% chance of making the playoffs! Since this is all done at a team level, one thing that's hard to assess is a team's real winning percentage - you have to assume that they are exactly as good as they have been. Compare that to baseball, where individual projections and lineup predictions can be used to estimate the inherent quality of a team and possibly get a better sense of how they'll do going forward, particularly at the beginning of the season. It probably takes one person's spare time to do this for the NHL, so maybe that's what Puck Prospectus has in store for us in the long run.

Andrew Rothstein: Second Half of February Trades. I'll admit I'm a little confused by the discussion in this piece. Andrew refers to several things that I'm not familiar with: Even-Strength Shooting Percentage Differential, a 1-point-per-game barrier for rookies, Special Teams Pythagorean winning percentage. BP has most of their jargon linked and defined - PP might be well-served to do the same, and to spend a number of articles outlining their methodology. BP had the advantage of developing their stats publicly, at least initially, so that analysts were aware of them. Hockey's a bit more obscure...


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