Monday, August 24, 2009

OHL 2003-04 Quality of Competition

Following up on this table, here are 5v5 Quality of Competition percentiles for each of the players. (Quality of Competition is calculated using Willis' method with the following modifications - only 5v5 points are included, and all opponents are included, not just forwards.)

Rob Schremp appears to have been sheltered...

Player QoC GP-G-A1-A2 +/-
Wolski 86 65-19-13-6 42/42
Schremp 41 63-12- 5-8 34/13
Bolland 83 65-14- 9-5 32/19
Bickel 32 56-14- 5-3 32/36
Garlock 95 51-8- 14-7 36/20
Berti 78 64-6- 11-7 38/35
Meidl 82 66-5- 7-7 33/29
Kennedy 85 62-11-11-4 38/36
Reddox 82 66-15-10-6 39/41
McGrath 96 67-10-11-9 45/43
Kell 69 62-7- 8-5 26/14
Pisellini67 67-4- 3-4 25/17
Haskins 78 61-5- 9-2 28/14
Kaleta 56 65-4- 4-4 18/34
Rizk 92 67-5- 6-4 21/33
Morrison 45 64-10- 7-7 38/31
Pitton 79 66-8- 3-4 25/36
Stewart 9 57-4- 4-2 14/23

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Friday, February 6, 2009

More Gladwell (spoiler: he's wrong)

[This originally appeared in the "Committed Indian", the unofficial Chicago Blackhawks program...]

If you've got a friend in business - sales guy, MBA, doesn't matter - you've probably heard him talk about Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell writes books about unintuitive things: his 2005 book Blink, was, if I recall correctly, about how thinking too hard on the job causes people to make more mistakes. Some of you might remember that line of thinking from Bull Durham. At any rate, Gladwell's most recent book, Outliers, is about how success is a combination of both talent and surprisingly more opportunity than we expected.

One outlier he identifies is the distribution of NHL players' birthdates: for decades, NHL players have been twice as likely to be born in the first three months of the year than in the last three. The reason why is fairly obvious - because little kids are divided into teams on the basis of what year they were born, the kids born earlier in the year are, on average, bigger and stronger and have almost an extra year of development. So they're the most likely to get picked by coaches focused on having the best team over the new few months. That leads to better coaching and competition and ultimately being more likely to get picked for a better team the next year.

This effect continues all the way through Junior hockey and the NHL, where the ratios of Q1 to Q4 birthdates are 3:1 and 2:1, respectively. Gladwell suggests that a lot of hockey talent is being squandered because professional players only started out a little bit better when they were kids but benefited tremendously from better coaching and competition. In an interview with ESPN, Gladwell said he suggested to officials from the Canadian national junior hockey team that they start a parallel league for kids born in the second half of the year, which would conceivably result in 150 additional NHL players if they equalized the first and second half birthdates. The officials supposedly told him it was "too complicated."

So splitting youth hockey into two leagues is too complicated even if it increases the number of players these leagues graduate to the NHL by 30%? If only it were so simple. The ratio of early-to-late birthdays is much higher in junior hockey than it is in the NHL, and so while the player development process may favor the older players from age 5-18, the jump from junior hockey to the NHL actually favors players born later in the year.

It's not surprising either - a player like Patrick Kane, who was born at the end of December, suddenly gained an extra year of development compared to a player who was born in January of the same year. And, after all those years playing in leagues where coaches were only concerned with how good you were going to be this season, the NHL is really only concerned with how good you're going to be at your best, which is usually when you're in your early-to-mid-20s. Even without the extra season, if you have two players with identical statistics in junior hockey, the December player projects to score 50% more points in the NHL than the player born in January, largely because he's put up those points against competition that's relatively bigger and stronger than he is.

Now remember that we're talking about all NHL players, including anyone who plays in even just one game. If we only look at former Canadian junior players who were in the top sixth in NHL scoring, which was anyone with 42 points or more last year, the ratio of early-to-late birthday players over the last decade is about 1.20:1. If we managed to equalize these two groups over the course of the next 25 or 30 years, that would ultimately add about seven Canadian players to the top sixth of the league. That's nothing to sneeze at, but it's not as if, as Gladwell suggested, we're "squandering the talents of hundreds of boys with late birthdays" by not doing so. It turns out that the group where players with early birthdays are most over-represented is the league leaders in penalty minutes per game, and I can't see anyone getting up in arms about whether some kid's December birthday kept him from becoming the next Ogie Ogilthorpe.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How does scoring in junior predict the likelihood of playing in the NHL?

In the past, I've examined how scoring translates from junior hockey to the NHL, but I haven't really considered how likely it is to get left by the wayside and not make the transition to the NHL. To produce the chart below, I normalized all junior scoring to an arbitrary level (QMJHL, 1997) and then looked at how likely players are to play 60 games in the NHL before age 24 based on their scoring. All ages are as of January 1st of a given season.

The results aren't in the least bit surprising: you're more likely to stick in the NHL if 1) you score a lot; 2) you score a lot when you're younger. If you're over 20 and you're still playing junior, odds are you haven't impressed a pro team in training camp and you're almost out of options.

Each age data point includes players that are three months younger and three months older. There is a small 'blip' in the data around 17.3 years old, roughly corresponding to the cut-off date for the NHL draft. Players who just miss the cut-off date and have to play an extra year in junior end up being slightly less likely to play in the NHL because they've lost a year of development.

If you want to draw a line in the sand, it would be this: a draft-eligible player who scores a point-per-game has a 50/50 chance of playing regularly in the NHL.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and making the NHL

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the odd distribution of birth months among NHL players. Because youth players are registered in leagues based on their year of birth, the biggest and strongest players tend to be those born in the first few months of the year. This selection process starts as early as age 8, and the effect persists more than a decade later in junior hockey in Canada. The effect has been visible for decades:

One thing that's very unintuitive about this effect is that, other things being equal, if you have a 17-year-old player who puts up the same number of points as an 18-year-old player, the 17-year-old will have a much higher performance ceiling. I like to call this the 'Wayne Gretzky-Dan Hodgson' effect - two players who had identical stats their last year in junior; but Gretzky was 16 and Hodgson was 19, and so it was obvious who would have the better NHL career.

At any rate, if you have identical junior players born in January and December, the December player was almost a year younger when he achieved his performance. If we project that performance forward to Age 23, then we'd expect the December player, on average, to be better. And this is an effect we see when we compare the birthdates of junior hockey players to NHL players:

The first time that players aren't strictly grouped by birthdate is when they reach professional leagues. At this point, younger players outperform older players by a wide margin, making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL at a 50% higher rate. Gladwell mentions in his ESPN interview that "Canada is squandering the talents of hundreds of boys with late birthdays." It seems pretty clear that he's right.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

How good is John Tavares?

[Originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2008 edition of 'The Committed Indian', the unofficial Chicago Black Hawks program...]

Can you imagine baseball fans across the country getting excited about a 16-year-old shortstop? Football fans getting worked up because a freshman running back is dominating the varsity somewhere in Texas? Well, it happens all the time in hockey. Ever since a 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky stepped on the ice in 1977 and dominated players three years his senior in the Ontario Hockey Association junior league, there's been tremendous buzz around kids who would be a decade away from their primes in many other sports. Hockey fans are always looking for the second-coming of Gretzky: Mario Lemieux in 1981, Eric Lindros in 1989, Sidney Crosby in 2003, and now John Tavares.

There was so much excitement around Tavares that Canada's junior hockey leagues changed their rules to allow him to be drafted at age 14 and play just three days after his 15th birthday. Fans of bad NHL teams were already hoping they'd be bad enough to get the first draft pick in 2009 so they could pick him. He did not disappoint, scoring 45 goals in 65 games. The list of players who've put up numbers like this at such a young age over the last 25 years is a short one:

Name Season Age League PPG Adj
John Tavares 2005-06 15.28 OHL 1.18 1.01
Jason Spezza 1998-99 15.55 OHL 1.06 0.83
Rob Brown 1983-84 15.73 WHL 1.16 0.69

The table lists each player's age as of January 1st of that season. The PPG column lists each player's points-per-game, while Adj shows that figure adjusted to a 6 goal-per-game offensive environment. This adjustment is particularly important - without it, we would overstate the significance of performances like Brown's, in a league where teams combined for more than 10 goals-per-game. At any rate, Tavares was younger and better than other prodigies, who themselves were pretty good: Spezza has three 30-goal seasons in the NHL before age 24, while Brown scored 49 at age 20.

Tavares didn't disappoint in his second season, scoring 72 goals in 67 games. His company at that level:

Name Season Age League PPG Adj
Sidney Crosby 2003-04 16.40 QMJHL 2.29 2.04
John Tavares 2006-07 16.28 OHL 2.00 1.61
Vincent Lecavalier 1996-97 16.70 QMJHL 1.59 1.27
Derek Roy 1999-00 16.66 OHL 1.32 1.13
Pierre-Marc Bouchard 2000-01 16.68 QMJHL 1.42 1.10
Brian Bellows 1980-01 16.33 OHL 1.76 1.09
Jimmy Carson 1984-85 16.45 QMJHL 1.71 1.05
Martin Lapointe 1989-90 16.30 QMJHL 1.48 1.05
Rob Schremp 2002-03 16.50 OHL 1.14 1.03
Rick Nash 2000-01 16.54 OHL 1.14 1.02
Jason Spezza 1999-00 16.55 OHL 1.17 1.01
Mike Ricci 1987-88 16.18 OHL 1.49 1.00
Pierre Turgeon 1985-86 16.34 QMJHL 1.65 0.99

Most of these players did not approach Tavares' age-16 performance, but even at these lower levels, they averaged nearly a point-per-game in the NHL at age 18, and 10 out of 12 of them arguably ended up being NHL stars - while Martin Lapointe played nearly 1000 NHL games (and the jury is still out on Rob Schremp).

So what happened the next season? Tavares kept his output steady, which still placed him at the top of his age group:

Name Season Age League PPG Adj
Sidney Crosby 2004-05 17.40 QMJHL 2.71 2.55
Jason Spezza 2000-01 17.55 OHL 2.10 1.89
Pierre-Marc Bouchard 2001-02 17.68 QMJHL 2.03 1.74
John Tavares 2007-08 17.28 OHL 2.00 1.74
Pavel Brendl 1998-99 17.77 WHL 1.97 1.68
Dale Hawerchuk 1980-81 17.74 QMJHL 2.54 1.62
Ramzi Abid 1997-98 17.77 QMJHL 1.99 1.60
Vincent Lecavalier 1997-98 17.70 QMJHL 1.98 1.60
Marc Savard 1994-95 17.46 OHL 2.11 1.56
Kyle Wellwood 2000-01 17.63 OHL 1.74 1.56
Mario Lemieux 1982-83 17.24 QMJHL 2.79 1.55
Joe Thornton 1996-97 17.50 OHL 2.07 1.55
Pierre Turgeon 1986-87 17.34 QMJHL 2.66 1.55
Rob Brown 1985-86 17.73 WHL 2.51 1.51

A few more good names pop up on the list, along with some huge disappointments. My initial inclination was that because Tavares wasn't scoring at a higher rate, he wasn't getting any better. And players who don't get better as teenagers tend to be very disappointing professionals. But he's still at the top of every list at his age, and he doesn't play on a top offensive team like Crosby did. I think he's obviously not as good as Sidney Crosby, but likely better than Jason Spezza. That's not a terrible verdict - Spezza was 6th in NHL scoring last season; Crosby, whose abilities are well-known, was 1st in scoring two years ago.

The bottom line: Tavares probably won't be the best player in the game, but it's pretty likely that he'll be in the top ten even if he doesn't step up another notch in his final junior season.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Canadian Junior A NCAA/Major Junior Equivalencies

I now have five-to-seven years of player data for Canadian Junior A leagues, so it's now possible to generate equivalencies for each league. I ran the data for British Columbia (BCHL), Alberta (AJHL), Saskatchewan (SJHL), Manitoba (MJHL), Ontario (OPJHL), Quebec (QJAHL) and the Maritimes (MJAHL).

The Quebec and Maritimes leagues did not send a significant number of players to the NCAA, and few players went from the SJHL to Major Junior. The Manitoba league was more likely to send players to other Junior A league than to have them step up to a higher-level of hockey.

Here are the equivalencies normalized to a player age of 18:

Junior A to NCAAEQUIVMean AgeN
A huge drop from the USHL to the Junior A leagues - but not a huge difference among the Canadian leagues. The AJHL seems to have a higher level of play.

Junior A to Major Junior
Less of a difference this time, but again the AJHL is on top.

Major Junior to Junior A

Note that the equivalency is in this table is actually for Junior A to Major Junior so that we can compare the relative performance of players stepping up a level of hockey versus those stepping down. Junior A leagues appear substantially less difficult for players coming from Major Junior than they did to players going in the other direction.

Overall, assuming that the level of play is identical in all three Canadian major Leagues (which has been shown elsewhere on this site), then the BCHL and AJHL appear to have the highest level of play of all the Junior A leagues.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Economic Prospects of a Hockey Player

I grew up in Winnipeg, surrounded by a lot of very good hockey players. When we were 12 or 13 years old, it was a foregone conclusion that some of them would get drafted and end up in the NHL. After all, there were a few solid local players in the pros: Mike Keane, Mike Ridley, Grant Ledyard and James Patrick.

But we should have noticed that of those four players, only Patrick was drafted. For the others, the road to the NHL was anything but direct: Ledyard played Tier II Junior, then spent almost three years in the minors; Keane played out his junior eligibility then spent a year in the minors; and Ridley, after losing a season after having his leg broken by Patrick in midget hockey, played Canadian college hockey.

Looking at players born 1973-1982 in Winnipeg, just 14 reached the NHL, with the longest career belonging to Tyler Arnason. Overall, just 7.3 players per year reached some significant level of professional hockey, which includes the NHL, AHL/IHL, minor pro leagues such as the ECHL, CHL or UHL, or top-division European leagues. If we assume an average wage of $10000 per game in the NHL, $1000 in the AHL, $500 in Europe and $200 in North American minor pro leagues, we get the following average salaries by age:

AgeAverage Salary

The average is of course skewed by players who manage to stay on an NHL roster throughout the entire year. The median salary at ages 23-25 is closer to $20000, since the majority of players play in minor pro leagues. I've introduced a survivor bias here too - barely 5% of AAA Bantam (age 15) players will make the jump to being regular players in Junior or the NCAA and get the opportunity to play professional hockey. Overall, fewer than 1% of top 15-year-olds will ever make the NHL minimum salary of $450000 in a season, and perhaps 3% will make the AHL average of $50000.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Lots of hits on USHL Article

The short column I wrote the level of play in the USHL has generated a lot of interest in the last couple of days.

Marc Foster's junior hockey blog made reference to it:

Junior Hockey Blog

And the USHL President's office and Director of Scouting got in touch with me to express their gratitude at seeing these numbers available somewhere. A big thanks to James Mirtle for his blog post on the USHL, which made me think it was finally time to analyze the USHL.

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