My Thoughts

The Auston Matthews Controversy

posted Jan 17, 2018, 8:08 PM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Jan 18, 2018, 8:46 AM ]

My recent article on ESPN Insider explored the idea of trading Auston Matthews, and tried to land on a situation where it might make sense. Despite the modest tone, even the mere suggestion that such a possibility should be examined had exactly the outraged response that any reasonable sportswriter would expect. Even at my beer league game that Friday, someone in the locker room asked me if I heard about the idiot who wrote that Matthews should be traded. 

Well, having taken a week for things to die down and for everyone to move on, I decided to devote today's blog post to this experience, and what I learned from it. The primary focus is on the subject matter itself, but I chose not to completely avoid the non-hockey aspect, and have a few thoughts on online sports debates in general.

1. How Many People Disagree?

The great majority of people completely disagreed with the idea of trading Auston Matthews, but not necessarily because there was anything wrong with the argument itself. In most cases, they simply don't think Matthews shouldn't be traded, no matter what. He could ask for $16 million, lose a leg, and they'd still argue that the building should be burnt to the ground before Lou picks up a phone. Well not really, but you get the idea.

Based on a Twitter poll, only 18% of fans would consider trading Matthews for anything less than a Lindrosian offer (e.g. for McDavid himself, or some crazy haul). That means that no argument would ever persuade most people that this option should receive any consideration.

2. Is Matthews at McDavid's Level?

There are two possible explanations for these results; either Matthews is viewed as the (second) most valuable player in the NHL, or there's a philosophical opinion that a team's top player should never be traded, no matter who it is.

Personally, I think it's the former case. If I ran the same poll with McDavid instead of Matthews, I'd probably get the same response, or even lower than 18%. But, if I ran it with Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jack Eichel, or anybody like that, I probably wouldn't. I'm totally speculating here, but they'd probably all be safely above 20%, or even 30% and 40%, despite the fact that they each have far more reasonable cap hits.

To test that theory, I ran another poll to see just how many players are classified as non-tradeable, like Matthews and presumably McDavid. If there were only a few, then that means people perceive McDavid and Matthews as sort of a 1A and 1B in the world. If that's the perception that people have, then I can definitely understand why they wouldn't want to trade him under any circumstances. In that case, I should have invested more than one paragraph demonstrating that there are few indications that's he's at that level. And, if some of the NHL front offices feel the same way about Matthews, then that means there's a huge possibility of getting a Lindrosian offer for him.

On the other hand, if there are a lot of players who were felt to be non-tradeable, then it's more a philosophical discussion about trading away franchise players in general. However, the results seem to suggest that's not the reason for the first poll's results, and therefore Matthews must be perceived to be in very, very select company of five or fewer players.

3. Should You Ever Trade a Franchise Player?

Despite those results, some of the objections I saw through social media, on message boards, and in the comments involved a philosophical opposition to the idea of trading franchise players at all. Many felt that Lindros was pretty much the only example of a case where that worked out.

This is really a separate topic but, even if it's true, we need to know why it rarely works out. There are any number of reasons why trading franchise players hasn't worked out in the past (assuming that's the case), and some of them might not apply anymore, nor may they apply to this situation. Just knowing that something hasn't happened in the past (assuming it didn't) isn't enough -- we need to know why. This would be a great future study, no doubt.

4. Are Centres More Important Than D-Men?

Another great topic for future study is whether it makes sense to trade away a franchise centre, especially for a defenseman. To defend this theory, some fans pointed to recent Stanley Cup winners, and argued that almost all of them had a franchise centre.

First of all, it's a matter of opinion just how many recent Stanley Cup winners truly had a franchise centre -- which means they must be among the NHL's top five at that position. Sidney Crosby certainly qualifies, but do Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, and Jonathan Toews? Perhaps -- but there's an argument either way. I chose top five arbitrarily, because by definition the majority of the 16 playoffs teams are likely to have someone in the top 10.

Secondly, the pool of Stanley Cup winners is pretty small -- just four teams in the past eight years. If we expanded the list to include all Stanley Cup finalists, would we find the same pattern? Last year, two of the four finalists were strong down the middle (Pittsburgh and Anaheim) and two weren't (Nashville and Ottawa). That's still not enough data on which to judge, but if it was true that you MUST have a franchise centre to be a contender, then they should be overwhelmingly present among the finalists, and mostly absent from the early eliminations.

While that's certainly another great study for another day, I can venture an opinion on that right now. In short, my position is that teams should maximize the value of their roster regardless of position. At times, one position or type of player is overvalued and hard to acquire, and at other times they're plentiful and affordable. You need to navigate these "market fluctuations" and assemble the best possible roster at any given time. For most teams and at most times, that won't always include a franchise centre. However, this is a matter of personal opinion, and I don't have any kind of formal study to back it up.

5. What Would be a Fair Return for Matthews?

Sometimes, the counter-argument was there was just no way for any team to construct a fair offer for Matthews that was in any way realistic for the other team. Well, part of my theory was that some team would get swept up in the same hype and hysteria that we saw from the fan response to this article, and actually make an offer that was far too generous, and not in their own interest. 

Quite frankly, it's difficult to construct a win-win trade that involved Matthews -- but not impossible. Since I was mostly exploring the merit of the whole idea, I only pitched a couple of rough ideas that pointed in the right direction. However, Evan Presement took a closer look on Leafs Nation, if you want to explore this idea further.

6. Couldn't Toronto Get a D-Man Another Way?

Absolutely. For Toronto, Plan A has to be to find that last missing piece of a strong, top-pair defenseman through free agency, or by trading away picks, prospects, or players other than the team's franchise player. Worst case scenario, Plan B would involve moving someone like Mitchell Marner or William Nylander instead.

Just because trading Matthews isn't Plan A doesn't mean that it shouldn't be considered at all. Toronto needs to get on top of all of its options, right? If the veteran free agents and players like Marner and Nylander all sign very reasonable contracts, or if no other organizations seem to be offering much in exchange for any of them, then Toronto has to be ready to start moving down the list to Plan C and D --although trading Matthews is probably more like Plan K or Plan L.

There was at least one fan on social media that was particularly passionate about this point, and felt that it should have been the focal point of the article, instead of focusing on Matthews. In fact, he got very passionate. I love passion, because without passionate fans, there wouldn't be a demand for sportswriters. And, I always have the greatest respect for the opinions of others -- not that anybody needs that to have one!

Usually, most fans settle down when you respond respectfully and cordially, back off the hyperbole, and engage in grounded discussion. However, with a topic like this, some fans get understandably swept up in their passion. In one particular case, because this fan would have gone in this different direction with the piece, he argued that my work was sad and insane, and that fans deserve better than a lazy troll writing irresponsible nonsense who doesn't show his work, has deliberate omissions and egregious oversights, dodges questions, and only cares about money and clicks. Surprisingly, he didn't classify any of that as either hyperbole, or a personal attack. However, I do think he captured the spirit of most fans.

7. Were There A Lot of Personal Attacks?

Yes, but not nearly as many as I expected. 

We're getting off topic a little bit, but I didn't want to ignore these types of questions completely, because I do think things have become more civil than they used to be. Years ago, when I worked for Bleacher Report, it was perfectly normal to be subjected to a stream of vulgarities and profanities after even the most benign article, not to mention threats, questions about my sexuality, and detailed accounts of intimate encounters with my mother. I honestly had no idea my mother was so popular until I became a sportswriter. To my knowledge, none of that was the case this past week, so either my mother has settled down, or things have become more civil.

Yes, I got called an idiot, a moron, a troll, and so on, but that's really no big deal. For example, Dean Blundell tweeted that "ESPN’s Rob Vollman Thinks The Leafs Should Trade Auston Matthews. Also Rob Vollman is an idiot." On his website, he proceeded to quote the entire article EXCEPT the conclusion, probably because it didn't fit his narrative. Here's the conclusion:

Most of the people who argued with me were essentially paraphrasing my own closing words. That's why it isn't unreasonable to suspect that Blundell left off this closing argument on purpose.

That being written, I'm also surprised that he would post (almost) the entire article on his website. I don't do that on my website, and I wrote the darn thing. All you'll find here is the opening paragraph and a link to ESPN Insider. After all, I don't own this work (and neither does Blundell) -- ESPN does. Even if I wanted to use my own work in another article or another book, I'd have to reference the original piece.

Speaking of ESPN, I'm also surprised that so many of the personal attacks were aimed at them, instead of me. Or, at least, in addition to me!

None of this really bothers me, because I believe in my work. I didn't just roll out of bed and write this article, it's based on the model introduced in the first chapter of Stat Shot. I believe in this model. It's the culmination of many of our field's major advances, it has worked well in countless other situations, and it's similar to models in use in NHL front offices. 

Some detractors told me I should be fired, or that I should quit and do something else, but the reality is quite the opposite. If I didn't believe in my work enough to write this article, THAT is the day I should quit (or get fired).

8. Was it Clickbait?

Despite all the work that went into it, popular opinion was that this article qualified as clickbait. To be honest, I wasn't even sure what that even meant before this past week.

I've never been accused of writing clickbait before. This is my 10th season at ESPN, and I have also written for several other sites, and this has never come up for either me, or the site's other writers. In fact, I even had to look up what clickbait even was.

The most common definition for clickbait is "content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page." I guess the key phrase there is "main purpose", since every article seeks to attract attention and wants to encourage people to check it out. Further research adds some clarifying criteria to this definition, such as it has to be full of ads and designed to increase advertising revenue, and the content itself is usually of no merit whatsoever, and possibly even unrelated to the title.

Since there are no ads on ESPN's website, since I don't get paid by the click, and since the article itself clearly involved a great deal of research (whether you agreed with it or not), it certainly doesn't appear to be clickbait. In fact, nobody who was familiar with me or my work, and very few people who actually read the article classified it as such. I was even honoured when Richard Deitsch tweeted that "I would not deal Auston Matthews. But this was a reported and intellectual look at such a potential deal. Appreciate seeing something smart when I expected a pure page views play." And, in a recent article for The Hockey Writers, Ben Brown wrote that "the article itself was thought-provoking, and there was a lot of statistical analysis to support the premise, but I’m still not buying what Vollman is selling, for various reasons."

In my view, both Deitsch and Browne accurately summed up the prevailing opinion of those who really keep up to speed on hockey journalism -- that they appreciate the argument that was made, but they disagree.

However, I can certainly understand how someone would think it was clickbait based solely on the title. If they were unfamiliar with me or my work, and didn't read the actual article, then they would have no way of knowing the difference between this article, and actual clickbait, based on the title alone. For that reason, it's hard to take any of this too personally.

9. Who Wrote the Title?

I didn't choose the title ("The Case for Trading Auston Matthews"). In fact, I've never chosen a title. Titles are typically chosen by the site's editor, as are any accompanying photos. Sometimes, the title even changes after an article is published. Obviously, the writer can suggest title, and object to the editor's choices, but this is the standard practice everywhere that I have worked.

10. Who Chose the Topic?

I did. On occasion, the editor assigns me a topic, but usually I pitch a variety of ideas, and they pick their favourite one, or a slight variation thereof. In this case, this was my only pitch. It was something I've been meaning to write for awhile, and now seemed like the right time to do it.

Normally, the editor just gives me a red light or a green light, but this time I got a yellow light. He wanted to know more about my particular angle. Once I laid it out, he loved it, and I forged ahead. I also filed it earlier than usual because we wanted to make sure that the arguments were clear and well-defended, and that I struck the right, modest tone.

Still, we weren't ignorant to the reality that it would cause a lot of controversy. If anything, that was a minus, not a plus. But, ESPN does pride itself on offering content that you can't get elsewhere, and you have to admit that they certainly achieve that goal this time. Thanks for reading.

New Gadgets

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:15 PM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Jan 12, 2018, 9:22 PM ]

The Pull the Goalie Bot is here!

Inspired by the Fourth Down Bot in football, @ThePullBot calculates the ideal time for the trailing team to pull the goalie in each game, and tweets it out. It also tweets out when the team actually pulled the goalie, and remarks at how the odds of winning the game go up and down as goals are scored on the empty-net, or with the extra attacker.

I've been working in conjunction with my friend Peter Tanner on this initiative, who hosts the awesome MoneyPuck website, where there are more details about how the goalie-pulling calculations are done.

We also collaborated on one Twitter Bot per team that tweets about how the odds of a team winning change with every goal. You can follow just the Bot for your favourite team, or follow all 31. Here's the @LeafsGoalBot, for example.

While it's not a Twitter Bot, one of my favourite gadgets is the player usage chart tool, which the venerable Robb Tufts up to date, which can be accessed in the menu on the left-side of my Hockey Abstract website. He also has some ideas brewing for some extra bells and whistles, so stay tuned.

Recently, I also had the pleasure of meeting with R.J. Weise (@rjweise), who showed me some of his awesome work. Here's just one taste, which is NHL shot data in 3D form. Check this out, as well as all of his other awesome work.

Ideally, I'd love to see this kind of information included in a broadcast, much as these sorts of things are included in baseball and even football coverage. Until that day, just keep your smartphone handy, and you can get this kind of live information that way. Peter, Robb, and R.J. are fantastic people, and they're among the many brilliant analysts who come out with great new gadgets every week.

Team-Building Model

Recently, I committed heresy by exploring the suggestion of trading Auston Matthews. Despite how much there is to discuss, I'm saving that for another day. Today's blog is about other items that have been on my mind recently about the world of hockey analytics.

However, I will talk a little bit about the team-building model that formed part of the basis for the argument. It's a multi-step process that tries to assign a value to each player's contract, based on their contributions over recent seasons, their age, their salary cap charge, and a few other factors. One of the beauties of this model is that the various components can be swapped out and replaced with other perspectives.

For example, the original model used Tom Awad's GVT as the catch-all statistic for each player's contributions (plus Delta, for defensemen). Since then, I've also tried Point Shares, and the WAR model advanced by Andrew Thomas and Sam Ventura, and the one designed by Dawson Sprigings. Well, I finally got around to running the numbers with Emmanuel Perry's WAR model, which is available at Corsica Hockey.

Regardless of the metric used, most teams are not well-positioned over the long term. Why? Because the only players locked down long term are those for whom teams are prepared to pay a premium. I mean, very few players are going to sign a long-term contract at a discount, right? That's why most long-term contracts are either fair, or overpays.

As such, the only teams in positive territory over the long term are Winnipeg, Anaheim, and Carolina -- although Edmonton didn't miss by much. Chicago is definitely in the worst long-term cap position, followed by Detroit and Florida, then a handful of teams like Vancouver, Dadllas, Buffalo, Calgary, Ottawa, and Minnesota.

When looking only at 2017-18, the league mostly sums up to zero, because this will include value-priced contracts, which are normally short-term arrangements. Whether short-term or long-term, the leaders once again include Carolina, Winnipeg, and Anaheim, followed by Edmonton. Montreal, Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Toronto are also in great shape, in the short-term. The team's in the worst cap situation this season include Detroit, Vancouver, Calgary, and Florida.

In terms of individual players, the best value contract is definitely Connor McDavid, no matter what metric you use. Unsurprisingly, he's followed by some really good, young, value forwards like Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrik Laine, Nikita Kucherov, and Nathan MacKinnon, with T.J. Oshie and goalie Braden Holtby in there as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, Aaron Ekblad is surprisingly the contract with the lowest value. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, because $7.5 million over the long-term is a pretty hefty sum for someone who isn't in the Norris race, and possibly might not be more than once or twice in that eight-year span. To make matters worse, Keith Yandle is also in the bottom 10.

Brent Seabrook is second-last, and has been near the bottom for years, but it's only recently that people have started to see just how risky that contract has always been. Not all the contracts at the bottom of the list prove to be bad, but it's an interesting exercise to see which ones are worth keeping an eye on.

Individual Scoring Stats

As part of my recent piece for about the members of the Vegas Golden Knights who have over-achieved to the greatest extent, I compared every player's scoring this season to what was expected, based on games played, and on previous career points per game (data from Hockey Reference, one of my very, very favourite resources). 

Needless to say, virtually every member of the Vegas Golden Knights is having a career season. But, it's also interesting to see how players around the league are doing, including the leader, Joshua Bailey of the New York Islanders.

+29.9 Bailey
+24.8 Karlsson
+24.5 Kucherov
+23.8 MacKinnon
+22.7 Couturier
+22.5 Rantanen
+21.1 Voracek
+18.5 Marchessault
+18.5 Namestnikov
+18.3 Wheeler
+17.6 Marchand
+17.2 Schenn
+16.1 Lee
+14.6 Haula

On this list, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Haula all play for the Golden Knights. It's quite remarkable that they hit 60 points at the 41-game mark, when the average expectations was 69 points on the whole season. How many points will they have the rest of the way? Well, certainly less than 60.

I briefly looked at all the other teams to earn at least 60 points in the standings prior to the 41-game mark, and none of them secured 60 points the rest of the way. Teams can get hot early in the year, or late in the year, but no team has been that hot all season.

Of the teams that earned 60 points through the first 41 games, I believe their average result in the final 41 games was around 50. I can't find the files where I did the math but, if I do, I'll update this with a more certain answer.

It's also possible the Golden Knights have been feasting on a relatively weaker division, and wouldn't be doing as well in, oh, say, the Central division. Liam O'Neil (@liam_oneil) added up the goal differential in each division, and the results are eye-opening.

As for the other end of the spectrum, it's not nearly as interesting. The list of under-achievers is mostly composed of players at the end of their careers, who couldn't possibly score at the same rate as they did in their prime. So, this list isn't nearly as insightful, but here it is.

-24.7 Spezza
-17.6 Jagr
-16.6 Kunitz
-15.7 Nash
-15.2 Sharp
-14.8 Crosby
-13.6 Jokinen
-13.3 Guentzel
-13.2 Hagelin
-12.3 Burrows
-12.3 Stajan
-12.0 Cammalleri
-11.7 Pominville
-11.6 Callahan
-11.5 Thornton

For another look at scoring, I calculated a weighted average of everyone's scoring rate from 2014-15 to 2017-18. I applied double the weight to games played this season to the previous, and then double again down the line. Here are the top 5-on-5 scoring rates for individual players over the past 3.5 years.

Points per 60/minutes (minimum 1,000 minutes played)
2.69 McDavid
2.58 Kucherov
2.57 Marchand
2.47 Schwartz
2.42 Kane
2.41 Getzlaf
2.40 Matthews
2.30 Tarasenko
2.28 Bjorkstrand
2.25 Tavares
2.25 Scheifele
2.25 Marchessault
2.25 Gaudreau

I don't think there are any shocking results here, except Bjorkstrand -- but that's probably just a small sample size.

Oh, and one last thing about scoring. I was asked whether some player's scoring results were skewed by getting a lot of opportunities to play at 3-on-3. The answer is no. Over the past three seasons, nobody has scored more than 13 points. That's just 4 or 5 points a season, even in the extreme. So no, nothing is really getting skewed.

13 Kopitar Gaudreau
10 Carter
9 Voracek Kane Pearson
8 Giroux Doughty Martinez Panarin

It's possible that some goalie data is getting skewed a tiny bit. So, I took a look at that. By the way, this 3-on-3 data, and the previous 5-on-5 scoring rate data, is all from Corsica Hockey website, which is a fantastic resource. But, I think anyone interested enough to follow my blog is probably already well familiar with that!

3-on-3 save percentage (minimum 50 minutes played)
.979 Bobrovsky
.963 Kinkaid
.941 Anderson
.927 Luongo
.916 Mason
.906 Greiss
.903 Murray
.902 Holtby
.900 Halak
...(League avg is .853)...
.791 Darling
.775 Howard
.773 Jones
.667 Gibson

One quick tidbit about goalies: Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) recently tweeted that of the 80 goalies to play this season, only three catch with their right hand - Domingue, Lindgren, and Mason. Remember the conversation I once had with Darren Pang and Craig Simpson about how certain handedness of shooters have an advantage over certain handedness of goalies, I wonder if this actually boosts certain shooters. Sadly, I can't remember which handedness had an advantage over which!

Hockey Analytics in the European Leagues

If you have your copy of Stat Shot handy, flip to page 39. That's the page where there's a re-creation of Eric Tulsky's famous chart that shows the relationship between changes in goal differential, and changes in points. The relationship between the two is uncanny, and works out to one extra point in the standings for every improvement of 2.87 in goal differential.

Well, @bodega_stats has re-created the same charts in some of the European leagues, and discovered that it's much lower in Europe. Specifically, it's 1.44 goals per point in the Swedish league, and 1.895 in the Swiss league. Of course, bear in mind that the scoring system is quite different there.

Also in Europe, Petr Malina (@xpmalina) build one of my beloved player usage charts for the Czech league. I have no idea where he found the data for it, but it's really interesting.

It's a lot of fun to see a lot of the NHL's innovations applied to other leagues. If you love this stuff as I do, then you'll be pleased with my next book, which is set for release September 2018. Unlike Stat Shot, it is not exclusively NHL-focused, and has more content related to the European leagues, U.S. College, and women's hockey.

Nail him, coach!

On the lighter side of things, my year-end poll look at one of my favourite movies, Slap Shot.

It was a tight race between the player-coach and the goon, but it sounds like most fans would prefer adding the skill and experience of Reg Dunlop to their teams than to add the ultimate enforcer. There were some write-in choices for Mo, not to mention scoring-line forwards Ned Braden and Jean-Guy Drouin, but Dunlop won the day.

Closing Announcements

In closing, I have two events to promote.

First, is the Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference March 2-4, for which tickets go on sale January 16. I was at the inaugural conference a few years ago, and they really do a great job. Vancouver is a hotbed of hockey analytics, and there are some brilliant minds there, and also some really awesome people personally. This is a great event to attend, and to support.

Finally, one last reminder of the special charity game in which I'll be participating tomorrow as part of Esso Minor Hockey Week. During the opening ceremonies, it's my honour to represent Rob Kerr's media all-stars as we take on Jamie Macoun's Flames alumni. I'm not crazy about our chances, but it's all for the kids, and it should be a lot of fun. I really hope to see you there.

Year-End Odds and Ends

posted Dec 30, 2017, 7:39 PM by Robert Vollman

As 2017 comes to an end, who was the player of the year? According to a Twitter poll, it's a close, three-way race between Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, and Sidney Crosby.  I'm not sure who the "Others" could be, except maybe a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky, or someone being a homer for Auston Matthews or something.

Who do I think is the player of 2017? Well, Crosby did with the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe and the Maurice Richard. McDavid won the Hart, the Art Ross, was a First Team All-Star, and has the most points in 2017, with 111, followed by Crosby with 109, Kucherov with 104, and then Niklas Backstrom with 97. 

However, on a per-game basis, Kucherov had 1.3 points per game, far more than McDavid, 1.17, and Crosby, 1.14. Plus, Kucherov had the most goals, with 51, which is much more than Crosby, 40, and McDavid, 35. He's followed by Filip Forsberg, 47, and then Ovechkin and Marchand, 45. 

While it's admittedly very close, I agree with the popular opinion. Kucherov had a breakout year, which now has him considered to be among the league's elite players. 

Workhorse of the Year

Goalies who handle a lot of minutes and shots are highly respected. Those who handle them well, doubly so. From that perspective, Pekka Rinne was the workhorse of 2017.

Rinne faced 2,467 shots, of which he saved 2,280 for a save percentage of .924. Compare that to the three other goalies with the greatest workloads, Frederik Andersen, who was .917 in 2,377 shots, Henrik Lundqvist, who was .916 in 2,357 shots, and Cam Talbot, who was .916 in 2,347 shots.

Poor Buffalo

The worst team in hockey right now? Apparently, it's a two-way tie (although Ottawa fans may be discouraged to even be included in this conversation).

How can Buffalo fix its problems? Well, they have good young strength down the middle with O'Reilly, Eichel, and Reinhart (who is currently being used on the wing), so they should build on that. They have also done well to pick up some castaway veterans, like Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, and Benoit Pouliot. Obviously it was a big risk to replace an experienced and accomplished coaching staff with someone who has just four years of coaching experience as an NHL assistance, but the Sabres were surprisingly not alone in deciding to do just that. Although, it should be pointed out that those who invested in an experienced coach (cough Vegas cough) did better than those who rolled the dice (cough Buffalo Florida Arizona cough). 

Then again, I think the real problem is the blue line, not the bench. After just a few injuries, Buffalo was using players like Matt Tennyson, Zach Redmond, Taylor Fedun, and Justin Falk, sometimes all at once, and sometimes in the top four. Even when healthy, Rasmus Ristolainen is absolutely buried with Andy Greene-like minutes that it doesn't appear that he's yet equipped to handle effectively. They need more defensive depth, including someone who can shoulder that burden. Scandella was definitely a stride in the right direction, but they need another.

Esso Minor Hockey Week

I'm honoured to be taking part in the charity game to kick off this year's Esso Minor Hockey Week, as part of the Opening Ceremonies on January 13. I'll be on Rob Kerr's media team, and we're up against Jamie Macoun's Flames Alumni. If you think I'm not taking it seriously, think again, because I have been eating right and exercising and have lost 10 pounds since I heard the news of my inclusion six weeks ago.

Obviously I have about as much chance keeping up with former hockey players as they would have keeping up with me with math and stats, but that doesn't mean that I won't do my very best to make it a fun and exciting game, and help teach the young players the importance of hustle. There's a meet and greet that evening at the Molson Canadian Hockey House Lounge, so I hope to see you there!

Closing Thoughts

Something very unusual happened mid-month: teams were losing when someone scored a hat trick. In the last seven times one of a team's players scored a hat trick, teams are 3-3-1. Over the last 100 such games, that brings the record to 90-6-4. So, that's 87-3-3 before that weird week, then 3-3-1. 

My friend @lw3h of @NHLInjuryViz ran some year-end numbers for me, and found that the team that had the most injuries this calendar year was the Vancouver Canucks, with 420 man-games lost, and the healthiest team was the Calgary Flames, with 65. In the standings, Calgary earned 92 points in the standings, and Vancouver earned 69, but at least some of the gap has to be explained by the wide difference in injury luck.

There's a separate section on this website for checking out my latest articles for NHL and ESPN, but I encourage you to check out my writeup on Johnny Bower, who I have ranked one of the top five goalies of all-time. It was a real honour to be asked to put that together.

Don't be intimidated by the perceived complexity. Roll up your sleeves, and develop ways to gather interesting hockey data by yourself. To that end, I pointed out Harry's scraper (which gets regular updates) last week, but there are a lot of options out there. For example, look into R.J. Weise's scraper on GitHub. He also has a number of Tableau visualizations. If you also have a scraper to share, let me know, and I'll mention it next week.

Best goalie of all time, plus more

posted Dec 21, 2017, 9:58 AM by Robert Vollman

Having played his 160th game, Connor McDavid now qualifies for the full $45,000 NHL pension when he retires. I'm sure that puts his mind at ease concerning his financial future.

The Greatest Goalie

Goalie shots and saves, which was previously only available back to the 1983-84 season, is now available all the way back to 1955-56. That allows us to finally compare modern greats like Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek to earlier legends, like Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito.

Since the history of league-average save percentage is somewhat U-shaped, it's important to measure a goalie's performance relative to that average. Otherwise, goalies who played a portion of their career in the 1980s would look terrible by comparison. So, I made the following chart that chose the six goalies who exceeded the league average to the greatest extent, and illustrated how they did against the league average, year over year.

Just based on this, Dryden appears to be the best. He only played in his prime, and he sat out the 1973-74 season, but the gap between his numbers and the league average is the most noticeable. His first season back after sitting out was really only one season where he wasn't far, far better than the rest of the league.

There are those who argue that he simply played on a dominant team, and that any goalie would have been that great. In my view, that's poppycock (excuse my language). His career average was .921, and Montreal's other goalies had a save percentage of .898 the year he sat out, and .893 the year after he left. That's right around the league average. And it's not like they had complete bums in nets, because Wayne Thomas, Denis Herron, and Michel "Bunny" Laroque were perfectly respectable goalies.

To put it another way, my long-time chum and colleague Tom Tango (@tangotiger) figured out that for roughly the same number of saves, Dryden allowed astonishingly fewer goals that Montreal's other options. From 1970-71 through to 1979-1980:
10,213 saves, 870 goals allowed: Ken Dryden
10,238 saves, 1150 goals allowed: all other Canadiens goalies

Tom also put together the following chart (a while ago) that helps us visualize a goalie's dominance on both an average basis (vertical axis) and long-term basis (horizontal axis). In other words, a goalie like Brodeur is great for having a good performance over a very long time, while Dryden is great for having an incredible level of performance for a much shorter time. Goalies like Hasek, Esposito, and Roy deserve credit for doing both, and probably qualify as the greatest of all-time.

I used to think that Hasek was the greatest goalie of all-time (or, at least, since the 1950s), which certainly remains a valid viewpoint based on Tom's chart. However, now I'm starting to think that a pretty strong case can also be constructed for Dryden. 

Update on the 2017-18 Season

Home ice advantage normally isn't that great in the NHL, but it is observable. You get to put your stick down last, you get a slight edge in terms of officiating, and most important you get the last line change so you can get the matchups you want. This season, the average team has a points percentage of .605 at home, and .518 on the road this season, and 20 of the 31 teams are better at home.

I put the information on the following chart, with each team's home results on the vertical axis, and the road on the horizontal axis. So teams that are higher and slightly to the left, like the Islanders, Rangers, and Golden Knights, are much better at home, and those who are towards the bottom right, like Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, are better on the road. Apparently there's something about New York vs Western Canada that affects the way the team's play?

I also split the young season into two equal halves to see which teams might be starting to come on strong. For example, the Arizona Coyotes started out really slow (vertical axis), but have improved since then (horizontal axis). They're still not doing well, but they've been better than two teams on the decline: Buffalo and Ottawa.

I don't get Ottawa. The Senators started out really strong, and had the seventh best points percentage (vertical axis). Since then, they've been one of the three worst teams in the league (horizontal axis).

St. Louis and Los Angeles have also cooled down, from being among the three best teams in the league (vertical axis) to being among basically average (horizontal axis). Heading the other direction, Nashville has been the best team in the league recently, after being similar to Ottawa in the early going. Surprisingly, the Vegas Golden Knights have only been getting better. It also looks like Minnesota and Chicago are coming on strong to make the Central extremely competitive, and this chart also sees how Washington has started to surge back among the elites.

Scoring from the Point

Further to my recent blog post that ranked each team's defense, and as part of my latest piece on, I took a look at how much scoring each team is getting from the point. Unsurprisingly, the answer is the Nashville Predators -- even without Ryan Ellis.

Combined  points from the team's four highest-scoring defensemen
70 NSH
65 TB
63 LA
62 TOR
61 MIN
...(avg is 52)...
38 CAR
36 VAN
29 BUF

Nashville's total is even more impressive than Tampa Bay's, because their total offense is much more modest. So, I calculated this as a percentage of team scoring instead, and they still rank first. Teams like Edmonton, Carolina, Vancouver, and Buffalo remain in last, and the secret to turning the corner might be to find a way to get their blue line more involved in the scoring.

24.4% NSH
23.6% MIN
23.3% SJ, ARI
22.6% LA
21.9% CBJ
21.8% DAL
...(avg is 19.4%)...
16.8% NYI
15.9% EDM
15.8% CAR
15.2% BUF
14.3% VAN

Closing Thoughts

If you have some programming acumen, try using Harry's scraper (@36Hobbit) to get data from NHL game files. He just updated his Hockey Scraper code on GitHub so it can really save you a lot of time. There's still so much information that can be extracted from these files, so adding the ability to get the raw data is a great way to try to make something new and make a contribution to the community's body of work.

In closing, I really appreciated Frank Provenzano's (@FrankProSports) recent post, where he shared pictures of all his rejection letters from back in the day. Persistence pays off! We must continue to pursue our goals, even if it takes a long time, and we face a lot of rejection along the way. So, please keep your passions alive, and continue driving towards your dreams no matter how hard it is, or how long it takes.

Rating the Blue Lines

posted Dec 18, 2017, 11:38 PM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Dec 19, 2017, 3:28 AM ]

One week ago, for no particular reason, I ranked each team's goaltending based on a weighted average of their NHL and AHL save percentages over the past 3-and-a-bit seasons. This week, again for no particular reason, I plan to do the same thing for the blue lines.

This presents a whole new challenge, because there's no single stat equivalent to a goalie's save percentage with which you can attempt to rank defensemen. The closest I can think of is a player's Corsi, but it's nowhere as useful for defenseman as save percentage is for goalies.

There are almost too many problems to mention, but the two that bother me most is that a defenseman has limited influence over the offensive component of the equation (shot attempts for), and that the defensive component can be more a function of how a defenseman is used than the player's own abilities. Someone that has a great partner like Karlsson or Doughty, is used primarily in the offensive zone, and rarely has to face top opponents like McDavid and Crosby, is going to look like a million bucks.

I'm not looking for the perfect solution, I'm just looking to have a little bit of fun, so Corsi it is. I'll measure it on a per-60 minutes basis, relative to his team, and make an adjustment for zone starts, but that's about it. So, Doughty's 7.2 result means he moves the needle by 7.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Oh, and don't forget that I'm using the same weighted average over the last 3-and-a-bit seasons, not just this year!

When I ranked the league's goalies, I broke it down to each team's No. 1 goalie, the primary backup, and the depth options. I'll do the same here, defining a team's top pair as its No. 1 defenseman and his partner (even if his partner isn't particularly good), defining its second pair as the balance of the top four, and so on. I won't rank anyone who hasn't played at least 50 games in this time span. Plus, since Corsi data isn't available for the AHL, most depth players will not be properly evaluated, and neither will some of the league's most prominent young players.

I know there is an element of judgment for each grouping, and that my choices might not be accurate based on injuries and current deployment choices, but I will explain my choices with each team. Not everyone will agree with my categorizations, but remember this is just for fun. Please don't take it too seriously. 

1. Nashville Predators
Top Pair: Roman Josi 3.7 (25th), Ryan Ellis 1.3 (33rd)
Second Pair: Mattias Ekholm 9.2 (2nd), P.K. Subban 6.7 (4th)
Third Pair: Alexei Emelin -3.9 (32nd), Yannick Weber -8.7 (49th)
Ranked Depth: Matt Irwin -1.7 (29th), Anthony Bitetto -19.5 (54th)

With the injury to Ellis, Josi has played with Ekholm, and Subban with Emelin. When Ellis returns, I figure they will revert to last year's pairings. I'm not sure which one is considered the top pair, but it's probably the best top-four in the league. Beyond that top four, the Predators are below average.

2. Anaheim Ducks
Top Pair: Hampus Lindholm 15.5 (1st), Josh Manson 13.2 (4th)
Second Pair: Cam Fowler -0.4 (29th), Kevin Bieksa -12.8 (59th)
Third Pair: Francois Beauchemin -1.9 (28th), Brandon Montour -9.2 (51st)
Ranked Depth: Korbinian Holzer -10.6 (46th)

Anaheim might have ranked first before Vatanen was traded away. Up until then, Fowler was the team's No. 1 defenseman, but now it looks like they're leaning more on the long-time pair of Lindholm and Manson instead. They have even toyed with the idea of splitting them up, and playing Manson with Fowler, but I'll keep Lindholm and Manson together for this purpose. Bieksa isn't really a top-four defenseman, but someone had to fill in for Vatanen, and they don't want to break up Beauchemin and Montour.

3. Calgary Flames
Top Pair: Dougie Hamilton 13.9 (2nd), Mark Giordano 13.8 (3rd)
Second Pair: T.J. Brodie -1.8 (34th), Travis Hamonic -4.2 (49th)
Third Pair: Brett Kulak -0.4 (23rd), Michael Stone -6.4 (45th)
Ranked Depth: Cody Goloubef 4.4 (4th), Matt Bartkowski -11.1 (48th)

Calgary might have one of the league's best top pairs, but the rest of the lineup is pretty average. I'm a little surprised why the second pair isn't better, given how successful both players were just a few years ago.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets
Top Pair: Zach Werenski 11.5 (5th), Seth Jones 7.4 (12th)
Second Pair: David Savard -0.4 (28th), Jack Johnson -1.7 (33rd)
Third Pair: Ryan Murray -5.7 (42nd), Markus Nutivaara -6.6 (46th)
Depth: Andre Benoit -3.0 (35th), Scott Harrington -10.0 (44th)

Like the Predators, Columbus also have a great top four, but not much beyond it. Werenski and Jones are certainly another contender for the League's top pair, and Savard and Johnson form a perfectly average second pair. Due to Murray's injury, Johnson and Savard were split up, the former with Nutivaara on the second pair, and the latter on the third pair with Scott Harrington. However, the lineup should return to normal upon Murray's return.

5. Carolina Hurricanes
Top Pair: Brett Pesce 8.5 (10th), Jaccob Slavin 4.7 (20th)
Second Pair: Justin Faulk 2.7 (16th), Haydn Fleury (NR)
Third Pair: Noah Hanifin 0.9 (17th), Trevor van Riemsdyk 0.7 (20th)
Ranked Depth: Klas Dahlbeck -13.1 (49th)

Youth makes it hard to rank Carolina's blue line, but it seems to be solid now, and could develop into one of the league's best in years to come. Some may quibble with the fact that Faulk is not listed as the team's No. 1 defenseman, but all indicators have Pesce and Slavin as the team's top pair right now. Besides, Faulk usually isn't playing with an established top-four option. He seems to have spent most of the season with Fleury, but that's not exactly etched in stone. He started the season with Hanifin, but he has been entrenched on the third pair with van Riemsdyk for some time now, and played more on the third pair with Tennyson last season than with Faulk in the top four. Quibble with his partner if you must, but Faulk seems to be second pair right now.

6. Arizona Coyotes
Top Pair: Oliver Ekman-Larsson 8.2 (11th), Jason Demers 4.9 (19th)
Second Pair: Alex Goligoski 1.9 (21st), Niklas Hjalmarsson, 1.4 (24th)
Third Pair: Luke Schenn -4.1 (33rd), Jakob Chychrun -4.2 (35th)
Ranked Depth: Adam Clendening -1.2 (26th), Kevin Connauton -2.5 (33rd)

I'm really surprised that Arizona isn't doing better, given the vast improvement of their blue line. And yes, I know that the third pair is actually Schenn with Connauton, and that Chychrun is on Goligoski's second pair right now. However, when Hjalmarsson is in the lineup, he's more suitable for that role. And, if all six defensemen are in the lineup, then Connaution would probably be the odd player out, right?

7. Vancouver Canucks
Top Pair: Chris Tanev 6.4 (16th), Ben Hutton 0.5 (40th)
Second Pair: Derrick Pouliot 5.8 (8th), Alexander Edler 3.0 (14th)
Third Pair: Michael Del Zotto -1.2 (26th), Eric Gudbranson -5.0 (40th)
Ranked Depth: Troy Stecher 2.1 (12th), Alex Biega 1.1 (19th), Nikita Tryamkin -1.5 (27th), Patrick Wiercioch -1.6 (28th)

Depth is what really helps Vancouver rank this high. That depth makes this a depth chart that's very hard to sort out, but their top two defensemen are clearly Edler and Tanev, and the former generally plays with Pouliot, and the latter with Hutton. I'm not sure which pair actually qualifies as the team's top pair, though. As for Del Zotto, he does handle a lot of minutes, but he rarely plays with Edler or Tanev, and usually with the various third-pair options instead.

8. Boston Bruins
Top Pair: Zdeno Chara 3.2 (29th), Charlie McAvoy 8.7 (NR)
Second Pair: Torey Krug 2.3 (20th), Adam McQuaid -3.8 (47th)
Third Pair: Kevan Miller -2.1 (29th), Brandon Carlo -3.8 (31st)
Ranked Depth: Paul Postma -2.3 (32nd)

It's hard to properly evaluate a blue line that has two young players in key positions, but they seem to be at least average on all three pairs. I know that Carlo has been in a more prominent role this season, and only briefly played on the third pair with Miller, and that he is located close to Chara on a player usage chart, in terms of zone start percentage and quality of competition. However, McAvoy plays a ton of minutes and is clearly Chara's partner now (despite being closer to Krug on a player usage chart), and Krug and McQuaid were the second pair most of last season, and earlier this season before McQuaid got hurt. Plus, Carlo is 21, has only one season of experience, and ranks fifth in even-strength ice time per game, so it's not completely unreasonable to classify him on the third pair, if only very temporarily. 

9. New York Rangers
Top Pair: Nick Holden 3.2 (28th), Ryan McDonagh 1.3 (34th)
Second Pair: Kevin Shattenkirk 0.5 (25th), Brady Skjei -1.1 (31st)
Third Pair: Brendan Smith 6.2 (3rd), Marc Staal -1.0 (24th)
Ranked Depth: Steven Kampfer -8.5 (43rd)

With three clear and well-established pairs, each of which are average or better, the Rangers actually serve as a great measuring stick for the league's other blue lines. Being good essentially means being better than this.

10. Minnesota Wild
Top Pair: Jared Spurgeon 9.3 (7th), Ryan Suter 6.7 (14th)
Second Pair: Jonas Brodin -1.2 (32nd), Matt Dumba -2.7 (40th)
Third Pair: Ryan Murphy -4.5 (38th), Kyle Quincey -6.7 (47th)
Ranked Depth: Nate Prosser -6.8 (39th), Mike Reilly -14.0 (51st)

This is how Minnesota's top four looked prior to Spurgeon's injury. Since his return, Spurgeon has swapped spots with Dumba, but that's probably just temporary. The third pair is currently in the AHL, but Murphy and Quiincey have more established NHL credentials of all the the team's journeymen options, in my opinion.

11. Washington Capitals
Top Pair: John Carlson -0.3 (42nd), Brooks Orpik -5.1 (57th)
Second Pair: Dmitry Orlov 9.5 (1st), Matt Niskanen 8.0 (3rd)
Third Pair: Madison Bowey (NR), Christian Djoos (NR)
Ranked Depth: Taylor Chorney -15.6 (53rd)

Washington does something interesting with Bowey and Djoos. Rather than play them together as a third pair, they take their occasional shifts with someone from the top pair (usually Orpik and Carlson, respectively). Unfortunately, it's too early to see how good those two actually are, and they certainly seem to have affected the top pair's numbers. Orlov and Niskanen could form the league's best second pair, however.

12. Winnipeg Jets
Top Pair: Dustin Byfuglien 4.6 (21st) Tobias Enstrom -0.6 (44th)
Second Pair: Joshua Morrissey 2.5 (17th), Jacob Trouba 2.4 (19th)
Third Pair: Tyler Myers 1.6 (14th), Dmitry Kulikov -4.7 (39th)
Ranked Depth: Ben Chiarot -6.9 (42nd)

In Enstrom's absence, Byfuglien has been playing with Chiarot on the top pair, who is otherwise out of the lineup because the other pairs are essentially set in stone. The second pair is young and solid, and the third pair is good, but simply overpaid.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins
Top Pair: Kris Letang 5.7 (17th), Brian Dumoulin 4.4 (23rd)
Second Pair: Justin Schultz -2.4 (38th), Olli Maatta -3.5 (45th)
Third Pair: Chad Ruhwedel 3.2 (10th), Ian Cole 0.3 (21st)
Ranked Depth: Zach Trotman 2.1 (11th), Frank Corrado -0.7 (24th), Matt Hunwick -4.2 (36th)

Pittsburgh's second pair might be its Achilles heel. Right now, they have Ruhwedel on the second pair with Maatta, but it's simply more reasonable to classify Schultz as a top-four defenseman. Some people may also put Hunwick ahead of Cole on the depth chart, but their third pair and depth are fine no matter what.

14. Chicago Blackhawks
Top Pair: Cody Franson 10.1 (6th), Duncan Keith 3.1 (30th)
Second Pair: Connor Murphy 5.6 (9th), Brent Seabrook -5.6 (52nd)
Third Pair: Gustav Forsling -10.5 (52nd), Jan Rutta (NR)
Ranked Depth: Michal Kempny 12.5 (1st), Michal Rozsival 0.4 (20th)

This team's blue line is simply impossible to sort out. Keith and Seabrook started the season together, then they were split up, and each of them has had two or three different partners since then. The other statistical indicators don't seem to help out much, either. At this very instant, Keith is with Oesterle, and Seabrook is with Kempny. However, Seabrook has spent more of the season with Murphy, and Franson plays with Keith whenever he's healthy. Rutta has played a ton of minutes, but he has spent most of them with Forsling, so we'll make that the third pair, even though Oesterle and Kempny ought to be mentioned. 

15. Dallas Stars
Top Pair: John Klingberg 3.8 (24th), Marc Methot -1.9 (50th)
Second Pair: Dan Hamhuis 3.2 (12th), Esa Lindell 0.1 (26th)
Third Pair: Greg Pateryn 2.1 (12th), Stephen Johns -0.1 (21st)
Ranked Depth: Jamie Oleksiak -6.8 (40th)

Remember when Dallas had one of the league's worst blue lines? Well, they made a couple of moves, and a few of their prospects have hit the mark, and now I'd say this is an above-average blue line. I know that Lindell plays with Klingberg, not with Hamhuis. However, Methot started the season with Klingberg, and his cap hit suggests that's where he slots into the depth chart when he's back. Methot's absence has temporarily hoisted Pateryn up into the second pair, but Lindell is actually the remaining top-four defenseman, whether he has played with Hamhuis or not.

16. San Jose Sharks
Top Pair: Brent Burns 6.6 (15th), Paul Martin -0.9 (45th)
Second Pair: Marc-Edouard Vlasic -2.5 (39th), Justin Braun -6.3 (55th)
Third Pair: Brenden Dillon 3.8 (6th), Joakim Ryan (NR)
Ranked Depth: Dylan DeMelo -2.2 (30th)

San Jose used to have one of the league's best top fours, but it's starting to age, and perhaps shot-based metrics don't do Vlasic and Braun justice. With Martin out of the lineup, Burns has played with both Ryan and Dillon, but it hasn't worked all that well.

17. Tampa Bay Lightning
Top Pair: Victor Hedman 3.7 (26th), Jake Dotchin -3.2 (53rd)
Second Pair: Anton Stralman 1.8 (22nd), Mikael Sergachev (NR)
Third Pair: Braydon Coburn 0.8 (18th), Dan Girardi -8.1 (48th)
Ranked Depth: Andrej Sustr -0.4 (23rd), Slater Koekkoek -3.1 (36th), Jamie McBain -6.8 (41st)

Years ago, the Lightning had a terrible blue line, then made some shrewd signings and trades to instantly build a competitive top four. When it began to atrophy, they managed to fill it in with quality young players like Dotchin, Sergachev, and Koekkoek. Well done. Their two top veterans, Hedman and Stralman, have been split up, so that each of them can play with one of the new young players. Tampa Bay uses veterans on the third pair, and usually dresses Koekkoek, as a carefully sheltered seventh defenseman.

18. New York Islanders
Top Pair: Johnny Boychuk 3.3 (27th), Nick Leddy 2.3 (32nd)
Second Pair: Calvin de Haan 2.4 (18th), Adam Pelech -1.9 (35th)
Third Pair: Thomas Hickey -0.2 (22nd), Dennis Seidenberg -5.8 (44th)
Ranked Depth: Scott Mayfield 1.8 (14th), Seth Helgeson -5.7 (38th)

You could fiddle with it a little bit, but the Islanders essentially strike me as a perfectly average blue line. Yes, Mayfield and Pulock have probably pushed their way into the third pair permanently, but for now I'll stick with the established NHLers. 

19. Colorado Avalanche
Top Pair: Erik Johnson 8.7 (9th), Samel Girard (NR)
Second Pair: Tyson Barrie -2.1 (36th), Patrik Nemeth -3.4 (42nd)
Third Pair: Nikita Zadorov 4.4 (5th), Mark Barberio 1.7 (13th)
Ranked Depth: None

Colorado used to have a terrible blue line, but they have made it rather respectable thanks to Johnson, and a few sneaky clever moves. The exact depth chart isn't easy to sort out, but when Nemeth is in the lineup, he plays with Barrie, and Girard has played with Johnson since being acquired from Nashville -- he ranks third in even-strength minutes per game among the team's defensemen.

20. Toronto Maple Leafs
Top Pair: Morgan Rielly 4.5 (22nd), Ron Hainsey -0.4 (43rd)
Second Pair: Jake Gardiner 1.8 (23rd), Nikita Zaitsev -5.3 (51st)
Third Pair: Roman Polak -3.4 (30th), Andreas Borgman (NR)
Ranked Depth: Martin Marincin 5.0 (3rd), Connor Carrick 1.2 (18th)

This being the team's greatest weakness, I'd consider selling high if I were the Maple Leafs, and maybe move Auston Matthews for an elite defenseman. I guess it would probably be a disaster from a marketing perspective, however. There may be some argument about which of Toronto's top pairs is the number one pair, but I went with those playing the toughest minutes. 

21. Edmonton Oilers
Top Pair: Adam Larsson 2.8 (31st), Andrej Sekera 0.9 (36th)
Second Pair: Darnell Nurse 3.7 (10th), Kris Russell -8.6 (58th)
Third Pair: Oscar Klefbom 0.9 (16th), Matt Benning -4.5 (37th)
Ranked Depth: Brandon Davidson 7.7 (2nd), Mark Fayne 2.6 (7th), Eric Gryba 1.9 (13th), Ryan Stanton -14.5 (52nd)

Edmonton's tricky to evaluate because their top defenseman has been out all season, and because their four best defensemen are on the left side -- except Larsson can play both sides. I decided to keep the next two pairs together, but really had a hard time deciding which one should be classified as the second pair. 

22. Los Angeles Kings
Top Pair: Drew Doughty 7.2 (13th), Jake Muzzin 5.1 (18th)
Second Pair: Derek Forbort -3.0 (41st), Alec Martinez -4.3 (50th)
Third Pair: Christian Folin -1.8 (27th), Kurtis MacDermid (NR)
Ranked Depth: Kevin Gravel -2.2 (31st)

The Kings probably have one of the league's top defensemen, but only one really good defenseman beyond that. The obvious error in my pairing classifications is Forbort, who was demoted to the third pair with Folin after over a full season on the top pair with Doughty. But, it just doesn't make sense to classify him as a third-pair defenseman, and then put a borderline NHLer in the top four.

23. Florida Panthers
Top Pair: Aaron Ekblad 0.6 (39th), Keith Yandle -1.5 (48th)
Second Pair: Mark Pysyk 3.1 (13th), Mike Matheson -0.5 (30th)
Third Pair: Alex Petrovic 3.7 (7th), Ian McCoshen (NR)
Ranked Depth: None

The Panthers have invested a lot of money and favourable playing conditions in their top pair, but without justifying results. The lack of experience depth could also be an issue.

24. St. Louis Blues
Top Pair: Alex Pietrangelo 1.0 (35th), Jay Bouwmeester -4.1 (55th)
Second Pair: Colton Parayko 6.2 (6th), Joel Edmundson 0.0 (27th)
Third Pair: Robert Bortuzzo 1.0 (15th), Carl Gunnarsson -8.9 (50th)
Ranked Depth:  None.

I'm actually not sure why St. Louis is doing so well this season, given how many aspects of their lineup appear to be rather mediocre. Pietrangelo is having a heck of a year, but this perspective is based on a weighted average of several seasons. When Bouwmeester is in the lineup, he almost always plays with Pietrangelo, his long-time partner. While there's no established third pair, Gunnarsson and Bortuzzo are more established defensive options than Vince Dunn.

25. Montreal Canadiens
Top Pair: Shea Weber -0.3 (41st), Jordie Benn -1.6 (49th)
Second Pair: Jeff Petry 6.4 (5th), Karl Alzner -3.4 (43rd)
Third Pair: David Schlemko 0.8 (19th), Victor Mete (NR)
Ranked Depth: Eric Gelinas -0.9 (25th), Joe Morrow -13.4 (50th)

Imagine if they still had Subban, Sergachev and maybe Markov! Instead they have Weber (who recently injured his foot), who doesn't really have an established top-four defensemen with whom to play. He started off with Mete (who was loaned to the world juniors), and then moved to Benn.

26. Ottawa Senators
Top Pair: Erik Karlsson 9.3 (8th), Johnny Oduya -3.1 (52nd)
Second Pair: Dion Phaneuf -5.7 (53rd), Cody Ceci -7.2 (56th)
Third Pair: Frederik Claesson 3.1 (11th), Thomas Chabot (NR)
Ranked Depth: Chris Wideman 4.3 (5th), Matt Borowiecki 2.3 (9th)

I had to rank the Senators this low, but they appear to be a one-player team. There appears to be some promise in the third pair, but I'm not even sure who's on it from one game to the next. Since this is essentially their lineup for the most recent game, we'll just go with it. 

27. Philadelphia Flyers
Top Pair: Ivan Provorov -2.4 (51st), Andrew MacDonald -4.5 (56th)
Second Pair: Shayne Gostisbehere -3.9 (48th), Robert Hagg (NR)
Third Pair: Radko Gudas 11.6 (1st), Brandon Manning 3.5 (8th)
Ranked Depth: None.

In the long run, I think the Flyers will be great, thanks to all the crazy abundance of solidyoung players. In the short run, the presence of MacDonald on the top pair is a clear signal that this is a potential weakness. Coach Dave Hakstol has tried a few different things in the top four, like Hagg with Provorov, and Manning with Gostisbehere. But, this deployment is essentially the form in which the top four has settled, except that Manning is currently injured, and Gudas is playing with Travis Sanheim on the third pair. 

28. Detroit Red Wings
Top Pair: Mike Green -1.4 (47th), Danny DeKeyser -3.9 (54th)
Second Pair: Jonathan Ericsson 2.8 (15th), Trevor Daley -7.5 (57th)
Third Pair: Nick Jensen 3.4 (9th), Niklas Kronwall 4.1 (34th)
Ranked Depth: Xavier Ouellet 3.7 (6th)

This is the exact lineup for the last game, so there shouldn't be much argument about its construction. Green has had a variety of partners this season, including Kronwall and Ouelette, but he's clearly the No. 1 defenseman in terms of cap hit and ice time, and DeKeyser has been with him ever since he got back from injury.  

29. New Jersey Devils
Top Pair: Andy Greene 0.8 (37th), Steven Santini -9.8 (60th)
Second Pair: John Moore -3.4 (44th), Sami Vatanen -3.8 (46th)
Third Pair: Damon Severson 5.2 (4th), Will Butcher (NR)
Ranked Depth: Ben Lovejoy 1.7 (15th), Dalton Prout 1.7 (16th), Mirco Mueller -2.7 (34th), Brian Strait -10.5 (45th)

Good trade. They really, really needed Vatanen. I thought that his arrival would push Moore to the third pair, but it looks like it's Severson instead. That makes for a strong third pair, but one of the league's weaker top fours.

30. Vegas Golden Knights
Top Pair: Nate Schmidt -1.1 (46th), Luca Sbisa -8.6 (59th)
Second Pair: Brayden McNabb 6.2 (7th), Deryk Engelland -6.2 (54th)
Third Pair: Colin Miller 8.8 (2nd), Shea Theodore -5.8 (43rd)
Ranked Depth: Clayton Stoner 2.5 (8th), Jon Merrill 1.2 (17th), Jason Garrison -4.9 (37th)

The apparent weakness of the blue line is one of the reasons why I can't figure out why Vegas is so competitive this year. Engelland is currently playing with Theodore on the second pair, but McNabb, who was his partner from the first half the season, is more established in that role. I wasn't sure what to do with Merrill, who is the odd man out, even though he has a history of top four play, and is currently subbing for the injured Sbisa on the top pair.

31. Buffalo Sabres
Top Pair: Marco Scandella 0.7 (38th), Rasmus Ristolainen -5.4 (58th)
Second Pair: Zach Bogosian 3.6 (11th), Jake McCabe -2.3 (37th)
Third Pair: Nathan Beaulieu -1.1 (25th), Josh Gorges -5.1 (41st)
Ranked Depth: Justin Falk 2.2 (10th), Zach Redmond -0.1 (22nd), Matt Tennyson -11.0 (47th)

Given all the injuries, it's obviously impossible to construct an accurate picture of Buffalo's blue line, but Ristolainen is clearly the team's No. 1 defenseman, a role in which Scandella served when Ristolainen was out, and they have played together when both in the lineup. Bogosian played with McCabe in the brief period he was in the lineup, and McCabe ranks first among the team's remaining defensemen in average ice-time at even-strength. The third pair is probably the most arbitrary selection of all, but not an entirely unreasonable choice.

My first Facebook Live Q&A

posted Dec 13, 2017, 4:35 PM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Dec 13, 2017, 6:30 PM ]

As you can tell from the button on the left side of the website, I recently created a Facebook page as another way to keep up to date on my books, articles, conferences, and so on. To help launch this new page, I held a live video Q&A at 8:30pm Eastern on Wednesday, December 13. 

Now if you missed it (which you did, because only three people joined in), here's the video feed. Once the word gets out some more we can try again, and maybe have some trivia, and some contests, maybe some guest starts, and so on.


I saw this tweet from the legendary Grant Fuhr today, in response to a tweet where Bob Stauffer posted some of Edmonton's underlying stats, which are quite strong.

While I'll be lucky to ever know half as much about this game as Fuhr has already forgotten, here's my opinion on what he wrote.

Obviously, wins are what matter most. However, that doesn't mean that they are the "only stat that matters." 

Let's remove emotion from the topic, and take an example from another field. You go for an annual physical, right? Well, think about what your doctor does. He or she weighs you, takes your blood pressure, measures your cholesterol, and sticks a finger up your butt. Ok, don't worry about that last one, and just focus on the first three tasks. Your doctor is taking measurements, right?

Even though your heartbeat is what matters most, he or she doesn't just put a stethoscope to your chest, confirm this information, and send you on your way. No, measurements are taken, because your heartbeat isn't the only stat that matters, even though it matters most.

Plus, think about why your weight, and blood pressure, and cholesterol are taken. They are taken because being outside a given range can have an impact on your heartbeat. Not always, but certainly a lot of the time. If you're in good health but one or more of those items are out of line, then your heartbeat may be at risk. So, the goal has to be to get these measurements within that given range.

If your doctor failed to take these measurements (or disregarded the results), you would probably look for another doctor, am I right? So, if that attitude is unacceptable in the medical field (and every other field, really), why would it be the way to go in hockey? What's so special about hockey that we should actually disregard a team's figurative cholesterol count?

Now, I don't mention this to start an argument, or to disparage the perspective of a true champion. I'm only mentioning it to provide another perspective, and something else to think about. Yes, the Oilers are losing, and that is what matters most. The fact that many of their stats are in good order matters less, but it still matters. It is still useful and valuable information to consider. That's all. Next topic.

John Tavares

I got some positive feedback on my latest with ESPN Insider, which is rare. I don't mean to say that my work usually sucks, simply that people are far more generous pointing out occasions where your articles missed the mark (like last week's NHL piece on rookies, apparently), than when they found it insightful. So, it really stood out when the praise rolled in for this one.

Before finalizing the piece, I did try to capture the mainstream opinion of how much Tavares stood to get in free agency. A lot, apparently.

Maybe I should have dropped the first choice, and broken up the last one between $10.5 million and $11.5 million or more. But, as it stands, clearly the expectation is that Tavares is going to have a cap hit in the $10 million range.

I have tremendous respect for Tavares, and consider him easily one of the top 10 players, and possibly top 5 at his very best. However, if it's $10 million, then I think most teams would be better off using their cap space differently. 

That being written, teams do have to make a few calculated gambles to win the Stanley Cup, which requires several players break out and provide far, far more value than their contract requires. Typically, a few well-chosen third-line players won't move the needle by enough, but Tavares is the sort of player who could really make a huge difference, if he breaks out. Plus, it's not like he would be unmoveable if he didn't work out. So, while I wouldn't advise signing Tavares to a contract at $10 million or more, I certainly wouldn't call it crazy, either.

Montreal Goalies

While researching an upcoming piece on Henrik Lundqvist, I was studying historical goaltending data, which now goes back all the way to 1955-56, thanks to the great work of the digitizers at the NHL. Obviously, I stumbled across quite a few amazing Montreal goalies, and was wondering who was the best. First, let's get the subjective opinion:

From the statistical perspective, it may actually be Ken Dryden, and not Patrick Roy. That opinion is based on the SV%+ statistic, which is based on the ERA+ stat in baseball. Simply put, it is a goalie's save percentage expressed as a percentage relative to the league average that season. Dryden's SV%+ is 1400, which means it was 40% higher than the league average, on average. Roy was 1179, Plante was 1178, and Price is 1110, which means their save percentages have been 17.9%, 17.8%, and 11.0% higher than the league average, on average.

They shouldn't feel bad about trailing Dryden, because everyone does. Nobody who has faced more than 150 shots has a higher SV%+ than Dryden. Second place is the almost incomparable Dominik Hasek, 1280. I wasn't expecting anyone to finish ahead of Hasek, but Dryden is clearly out front. Yes, there may (or may not) be some team effects at play, because Dryden played for some amazing teams, but still, that's a hefty lead over Hasek.

In terms of individual seasons, Plante has the edge. Among those who faced at least 1,000 shots in a season, Plante had a SV%+ of 1747 in 1970-71, which is the highest of all goalies. He is followed by Bernie Parent's 1973-74 season, 1564, and then his own 1968-69 season, 1561. Dryden's best is 1521 in 1975-76, which ranks fifth, Roy's is 1365 in 1989-90, which is 29th, and Price is 1290 in 2014-15, which is 58th.

Player Usage Charts

Let's close by looking at some player usage charts that I've put together.

First, is a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos and Kucherov are getting a lot of the credit for the team's exceptional play, but take a player usage chart highlights the value of that second line, which used to be Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde. They handle the top opponents (vertical axis), and in both zones (horizontal axis) and have the nice blue circles that indicate success from a shot-based perspective. Yes, Stamkos and Kucherov have done well, but they have the advantage of taking on second-line opponents, and mostly in the offensive zone.

Since then, Gourde has been moved to the bottom six, Kucherov was put in his place, and Tyler Johnson got the golden opportunity to play with Stamkos. Oh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves a lot of the credit for their hot start, especially now that Kucherov and Stamkos have cooled off.

Is there a Gourde on another team? Yes, there are a few rookies who are also handling the tough minutes in both zones, just like Gourde, based on the following player usage chart of the 35 rookie forwards with the most ice time. You'll notice that Luke Kunin and Jesper Bratt are right there with Gourde, and Alex Iafallo is not too far away. 

Great offensive players like Brock Boeser and Alex DeBrincat are being used more offensively, and aren't have the same success in terms of shot-based metrics, but they aren't far removed from Gourde, in terms of handling top opponents.

Finally, let's look at the rookie defensemen. Wow, Robert Hagg!

You don't often hear his name, but Hagg is playing tough minutes, taking on top opponents and in the defensive zone. Yes, his shot-based metrics aren't great, but that's quite an assignment for a rookie. As you can see, most rookies are somewhat sheltered. Even Charlie McAvoy is well-embedded in the bottom-right quadrant, playing more often in the offensive zone and against middling opponents.

Closing Thoughts

Save the date for the 4th annual Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference that will be held at Carleton University on September 14-15, 2018.

Ranking Each Team's Goaltending

posted Dec 12, 2017, 11:52 AM by Robert Vollman

Today, for no particular reason, I'm going to rank each team's goaltending.

Those who keep up with the Hockey Abstract books are familiar with our quick-and-dirty ranking of NHL teams that is achieved by taking a weighted average of each goalie's NHL stats over the past three seasons, and combined the starter and the backup in a 3-to-1 ratio. That does the job at a high level, but I'm going to go a little deeper here today. Not a lot deeper, just a little.

Specifically, I took that same weighted average over the past three seasons (or, technically, three and a third), and also added each goalie's AHL data. I've also added a regression component for those goalies who haven't faced at least 5,000 shots. One possible program is that this regression component might actually boost goalies who have barely played above goalies who have played a lot but haven't done very well. Finally, I'm going to go beyond just the starter and the backup, and look at the team's depth, as well. 

Oh, and no, this does not factor in shot quality factors, like shot location or even manpower situation. It doesn't include the shootout, or any fancy metrics. It's just straight-up save percentage, with all its strengths and shortcomings. As you will probably notice, the rankings in brackets refer to where the goalie ranks within his tier (starter, backup, depth), and not where he ranks overall. Ok, here we go.

1. Chicago Blackhawks
Starter: Corey Crawford .9237 (2nd)
Backup: Anton Forsberg .9185 (2nd)
Depth: Jean-Francois Berube .9092 (20th), Jeff Glass .9074 (33rd), Collin Delia .9069 (42nd)

2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Starter: Sergei Bobrovsky .9262 (1st)
Backup: Joonas Korpisalo .9123 (18th)
Depth: Matiss Kivlenieks .9065 (50th)

3. Anaheim Ducks
Starter: John Gibson .9216 (6th)
Backup: Ryan Miller .9165 (4th)
Depth: Reto Berra .9089 (22nd), Kevin Boyle .9066 (48th)

4. Tampa Bay Lightning
Starter: Andrei Vasilevskiy .9228 (3rd)
Backup: Peter Budaj .9142 (13th)
Depth: Connor Ingram .9058 (61st), Louis Domingue .9047 (68th)

5. Los Angeles Kings
Starter: Jonathan Quick .9226 (4th)
Backup: Darcy Kuemper .9149 (11th)
Depth: Jack Campbell .9133 (4th), Cal Petersen .9083 (27th), Jeff Zatkoff .9052 (65th)

6. Washington Capitals
Starter: Braden Holtby .9223 (5th)
Backup: Philipp Grubauer .9137 (14th)
Depth: Pheonix Copley .9122 (5th), Vitek Vanecek .9080 (30th), Adam Carlson .9073 (35th)

7. Minnesota Wild
Starter: Devan Dubnyk .9200 (8th)
Backup: Alex Stalock .9158 (5th)
Depth: Steve Michalek .9107 (11th), Niklas Svedberg .9078 (32nd)

8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Starter: Matt Murray .9198 (9th)
Backup: Tristan Jarry .9158 (6th)
Depth: Casey DeSmith .9115 (9th), Sean Maguire .9071 (39th)

9. Florida Panthers
Starter: Roberto Luongo .9209 (7th)
Backup: James Reimer .9117 (20th)
Depth: Harri Sateri .9073 (36th), Samuel Montembeault .9065 (51st)

10. Montreal Canadiens
Starter: Carey Price .9191 (10th)
Backup: Charlie Lindgren .9126 (17th)
Depth: Michael McNiven .9063 (53rd), Al Montoya .9061 (55th), Zachary Fucale .9039 (72nd), Antti Niemi .8962 (82nd)

11. Nashville Predators
Starter: Pekka Rinne .9189 (11th)
Backup: Juuse Saros .9135 (15th)
Depth: Harri Sateri .9073 (36th), Samuel Montembeault .9065 (51st)

12. Toronto Maple Leafs
Starter: Frederik Anderson .9179 (13th)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney .9116 (21st)
Depth: Garret Sparks .9174 (1st), Calvin Pickard .9142 (3rd), Kasimir Kaskisuo .9081 (29th)

13. Arizona Coyotes
Starter: Antti Raanta .9189 (12th)
Backup: Scott Wedgewood .9168 (3rd)
Depth: Marek Langhamer .9084 (25th), Adin Hill .9069 (41st), Hunter Miska .9062 (54th), Michael Leighton .9038 (73rd)

14. New Jersey Devils
Starter: Cory Schneider .9176 (14th)
Backup: Keith Kinkaid .9113 (22nd)
Depth: Ken Appleby .9051 (66th), Mackenzie Blackwood .9042 (71st)

15. San Jose Sharks
Starter: Martin Jones .9165 (16th)
Backup: Aaron Dell .9187 (1st)
Depth: Troy Grosenick .9090 (21st), Antoine Bibeau .9083 (26th), Mantas Armalis .9049 (67th)

16. Vancouver Canucks
Starter: Jacob Markstrom .9171 (15th)
Backup: Anders Nilsson .9153 (10th)
Depth: Thatcher Demko .9094 (19th), Richard Bachman .9034 (76th)

17. Vegas Golden Knights
Starter: Marc-Andre Fleury .9163 (17th)
Backup: Malcolm Subban .9155 (9th)
Depth: Dylan Ferguson .9072 (38th), Oscar Dansk .9067 (46th), Maxime Lagace .8971 (81st)

18. Winnipeg Jets
Starter: Connor Hellebuyck .9158 (18th)
Backup: Steve Mason .9121 (19th)
Depth: Michael Hutchinson .9161 (2nd), Eric Comrie .9106 (12th), Jamie Phillips .9073 (37th)

19. Carolina Hurricanes
Starter: Scott Darling .9155 (20th)
Backup: Cam Ward .9084 (28th)
Depth: Jeremy Smith .9094 (18th), Alex Nedeljkovic .9052 (64th)

20. New York Rangers
Starter: Henrik Lundqvist .9154 (21st)
Backup: Ondrej Pavelec .9097 (26th)
Depth: Alexandar Georgiev .9064 (52nd), Chris Nell .9059 (60th), Brandon Halverson .9044 (69th)

21. New York Islanders
Starter: Jaroslav Halak .9153 (22nd)
Backup: Thomas Greiss .9099 (25th)
Depth: Christopher Gibson .9094 (16th), Eamon McAdam .9060 (56th), Kristers Gudlevskis .9021 (79th)

22. Edmonton Oilers
Starter: Cam Talbot .9146 (24th)
Backup: Nick Ellis .9142 (12th)
Depth: Eddie Pasquale .9094 (17th), Laurent Brossoit .9069 (43rd)

23. Buffalo Sabres
Starter: Robin Lehner .9157 (19th)
Backup: Chad Johnson .9083 (29th)
Depth: Linus Ullmark .9104 (13th), Jonas Johansson .9069 (44th), Jason Kasdorf .9055 (62nd), Adam Wilcox .9029 (77th)

24. Boston Bruins
Starter: Tuukka Rask .9140 (26th)
Backup: Anton Khudobin .9127 (16th)
Depth: Dan Vladar .9087 (24th), Zane McIntyre .9082 (28th)

25. Detroit Red Wings
Starter: Jimmy Howard .9150 (23rd)
Backup: Petr Mrazek .9070 (30th)
Depth: Tom McCollum .9120 (6th), Jared Coreau .9108 (10th)

26. Dallas Stars
Starter: Ben Bishop .9143 (25th)
Backup: Kari Lehtonen .9035 (31st)
Depth: Philippe Desrosier .9074 (34th), Landon Bow .9059 (59th), Mike McKenna .9044 (70th)

27. Calgary Flames
Starter: Mike Smith .9139 (27th)
Backup: David Rittich .9157 (7th)
Depth: Jon Gillies .9095 (15th), Mason McDonald .9068 (45th), Eddie Lack .9037 (74th)

28. St. Louis Blues
Starter: Jake Allen .9133 (30th)
Backup: Carter Hutton .9155 (8th)
Depth: Jordan Binnington .9120 (7th), Ville Husso .9080 (31st)

29. Philadelphia Flyers
Starter: Brian Elliott .9138 (29th)
Backup: Michal Neuvirth .9111 (23rd)
Depth: Anthony Stolarz .9117 (8th), Alex Lyon .9065 (49th), Dustin Tokarski .9035 (75th)

30. Ottawa Senators
Starter: Craig Anderson .9139 (28th)
Backup: Mike Condon .9109 (24th)
Depth: Adam Vay .9070 (40th), Marcus Hogberg .9066 (47th), Chris Driedger .9060 (57th), Danny Taylor .9059 (58th)

31. Colorado Avalanche
Starter: Semyon Varlamov .9087 (31st)
Backup: Jonathan Bernier .9089 (27th)
Depth: Andrew Hammond .9088 (23rd), Spencer Martin .9054 (63rd), Joe Cannata .9008 (80th)

Odds and Ends for December

posted Dec 7, 2017, 11:02 AM by Robert Vollman

First of all, you'll notice some new ways to follow my work on the left side of my website. I've added a GoodReads page for those who enjoy my books, a LinkedIn company profile for those who want to connect with me professionally, and a Facebook page to keep up to speed on my updates through social media.

Plus, I'll be kicking off my new Facebook page with a live Q&A on Wednesday, December 13 at 8:30 Eastern time, so you really won't want to miss that.

You'll also notice that player usage charts are up to date with 2017-18 data, thanks to the data provided at Natural Stat Trick, and the talents of the venerable visualization wiz, Robb Tufts (@RobbTuftsHockey). If you like the data provided by Natural Stat Trick, then it's in your own best interests to get more resources in their hands by supporting their Patreon.


Last time, I ran a poll to see who was the current Norris favourite. My most recent poll was trying to identify the frontrunner for the Vezina. 

According to Twitter followers, it's a two-goalie race between last year's winner Sergei Bobrovsky, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. There's still time to vote, if you're reading this soon enough.

Vasilevskiy's inclusion is another win for the home plate save percentage statistic. In Hockey Abstract 2017, he ranked first by this metric.

Prior to when this stat was introduced in Hockey Abstract 2014, goalies were usually judged using straight-up save percentage, which treats every shot equally. After home plate save percentage correctly forecast a breakout season for Devan Dubnyk, whose career was thought to be over, a lot of attention was drawn to adjusting save percentage in this way. For example, it led to versions that divided the ice into three zones (low, medium, high) instead of two (home plate, outside).

In the Hockey Abstract 2015 Update, home plate save percentage did it again, correctly forecasting a breakout season from Thomas Greiss. With yet another successful prediction of a breakout season in Vasilevskiy, it's no wonder there's so much more attention paid to home plate save percentages than before.

I also ran a poll at the end of November that looked at the four division leaders, and considered which ones might be in for a tumble. Again, it's a two-way race between New Jersey and Vegas. Looks like we got the answer right so far, because Vegas is now in second in the Pacific, four points behind Los Angeles. St. Louis has also slipped one point back, of Nashville

Vegas is an obvious inclusion, but I can't argue too strenuously against New Jersey, either. If you consider the disparity between their points in the standings, and either their shot-based metrics or their goal-based metrics, you would expect them to decline over the long run.

Scoring Depth

On average, a team's top four scorers combine for 41% of a team's total. In Philadelphia it's 52.6%, as of December 4. Next is Buffalo at 51.0%, and St. Louis and Calgary at 46.6%.

Thinking that this might have been one of the causes of Philly's 10-game losing streak, I took a look at depth this week, and made some interesting discoveries, which included another team that could be in trouble.

As of December 4, teams had an average of 35 points from its three highest-scoring defensemen. But, for Buffalo, it was 16, followed by Vancouver with 22 and Carolina with 27. My friend Stan Nieradka (@smn013) also pointed out that the Sabres have used 11 defensemen this season, none of whom have scored on a combined total of 246 shots.

I also looked at the gap between first and third in team scoring, on the assumption that whomever finished second is probably just the primary linemate of the team's leading scorer, like Stamkos and Kucherov. Here are the results, again as of December 4:
18 Calgary
15 Tampa Bay
14 Winnipeg
13 Edmonton
12 Los Angeles
(... average is 7.2...)
3 St. Louis, NY Islanders, Montreal, Dallas
2 Florida, NY Rangers

Johnny Gaudreau is having a heck of a season. At various points he has scored or assisted on over half of Calgary's goals, and has twice as many points as anyone on his team, except his centre Sean Monahan.


My last point is aimed at the statisticians and stat-hobbyists out there. If you're looking for datasets to play with, you can always download one of my datasets. But, another option is to use Kaggle. They have datasets of all different kinds. For example, Kevin Kazmierczak (@kasmiekr) is looking at who could make the Hall of Fame, much like Iain Fyffe's Inductinator that was laid out in Hockey Abstract 2014, and Cam Nugent is building a salary prediction model, just like Matt Cane. So, check out projects like theirs, and it might inspire you to make one of your own!

Interesting tidbits
  • Michael Grabner's shooting percentage is 23.6%, but only 14.2% if you don't count empty-net goals 
  • The only point scored by a rookie for the Pittsburgh Penguins was by goalie Tristan Jarry
  • T.J. Brodie's shot-based metrics have declined from 2nd among D in 2013-14, to 167th this season
  • Brandon Davidson was placed on waivers, and was scooped up by Edmonton. Given his career relative SAT of +2.8%, which ranks 26th among the 195 active D who have played at least 100 games, he's not a bad 7th D. 
  • In September, the favourites for the Stanley Cup were Pittsburgh (7-1), Edmonton (9-1), Chicago (12-1), and Dallas (12-1). Oh how things can change

A look at defensemen, and more

posted Nov 22, 2017, 10:47 AM by Robert Vollman

Who is the current Norris favourite? There's still a couple of hours left in my Twitter poll so you can participate if you hurry, but the early results point strongly to Karlsson, and surprisingly far away from Doughty. 

Getting more into the details, Travis Yost of TSN took an interesting look at how defensemen are being used this season, and had some interesting findings. 

His work also appears to confirm that more teams are adopting the Predators model of relying more heavily on their top defensemen. Rather than roll three pairs, the Predators leaned heavily on the top two pairs, rarely using Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber at all. It seems like more teams are doing that these days.

Yost based each team's depth chart based on average ice time, computed what percentage that represented relative to the team's No. 1 defenseman, and even took a look at each player's shot-based results. Even if you're not as interested in the numbers, it's interested to scan vertically and compare one team's No. 4 defenseman (for example) to another. 

It's also fun to look for surprises, like depth defenseman in the top four (e.g. Matt Tennyson, Joakim Ryan, Jan Rutta), and top-four defenseman slotted on the third pair (e.g. Marc Staal, Cam Fowler, Dan Hamhuis, Kris Russell, Tyler Myers).

Steve Burtch (@steveburtch) also took a look at defensemen this week, using the xGA/60 RelT stat. Don't get too worked up by the confusing term, because it's basically just the team's relative GAA when the player is on the ice. That is, Seabrook's 1.00 means that the team's GAA is +1.00 when he's out there. Now, that may be because of his play, or it could be other factors -- this is just information, and it's up to others to put it into context.

To be slightly more specific xGA is the expected goals against, not the actual goals against. First developed by Alan Ryder back in 2004 but raging back in popularity recently, expected goals is the number of goals that an average goalie would have allowed, given the volume, location, and quality of shots allowed. Here, it is calculated on a per-60 minutes basis (/60), just like GAA, and measured relative to the same figure when the player was off the ice (RelT).

In essence, this list includes the defensemen with whom scoring goes up the most when they're on the ice. So, it's not a good list to be on. In some cases, they also improve scoring (xGF/60 RelT), but not by enough to justify that extra scoring allowed. In fairness, in some cases the player is simply being tasked with all the tough minutes, possibly with a lousy partner, and maybe had some bad luck in the early going. But, in other cases, some players are legitimately struggling and should be moved down the depth chart.

Oilers Going to Oil

What the heck is wrong with the Oilers? They're 7-12-2 and 29th in the NHL. 

It was a popular topic with my Twitter followers (1,223 votes), and the most popular answer is definitely a lack of scoring depth. They're fine with McDavid on the ice, but struggle with anybody else.

A lot of people wanted Peter Chiarelli to be one of the choices, but he's not on the ice. If you believe the GM is to blame, what exactly did he do (or not do) to cause their early struggles? Indeed, the team's lack of scoring depth could be blamed on the man who traded away Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and let Benoit Pouliot go. Even if you blame the top four, Chiarelli was the one who threw a lot of long-term money at Kris Russell, who is being used a secondary option no more often than Matt Benning, even in Andrej Sekera's absence. 

I don't disagree with either of those sentiments, but it is early, and they have had a lot of bad luck. In my view, they should be just fine the rest of way. The only question is whether or not they dug themselves too great a hole to climb back into the playoffs.

Paul Kariya

With Kariya being officially inducted into the Hall of Fame, there was some attention on his incredible 1995-96 season, in which he led the team in scoring by 64 points. As a 21-year-old in his second season, Kariya scored 108 points (50 goals, 58 assists) in 82 games, which is 64 more than Steve Rucchin, who was in second place with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 64 games.

Where does that rank in NHL history? After invoking the Gretzky-Lemieux Rule, which excludes their exceptional results from the analysis, it is the greatest gap between first and second in team scoring. Here's the leader board.

64 Kariya 1995-96
62 Yzerman 1988-89
55 Bure 2000-01
53 Gilmour 1992-93
52 Lafleur 1978-79
50 Sakic 1990-91
49 Maruk 1981-82
49 Ovechkin 2005-06
48 Nilsson 1980-81

I'm also asked about Sakic's 1989-90 season, who scored 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) in 80 games, which is 66 more than second-place Michel Petit, who had 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) in 63 games. However, people forget about Peter Stastny, who had 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists) in 62 games when he was traded to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline. So, I think the gap is actually 40 points, on a technicality.

For those who remember Iain Fyffe's writeup about the Hall of Fame Inductinator in Hockey Abstract 2014, Kariya should have been voted into the Hall of Fame long ago, based on an assessment of the subjective criteria of the voters. 

Assorted Notes

Almost everybody agrees that the New Jersey Devils are this year's Toronto Maple Leafs, in the sense that they are getting the biggest boost from their rookies.

At the moment, the Devils are tied for first in the Metropolitan division, which absolutely no one expected. And, it's not just first overall pick Nico Hischier and his 15 points - he's being outscored by rookie third-pair defenseman Will Butcher, 16 points. There's also two-way forwards Jespter Bratt with 13 points, and depth forward Blake Coleman, who is plus-11. They also have a lot of young, second-year players. Keep an eye on the Devils!

Here are the 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes leaders as of November 20. Data source is Natural Stat Trick, and minimum is 10 games played.

4.07 Stamkos
3.82 Teravainen
3.68 Kucherov
3.65 Kempe
3.47 Schwartz
3.43 Matthews
3.41 Gaudreau
3.32 Kerfoot
3.30 Voracek

2.55 Wideman
2.36 Sergachev
2.11 Karlsson
1.95 Krug, Leddy
1.81 Butcher, Barrie
1.79 Hainsey, Engelland
1.75 Klingberg, Nutivaara, Josi

In the summer, I raised eyebrows by arguing that the Habs should have traded Price, rather than sign him to that huge contract. They could get a huge return on Price, find a younger and lower cost goalie, who goalie coach Stephane Waite could easily train into a solid No. 1. They could use the savings to solve the team's problems elsewhere in the lineup. Well, the eyebrows are going down, because Price's slow start (which is temporary) has apparently gotten a few people on board.

Last year's divisional champions are having a hard time this year. As of today, Montreal, Washington, Chicago, and Anaheim have a combined record of 39-37-8, and have been outscored 256-233. 

I also noticed that Dallas is outscoring its opponents 44-34 through the first two periods, but have been outscored 26-13 in the third.

In individual player notes, Mark Letestu has now played 152:06 at 5-on-5 with Edmonton scoring a goal while he was on the ice (source: Natural Stat Trick).

Joey Kenward (@kenwardskorner) pointed out that Antti Niemi has now played for three teams this season, only the fifth goalie to do so, after Jim Rutherford, Greg Millen, Kirk McLean, and Sean Burke.

Odds and Ends

posted Nov 12, 2017, 10:17 AM by Robert Vollman

I think the Vadim Shipachyov story is the most recent turn of events recently. Three months ago, the Vegas Golden Knights gave him a contract with a big bonus and a $4.5 million cap hit, believing him to be the franchise's first No. 1 centre. Turns out, Cody Eakin is the team's first No. 1 centre, and Shipachyov didn't even make the team. That is such a strange turn of events. Were they make a horrible misjudgment three months ago, or a horrible one today? Either way, it's a fascinating story to follow. Here are the other stories on my mind these days.


There's a new hashtag to follow on Twitter, thanks to Alex Novet (@AlexNovet). He, and others, are going to help people transition from Excel spreadsheets to R, which is a software tool that can help people do the same statistical work, but in half the time. However, there can be a bit of a learning curve for those without previous experience in coding.

Also, Hayden (@3Hayden2) said he'll similarly help people with Python, but I'm not sure if there's a hashtag for that yet. It's really great when people spend the time to help build up the community, and help more people get involved, and get ahead. To learn even more about programming, be sure to attend the third annual Vancouver Hockey Analytics event, March 2-4, 2018.

Defensive Defenseman

As you might know from following my blog, I've been playing around with defensive measurements lately (though not terribly seriously). To start my next model, I asked my Twitter followers for their subjective assessments of the best defensive defenseman in the game right now. Based on the top four suggestions, I put out the following poll, which surprisingly had Victor Hedman out front.

Based on your replies, Lindholm, Karlsson, and Giordano were also viable choices for that poll. Then, Suter, Tanev, Keith, Ekholm. I plan to study these defensemen more carefully to see if I can figure out what makes them tick, and find a way to rate others on the same basis.


Based on history, the first coaching vacancy should be coming up soon. Based on your suggestions, I chose the top four choices for the following poll, and apparently Dave Tippett is the most popular coach to take over mid-season (among veteran options, at least). Apparently, Michel Therrien was a dubious inclusion on the list. My bad!


Which team has hit been hit worst by injuries? Based on the data compiled at @NHLInjuryViz, it looks like Anaheim, Boston, and Buffalo.

Technically, Vegas hasn't been hit as hard, but they don't have any goalies! Fleury, Subban, and Dansk are all out, and Pickard was traded. They're using an AHL goalie named Max Lagace, and a 19-year-old named Ferguson to back him up. You'll notice my last blog post was about finding them an emergency solution.

As for Buffalo, their blue line has been hit so hard by injuries that it looks like the following. I think this is why the letters O, M, and G were invented.

I ran a poll, but sadly I neglected to include Boston in the list, which is a pity because I had a joke option in there. Nevertheless, Anaheim won this poll handily.

The NHL's Historical Data

Much was made of some recent glitches with's latest statistical rollout, but don't ignore some of the great new stuff that may have been lost in the shuffle.

First of all, they have a fantastic new glossary. Also, there is now a plus/minus breakdown all the way back to 1955-56. That means we know how many goals were scored (for and against) when a player was on the ice. That's very useful information, because it tells us who plays on special teams, and can help estimate how much ice time they had.

I took a quick look to see who was on the ice for the most goals against, here's what I found:
185 Salming '83-84
182 Nylund '85-86
177 Larson '80-81
172 Lidster '86-87
171 Ellett '85-86

There's also save percentage going back to 1955-56. I used the data to see how save percentages have changed over time, so that we can compare players across eras, and here's what I came up with.

I also noticed in 1973-74 that Bernie Parent was .932, Tony Esposito was .929, and virtually nobody else was over .910. And, from 1993-94 to 1998-99, Hasek was .929, Roy and Brodeur were .915 and .914, and the league average was .902. Those are some dominant performances!


Looking back at all this great historical data reminds me of one of the little hobby horses in the world of hockey analytics, to reduce the number of assists. The stat would be more meaningful if it only included legitimate assistance in scoring goals, and not just someone who chipped away a defensive zone breakout, or had some incidental contact that had nothing to do with the play.

If we were to reduce the number of assists, what would be the most effective way? Most people think that it's just to allow only one assist per goal. Even if it's just someone leaving it behind the net for an end-to-end Bobby Orr, that is seen as the best way forward. I'm not sure I agree. I think I like option 3 the best. How about you?

What else?

On November 5, I took a look at which players were out-performing and under-performing last year's scoring rate by the largest extent. Here are the results.
+10.3 Couturier
+9.4 Schwartz
+8.3 Namestnikov
+7.8 Gostisbehere
+7.4 Kopitar, Larkin, Stamkos
-5.0 Burns, Hanzal
-5.1 Galchenyuk
-5.2 Guentzel
-5.3 Spezza
-6.0 Crosby
-6.9 Sheary

Also, I looked at who was getting the most extra ice time:
+84:43 Schmidt
+78:07 Wagner
+76:56 Dorsett
+72:26 Sissons
+69:57 Tennyson
+69:16 Scandella

In terms of those who have lost the most ice time, it's Kulikov and Enstrom on Winnipeg's blue line, the Sedins in Vancouver, Chris Kunitz in Tampa Bay, and Radek Faksa in Dallas.

I had a poll suggested by one of my followers, on a particular game tactic. Feel free to reach out to me to suggest your own poll questions!

There's a new book on the market, self-published just like my beloved Hockey Abstract. It's called Hockey Analytics, by Stephen Shea and Christopher Baker.

It is great to see another book on the market, and I hope many others follow suit. It's a lot of hard work to write a book, and for very little reward. If anything, it just makes you a target for a lot of haters. Over the years, I've learned that very few people can even manage to write a chapter, so we really need to support the work that's out there.

And, you may have heard that Sunny Mehta, who was one of the first public hirings in the field of hockey analytics (if not THE first) is no longer with the New Jersey Devils, as of last Sunday (h/t James Mirtle). I'm not sure what happened or what it means, but it's something to think about.

In closing, there were two impressive records set on October 28. First, Arizona tied the record for the worst start to a season, by going 0-10-1 like the 1943-44 New York Rangers (h/t Craig Morgan). And, the Red Wings set a record with their 12th consecutive shootout win (h/t Prashanth Iyer)

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