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Artemi Panarin, and more

posted Jan 28, 2018, 7:01 PM by Robert Vollman
This week, I got a lot of attention for the following tweet about defensemen, and the plus/minus statistic.

I didn’t tweet that to take a shot at plus/minus, because it’s strengths and limitations have already been covered in some detail. In fact, the first time I was published in this field was on that topic, in the Hockey Research Journal back in 2001 (Iain Fyffe gave me a co-author credit). However, it is interesting that some of the game’s most respect defensemen were among the league’s worst in plus/minus. in fact, three of those players were in the all-star game!

One fan took exception to Jeff Petry’s inclusion on that list. Sure, he may not be at the same level as Karlsson and Burns, but he at least belongs with defensemen like Goligoski. After all, he’s been a solid top pair defensemen his whole career. Last I checked, he’s his team’s leading defenseman in scoring (which he has done before), he’s top two in average ice time (which he has done every year but once), and over past three years he has boosted his team’s share of shot attempts by 2.8% (which ranks 24th among D to play 100 games). He appears to be quite solid.

No, he’ll never be in a Norris race, but then again, it’s hard to figure out who is. Unlike the Jack Adams race, the race for the Norris Trophy is wide open, and I really have no idea who should be in the mix. However, I did put together a player usage chart that included every defenseman with at least 25 points, and can attest that Morgan Rielly, Roman Josi, Drew Doughty, and Ryan Suter are worthy of consideration. To this, most people add P.K. Subban as well. Certainly, someone from Nashville should be in the mix.

Artemi Panarin

I may not have an answer for the Norris, but allow me to throw out an unusual name for the Hart Trophy, Artemi Panarin.

Let me back up a little bit and tell you how this oddball idea came about. For no particular reason, one thing I’ve been looking at recently are these interesting “tails” that show up whenever you look at average ice time.

I didn’t label the axes because you can easily make a chart like this yourself. Just grab every forward’s average even-strength ice time, and it doesn’t matter what season you choose, or how many games you choose as your cutoff, because you will wind up with a chart that looks like this. There will be a nice straight line from about 8 or 8.5 minutes per game all the way to about 15 minutes per game. But, before and after that range, you’ll get those tails, beyond which there will be at least a dozen players at each end.

Predictably, those below 8 minutes per game are a combination of tough guys and part-time NHLers. Right now, the only five NHL regulars are Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Martin, Michael Haley, Matt Hendricks, and Ryan Reaves.

Obviously, it is far more interesting to look at for those above 15 minutes per game. Right now, that includes Connor McDavid, Henrik Zetterberg, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Mark Scheifele, Auston Matthews, and … Artemi Panarin.

Normally, these players can be divided into two buckets: extremely good players who are way better than everyone else even when they’re tired, and solid players on weak teams. Right now, that latter bucket looks small (just Zetterberg, really), but last year it included several Buffalo Sabres. Either way, these are players who are given all the ice time that they can possibly handle. 

So how does Panarin fit in? For whatever reason, it just didn’t feel like he belongs on that list, for either reason. I mean, he was acquired for Brandon Saad, who is just a middle-of-the-lineup winger for a team that’s last place in their division. And, he plays with Josh Anderson and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, who also appear to be both middle-of-the-lineup sorts of players. Why, oh why, is Panarin getting so much ice time?

Then, I looked at his shot-based metrics. And hoo-boy. What an eye-opener that was.

Did you know that Columbus has outshot their opponents 905-662 when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5, for a Corsi of +243 that’s sandwiched at the top of the leaderboard between Calgary’s top defensive pair of Dougie Hamilton (+244) and Mark Giordano (+242)? 

Plus, it’s not like Columbus is a shot-based powerhouse, because it looks like they get bombed when he isn’t on the ice. Their Corsi percentage is a lowly 47.45% when he’s on the ice, meaning they’re responsible for 47.45% of all shot attempts (and their opponents 52.55%). When he’s on the ice, that goes up to 57.75%. That difference of 10.3% is unusually high. Second place is Jordan Eberle at 9.33% (and that’s just so the hockey gods can continue to mock Oilers fans), followed by well-known shot-based metric masters (gamers?) like Nino Niederreiter and Mathieu Perreault.

So, maybe Panarin does belong on that list, and should receive some consideration for the Hart. My eyes have been opened. Expect me to watch Panarin more closely, and study this matter further. 

Trade Value

As we head towards the trade deadline, one of my recent themes has been finding a way to consider a player’s cap hit when doing a valuation. That’s really what the whole Auston Matthews analysis was all about. It’s not enough to be a great player, each individual has to find a way to contribute over and above what the team would receive investing the same cap space elsewhere.

Obviously, trading the Sedins is a fantasy exercise, but (almost) everybody seems to agree that their combined cap hit of $14.0 million makes them an unattractive trade asset, despite how undeniably talented and useful they are to practically any playoff team.

Even when retaining as much salary as possible (which, I believe, is half of one of their salaries, or $3.5 million), the average fan still felt that a second-round pick or an equivalent prospect was the right return for Daniel and Henrik Sedin. That’s basically what they got for Alexandre Burrows (Jonathan Dahlen) and Jannik Hansen (Nikolay Goldobin). In fact, 1 in 5 fans didn’t think they should even get that.

For more on the trade deadline, you’ll want to check out this week’s articles for ESPN. Last week, I mentioned how I used a great website called Pro Sports Transactions to gather the raw data of every trade that occurred within a month of the trade deadline, all the way back to 2005. I identified how the volume of trade changes as we get closer to the deadline (of February 26 this year), and which teams are most active. Well, I broke down each GM’s history, and figured out how many trades they make per year, including how many they make in the final days, and ranked them in the East, and West.

Icing Happen

A relatively unexplored area of hockey is icings. Statistically, what is the impact of an icing, what strategies force or lead to icings, which teams and players ice the puck more (or force more icings), and what’s that worth?

To take a step towards answering that question, R.J. Weise (@rjweise) has put together a series of visualizations, including the following. He also wrote an article about the various challenges in gathering the data, which will be fascinating to anyone who likes to see how things are done under the hood.

Scoring per Season

There’s no easy segue here, but for no real particular reason, I put together a list of the average scoring rate (points per game) of the NHL’s top 10 scorers. To be clear, this is not the average of the top 10 players in points per game, but the average points per game of the top 10 scorers. 

As you can see, being a point-a-game player means a lot more today than at any other point in modern history. A chart like this can help put today’s scoring achievements in context.

Closing Thoughts

Just one point in closing this week. A significant number of of my friends and followers live in or near Toronto, and so they may be interested in attending the Fields Sports Analytics conference May 24-25. Yes, it is pricey, but it could be an interesting event, and you could have some conversations with insightful people.