Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The End of the Career

Hockey players bounce around from team-to-team ad infinitum. Which leaves you with a few very low-quality, dull years in random cities from various superstars. I'm not talking Ray Bourque going to Colorado to win a cup; I'm talking Brett Hull in Phoenix. So imagine this all-star starting lineup:

G: Ed Belfour (Florida)
D: Adam Foote (Columbus)
D: Bobby Orr (Chicago)
LW: Joe Neiuwendyk (Florida)
C: Brett Hull (Phoenix)
RW: Gordie Howe (Hartford)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


We're back here at Hockey Outsiders, with some updated information for our forthcoming defensive statistic:

The value is going to be "Shots Allowed." This isn't as easy as taking the team shots allowed and dividing by six of course, but requires calculating a good deal of information about each player based on +/-, power play performance, shots blocked, and the save percentage of the goalie behind him.

Right now, we're still crunching a pile of numbers, but the result should be in soon. I'm just hoping this isn't too biased against offensive defensemen.

Friday, July 18, 2008


The NHL schedule is out, and I want to point out a few things that bug me most of the time:

1.) Starting the season overseas. Honestly, I don't think this is a terrible idea in and of itself: the NHL has to keep spreading the world in Europe, and Stockholm and Prague are great hockey cities. And Stockholm - think about the crowds that would turn out to see the goalie that led Sweden to a gold medal in 2006!

...Too bad Lundqvist is playing in Prague. Oh well - you know, Jagr plays for the Rangers, they'll turn out to see him...ooh, right. Avangard Omsk. Well, I'm sure the Czechs will turn out to see journeymen like Petr Prucha and Michael Roszival and Vaclav Prospal as the Rangers play two games against the Lightning - winners of the draft lottery. Not sure why Elias and Hejduk weren't invited - Rangers-Devils would certainly be a more interesting game.

Sweden gets to see the Senators and the Penguins. So certainly, I can understand sending out Sid Crosby to rally up the faithful, and the Sens have Danny Alfredsson, so no complaints there. Alfie is the only Swede on either roster, however.

2.) Opening Night
The NFL starts the season with the Super Bowl champion getting a home game against a rival, all alone on national TV Thursday night. Giants and the Redskins. We're given the cup champions, versus an out-of-conference team that didn't make the playoffs and whose most notable offseason move is adding someone named Finger. Yes, the Red Wings get to hoist the banner in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs, not, say, the Blackhawks, the Stars, or the Avs. The NHL then treats us to fewer than THREE 10:00pm EST games on a Thursday night, featuring neither conference runner up, and forcing Bruins fans to start their season in a semi-meaningless game in Colorado.

Needless to say, you'll have to have Versus to get the Red Wings - Leafs game - NBC wouldn't touch it.

3.) The Cup Rematch

You'll have to wait until November, which isn't too bad, but then the game is somewhat randomly a Tuesday night affair on Veterans day, of all times.

Philly and Pittsburgh also don't get to settle that score in the first month of the season, despite being in the same division, and Dallas and Detroit don't meet up until November. These rivalries are fresh NOW, Bettman.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A defensive stat

I've been struggling to come up with a stat that really measures defensive ability - there's a few helpful indicators (hits, shots blocked) but they're tricky to compare, and also to correlate. I'm trying to work something out with plus/minus right now, and I'm going to see if the first set of results passes the smell test.

The idea is this: Start with plus/minus. Subtract even-strength points, and you get something that's fairly close to how many goals were allowed when a given player was on the ice. The first problem is universal when you want a small number: my score in this stat is a perfect 0.

The next step is to normalize it - divide by game played, and divide by shifts/game (we don't want 7th defensemen ramping up their scores). This gets us the player's goals allowed/shift value, which tends to be a difficult-to-understand fraction, so I think it's worth scaling it up for a full season.

The next step is to normalize it for goalies, and maybe the total team offense.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Year 2014

A far future time - a President Obama might start thinking about his legacy. The Nintendo Wii will be obsolete, replaced by a machine with sensors for your hands, arms, knees, and hips for a truly immersive environment in Dance Dance Revolution IX. And according to Capcom, a lone robot named Rock will have defeated six waves of evil Robot Masters under the control of the nefarious Dr. Wily.

The NHL will have taken a break for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, four years after the games in Vancouver.

And nineteen players will still be bound by contracts they've already signed.

Some of these players will very likely still be in their primes: a 27-year-old Alex Ovechkin, Thomas Vanek at 29, Jason Spezza at 30. But then there's a 36-year-old Dan Boyle making nearly seven million dollars. Or Rick DiPietro at a reasonable $4M at age 32, but with a full seven years left on his contract.

Past performance is not an indicator of future success, so whatever these teams are hoping for their trigenarians in 2014, the odds are against them.

Using a sample of the top 100 scorers from the past 15 years or so, I charted aging players performance. And while it's easy to remember the later years of the Great One as being proof older players can perform, it's not true. Age 26 and 27 was distinctly the peak for this group of players - performance drops at a rate of about 5% per season after that. There's a bit of a cliff from 29 to 30, and collapse of 10% every year from 34 on.

Some players beat the odds, to be sure, but don't get fooled by early all star years that turn into a long, slow, wind of 50 point seasons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More on the Mission

I realized I don't think I've spent any time explaining what I'm doing here yet:

The goal of the Hockey Outsiders is to make sense of NHL stats in a way that lets us know something more than "this guy scores a lot." The reason is that scoring goals isn't always that illuminating: is it a great individual talent? A product of excellent linemates? Weak schedule? Empty netters? At the same time, goaltending runs into similar problems: great goalie, or great defense?

The reason why this particularly matters is that the way NHL franchises build teams is changing - the past several summers, we've seen the price of top players explode through the roof, while the payoffs for their new teams are hit and miss. What we're looking for, eventually, is if there's some way to predict which players are worth spending money on every summer. And not only invididual names, but by position: should you load up on a few top forwards or roll four scoring lines? Do you want defensive defensemen or guys that chip in on the power play? Do you want to goalies to play 40 games each, or one guy who can shoulder a 70-75 game load before the playoffs even begin?

Additionally, NHL free agency is being drawn more and more towards long term contracts. REALLY long term contracts - if Rick DiPietro has a kid, they'll be playing together by the time DP is free of the Islanders. So a question that we'll answer in the coming days is - is that worth it? How long can you count on production from a player - both in terms of age and consistency?

And there's more - what are the best draft strategies to take? Are trades more valuable than free agents? Europeans vs. North Americans? And on and on.

We'll see what we can do. And of course, we'll study the biggest question: do the officials cheat in favor of Canadian teams?

Rule 3: Get a power play guy

Power plays count for a lot, especially in the playoffs. Power play percentage isn't nearly as important as playing 5 on 5 in the regular season, but it shoots up in the postseason, while 5 on 5 starts to even out.

At the same time, power play percentage, and the total number of power plays, is actually more influential on winning games and winning playoff games than goals themselves are. Goals scored is actually a relatively weak predictor, while special teams seems to count extra.

But here's the elite stat for special teams: 20% power play. 1 in 5. Only four teams reached the mark in 2007-8: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Philadelphia. Three of the league's Final Four - Western Conference runner-up Dallas put up an 18.1%.

However, 20% really seems to be the magic number, because things tail off below that. Tampa Bay records a 19.3% and Florida a 19.2%.