Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best In The Game

This is a photo of Zetterberg and Lecavalier from a game last month in Detroit. Vinny played sixteen shifts at even strength, all of them featured Zetterberg on the ice for some or all of it. Zetterberg played 17 minutes of 5v5 ice time, a cracking 15.1 minutes of that vs Lecavalier.

Of Vinny's 16 EV shifts, 11 of them came immediately after a Brad Richards shift, which is Tortorella's modus operandi from past years. Richards took ten draws in his own end, and one in the offensive zone. Lecavalier took 5 draws in the offensive end (all against Z's line) and 5 in his own zone. There just aren't that many offensive zone faceoffs available when you play Detroit.

Detroit won the game, in spite of the fact that Z had a rare minus night. -1 vs Vinny's line and -1 vs Richards. On this night Zetterberg, Lecavalier, and Richards all had Corsi numbers a touch in the red. They hurt each other's results a lot. And it's a certainty that if Babcock had gone old school with a checking line against Lecavalier, that both Z and Vinny would have looked a lot better to our eyes.

The reason I write this though, is that I saw a poll on TSN or Sportsnet the other day, one of these "who is the best player in the NHL" things. The poll of the hockey writers, one from each NHL city, ended up with Lecavalier as the runaway winner with 17 votes. Zetterberg got 4 votes, Iginla and Kovalchuk were next I think, with a couple each.

This surprised me, now maybe I have a Western Conference bias, but to my mind Zetterberg is a much better player. Last time I checked these two were nearly identical in goals and points, both are obviously terrific on the PP as well, and have the benefit of some good linemates. And I think that one of them makes a lot more difference to winning games than the other one does. So I'll attempt to build a case briefly here, with some context, numbers that represent the underlying results that really matter.

First up, shots for/against:

When Zetterberg is on the ice at even strength:
  • EV+ 30, EV -16
  • Shots for: 352
  • Shots against: 169
That's impressive, and the EVsave percentage behind him is a touch weak, and the EVshooting percentage of his linemates is good, but still a bit lower than you'd expect at 8.4%. i.e ... it isn't just a lucky streak, if anything he deserves to be even a smidge better.

When Lecavalier is on the ice at even strength:
  • EV+ 33, EV -29
  • Shots for: 261
  • Shots against: 260
This isn't new. Vinny was also on the ice for the second most even strength goals-against last season, of all the forwards in the league, only Martin St. Louis (72 GA) edged him out, and just by one goal. Admittedly the Lightning have poor goaltending, but 60 goals against at evens is the Bure line, these are madass big goals against numbers.

And now the faceoffs:

I wrote a php script a while ago to scrape info off of the play by play sheets. Since then I've been tweaking it to get different things. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that crudely written page of code. :)

One thing I wanted to look at was changes in zone, the guys who are getting the puck going in the right direction. And since the NHL doesn't publish their zone time information any more, I just went by faceoffs. If a shift started in the defensive zone the the player gets a plus, and a minus for starting in the other end of the rink. Also if your shift ends in the offensive zone you get a plus, and you get a minus if your shift ends at the bad end of the ice.

If you do this for every player in the NHL, the worst player in the NHL by this crude possession metric is Vincent Lecavalier. A staggering -78. Also, Lecavalier was on the ice for 62 more offensive zone draws than defensive ones, the most favourable start to shifts of anyone on his squad.

The second best player in the NHL by this crude possession metric is Henrik Zetterberg, trailing only Bobby Holik. A whopping +80. Also, Zetterberg was on the ice for the same number of offensive zone draws as defensive ones, granted that's just average, but on this very strong DET team that's the toughest start to shifts of anyone on his squad. And a big part of the reason that everyone else on the roster starts more of their shifts in the offensive end of the rink is because the Zetterberg line keeps finishing there, and usually while playing against the other team's best.

My point:

As talented as Vinny is, as fun as he is to watch play the game, as much as he creates offensively, he gives almost as much back at the other end of the rink. And this isn't just a recent thing. Plus, if you're a Lightning player coming onto the ice as Vinny leaves it, chances are that shift won't start well. All of the opposites are true for Zetterberg, and this isn't a new thing either.

To me, Zetterberg is the MVP, and it ain't close.


Trivia #1: Lidstrom is +63 at this new made-up possession stat of mine (not including tonight's game) that is not the best defenceman number in the league though. To test your eyes, can you name the NHL defender who is edging out Nicklas? Hint: Plays for a Canadian team.

From the 'this can't be right' file: Marc Savard is +67 at this. And has been taking a ridiculous amount of own zone draws, and according to Desjardins has been playing against good players. I'll be damned, that's a leopard who I thought would never change his spots. Who's coaching the Bruins now, anyways?

Achilles heel: As good as DET is, their 10 through 15 forwards have been a gong show in every measurable way, much of what the Z line creates gets given back by this crew, and all with limited icetime.

Trivia #2: Red Wing tough guy Aaron Downey has been on the ice for 71 faceoffs at even strength so far this year. How many were in the defensive zone?

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Just an update on this simple measure of puck possession at even strength. This time I've added in the effect of faceoffs, because for every additional own zone draw you take you expect to lose 0.6 on your Fenwick number.

Also, sensible people everywhere would realize that the effect of your linemates has an impact. I don't think it's high thinking for someone to ponder "how much impact did Stortini have on Torres and Stoll? How did they do when they were playing with other linemates? How did those other linemates do when they were playing with yet other guys?" ... ad infinitum. In fact I think that's basic common sense.

I've parlayed the numbers through to remedy that, and they gravitate home remarkably quickly, just a few iterations and there is nothing left to do. This probably because of the simple truthiness of what we are measuring here, which is shots at net, less the blocked ones, with a bit of context (faceoff zones) added in. We're not mining through reams of stats, we are just trying to measure what we see is important, that being having the puck in the right end of the rink and getting it on net. I'll add in 'shifts that end in an own zone draw', and the opposite, for next time that I do this (get your tall glasses of vinegar ready now, prospect fans!) ;) One step at a time though, for the few that are into this sort of thing.

Anyhow, this is how it shakes out. If you run these sensibly corrected Fenwick numbers from the table below against the H2H icetimes of the linemates ... you're back where you started with at the raw numbers, which is exactly as it should be if the world is round.

I didn't include the guys with little ice time on this table, so as not to encourage Thoresen's legions of irrational fans in the Oilogosphere. And everyone's numbers are corrected to Staiosian levels.

Bob Clarke was right, the Oilers have too many kids. And Stoll and Torres were right, Stortini was killing them. And Black Dog was right, Souray shouldn't be playing against good opposition. And Smid has improved a bunch from last year, still has a ways to go though. And once Stoll and Torres start finishing like they usually do, which should start any day now ... they'll win the hearts of Oiler fans again, book it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Making Their Shots

I remember an Oilers home game vs Colorado a few years ago, the good guys won, scoring five goals. The Edmonton media were on Patrick Roy after the game, he was not a player that was well liked by journalists. Roy was unflappable though, I heard him on the radio post game show and he didn't think he'd played a bad game. His explanation for allowing five goals, by my memory; "they made their shots". If shrugs made a sound, you would have been able to hear it. And I think he was right.

Lately the pucks have been going in for the Oilers, they've been finishing their chances. I made a remark to this effect in the comments section on Lowetide's blog today. Before I wrote it, I made a quick check, just to grab the number to drive my point home. It's easy to do, you can get the list of game numbers for the Oilers here: and then whip through them here: Simple stuff, just change the last five digits in the URL to the gamenumber you wish to look at. It took less than ten minutes to check the shooting percentage in the last ten games. Note that this lists goals and saves, you have to sum them to get shots.

These list the players by jersey numbers, so you can use the goalies (Garon is #32 and Roloson #35) to get the totals. You can do the same for PP shots here if you are really keen. And the team totals are done like this: . And obviously just change the last three characters in the URL to look at another team.

To my mind the Oilers aren't a team that just fires the puck at net from anywhere, and they aren't a team that that too often tries for the extra pass to create a golden chance. You'd expect them to peg in at around 8% shooting, league average, maybe even a touch more. To my eye the Oiler problems are mostly not having the puck enough, and not getting it into scoring areas.

In the first 23 games:
  • The EV shooting percentage was a bit light at 7.2%
  • The PP shooting percentage was a craptacular 9.9% and they weren't generating enough shots either.
In the last 10 games:
  • The EV shooting percentage was a spectacular, and completely unsustainable 14.3%. This includes the defensemen as well, of course. Hell there isn't a single player on the Oilers roster who has a career shooting percentage that high, and those career numbers include PP shots and goals. As we all know, the Oilers are really finishing their chances right now.
  • The PP shooting percentage was a solid 13.7%, they might be able to maintain that. Let's hope they don't fall back into the static, safe-pass, predictable patterns of earlier this season, and past years for that matter.

My point, and I do have one, is that as much as this last stretch has shown us a glimpse of the future for some of these young players, it won't last. They have some promising youth though, and with the potential of new ownership on the horizon, and the change in culture and perception that comes with that, they may very well be a playoff team in a year or two, and a very good team some time shortly after that. Let's hope that Lowe doesn't do anything rash at the trade deadline, for whatever reason he's chosen this path, he should stick to it now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winning and Losing You Games

Simple stuff here. The data for all 5v5 and 4v4 icetime is used if both goalies were on the ice.

First liners are defined as the three players with the most even strength ice time on each team, and so on for the other three lines. You can click on the image to enlarge.

Now the total of all forwards has a bit more plusses than minuses. That's mostly because there are goals scored and shots fired just as a powerplay expires that often feature four forwards on the ice for the scoring team, and as often as not three defenders and two forwards for the other guys. And also it's pushed a bit from the fact that quite a few coaches like three forwards at 4v4, and it seems to be working for them.

Still, the general trend is pretty obvious here. The best forwards on each team, collectively, they are kicking ass. Not only do they own the puck more (Fenwick, Corsi and shots +/-) they are better at finishing. The goalies on the other squad, collectively, have seen a whopping .010 drop in EVsave% when facing these guys. I know that's only one extra goal in 100 shots, still, when you're getting that many shots on net it adds up too.

On top of that, the 'first liners' as defined here are overwhelmingly the same guys driving the PP results.

The lesser forwards (players who have played the 10th most even strength ice time or less on their squads) are getting their asses handed to them, those outscoring results that your high priced faves just earned, well these lesser lights and learning-on-the-job kids are giving most of it back. And reasonable people everywhere will agree that it would be a much wider spread in results from 1st line to depth guys if not for the fact that NHLers are generally playing against opponents of similar quality.

If the NHL were like any other business, then teams would be maximizing results by skimping on the top end a bit, and shoring up the bottom of the roster. The real results killers are the high end draft picks that don't help you win games but still bring in a million dollar salary. They'd have to go.

Garth Snow has one of the lowest payrolls in the league, but he has been to business school.


And just for the sake of throwing everything out there; the defenders results are below. It's flat, and doesn't tell you much, because the best defenders play a lot against good forwards, so their results get pounded down to a level that's within spitting distance of the terrible defenders in this league.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Shit Happens

Yesterday I read this excellent post at sisu hockey, and it's moved me to chip in on the subject of plain old, unglamourous luck.

There is some grooviness surrounding save percentage at even strength, so today I'll take a couple of kicks at that, testing NHL players VS dice rollers. I ran this data a week ago, using 5v5 and 4v4 numbers only, and only when the goalies for both teams were on the ice. It's repeatable using a cut and paste of data from Desjardins' advanced hockey stats site, if you're a dab hand with Excel it should only take half an hour or so to do this sort of thing.

What I did with the NHL players:
  • Looked at a player, say Cogliano of the Oilers, and noted that he'd been on the ice at even strength for 13 goals against, and 148 shots against. That's a .912 EVsave% when he's been out there.
  • The Oilers on the whole, at the time, had a team EVsave% of .907 at that point.
  • If Cogliano had seen that .907 EVsave% behind him, he would have been on the ice for 13.8 goals against, round it up to 14.
  • So the expected goals against was 14, and the actual was 13. So Rooster Cogliano gets a -1 Diff-number from me here. Meaning that if we believe that he has no significant factor on the goalie's even strength save percentage, then he had been lucky to to the tune of 1 fewer goals against.
  • Do the same for everyone else in the league.

What I did with the dice rollers:

  • Cogliano gets an imaginary dice roller.
  • This dice roller gets 148 rolls of a die, that's the same number as the shots against that Cogs was on the ice for.
  • The die he uses is weighted so that it rolls one thru five 90.7% of the time, because that was the EVsave% of the Oilers overall. This is done using a simple script and a random number generator.
  • Each time the dice roller rolled a six, it counted as a mock goal-against.
  • Repeat for the other 703 NHL skaters who have played a game this season, using their unique personal and team stats of course.

Finishing up:
  • Sum up the total number of players with a -1 Diff Number, like Cogliano.
  • And the number of guys with a -2 Diff-number, and a -3 etc. -10 through +10.
  • Do the same for the dice rollers.
  • Compare dice rollers to NHL players and be confused.
Both lines are going to be a bit bumpy and irregular. There is buggerall that you can do about that for the NHLers, but for the dice rollers you can repeat the exercise 100 times and take an average to smooth things out. So in the first iteration the dice rollers had 111 guys with a -1 Diff-number, like Cogliano did in the NHL world. The next iteration was 98, then 122, and on and on. The average of 100 iterations was 106.4 dice rollers with a -1 Diff-number, which is the difference btween how many sixes they rolled and the number of sixes we would have expected, knowing the weighting of the dice. Capiche?

Anyhow, the pretty picture:

You can click on the image to enlarge it. The blue line is the NHL players, so for example, there were about 80 players with 2 more EV-goals-against than would have been expected if they'd seen their team's average EVsave% behind them.

The pink line is the dice rollers, the average of the 100 seasons worth.

The area between the two is part randomness (we have 100 dice seasons, but only one NHL season after all), and partly the effect of players impacting shot quality as defenders, and partly the effect of the guys who play more against better shooters and play makers. That's a lot of theory competing for a tiny patch of real estate.

NHL players who've found themselves on the right side of this curve are probably having great starts in terms of EV-, at least relative to their teammates and to their previous seasons. The players who've fallen on the left probably aren't getting much love from the fans in their towns right now. Not to worry, it's mostly just shit happening, they're almost certainly going to see a change in fortune in this regard over the rest of the season.

And the yellow line, well that's where the blue line will be in April. The player results will smooth out a bit as the sample gets larger, and drop down and widen out to be tight to the yellow line. It will happen, and there's not a damn thing any of us can do to stop it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Action Is Needed

This is just one of those cases where enough similar situations have gone wrong that I will not be content until pen gets put to paper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Things That Surprise Me

Over on Lowetide's San Fernando game day thread I asked why so many people are so ready to see Geoff Sanderson sit as soon as Edmonton can ice a healthy line up. Thankfully, I didn't word my question very well and the rush of responses mostly dealt with explanations surrounding his current injury (which sounds pretty painful btw) and I've had the opportunity to do my own digging.

Posted here are numbers taken straight off of and they include Oilers who have played at least 20 games this season. The only stat that I have added is the final column, "net effect", which shows you the difference between a player's on ice and off ice +/- per 60 ES minutes. Immediately this shows that Sanderson is 3rd worst among Oiler regulars in this regard but after scanning up and down, #8 has become the least of my surprises.

Jarret Stoll has looked to be a shell of a man at times so far this year. He's gotten some puck luck of late and a few points have followed and in addition, it's always tough to fault him when it comes to effort regardless of how well he is actually playing. All this said, I hope that he either a) recovers to the half decent ES powerplay specialist he used to be or b) there is a GM out there somewhere who hasn't noticed #16 is barely better than our 18 year old junior kid in terms of results this year.

In the WTF category on the positive side of things, or HTF as in how the fuck are Dustin Penner and Raffi Torres near the top of this list? Seriously, I am a bigger fan of DP than I suspect most on the blogosphere would admit but how is he #2 to only Shawn Horcoff in this regard? Maybe a quick peek at Vic's location of faceoff thread might help give context to this but it's just odd to see so many players above Ales Hemsky.

Props are to Tommy G who is a surprise in how much he is kicking Mr. Steve Staios' ass so far this year... but it's time for the single biggest surprise of all on this list: How is the difference in quality of competition between Horc/Hemmer vs., say, Sam Gagner, so small? Is it possible that Edmonton is so bad this year that opposing coaches (almost) don't give a shit who plays who against us? Or scarier yet, is it possible that the Oilers are so bad that MacT is the one not giving a shit?