Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Difference Makers

A long time ago mudcrutch had a cool idea to look at the impact of players on their teams. He checked a few star players, to see how their teams fared in terms of wins and losses over the years, this in games that they were out of the lineup.

It was interesting stuff, and intuitively there was definitely something to it, though small sample sizes meant a lot of noise. And now, with the increase of relevant stats information available to us, I think it's worth taking a finer look at it.

I'll get back to this myself, eventually. For now I thought I'd just leave some useful links and see what other people on the blogosphere come up with.

So if you wanted to see how the Blackhawks have done at evens when Havlat is out of the lineup, enter this url to see the games that Havlat did not play in. They are listed by NHL.com game number.

This url will churn out the total goals/shots/missed shots/etc stuff for the Blackhawks this season.

This url will churn out the same stats for the hawks during Havlat's first injured stint. Just repeat this for his other two injury stints (dude makes Moreau look like an iron man).

This is 4v4 and 5v5 stuff, if you want to be exact you can find the goalie numbers for the Hawks here, and just delete the rows for the other players.

From there, get your geek on, cut and paste into a spreadsheet, and it should be basic grade school arithmetic from there on out.

Players that have missed a bunch of games are going to show clearer results I'd think. Crosby, Havlat, Ohlund, who else? ... anyone who has missed a big chunk of the season without too many other tangible factors affecting the team at the same time are favourite. And it will be trickier if you're looking at a team like COL, who had so many of their difference makers out at once.

We're not looking for a magic bullet to determine player value here, just following simple reasoning to see what it tells us. And when it comes to applying common sense, there is no such thing as too much.

Hopefully we can spot some obvious, reasonable, and repeatable patterns here, and get a little closer to understanding which hard facts we should be looking at when we try to fairly evaluate players. Especially those players that we don't get to see very often.

Hopefully some of you take a run at it, and tell us what you found in the comments section.

Monday, March 24, 2008

He Was Fuckin' Lucky

That was the line that changed the way that I looked at the game, almost exactly twenty years ago. Anyone can blow smoke out of their ass and act confident, but when someone pays you a whack of the cut (for skills you only pretended you had) and has a staggering amount of money on the line every night, well these are people whose opinion carries merit, whether they respect you or not.

I think, or hope, that I have a long history of not being an "I told you so" guy. Really it's just a matter of betting with the odds in any case. So long as you're more likely to win than lose, above the hold, it's a good bet.

So when I wrote last month that ... "I was going to write a bit on Mike Richards' fluky season, but there is a rookie defenceman on the Thrashers named Enstrom, and he clearly has made a deal with the devil. Both bubbles that just have to burst eventually."

Combined, they were EV+/- +15 to that point. In the six weeks since then they have been EV+/- -15. Neither is getting the love from TSN anymore.

Now nobody in the world could have pegged that exactly, but sensible people everywhere would have sensed that when the puck is in the wrong end that much when you are on the ice, as evidenced where the faceoffs ended and where the shots-directed-at-net happen, well that will end badly eventually.

They were fuckin' lucky. Simple as that.

You could do the same with a bunch of stuff that Tyler or slipper have written lately, they bet with the odds. Or, alternatively, if you are feeling like you have become their internet bitches, then you could search out the times when the cookie crumbled the other way, and berate them in a sad way of making yourself feel more important. More power to you, btw. It's the same to me either way.


Causation, a mathy aside: This has been bastardized recently on the blogosphere. We could look at EV+/-, and believe what Roger Neilson told us, that it's the principle driver of wins, and that's good. But when we have spotty college kids blindly applying principles of causation from correlation ... God help us all, it makes me want to shove a knife in my eye. For Christmas sakes, EV+/- is defined as EVshooting% * EVshotsFor + EVsave% * EVshotsAgainst (all while-you-were-one-the-ice numbers) ... the sum total of causation from these actual elements of the damn equation is around 25%.

Where does the other 75% come from?

I'll cut off the former goalies right here by saying that I can't actually disprove your argument that it comes from a parallel universe where everyone thinks like Glenn Healy and acts like Brian Burke, and that this information flows to us through the consciousness of Nick Kypreos .

The fact is, as the delightful graphics show: Overwhelmingly, the ability to control possession predicts future success at EV+/-. Over any given week or two, the shit-happens numbers, the bounces, they tell the tale. In the long run "playing hockey well" actually predicts future success, who'da thunk it?

Some of you are probably thinking that this should be too obvious to state. But it had to be said.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Sometimes the bounces go your way, sometimes they don't. I think that most people who read here probably feel that a stretch of outchancing the opposition is a much better sign for the near future than is a stretch of finding ways to win.

Anyhow, I like rolling averages, in hockey and elsewhere.

On the graph below is the Oilers ten-game rolling average for even strength Corsi Number. That's the pink line, and is a measure of how many shots you direct at net, less those that the opposition shoots towards your goal.

So, by way of example, at the Oilers 30th game of the year they had pretty much hit rock bottom. There had been some injuries and plenty of strange coaching decisions as well, a few rookies were drowning in the deep end. Stoll and Torres were healthy scratches, and the Oilers, as a team, had averaged a -14 Corsi over the previous ten games.

And by game 55, the Oilers had nearly clawed their way back up to average in this regard. Thanks to improved play for sure, and the softer schedule around there helped too. That was the game that Horcoff got injured I think.

So that's clear, no?

The blue line is Gagner. He got off to a hot start, but by game twenty he was responsible for a huge chunk of the badness. A ridiculous amount given his limited responsibilities and icetime.

By game thirty he was merely terrible. By game forty it wasn't reasonable to start pinning the blame on him. And since then he's done nothing but improve in this regard. And it's important, because this is a better indicator of improvement than the counting numbers. In the long haul, you'll never help a team win unless you can help the team create more chances than it surrenders. This player has a real chance to be a difference maker.


Another point is that the Oilers have been winning quite a few games lately, but they've been doing it with mirrors. This is still a bad hockey team. It doesn't matter to me one bit whether or not the fans who call talk radio or post on message boards realize this, but it does matter that Lowe has been paying attention.

I mean young players get better, and the guys that are especially young and talented are going to produce steeper learning curves than the guys that have already been climbing that same curve just out of our sight in the AHL. Still, without Horcoff, unless they are lucky with player health, and just lucky in general ... then this is likely a lottery pick team next season. And with him they are probably average, at least by the end of the season (granted with a tough schedule).

If you're one of these 'in for a penny, in for a pound' rebuild fans, like speeds and YKoil, then you're probably inclined to root for Lowe shifting out Horcoff and Torres for youth. And you're dreaming of Tavares.

If you, like me, have no stomach for rebuilds, then you're hoping like hell that Lowe hasn't convinced himself that this team, as is, can compete next season.


An aside: The yellow line on the chart is the 10 game rolling average of faceoff zones (off. zone draws minus defensive zone draws), doubled up in this case for presentation reasons. Time to play Spot-The-Pattern. There will be no prizes today.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking for some help

Hello, 'sphere.

I am a University student with too much to do this month for school, work (which is at school), and other aspects of life. Of course in that I am a student, now that I have a minute to myself that should be used for sleep, I am killing a little bit of time on the internet before bed. Does that sound dirty? Shit if I have the energy to notice ATM.

One thing I seem to remember reading on one of my most frequently visited blogs (LT? MC?) is a suggestion that for many hockey players, simply staying healthy for long enough after you've been drafted is a good indicator that you will someday get it together and help your team win hockey games. What I am looking for is the best way to tackle such a statement.

I am not a programmer. I can read a lot of code and make sense of the logic used but I have not written anything of any use in any language. As such, my main source of info tends to be manually scraping season-by-season data off of NHL.com and into Excel. This limits data to seasons played in this millennium.

At first I thought that ideally, you could take the first five hockey seasons after draft day for a draft class and simply count time spent injured. You could then take the five seasons after that, compare total points (for forwards) as well as year-to-year change in points to amount-of-time-spent-healthy. Maybe you'd find that forwards who were the healthiest tended to end up with the most points. Maybe you'd find that they tended to have the quickest acceleration to whatever their peak became. Maybe both, neither, etc.

My open question is two-fold. 1) What do you think of the method? IE arbitrary 5 season number, difficulty of finding out how long each player has been injured, etc... and 2) How would such a thing get accomplished?

Many thanks.