Kukla's Korner

Category: NHL-Statistical-Analysis

Making sense of the NHL standings

The Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal (Carl Bialik) gets on board with what should be a no-brainer of an idea to make the game more accessible to the general public.  His “Modest Proposal for NHL Standings” (gotta love a guy who gives a nod to Jonathan Swift) strikes a blow for common sense:

At any given time in any sports league’s season, some teams will have played more games than others. But other leagues take that into account in the standings. The NBA’s New Orleans Hornets are listed as one game behind the San Antonio Spurs, who have played two more games and won two more games. Similarly, last May 31, the Philadelphia Phillies had one more win than the Florida Marlins but stood in second place in the National League East because they had two more losses.

It’s a little more complicated in the NHL, where the winning team always gets two points but the losing team also gets a point if the game goes to overtime, and in soccer, for that matter, where winners get three points and teams that draw get one apiece. Here’s a fix to that problem: Rank teams by points per game played, rather than total points. That system would have shown Rangers fans that their team really ranked fourth in the East a month ago.

Yes, regular NHL fans can sort this stuff out, but for the casual sports fan flipping through and looking at standings, ranking teams by Points Percentage would make the picture much clearer. Of course, if we got rid of the ridiculous OT/SO “loser point”, the NHL could just use Winning Percentage, a crystal-clear measure of team success that everyone can relate to.

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Penalty Plus/Minus at the All-Star Break

The latest update on the NHL Penalty Plus/Minus figures has something old and something new for those tracking which players are creating the most power plays for their team over the course of the season.

The old? It’s Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, who continues in his position at the top.  Browin is leaving the competition in his rear-view mirror with a +31, far ahead of Jarome Iginla (+22), Niklas Hagman (+20), and Patrick O’Sullivan (+20), who head a more tightly-bunched set of secondary leaders.

Then there’s the very old; Rob Blake’s injury troubles have kept him (-19) from keeping pace with Mike Commodore and Shane O’Brien (each with -22) at the bottom of the standings, although fellow codger Mathieu Schnedier (-19) is keeping him company down there.

The complete spreadsheet and some “fresh” news follows…

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Kipper’s run for 50 wins? Who cares?

Goaltender wins are a bad statistic to get excited about already, since wins and losses are a result of an entire team’s effort, not just the goalie.  Taken as a specific example, the “Nabokov for Vezina” campaign last year was a joke, as even the most mediocre of NHL goalies would rack up impressive numbers behind that San Jose lineup!  Today in the Toronto Sun, Gary Loewen points out another absurdity about celebrating goaltender win totals:

In 2006-07, Martin Brodeur had 48 “wins” for the New Jersey Devils, one more than the record-holder, Bernie Parent of the 1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers.

Never mind that 13 of the Devils’ wins came in OT/SO ... 13 games that would have been ties in Parent’s day.

Brodeur had 35 wins in regulation, not even close to Parent’s record of 47.

Next up: Miikka Kiprusoff’s run at 50 wins for the Calgary Flames.

There are really two issues here, shootout wins and overtime wins.  Since Kipper has only 1 shootout victory so far this year (Henrik Lundqvist leads the NHL with 7), that point undercuts Loewen’s argument to some extent; and truly, if you’re going to compare post-lockout performances to historical records, one should treat shootout victories as ties.  Since the 5-minute overtime was introduced in the early 80’s, that introduces it’s own difficulty as well; some of Parent’s ties would likely have resulted in OT victories, but of course it’s impossible to predict how many.

It’s an unfortunate result of the NHL’s constant fiddling with the rule book that historical comparisons get muddled like this…

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Let’s talk travel, NHL style

As a followup to all the talk this week about the travel requirements of various NHL teams, here’s my interview with Mark Stephen and Jock Wilson, the hosts of Sportstalk on Calgary’s CHQR 770 AM.  Mark and Jock were particularly interested in how the Flames, already

Head on over to CHQR 770’s AudioVault to hear the interview; simply select the appropriate date & time (Tuesday, January 13th @ 9:00 PM), and when the audio stream launches, go ahead and skip to the 18:00 mark, which is where the segment on NHL travel begins.

Included below is a table highlighting one aspect of our talk, the number of one-game trips that each NHL team has had to log, for this season and last. Part of the reason the guys in Calgary are noticing so many of these trips this year is that in 2007-8, Calgary actually had the least one-game trips of any team in the league (6).  This year they’re more in the middle of the pack, but in terms of local perception, it’s a bigger issue right now.  It’s interesting to note that on this aspect, as well as that of back-to-back games, the Columbus Blue Jackets probably have more right to complain about the schedule than anyone else in the league.

And remember, if you want all the details, consult the full NHL Super Schedule.

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Updating the NHL Super Schedule

My NHL Super Schedule has been a hot topic this week, with the main point of interest being the total travel miles that each NHL team has to endure over the course of an NHL season, as well as the number of back-to-back pairs of games, which varies from the league-high Columbus Blue Jackets (20!) to the Colorado Avalanche (only 8 such contests).

In light of last night’s interview on CHQR radio in Calgary (I hope to post the MP3 later today), a couple new questions came up, so I’ve updated the publicly available Google Spreadsheet to freshen some of the detailed Strength of Opposition data as well as add some new columns…

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To make the Show, you’ve got to score

Already known to hockey stats geeks as a site rich in data, Behind the Net also features occasional analytical pieces as well. This morning, Hawerchuk takes a look at the chances that a given Canadian Junior player has of making the NHL, based on his offensive contributions and age:

In the past, I’ve examined how scoring translates from junior hockey to the NHL, but I haven’t really considered how likely it is to get left by the wayside and not make the transition to the NHL. To produce the chart below, I normalized all junior scoring to an arbitrary level (QMJHL, 1997) and then looked at how likely players are to play 60 games in the NHL before age 24 based on their scoring.

Read on for the usual geeky goodness from BtN.  If you’re interested in “how scoring translates from junior hockey to the NHL”, I strongly recommend his earlier work on League Equivalencies (PDF) posted at HockeyAnalytics.com.

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Nashville Predators Mid-Season Report: The Defense

After the weekend home-and-home with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators have now played 42 games, which means it’s time for a (slightly tardy) 1st half review of the team.  First, let’s discuss the defense (first-quarter reports found here).

As a group, the Nashville defenders got off to a rocky start in their own end.  Opponents took advantage of rebound opportunities and blown coverage with impunity in the opening weeks of the season, and those problems have generally abated since then.  The following chart presents a simple picture of Goals Against by game over the course of the campaign, along with a black line that denotes the 5-game Moving Average…

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A special look at special teams

Power Play and Penalty Killing percentages are the standard measuring stick for NHL special teams performance, but mathematically they miss an important aspect of the game.  When a team is successful (the PP scores or the PK doesn’t get scored on) they get a “1”, and when unsuccessful (the PP fails to score, or the PK gives one up) they get a “0”.  Sum those values up, divide by the number of opportunities, and you get the appropriate percentage.  But what about the situations that truly deserve a “-1”, like when your slow-footed power play quarterback gets caught by a speedy opponent and gives up a breakaway the other way, resulting in a goal?  Under traditional measurements, those scenarios are ignored.

Over at Pension Plan Puppets, a Toronto Maple Leafs blog, Chemmy digs into this issue and derives Adjusted PP and PK rates, by penalizing power play units that give up goals (the New York Rangers have 13 goals against on the PP!), and rewarding penalty killers who score shorthanded (Philadelphia leads in that category, also with 13).

It provides a more thorough picture of special teams performance, and taking the Rangers as an example, if you thought their 27th-ranked 14% power play was bad, wait until you see how those goals against impact that figure!

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From Selke winner to cellar dweller

Over at The Hockey News, Ken Campbell dissects the Plus/Minus standings, and while in general the stat is about as good as astrology at informing a comparative analysis of NHL players, it does help point out individuals having extremely positive or negative seasons, such as Carolina Hurricanes center Rod Brind’Amour, and his NHL-worst -27 rating:

If you could chalk Brind’Amour’s plus-minus to bad luck or playing for a bad team or the vagaries of the stat, that would be one thing. But the fact of the matter is only one player in the league, Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, has been on the ice for more than Brind’Amour’s 45 even strength goals against. On the other hand, Brind’Amour has been on the ice for just 18 of his team’s own even-strength goals this season.

Read on for some detail behind some of the leaders as well, such as Boston’s Marc Savard (+29).

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How high can the Bruins fly?

One the surprise stories of this NHL season has been the overwhelming dominance of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference, where their 31-7-4 record has them comfortably ahead of the pack.  They lead the NHL in Goals For Per Game as well as Goals Against, and seem primed for a deep playoff run this spring.

Or are they? Is it possible that the Bruins, while certainly a good team, have simply “gotten hot” for an extended period of time, and are due for a natural regression that could pull them down to earth? Are they the NHL’s equivalent of Wile E. Coyote, who, having run off the cliff, is about to learn that there’s really nothing under his feet?

Jlikens over at Objective NHL takes a deep dive into the numbers, focusing specifically on shooting and save percentages, to make the case that perhaps the Bruins are overachieving to this point.  In particular, he builds upon an article at mc79hockey which argues that over the course of a season, teams will tend to have a combined shooting and save percentage of 100%; if, during an earlier part of the schedule, teams are cruising well above or below that figure, it is likely that over time, they will fall back in line with the general trend.  At this point, Boston’s combined Shooting and Save percentages (in 5-on-5 play) come to 1.048, an extreme figure that appears destined to fall.

So take a look, scratch your head for a while, and chime in; are the Bruins playing over their heads or are they for real?

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