Yesterday the highest profile free agent of the 2010 summer, Ilya Kovalchuk re-signed with the New Jersey Devils. He signed a 17 year pact worth $102 million. This gives him an annual salary cap hit of $6 million. This is a glorious example of legal contravention of the salary cap. Nobody seriously believes that Kovalchuk will still be playing in the NHL at age 44 when the deal ends. Nobody seriously believes that Kovalchuk will play for the 17 year term or have an annual average salary as low as $6 million.
That said there is nothing the NHL can do about the deal right now. There is significant precedent for these long term deals with declining pay in the sunset seasons to keep the annual salary cap hit down. There are more than a handful of players signed to these deals who are not expected to complete them.
In today’s sabermetrics and hockey post, I am taking a temporary break from Corsi numbers to look at zone starts. Eventually I will adjust Corsi Ratings to include zone starts, but today I want to look at zone starts themselves. Zone starts are a measure of how easy or tough defensively a player’s assignment is. The players on the ice for each faceoff are recorded and the zone in which it occurs. Players who play more offensive faceoffs than defensive ones have less defensive responsibility than those that play more defensive faceoffs than offensive ones. When it comes to Corsi Ratings, players who are put on the ice for faceoffs in their own zone will do worse than players put on in the offensive zone, because it is far easier for a shot to occur in the zone where the play starts.
There is nothing bad about being put on the ice for a significant number of offensive zone starts. It is a sensible way to use an offensive player, but it is worth noting that player does not have the defensive responsibility of most NHL players.
Yesterday, I listed the top 20 players by team adjusted Corsi ratings. This is a strong indicator of puck possession which measures the difference in the number of shots directed at goal (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) by a team and their opposition in 5 on 5 situations when a given player is on the ice. This number is strongly team dependent as good teams tend to possess the puck more than weak ones. Thus a team adjustment is made to better compare between different teams.
This adjustment is not perfect. It does not take into account the usage of a player (defensive vs. offensive) or the quality of his teammates or opposition, but it goes a long way toward identifying some of the best and worst puck possession players at even strength. That is not always the same as identifying the best hockey players because there is more to hockey than even strength puck possession (for example special teams play).
My next sabermetrics and hockey post is to correct the top individual player’s Corsi Ratings for team effects. One look at the top Corsi Ratings from last season shows that there are an unreasonably high number of Chicago Blackhawks represented (the top three and six of the top 20 are Hawks). This is because Chicago has the best team Corsi in the league and it is easier to have a good individual number when all your team has good ratings.
In order to adjust these Corsi Numbers for team effects we use the same method used for counting +/- ratings. Thus we can rank individual player’s puck possession via Corsi (difference in shots directed at goal by a player’s team and their opposition in 5 on 5 situations) without team effects distorting our numbers. We still have issues from individual player roles (some are used more defensively and others offensively) which we can try to remove with a further adjustment.
Last year the Colorado Avalanche grabbed the final playoff spot in the West Conference with a 43-39 record (9 regulation tie points). They did so largely by a strong start. They had a 10-3 (2 regulation tie points) record at the end of October. They did this despite a low team Corsi rating. They allowed 699 more shots directed at their net (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) than they managed to direct at their opponent’s net in 5 on 5 situations. This was the third worst in the NHL (only Edmonton and Florida were worse) and this shows that Colorado was not strong at puck possession. In fact, the only team that had as high a Corsi as Colorado’s was negative was the Stanley Cup champions in Chicago.
How did Colorado manage a playoff berth with such poor puck possession? Can they expect to repeat it in the future?
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a poor season last year. They finished with a 30-52 record (with 14 regulation tie points). This put them in second last in the NHL. However there are signs that they will be a better team than that record shows. One very encouraging one is their third best team Corsi rating. In five on five situations they directed the puck at their opponent"s goal significantly more than their opponents directed it at the Leafs goal. The only teams in the NHL that had a higher edge in their favor were the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. The Toronto Maple Leafs did well in terms of puck possession.
These numbers can be looked at a bit skeptically because Toronto was frequently behind in their games and thus pressed hard offensively to catch up, while their opponents went into a defensive shell. In short, game situations gave them a better chance to possess the puck. That said it still shows that Toronto was a pretty good team in 5 on 5 situations. No other bottom feeding teams showed nearly as good team Corsi ratings.
In some sabermetrics and hockey posts this summer, I have listed the top 20 and worst 20 players by Corsi when listed as counting numbers and the top 20 and worst 20 when listed as rates. The biggest error in attributing the positions of players on these lists to their playing ability comes from team effects. Players on good teams tend to have good Corsis and players on bad teams tend to have bad ones. In order to take this into account we need to know how the various NHL teams stacked up with respect to Corsi.
Corsi is the difference in shots directed at goal (shots on goal, missed and blocked) taken by a team and those taken by their opponents. In this study, only 5 on 5 situations are looked at.
Over both of the last two years, I have noted that Ryan Johnson of the Vancouver Canucks has the worst Corsi when viewed as a rate stat among players with 50 or more games played. Here are the worst Corsi rates from this year and here they are from the year before. Notice that as Vancouver improved in the standings, Ryan Johnson’s Corsi rate actually got worse.
There is some resistance from Vancouver and the league in general to looking at this stat and concluding that Ryan Johnson is a liability to the Canucks. Here is Nucks Misconduct’s responce when I suggested Ryan Johnson had played himself out of the NHL. I was wrong that he did that last season, it looks like he played himself out of the league this year and only should have done it last year, but the Canucks continued to play him another season.
Since my last sabermetrics and hockey post was the top 20 Corsi rates, it is logical to continue with the worst 20. Corsi ratings are the difference in the number of shots directed at goal (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) by a team and their opposition in 5 on 5 situations. They are a strong measurement of puck possession, as a team with possession of the puck tends to shoot a lot. As we are looking at rates in this post, each player is normalized by the number of 5 on 5 minutes that he plays. Thus players who do not play many minutes a game and thus cannot get a large Corsi by counting methods may appear here. In fact this is more likely on a worst players list than a bets players list, as teams will want to play their best players as much as possible while hiding their worst players.
The act of signing restricted free agents to offer sheets is getting more common under the current CBA. Before the lockout, it was pointless. You would sign a player and in almost all cases, his original team would match the salary and all you managed to do was run up NHL salaries and create a higher salaried comparable player for those on your team. Now that limited salary cap space makes it more likely that other teams cannot match offer sheets (particularly if they are used on teams nearing the salary cap for next season), there is a better chance of actually obtaining the player you sign to the offer sheet and even if you do not get him, you have even further reduced the salary cap flexibility of a rival. I do not believe that there really was a “gentleman’s agreement” to not sign players to offer sheets. It is an idea born out of the media failing to explain the lack of offer sheets before the lockout and upon Brian Burke’s bluster when Anaheim was hit with the Dustin Penner offer sheet.
With that in mind, the San Jose Sharks have signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four year offer sheet that will pay $14 million.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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