by PuckStopsHere on 08/13/12 at 08:38 PM ET
I am continuing my sabermetrics and hockey posts by looking at goals versus threshold. Goals versus threshold is a system created by Tom Awad to try to rank players of all positions with a single number. While this is useful as a back of the envelope calculation to rank players it has its weaknesses. It tends to rank goalies more easily than position players. Goalie ranks are largely based upon their saves percentage. Goalies tend to dominate the top and bottom of the rankings because it is easiest to see their values statistically. Most of the value for position players comes from their offence. Forwards are expected to score at a higher rate than defencemen to get the same ranking. Defence is hardest to rate statistically and as a result is poorly done here. +/- ratings are used as a proxy for defensive skill and that is not very reliable. Because defensive portions of the goals versus threshold system are usually small this problem can be largely overlooked.
Here are the top 20 players in 2011/12 by goals versus threshold:
Half of the players on this list are goalies. This includes the top three players on the list. Mike Smith leads the league. As a goalie who made more saves than either of the top two Vezina nominees and had roughly the same saves percentage, this is not an unexpected result. What is unexpected is that Mike Smith had as good a season as he did. Tampa Bay gave up on him before he signed a contract in Phoenix. Perhaps even more expected is Brian Elliott in fifth place who was worst in the league by goals versus threshold last year. His comeback is stunning.
Nine forwards make this list. While the top few in Malkin, Stamkos and Giroux are predictable the remainder are not as predictable. They include Ilya Kovalchuk who dominated in shootouts going 11 for 14 in that situation. Goals versus threshold is one of the few sabermetric schemes that makes any attempt to rank shootouts and it shows that they are too important in terms of points in todays game. Kovalchuk was more valuable than most of the players in the NHL last year than most of the players in the league because of his success on 14 staged breakaways. Most of the other forwards on this list had strong +/- ratings which is a proxy for defence. This includes Marian Gaborik who is a clear defensive liability.
The only defenceman on this list is Erik Karlsson, the top scoring defenceman in the league. I don’t believe he was the best defenceman in hockey but with the poor attempt to capture defence in this scheme he will be ranked as such.
Goals versus threshold is a useful technique for back of the envelope calculations of player value but it is imperfect. It is important to keep these imperfections in mind when considering such a calculation.
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