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Onus Rating


This is a stat based blog.  I realize that many readers get easily bored with stat blogs, as I am one of them.  While I am not stat-crazy, I do see a purpose in them and will discuss them in varying levels of detail.  If a post is overly obsessed with stats, I will do my best to warn you in some way.

In 1968, in an effort to quantify defensive proficiency, the National Hockey League decided to officially begin recording +/- as an official stat.  What was intended to simply be a way of determining a player’s ability to play sound, defensive hockey has become one of the most argued over stats in use today.  The fact that Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy, while tied for 177th in +/- with a -2, this past year and Jeff Scultz was not even on the ballot last year, despite a league leading +50, should show that this stat seems to come up short.

This upcoming season I will be tracking a new “stat” to track defensive efficiency, the Onus Rating.  The goal of this is to actually place blame on players when a goal is scored.  While +/- simply awards a plus or minus to all players on the ice, the O.R. will only award minuses to those whose errors lead to the goal being scored against.  On the other side of things, it will only award plusses to those who directly help in a goal being scored for. This means that in some, rare instances a goal can be scored and a no minuses can be awarded.  This also means that players can receive a plus or a minus while shorthanded.  It is important to note that this stat is entirely subjective.  There is no formula or chart that I will be using, but simply my own judgment.  Below are some basic scenarios and how I would assign plusses or minuses.

  • The Washington Capitals have on the ice Green, Schultz, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Knuble.  They have control of the puck in the opposing team’s zone.  Green receives a the puck at the point and attempts a slap shot, only to see the opposing winger poke check it to center ice.  This leads to a break-away goal scored against the Capitals.  Provided the pass to Green was a good pass only Green would received a minus.

  • The same group as before is on the ice in the Capitals’ defensive zone.  Schultz passes the puck to Green behind the net.  Green sees Ovechkin streaking and throws him a saucer pass that leads to a break-way Ovechkin goal.  In this situation only Green and Ovechkin would receive a plus.

I realize this stat might seem borderline insane to some but I do believe it will give a better idea of which players do excel on defense.  It will help prevent those who simply skate with high goal scorers from receiving an inflated +/- as well as those who skate with poor linemates from having an undeservingly low +/-.  After every game I will announce who receives plusses and minuses on each goal as well as keep an updated list of current O.R. for all Capitals. 


Filed in: NHL Teams, Washington Capitals, Matthew Tate, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: onus+rating, statistics



This is very interesting.  Are you just tracking this for the Caps or other teams as well?  I am intrigued by this and will be reading all season to see how it turns out.

Posted by William Morrison on 09/01/11 at 03:49 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

For this season it will be just the Caps.  If it works out well I will consider expanding it.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 03:51 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

My thought on things like this is they introduce an awful lot of bias from the scorer.  We wind up with a measure of who does what the scorer believes leads to or prevents goals and this can be different from what actually created them.

Dave Staples has tried something similar to this and here is my responce.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 09/01/11 at 03:52 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I completely agree.  No matter how hard I try, there will be bias.  All I can do is record what I see and explain it.  On each goal, I will assign what I believe and explain why.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 03:59 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I plan to keep it track of it in a 3 column format.  minuses/plusses/combined/

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 04:03 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I think the best solution is to as rigorously as possible define a bunch of events - takeaways, giveaways, beating a man, getting beaten by a man, losing your man in the defensive zone, getting away from your man in the offensive zone etc. - and record them all.  Whether they lead to a goal or not they should be recorded.  This is a lot of work and may not be possible to do in real time watching a game - it might require watching the game tape very carefully.

Then we test our biases as best as we can.  Do the players who do X a lot actually lead to goals etc.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 09/01/11 at 04:06 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I agree.  This is by no means a perfect fix to the +/-.  Just something I thought might give a slightly different view.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 04:08 PM ET


How are you going to try to make this as objective as possible?  In other words, how are you going to decide when a player gets a + or -?

Posted by William Morrison on 09/01/11 at 04:11 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

So, the player/players that draw the D out of position, distract the goalie, create open ice by finishing their check get nothing.
Will you be assigning a (-) to the coach or assistant coach for an untimely or confusing player change..?
Who would get the (-) for that…the player coming on the ice, or the player going off..?

I understand what you are trying to do, but there is a lot of good hockey going unrewarded, and at the same time a lot of poor hockey being overlooked.

Oftentimes the error that leads to a goal was made before the last 5 people even touched the puck.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 09/01/11 at 04:16 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

Objectiveness is difficult to have in this, hence why I say it is subjective.  I have a general idea of what a player must do to be awarded a + or a -  but I don’t want to put it as concrete as of yet.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 04:17 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I see your concerns but until I have actually published a concrete list or have begun implementing it, it might be hard to say that I am overlooking it.  As far as line changes go I see it this way: players should know when to change.  On ice action trumps coach’s call. Perfect example is Scott Hannan on the Lecavalier OT goal.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 04:22 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

As far as line changes go I see it this way: players should know when to change.

The player on the bench has little to do with the timing of a player change.  It is either the coach or the player on the ice that makes the untimely decision.

Yes, players should know when to change, but it is up to the coaches to clearly designate exactly who the substitute should be…
2 players go on the ice, when one player comes off…
where do you assess the blame..?

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 09/01/11 at 04:36 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

As I said, this is in no way perfect or complete.  This is exactly one of the reasons I posted this.  I wanted to be more prepared.  As the season progresses so will the effectiveness of this.  I honestly do hope people, like HockeyTownTodd, follow this blog throughout the season so see what I may be overlooking.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 04:45 PM ET


Are you going to the games or watching them on TV? If you’re going, you don’t have the benefits of review. If you’re watching on TV you can’t see everything on the ice. A lot of goals are the result of one mistake or an awkward bounce causing a cascade failure.

So Shultz not being in a lane could be the result of Johanssen accidentally letting a player get to his strong side on a controlled breakout, where he makes a pass through a seam that shouldn’t have been there, which would put everybody in the neutral zone out of position and scrambling to adjust, eventually putting Shultz in the catch-22 position of either lining up to block the shot or covering the backdoor play, but not both. Even if you could spot something like this, yourself, unless Laughlin chooses to show that far back on the replay, blame goes to the wrong guy.

Posted by steviesteve on 09/01/11 at 05:01 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I will watch most games from home where I have the joy of a DVR

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 05:07 PM ET



Check out the video of this particular goal from, I think, Matt Moulsen.

There’s no Tampa player mistake on this play. Boucher’s system is just susceptible to this type of breakout (which is very difficult to time, consistently) from an X and O standpoint. So who gets scored what on the ONUS scale?

Posted by steviesteve on 09/01/11 at 05:08 PM ET

PDXWing's avatar

How far back in the play are you willing to go to assign a rating?  For example, let’s say a winger is stripped of the puck on a breakout pass before leaving the defensive zone.  This leads to a prolonged time in the offensive zone (say upwards of 90 seconds), in which there are numerous passes by the offensive team followed by a goal. Does the winger (say he mishandled a fine pass) get a minus? Does the player who stepped up on him and stripped the puck get a plus? There are going to be other pluses awarded for the goal, I assume, but how to determine who made the essential + play that led to the goal (assuming there are a number of passes around the zone as the d gets more gassed)? I would contend that there are, as Hockeytown Todd points out, numerous small but critical plays that make a big difference in the game and it’s not always clear their direct effect on the score. Alternatively, what if the d man makes a bad pass to the winger coming out of the zone in the situation above? Does he get a minus? What if there is extended pressure and no goal is scored? No ratings? What about heroic efforts on a PK that result in no goal being scored (as a Wings fan, I’m thinking of the legendary shift that Helm had in the playoffs a couple of years back or Zetterberg’s extraordinary effort on a 5v3 versus the Pens in the SC finals). Those plays don’t lead to goals but certainly pertain to the defensive value of a player. Anyway, just some thoughts - should be interesting to see how it plays out. In the beginning, it might be good to show video of plays and how you scored them to get some feedback. I’m sure there will be some strong opinions by Caps fans on who was to blame for certain goals. Also, what about goalies in all of this? Do their errors impact the skaters? Do they get rated too?

Posted by PDXWing on 09/01/11 at 05:11 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I would argue that Ohlund completely disregards Parenteau(goal scorere) and focuses solely on Tavares who doesn’t need double coverage below the goal line.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 05:12 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

Alex Semin used to be notorious for bad cross ice passes as soon as he enters the offensive zone.  This would, on occasion, lead to prolonged shifts the other way and goals against.  He would get a -.  As far as little plays, I will have to see. Screening a goalie would clearly be a +.  2-on-1s where guy enters zone and never passes and scores would probably result in a + for other guy on rush as well as guy who created the breakout.  As far as the Helm situation there would be no awards though I have been brainstorming.  I have several excel spreadsheets each season that keep track of a lot, including bad goals allowed by goalies.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 05:20 PM ET


Do you have any responsibilities outside of watching hockey and writing a blog? Because I’ve been trying to figure out a way to reduce it down to just watching hockey and dieseling beers, and playiing hockey, but there are a few obvious problems.

Good luck! This isn’t a stat that I will find relevant, but one problem will arise when a shot rings off the pipe or the goalie’s leg pad, and it’s shot out of the zone, picked up by a speedster, and scores on a breakaway.

The goal that eliminated the Sharks from the WCF, who’s to blame there?

Posted by Jesters Dead on 09/01/11 at 05:25 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

I do have a 9-5 job outside of hockey but it enables me free time.  Just rewatched Bieska’s goal and without seeing more of the replay, I would probably say no faults there.  Poor luck.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 05:31 PM ET


That’s already a problem, though, because Ohlund didn’t make a mistake. He did exactly what was required of him.

Ohlund’s not covering Tavares. Check out his stick and check out where he has his right skate. He’s close to Tavares, but he’s just blocking possible outlets. Three in particular (cycle up the wall, pass to the circle, skate to the net) while providing his own outlet if his partner steals the puck.

What went wrong here is three things
1) neutral zone configuration is vulnerable to hard deflections at the center line
2) when those are executed well as they were here, the flat-footed defenders get put into losing races with forwards who are already in motion
3) Tavares made a low-percentage, low-margin-for-error, tape-to-tape precision pass around Ohlund’s skate (he missed it by about a millimeter). There’s nothing Ohlund could have done while fulfilling his other responsibilities short of wearing longer skate blades.

Posted by steviesteve on 09/01/11 at 05:35 PM ET


JJ from Kansas did something similar last year.  Here’s a link to his explanatory post: http://www.wingingitinmotown.com/2010/10/6/1732677/the-common-sense-scoring-index

It might give you some ideas of how to better implement such a system.  I believe there is also an end of year recap that might have some comments about what went well/wrong.

Good luck!

Posted by PieceOfMind from Muskegon, currently residing in Sabres-land on 09/01/11 at 05:47 PM ET

Nate A's avatar

In case you haven’t run across it yet, J.J. from Kansas did a similar project last season for the Wings over at Winging it in Motown called the “Common Sense Scoring Index.” 

The initial goals and breakdown can be found here:

Analysis of results for the season came in a couple of posts, but here is the one relevant to +/- adjustments:

Even if your methods end up being a bit different, it could be useful for comparison and evaluating. Best of luck.

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 09/01/11 at 05:48 PM ET

Nate A's avatar

Posted by PieceOfMind from Muskegon,

....and I’m a bit slower, heh. Good luck just the same.

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 09/01/11 at 05:48 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

Thanks to both of you.  Had some similar ideas but definitely will put me in a better place for Game 1

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/01/11 at 05:50 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I think the problem is that many goals in hockey are scored because of systemic team reasons and many more are scored due to luck and good/bad bounces.  Quite likely these two categories could be the majority of goals in a season.

We could give credit or blame on these goals to individal players in some fashion, but why, what do we gain by doing so?  All we are measuring is the biases you brought into the process with your assignments of pluses and minuses.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 09/01/11 at 06:43 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

My experience from last season doing something similar to this was that there’s ultimately no perfect way to avoid what others want to call bias, but listening to your readers is going to be key.

At the end of the day, people are going to dismiss your work just because they don’t like what the numbers tell them.  To those who would charge bias, I would counter-charge their own personal responsibility to come up with their own numbers along with a willingness to work with them.  Consistency is one of the big keys.

One of the greatest successes of the CSSI I did last season was in having a good readership base with whom to discuss individual adjustments.  They helped in incredible ways and through their guidance, I am extremely satisfied with the end-of-year adjustments for the Red Wings I finished with at season’s end.

If you have any questions, please send me an email. I’d be happy to talk more about the experiences. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/01/11 at 06:59 PM ET

Luongo-is-my-hero's avatar

looking forward to seeing how you work this out.  At least it isn’t another shitty corsi article.

Posted by Luongo-is-my-hero on 09/01/11 at 08:28 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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