Big Deals for Big Hitters: How Physical Players Age

The Detroit Red Wings made headlines recently when Ken Holland signed 28 year-old forward, Justin Abdelkader to a 7 year contract worth $4.25M per season. There was a fairly visceral and predictable reaction from the hockey stats community, noting the high shooting percentages he has been enjoying over the past year and the decline in performance we’ve historically seen from forwards aged over the age horizon of Abdelkader’s contract. However, the piece of the discussion that really struck home for me was comments around the wear and tear to Abdelkader’s body given his physical style of play.

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How Hard is It to Find Good NHL Goaltending?

Image courtesy Flickr user Harold Cecchetti. Use of this image does not imply endorsement

Is Jacob Markstrom still good?

Whether you come at hockey from the numbers or from traditional scouting, finding NHL-quality goaltending is a challenge. In order to have a good sense of a goalie’s talent (as measured by even-strength Sv%), you need to observe about 4,000 shots worth of work. On average, a goalie needs to play over three seasons as a starter (or eight seasons as a backup) to see that many shots. If they play poorly, few netminders will ever get close to that amount of playing time and most goalies are entering age-related decline by the time they’ve seen that many shots. As such, teams usually make decisions on goaltenders long before they’ve seen 4,000 shots and, unsurprisingly, teams make mistakes.

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The 2015 OHL Final: Oshawa Generals Passing Network

Last time, I took a look at the passing network for the Erie Otters during the 2015 OHL Final. Today, we’ll take a look at the passing network for the Oshawa Generals. Below you’ll see their network constructed using Gephi.


Another reminder on how to read the visual: The larger and darker the node (player), the higher number of edges (connections or passes) to another player or goal (shots) that player had. Rather than simply total up the passes and shots, I’ve assigned weights based on whether that pass led to an actual shot on goal, was a scoring chance, was a danger zone pass (from behind the end line or across the Royal Road), resulted in a goal, etc. The edges (lines) between players are weighted as well, so you can tell which players were setting up a higher number of chances for specific shooters.

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What determines coach salaries? A look at NHL bench bosses

This summer, the drama surrounding Mike Babcock drew my attention to the salaries of coaches in general. What factors play into how much money a coach earns? Babcock is known as a coach who’s won at every level. Are Stanley Cup wins a factor in what a coach gets paid? Maybe playoff wins? Regular season won-loss records? Something else?

Babcock’s contract – a mammoth 8 year long pact worth $50 million to coach the Leafs – brought the subject of coaching salaries to the forefront. At $6.25 million per season, Babcock earns more than double the annual pay of any other NHL coach with a publicly known wage.

For the Leafs, spending huge amounts of cash on team personnel makes sense – there’s no cap on coach salaries so that Leafs can wield their monetary advantage to sign the best bench boss available. For Babcock, it’s difficult to fault the long-time Red Wings coach for taking the big pay day. Beyond enriching himself (which he really, really did), Babcock has been very open about his desire to push coach salaries forward by setting a new standard. He probably didn’t imagine he’d earn more than Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter combined or that his term would extend three years past any other NHL coach. But, as perhaps the game’s best coach, the Leafs were willing to pay whatever was needed to pry Babcock out of Detroit.

But what types of thinking go into deciding how much a team is willing to pay its coach? Did Babcock earn the money because of his vast experience? Or maybe his excellent regular season record over a decade in Detroit? What factors correlate with coach salaries?

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Distribution of Quality of Competition and Teammates Metrics

The analysis community has studied these metrics in various ways. The purpose of this post is to lay out the way I understand the metrics, and identify areas of additional research.

The effects of competition and teammates on players are not new concepts in hockey.  We hear about it all the time in analysis and conversation: “Jonathan Toews is deployed by his coach to specifically shut down the top players of the opposition”,  “4th liners play against the opposing 4th line”, “Sidney Crosby makes his teammates better”, etc. etc.

Having analyzed the metrics used to quantify quality of competition and teammate, I came to two conclusions.

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Are there unintended consequences to the coach’s challenge?

On a Canucks broadcast earlier this season, Sportsnet’s John Garrett pointed out that we seem to be getting a lot more offside calls this year. And for once, I actually agreed with him.

Garrett theorized that maybe this was an unintended consequence of the coach’s challenge. Perhaps linesemen don’t want to be responsible for having a goal called back because they got the call wrong at the blue line. So if it’s a close call, just be conservative and whistle it down. Coaches can’t challenge an offside call, after all.

The NHL introduced a coach’s challenge to try and get more calls right. And clearly, it should be in everyone’s interest to do so. But what if we’re not just getting more calls right? What if we’re also getting more calls, period?

Ever since that broadcast, every game I’ve watched seems to be rife with offside calls on any play even remotely close at the blue line. It doesn’t matter the player, the team or the score. Bobble the puck? Offside. Drag the skate? Offside. Make an extra move? Offside.

At best this is slowing down the game, but could it also be contributing to the reduced scoring we’ve seen so far this season?

If so, this is an observation that both John Garrett and I picked up on just by watching the games. Maybe Brian Burke is right and hockey really is an eyeballs sport.

Let’s find out.

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Has the NHL’s new faceoff rule increased goal scoring?

Mise au jeu BOS @ MTL Faceoff” by Fleurdelisé. Licensed under Creative Commons via Commons.

Over the summer, the NHL made a number of significant rule changes to make the game more entertaining to fans and more fair for teams, with 3-on-3 overtime being the most revolutionary and thus far the most applauded.

Buried down at the bottom of the list of rule changes, however, was a much less significant note. It involved faceoffs – you know, that thing data analysts get peeved at commentators for overemphasizing. For years, the standard procedure has been that the visiting team’s player is required to put his blade on the ice prior to his opponent. This is an advantage for the home player, as he can attempt to secure the puck back to his side with one consistent motion rather than having to move his stick forward and then backward.

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