The Defensive Shell is a good idea in theory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

The results of score effects are pretty basic hockey analytics knowledge at this point.  Teams down in goals tend to take more shots, while teams up tend to take less, with the effect becoming larger as the game goes on.

We often explain this effect by saying teams go into a “defensive shell”, playing extremely conservative on offense to avoid easy opponent scoring opportunities, at the cost of more time in the team’s defensive zone.  It is of course, not a one team effect either – we often emphasize that the other team is taking greater risks as well to try and score, which is why the shots taken by the team with the lead go in at a higher rate than normal.    That said, it’s pretty much accepted that going into a shell would be a losing strategy for a team to attempt over a whole game, which is why teams don’t attempt this strategy for a full game. Continue reading

Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close Numbers: Week 4

Mikko Koivu may actually really be the captain of a dominant possession team.

Two more weeks have passed since we last updated our Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close (BAFC) Numbers.  This means we now have a lot more data and our BAFC standings are starting to really be affected by this year’s results – significant changes have happened in the last two weeks, and results from this season are starting to be thought of as actually real. Continue reading

Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close Numbers: Week 2

Adding John Scott may have added a needed goal scorer to the Sharks, but their possession numbers are falling fast.

Another week, another week of possession data in the NHL.  Thankfully, while last week several teams had only played 3 games, this week the minimum # of games played is 6, so our minimum sample size for our Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close #s (BAFC) is now 6 games of data.   And with more data, we’re starting to see the numbers for this year have a greater impact on the possession rankings so far.

In case you missed our introduction to BAFC last week, BAFC is simply taking last year’s possession numbers and, weighting them by # of games played this year (more games, less importance), combining them with this year’s possession numbers to try and come up with a more predictive estimate of what each team’s true talent fenwick close really is.  It’s far from perfect, and indeed, the weighting formula is definitely arbitrary, but it does paint a nice picture that is not prone to overreacting to small samples. Continue reading

Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close Numbers – An Introduction

With the season upon us, and multiple stat sites now hosting team and player fancystats, it is pretty tempting for a hockey fan (well, one who’s into fancystats) to try and check how his team is doing in possession in close situations – in other words, in Fenwick Close (alternatively, score adjusted fenwick). The problem with this, of course, is that the sample sizes are currently so small as to make the #s pretty meaningless – some teams have played as few as 3 games, so you can’t make any judgments based upon these numbers on their own.

But, as I mentioned on twitter, we can still try and take these numbers and make something out of them, using our prior knowledge of the NHL to make judgments. For example, I can look at current fenwick close #s and pretty confidently state “Buffalo is going to be a terrible terrible team” at this point, despite the sample size, given our prior knowledge of what the Sabres are. In other words, we can incorporate current fenwick close #s into a Bayesian Analysis.

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How much does matching competition matter on a team level?

This is certainly a terrible matchup – Matt Martin vs Alex Ovechkin – but it’s not an example really of terrible line management.

Quite frequently in talk about lines of a hockey team, you’ll find talk about how a certain team should be matching up certain lines against certain opponents.  For example, a recent comment to me on twitter stated roughly that: “As long as the Isles match-up the Frans Nielsen line with the Canes’ Eric Staal line, they’ll be in great shape” – as the Canes basically only had one quality line (the Staal line) at the time of that comment.  But as I replied on twitter, that isn’t quite right:

Competition, on a possession level, is pretty much a zero sum game in hockey.

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2014-2015 Season Preview: The Metro Division

Image from Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, in preseason, the Metro Division, was considered by far the strongest division in the East and the likely bet to take both Wild Cards.  The whole division, minus the Pens, promptly started the season by getting hammered, only recovering later in the season to grab one of the two wild cards.

This year again, the top 5 of the division looks strong enough to take two wild cards.  The bottom 3, particularly the bottom 2, are very weak, but the top 5 is strong and near evenly matched such that they could wind up in any order.  But, given the requirement to project the division, these are how I believe the division should finish up, from worst to first:

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Ryan Johansen – How much is he worth on a Bridge Deal?

Courtesy of

The Ryan Johansen contract dispute is the biggest contract talk going in the NHL as training camps begin, as you might expect.  Johansen is young, with a great pedigree (4th overall in 2010), and is coming off a seemingly breakout season that also led Columbus to its first playoff relevance in quite a while.  And yet Johansen is unsigned and is unlikely to be so going into camp, with the Columbus front office opening fire this week on Johansen’s agent.

Both sides have seemingly agreed at least to a bridge deal – Johansen at first was seriously against such a deal, but has since agreed a 2 year deal is acceptable.  But they are WAY apart on the money – reports have Columbus at 3 to 3.5 Million over 2 years while Johansen is sitting at 6 to 6.5 Million.  But what is reasonable for a player’s first two RFA years?

A quick note:  This article is considering how much those years are worth in the league’s current economic structure, which is team friendly and makes RFA deals less pricey than UFA ones.  You can argue whether this is unfair to the player or not (it’s not), but if a player wants to fight the system is recourse is to either go to the KHL or not sign and “hold out” – see Ryan O’Reilly a few years ago for an example.  Since nearly all players don’t want to do that and accept the league’s economic framework eventually, that’s the framework we’ll be using for this post.

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To Draft or Not To Draft Goalies – Not Really the Right Question

On Monday, Kyle Alexander and CAustin (aka the Puckologist) wrote a post on Raw Charge titled “It’s still okay for an NHL team to draft goaltenders.”  This is a topic that isn’t exactly new in the hockey analytics community – on this site alone Garret and myself have written a few posts about how unpredictable goalies are and the general consensus in the hockey analytics community being that goalies are simply not worth drafting in the early rounds of the draft, due to the variability on their results compared to other skaters (particularly forwards).

The Raw Charge guys in their post don’t totally disagree, but do think the talk of avoiding goalies is a bit exaggerated by some, concluding:

However, the gap between goalie drafting and forward drafting isn’t nearly as stark as it’s been made out to be. It’s much more worthwhile to make drafting and development at all positions better than to attempt to specialize in elite forwards to the exclusion of other positions.

Essentially, the Raw Charge guys argue:
1.  The Gap between skaters and goalies’ success and failure rates isn’t as big as people think – most evaluative measures used in such studies disfavor goalies by using metrics such as GP by a certain age, where goalies rarely get opportunities to meet such thresholds.
2.  The response to whatever gap there actually is should be to try and improve goalie evaluation – similar to how Swedish and Finnish goalie federations’ improved early goalie training to improve their goalie crop – rather than to eschew goalies altogether.
3.  The failure of goalies may also have to do with poor development processes rather than bad evaluation.

While all three points do have merit, I think they’re both quite a bit overstated.

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How well do Plus Possession Rookie D-Men do in their next few years?

There is nothing perhaps more encouraging to fans of struggling teams than to see a rookie D-Man come up and put up big numbers right out of the gate.  I speak of course, not just about goals and assists – in this case I refer to good possession #s (Corsi, Fenwick, and the relative versions thereabout).  Fans of the Oilers (Marincin), Leafs (Rielly), Isles (de Haan, Donovan), etc, all seem to have higher hopes than they might’ve otherwise due to how well their rookie D has performed.  After all, a top pair D Man (under control for cheap for years to come) can have such a great impact and they are extremely hard to find on the free market (or trade market).

But can these standout rookie D keep up their great performances?  After all, we always hear about the so-called “sophomore slump” and it’s not like players disappointing after great rookie years is that uncommon.  How certain can we be about the futures of rookie D-Men who come up and right away show strong possession #s?  Let’s see how similar rookie D the last few years did.

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