How does performance as of Dec. 1 relate to making the playoffs?

Every year right around December 1, NHL analysts and fans alike start thinking a little more seriously about playoff chances. Although in many ways this is an arbitrary point in time, particularly when linking it to US Thanksgiving, there’s also some logic to it as well.

By the end of November, we are two months in and most teams have played 20-25 games, or a quarter of the season. And from an analytics perspective, that’s about the point when you can start making use of most of the early season data.

So while most of the traditional playoff discussion at this time of the year tends to focus on points or even where teams are in the standings, let’s take a look at how early-season shot-based metrics relate to whether a team ultimately makes the playoffs.

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Shea Weber, Norris Voting, and the Role of the Modern Defender

So on Thursday, I went on a bit of a rant about the role of defensemen in the NHL. Well, rant is probably the wrong word, as it wasn’t particularly emotional, so let’s call it instead a “tweetstorm”. This piece will expound upon those tweets in greater depth, as I think it’s a topic that deserves a little more than what 140 characters and snark can provide.

Though I can’t promise this won’t also include some snark.

The entire discussion was kick started by this tweet:

Now, you’re probably thinking “oh man, a Shea Weber analytics take. Let me go get my popcorn for the inevitable scathing fallout.”

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Have you even used a calculator, jock?

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There has been quite a lot of talk over the last couple of days about how unhappy NHL players are with the escrow hit they take on every paycheque.

Unfortunately, when you have a collective bargaining agreement that specifies how hockey related revenues are to be split between owners and players, an escrow account is a necessary evil. Because the players’ share is paid out under the provisions of 700 or so individual player contracts throughout the season, there needs to be a mechanism to reconcile those payments with the total share following completion of the season, when all hockey related revenues have been accounted for.

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How Can We Quantify Power Play Performance In Formation?

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Last week I wrote about a new metric, ZEFR Rate, which measures zone entry success on the power play and is relatively repeatable and predictive of future goal scoring efficiency. The metric was based around the idea that getting into formation efficiently — most frequently a 1-3-1 — is a catalyst for power play success.

But now let’s say you’re a team that has perfected your entry scheme, and you find yourself setting up in formation at a consistent rate. What now? How can one maximize one’s use of possession in formation to score goals at the highest possible rate?

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Looking back at the NHL trade deadline

 

On Monday, fans tuned into one of the quieter NHL trade deadlines in recent memory. Despite the slow pace of movements, Matt Cane (@cane_matt) and I set about making visuals to give our takes on each trade.

Here, we’ll look back on a few of our takes from the trade deadline. We’ll focus ourselves with three categories – a trade where we had a similar take, a trade we disagreed on, and our favourite viz from the day.

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Can defensemen control rebound opportunities? Putting the eye test to the test.

One of the attributes that is often attached to defensemen is the ability to clear rebounds. You hear this quite often on NHL broadcasts, usually after a flurry of rebound shots that ultimately wind up in a goal. The colour commentator will jump in and imagine the goalie is saying to his defensemen, “I’ll stop the first three, you get the fourth one.”

But just how much is there to defensemen’s ability to prevent rebound shots?
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Jakub Voracek’s Goal Drought

Jacob Voracek is having an especially poor season.  After averaging above 1.6 Primary Points per 60 at 5v5 the last few seasons, he’s down to .6 in 2015-16.  Voracek’s assist rate is down, and most prominently, he has only scored one goal at 5v5.

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What is causing this run of poor form? The most direct route of analysis is to examine his shot metrics. How does Voracek’s 2015-16 season stack up against his previous seasons?

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Rebounds, Extended Zone Time, and the Quest For More Offense

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Long has it been argued that sustained zone time is a reliable way to not only prevent your opponents from scoring but as a way to produce offense of your own. The argument that is often made, or at least the one that’s often heard, is that the longer you are in the offensive zone the more likely it is that the defense will become fatigued and make a mistake that leaves someone open for a prime scoring opportunity. 

So let’s test that theory by asking a more data driven question; does sustained zone time lead to an increase in shooting percentage?

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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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