A Look into Alex Ovechkin’s Elite Power Play Abilities

"Alex Ovechkin2" by Keith Allison. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Alex Ovechkin2” by Keith Allison. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see a power play quite like that of this decade’s Washington Capitals. We can’t attach a firm date to it because it could extend as far as the end of Alex Ovechkin’s career at this rate, but we know that its peak of power began with the hiring of Adam Oates as Caps head coach back in 2012. Oates had run a successful 1-3-1 power play for the New Jersey Devils with Ilya Kovalchuk as his trigger-man, but nothing even close to the heights he managed to achieve with the man advantage in his two seasons in DC. Barry Trotz, to his credit, has kept the same formation — what’s that old adage about things that ain’t broke? — with only minor tweaks, and last year the power play continued to succeed.

Now there’s a lot to discuss about the formation and its success — I like to think of the Caps’ PP as a work of art more than anything else — but for the sake of this post I’m going to focus in on Alex Ovechkin. Never has there been a more criticized future first-ballot Hall of Famer, nor arguably a more controversial elite goal scorer. It should already be a given that Ovechkin is the best power play goal scorer of all time — he sits fifth overall in PPG/g despite playing in a significantly lower scoring era than his contemporaries like Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux — but I would argue by the time he retires, he will also likely be the greatest goal scorer of all time period. It’s the man advantage recently, in the latter stages of Ovechkin’s goal scoring peak, that has been the sniper’s bread and butter. Since Oates brought the 1-3-1 to town, Ovi has scored 48% of his goals on the power play, compared to 33% prior to that. He scored 25 power play goals last year, six ahead of the next highest total in Joe Pavelski’s 19. You have to go back another five to reach the player who is in third — Claude Giroux with 14 — indicating how great of a season the Sharks’ center/winger had, but that’s a story for another day.

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How Did Bucci Do? Revisiting John Buccigross’s Alex Ovechkin Goals Projection

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Photo by “Photonerd23” via Wikimedia Commons

In February of the 2009-10 season, John Buccigross of ESPN was spurred by a mailbag question to do a quick thought experiment: does he think Ovechkin could set the all-time goals mark? Gabe Desjardins voiced skepticism of Bucci’s optimistic projection but didn’t offer a counter-projection, presumably because, as he wrote:

Basically, careers are incredibly unpredictable – nobody plays 82 games a year from age 20 to age 40. And players who play at a very high level at a young age tend to not sustain that level of play until they’re 40…So, to answer the reader’s question: I believe that there is presently no significant likelihood that Alex Ovechkin finishes his career with 894 goals. He needs to display an uncommon level of durability for the next decade, and not just lead the league in goal-scoring, but do so by such a wide margin that he scores as much as Gretzky, Hull or Lemieux did in an era with vastly higher offensive levels.

That said, I thought it would be fun, with five full years gone, to see how Bucci did, and try to build a prediction model with the same data he had available. Continue reading

Will the 2015-16 Calgary Flames follow the 2014-2015 Colorado Avalanche?

Odds are, a team that performs like the 2014-2015 Calgary Flames in shots, possession, and chances will miss the playoffs. The odds also indicate if they do make it they are more likely going to be eliminated in the first round. Calgary beat the odds, though, and pushed into the second round until their eventual elimination at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.

Odds are not destiny; out-shot teams make the playoffs all the time.

Just last season the 2013-2014 Colorado Avalanche finished the season with 112 points and were favorites to falter in the 2014-2015 season by the analytical community. This has led to comparisons between the 2014-15 Flames and the 2013-14 Avalanche.

How similar are the two teams? Let’s take a look.

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The Greatest Tank Battle: Penguins vs. Devils, 1983-84

File:Mario Lemieux 1984.jpg

Mario Lemieux with Laval of the QMJHL in 1984; photo by http://www.lhjmq.qc.ca/ via Wikimedia Commons

What do you do when a 6’4″ QMJHL forward who scored 184 points in 66 games in his last underage season scores at a 282-point pace in his draft year? You tank — you tank as hard as you can. In the latter half of the 1983-84 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils were in an unspoken, pitched battle for the bottom of the league and everybody knew it. While the Penguins would ultimately win out, sputtering to a 16-58-6 record (“good” for 38 points in the standings) to New Jersey’s 17-56-7 (41 points), the two teams were coming from distinctly different franchise backgrounds.

Using information from our new interactive charts, we can see what set these teams apart, and led them to take different paths in what turned out to be a pretty wild race to the cellar of the NHL.

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The Art of Tanking: The Pittsburgh Penguins in 1983-84

While tanking is a hot topic in this year’s NHL, the act of tanking is as old as the idea of granting the worst teams a shot at the #1 pick in the draft. Case in-point: the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins, routinely considered the most overt of tankers in NHL history. The graph above is just one example of their tank, and man is that bad. The yellow and grey lines indicate one standard deviation above and below league-average historical possession (using 2-Period Shot Percentage, or 2pS%, explained here). The blue line is a 20-game moving average (the orange is cumulative), and you’re seeing that right; a team close to the middle of the pack dropped nearly two standard deviations, or from near the top to near the bottom of the league. That graph, and all the ones below, are just some examples of the kind of tinkering you can do with our new interactive graphs, which I highly recommend you check out.

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One of the many issues with the Toronto Maple Leafs

Screen shot 2015-01-08 at 10.32.59 AM

Rand Carlyle was recently fired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. This brought joy to many online Leaf fans as many –legitimately– believed Carlyle to be a source of the Maple Leafs consistently being out shot, out possessed, and out chanced.

Of course, Carlyle was not the difference between the Leafs spontaneously becoming a contender in the east. There are issues with the Maple Leafs that will take some time for Brendan Shanahan and company to fix. Continue reading

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

Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

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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Twenty Players to Expect a Shooting Percentage Bounceback from in 2014-15

Photo from Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Goals are such a small sample stat that even over a full season you’ll see some raw figures that may not be overly indicative of ability. As a general rule, you can normally expect a player’s goal total to bounce back from a down season if the player is still producing shots on goal but suffered a significant drop in shooting percentage.

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Can NHL Teams Win With Two Mega Cap-Hits?

The new contracts of Kane and Toews mean an imminent death of the Blackhawks, says everyone
Photo from Matt Boulton via Wikimedia Commons

When Patrick Kane and Patrick Kane signed matching eight year extensions with $10.5 million annual cap-hits, many wondered out loud if a team can be successful with two players occupying $21 million in cap space together.

So I decided to take a look at the relationship between a team’s success, measured by total regular season and playoff wins, and how much of their total cap outlay is from their top two cap charges.

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The Hartnell for Umberger + 4th Rounder Swap, and the Places a Bad Contract Puts You

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Photo by “Rhys A.” via Wikimedia Commons

I had a great question from a good friend of mine, a Flyers fan, after the fervor died down from yesterday’s Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger and 4th round pick swap. He asked me:

“From what I’m getting from the advanced stats guys, it appears that the Blue Jackets robbed the Flyers blind yesterday by getting Hartnell for Umberger (a guy they were going to compliance buyout anyhow).

Is Umberger really this bad?”

The short answer is that Umberger is not very good; his With-or-Without-Yous (or WOWYs; where you compare Corsi when a player is with and without a teammate on the ice) suggest that nobody plays better with him than others, outside of maybe Ryan Johansen. Now, some of that is due to zone starts, as Umberger has been saddled with a lot of time in his own zone. Even so, three years of possession in your end 55%+ of the time is a little too consistent in its futility. I’d expect at least one year there where that figure lowered to 51 or 52% if he was showing some defensive abilities. He’s still an average player in the faceoff dot, but his offensive contributions are shrinking, and at 32 it’s hard to see them recovering much. Blue Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline noted the Jackets were contemplating buying him out of his $4.6m/year cap hit contract, which was moving into modified no-trade clause (NTC; player can specify a list of teams he’d be willing to be traded to) years.

The longer answer is that yes, Umberger is not good, but this trade is much more complicated than a player-for-player, or player-for-player-and-a-pick swap. A trade presumably always looks good enough from both sides’ perspectives in order to happen, so what were the incentives for Ron Hextall? Jarmo Kekalainen?

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