The State of Goalie Pulling in the NHL

When people ask me how to get into sports analytics, I always suggest starting with a question that they’re interested in exploring and using that question as a framework for learning the domain knowledge and the technical skills they need. I feel comfortable giving this advice because it’s exactly how I got into hockey analytics: I was curious about goalie pulling, and I couldn’t find enough data to satisfy my curiosity. There are plenty of articles on when teams should pull their goalies, but aside from a 2015 article on FiveThirtyEight by Michael Lopez and Noah Davis, I couldn’t find much data on when NHL teams were actually pulling their goalies and if game trends were catching up to the mathematical recommendations. I presented some data on the topic at the Seattle Hockey Analytics Conference in March 2019, but the following analysis is broader and includes more seasons of data.

Data collection notes

  • All raw play-by-play data is courtesy of Evolving-Hockey and their scraper.
  • Data includes all regular season games from 2013-14 onward. All 2019-20 data is up until the season pause, through March 11, 2020.
  • Only the first goalie pull per team in each game is counted for the average times. For example, if a team pulled their goalie while trailing by two and then later in the game pulled their goalie again while trailing by one, only the first instance is included in the average times. All extra attacker time is counted for the scoring rates.
  • More details on this data set, particularly at the team level, is available here.
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An Introduction to R With Hockey Data

I have written a couple articles over the past few months on using R with hockey data (see here and here), but both of those articles were focused on intermediate techniques and presumed beginner knowledge of R. In contrast, this article is for the complete beginner. We’ll go through the steps of downloading and setting up R and then, with the use of a sample hockey data set, learn the very basics of R for exploring and visualizing data.

One of the wonderful things about using R is that it’s a flexible, growing language, meaning that there are often many different ways to get to the same, correct result. The examples below are meant to be a gentle introduction to different parts of R, but please know that this really only scratches the surface of what’s available.

The code used for this tutorial (which also includes more detail and more examples) is available on our Github here.

Downloading R and Getting Set Up

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A crowdfunding initiative to promote diversity at the Columbus Analytics Conference

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend the last three years of the RIT Sports Analytics Conference. The first year I went, I was nervous to meet people whose work I admired. I was afraid that nobody would want to talk to this new person that few people knew and who was just starting to learn about the field. 

I could not have been more wrong. 

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Exit Types Don’t Affect Entry Quality (Much)

Last time, we saw that a team exiting its defensive zone with possession is much more likely to enter their offensive zone. Do the advantages end there, or do possession exits also improve the quality of zone entrances? Perhaps leaving the defensive zone with possession makes it easier to keep possession as they enter the offensive zone, and that leads to more shots per entry. Maybe pass-outs create space for more passes in the offensive zone, which improves shot quality.

It turns out that there is not much of a difference in entry quality by exit type; exiting with possession makes it more likely to gain the offensive zone, but the advantages quickly dissipate. That said, there are some interesting variations in how those zone entries play out. The differences are small enough that they could be random chance, but it’s worth taking stock of what we know with the data we have.

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Evaluating Nordic Drafting – A Potential Market Inefficiency

Over the last decade, teams have taken significant steps to improve their NHL entry draft approach. To do this, a number of teams have bolstered their analytics staff to identify the current “gaps” in prospect scouting. Whether it’s the Detroit Red Wings being the first team to dive head first into drafting Russian players, and then later Swedish players, or the Tampa Bay Lightning prioritizing small, skilled forwards, teams are looking for any available edge. More recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins have put a premium on overage players, as Namita Nandakumar found that overage players make the NHL faster. What’s the next big market inefficiency?

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Projecting NHL Skater Contracts for the 2019 Offseason

We recently released the final version of our contract projections for the 2019 NHL free agent class (they can be found here). Our initial projections went up in mid-April, and even though it’s only been a few weeks, we’ve had numerous questions about how the model was designed, how it works, what it means, etc. I thought we might be able to answer all the questions about it on twitter, but alas it was just a dream. A quick recap: this is our third year doing contract projections for the NHL offseason. While the model/projections this year may seem quite complicated, our first version was very simple: a few catch-all stats and a linear regression model to predict salary cap percentage (cap hit / salary cap). We use cap percentage to keep salaries on the same level as the salary cap changes. Over the last few years, we’ve developed a few new methods, and this year we took quite a bit of inspiration from the method Matt Cane used for his 2018 NHL offseason salary projections.

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Statement from Hockey-Graphs about Jason Baik

On Wednesday Night, Hockey-Graphs became aware that one of our contributors, Jason “jsonbaik” Baik, had been convicted of Sexual Assault in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh). To be utterly clear, Hockey-Graphs condemns these actions absolutely. Upon becoming aware of this horrible news, we have terminated our relationship with Mr. Baik and all contributions from Mr. Baik have been removed from this site.

We here at Hockey-Graphs wish to express our support for those who have been victims of Sexual Assault, Rape, or related crimes. As such, we encourage our readers to support organizations dedicated to help support victims of such heinous acts. If you can, please consider a donation to National Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) or local organizations such as the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Sincerely,

Hockey-Graphs Editorial.

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