Preparing and organizing game footage is one of my main responsibilities working for the McGill Martlet hockey team, and has become something that I enjoy quite a bit over the course of the past two seasons. Having played for coaches who use video analysis to various degrees in both hockey and tennis growing up, I think seeing one’s self play sports on video is the best way to correct deficiencies and identify areas for growth.
Fandom means a lot of different things to different people. But one thing unites us all: we hope our favorite team will win, and spend a great deal of time thinking how they can.
For those of us who dig a little deeper on the “how” side and use analytics, we hope that our work will eventually make its way to a front office. In some ways, it already has: numerous “hockey bloggers” hirings have been made recently.
But how many and for which teams?
With some research, I’ve culled a working document on all analytics hires for NHL teams and how they may be using analytics. The following descriptions comes from a variety of sources including Craig Custance’s Great Analytics Rankings [Paywall], fellow bloggers from across the internet, media reports, word of mouth and anonymous insiders.
It should be noted that just because a team has made an “analytics hiring”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they value their input or use the analysis provided properly. In fact, hires can be made simply for PR reasons, and some teams may even give analytics tasks as secondary duties to staff members who do not posses any formal background in the subject. Teams may also have hired private firms providing proprietary data, which in reality may not provide any tangible, verifiable value than what is free and readily available online.
Systems are without question the most elusive, yet most important, part of our understanding of hockey and the application of analytics. What works and what doesn’t? To what degree can a coach or team apply a strategy?
This led me to think about where we might most convincingly see evidence of a system at work. In the past, we here at HG have had a lot of skepticism about a number of elements of a “system.” For example, Garik’s pieces on competition-matching lines (here and here) and the use of the “defensive shell” to protect a lead, neither of which presented themselves as particularly effective ways of looking at or implementing systems. I have shown in the past that attempts to use extreme deployment in terms of zone starts doesn’t move the needle beyond a 60-40 range of possession, the range of shooting shares for forwards and defensemen haven’t seemed to change much over the last 20-25 years, and a plotting of even-strength shots-for with top and bottom possession teams do not suggest a major difference in shot location.
So where to go from there? Eventually, I decided that we need to get to an extreme enough situation, with robust enough data, where a team might have the best opportunity to dictate a system — in other words, we need to look at the powerplay. The most ideal opportunity for comparison, given the workable data for me, comes from the coaching careers since 2008-09 of Bruce Boudreau, Lindy Ruff, and Alain Vigneault. They all provide at least a couple of seasons with different teams, in addition to a robust set of coaching data from 2008 to the present. Let’s see what we can see…
Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Hockey Graphs podcast, where Rhys Jessop (of Canucks Army and That’s Offside) and Garret Hohl navigate the wonderful world of podcasting for the first time ever. Join us as we discuss Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets prospects, what the hell is up with the Anaheim Ducks, and, of course, a healthy dose of fancystats. Continue reading
Whenever I put together something as broad as a division preview, especially since the divisions have expanded, I usually try to slap something together that helps me get a quick impression of the teams as compared to one another. This time around, I put a little work into generating a 5v5 simulation of this coming season, specifically among the projected top 6 forwards, top 4 defensemen, and goaltenders. As 5v5 play comprises a little over 80% of all NHL gameplay, and these players tend to more consistently drive results (as players of around 3/5 to 2/3 of gameplay), focusing on their 5v5 performances from last year bring us to use a bit more stable indicators of future team performance. The quick-and-dirty approach here benefits from the fact that most of the Pacific lineups are quite similar from last year, and the top 6 and top 4 players tend to be deployed in the same roles from year to year. So, I took the average 5v5 Corsi-For% of the entire of the top 6 and top 4 for each team, the average 5v5 shooting percentage of the same group (for Johnny Gaudreau, I assumed a forward league-average 9%), and the career 5v5 save percentage of the projected goaltenders (for Fredrik Andersen I assumed a goaltender league-average 92.1%), and ended up with a projected 5v5 season that looked like this:
Photo by “User:Zucc63” via Wikimedia Commons, modified by author
If you’ll remember, one of the inaugural posts here was a regression prediction piece, using a combination of PDO and Fenwick Close to see who might improve or decline over the latter half of the season. I decided to put together a table of the teams I predicted would negatively or positively regress, just using the aforementioned data:
If you’ll remember, I pegged Anaheim, Colorado, Montreal, Phoenix, Toronto, and Washington for negative regression, and Florida and New Jersey for positive regression. So, even with really rudimentary predictors, this season I was able to be fairly successful building predictions from a half-season sample for the remaining season. In previous years, the fancy stats folks usually picked the much more obvious targets (Toronto being the big one this year), but it’s very possible to go further if you wanted.
Picture taken by Sarah Connors, posted to Flickr – via Wikimedia Commons
With the Winter Classic coming up, or should I say the Winter Classics since the NHL handles marketing success like the kid who found the cookie jar, we also ring in the rough middle of the season. It’s a time for reflection, maybe a chance to re-assess your decisions, lifestyles; and if you’re analyzing the NHL, it’s the perfect time to recognize trends that may or may not continue. Also known as “regression,” here I’m dealing with a concept everyone understands to a degree; you invoke it when you see a friend sink a half-court shot in basketball and say, “Yeah, bet you can’t do that again.” The trend, supported by a history of not making half-court shots, suggests that it is unlikely for your friend to sink the half-court shot, even if they recently made one. In the NHL, possession stats like Corsi are considered better predictors of future success than stats that can be influenced more greatly by luck, like goals (and, consequently, wins), shooting percentage, or save percentage. Much like your friend and their half-court shot, there are teams that are defying their odds (established by possession measures) to succeed, which can easily happen with less than a half-year of performance.