The NHL Systems Argument: Comparing Bruce Boudreau, Alain Vigneault, & Lindy Ruff

Bruce-Alain Ruff. Looks like the ghost of Gene Hackman. You're welcome for the nightmares.  Composite of images by

“Bruce-Alain Ruff. Looks like the ghost of Gene Hackman. You’re welcome for the nightmares.” Composite of images by “DSCF1837” (Vigneault), Michael Miller (Boudreau), and Arnold C. (Ruff), via Wikimedia Commons*

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…

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Friday Quick Graphs: Total Player Charts, Revived

Bringing back an older concept…a few years ago, I was spurred by Tom Awad’s “Good Player” series to put together these radar charts of player ice-time. I’d always felt, for fantasy hockey purposes, it is important to know the boxcars (goals, assists, points) come from the ice-time as much as anything, and so the initial creation of what I called “Total Player Charts,” or TPCs, was to portray precisely that. It ended up that they gave intriguing portrayals of players that we felt had strong seasons. See Jamie Benn’s above; an Art Ross Trophy, sure, and much of it came from near the top share of playing time at evens and on the powerplay, league-wide. You can also get a sense of just how valuable a defenseman like T.J. Brodie is:

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2014-15 Preview: The Central Divison

Image from Matt Boulton via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a fan of a Central Division team that doesn’t employ Ondrej Pavelec, you’re probably feeling optimistic as we approach the upcoming season. And you should: this is clearly the best division in the NHL, and all six of its non-Manitoban clubs have legitimate playoff hopes.

Of course, not all six will reach that milestone; at least one will join Winnipeg on the outside looking in. At this time, however, few can agree on how the standings will shake out. The Stars have been projected anywhere from second to fifth; the Avalanche have been slotted everywhere but last. Some are high on the Blues, others are sick of them constantly disappointing.

This uncertainty should make for an exciting year in “Conference III.” Below is a team-by-team breakdown of the league’s toughest division:

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NHL Career Charting: The Pre-BTN Era and What We Can Still Do With Historical Data


Photo by “IrisKawling”, via Wikimedia Commons

Hockey statistics have always been fairly historically limited; most of the so-called “fancy stats” have only been tracked (and easily track-able league-wide) back through the 2007-08 season. The prior years have a veil of fog over them, though there is fairly decent shot data going all the way back to the 1952-53 season (thanks to the Hockey Summary Project; I’ve been able to bring the data together), good game-by-game individual player data going back to 1987-88 (thanks to Hockey Reference via Dan Diamond & Associates), and gradually-improving TOI data going back to 1997-98 (thanks to and Hockey Reference). Unfortunately, this has lead to a relative dearth of research into the years of the “Pre-BTN” Era, so-called because 2007-08 was the first year we received in-depth, league-wide data from Gabe Desjardins’ Behind the Net stats site and Vic Ferrari’s

Having a background in history, and also having grown up as a fan of the league in this grey statistical era, I have spent the last couple years trying to compile and present statistics from the Pre-BTN Era in ways that can help provide a window into those years (and possibly inform our understanding of the present-day game). I’m somewhat indebted to Iain Fyffe, a guy who’s been doing similar yeoman’s work much longer than myself at Hockey Prospectus, though more recently he’s been sharing his work at his own site, Hockey Historysis.

The fact of the matter is that there is actually an enormous amount of information out there, and more importantly with graph work we can really do some interesting things. First case in-point is what I call “career charting;” essentially, charting a player’s shots in a game relative to their team’s shots in those same games. Using the metric %TSh, or percentage of team shots, this provides an interesting glimpse into player contributions, workload, and development in the Pre-BTN Era. Adding some artistic (and informational flourish), I present to you Pierre Turgeon:

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