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
Photo by “ravenswing” via Wikimedia Commons
“It’s a matter of systems,” “They don’t have a good system,” “There is no system there”…we hear phrases much like this frequently, and I wonder just how much weight we give the word “system” in a game that flows and relies on instinct and reflex. Teams have some kind of system, no doubt, but it’s funny how the actions of any kind of system pale in comparison to the number of times we notice the classic breakout, setting up of the zone, or cycle. What I’m trying to say is, might we be putting too much emphasis on system, when the results are not clearly resulting in different shot quality? Might we be overstating the role of something practiced for a couple of months, maybe a year or two, versus 15-30 years of playing experience, and all the instincts, common tactics, and reflexes?
In my mind, systems are important in-and-of themselves, because their organization principles are intuitive. Cover the man or take away the passing lanes, apply forecheck pressure or trap in the neutral zone…these base ideas probably need to be there to keep things from devolving into pickup hockey. And you all know that game, where everyone’s a superstar forward and nobody backchecks. Seriously, no wonder you guys can’t ever find two goalies.
Anyway, with my current treasure trove of game-by-game, player-by-player data going back to 1987-88 (thanks to Hockey Reference’s excellent Play Index), I wanted to see just how much the game has evolved since the late 1980s, particularly in regards to defensemen involvement in the offense. We already know that the difference in shots-for per team, per game is 30.4 in 1987-88 to 29.1, so not a heck of a lot has changed in shot generation, and the goals/game per team has changed drastically, from 3.71 in ’87-’88 to 2.75 today. This information alone should suggest we probably haven’t improved too much in regards to what we might call offensive systems. Has defensemen involvement increased, and driven the scoring down? Have teams attempted more forward involvement to improve scoring? Will Guy Boucher ever convince us he has the key to better offense again?
I took data from about 30,000 individual player performances in 1987-88 and about 26,000 in 2012-13; I compared the player’s shot totals to their team totals in those games and derived my %TSh, or percentage of team shots metric, previously used in my piece on Career Charting.
There are probably enough fan bias tendencies in sports to fuel psychology graduate theses for years to come. Sometimes these biases even creep into the minds of hockey’s brain-trusts, including GMs, coaches, and national team selection committees.
One such bias is the propensity against players who are strong offensively but can be a risk defensively. Whether these offensive players are a net-positive to the team depends on whether their offensive output outweighs their defensive lapses. Period. You win the game by out-scoring, not by just increasing your own scoring or limiting your opponents. However, if you were to survey most fanbases, you would probably find very few defensive risk-type defenders that are considered a net-positive.
When it comes to the traditional plus/minus statistic, there are great intentions of evaluating a player’s net contribution, but the statistic ultimately fails at achieving this. There are a few issues with plus/minus, one of them being sample size; another fault to the statistic is its low repeatability, which is its ultimate failure. This unreliability in plus/minus relative to most other statistics can be seen here:
- Traditional stat reliability by SnarkSD: http://www.arcticicehockey.com/2011/7/16/2273803/ssw-forward-g-a-pts-pim-reliability-and-regression-to-the-mean
Using analytics, we can demonstrate how numbers help differentiate two gambling defensemen who have been the butt-end of scrutiny from their fanbase.
Photo by John Slipec, via Wikimedia Commons
In case you missed it at 1 am this morning, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press decided to add to a chapter in his future collection, Gary Lawless Gets Tough – Online Version (CD of Lawless Gets Tough – Radio Version coming soon!), by declaring Claude Noel needs to reduce Dustin Byfuglien’s minutes. The chapter, titled “Black Players,” is the longest of the book, filled with relentless reminders of how the players in-question aren’t anything like Gary Lawless.
The spark for the uproar, uproar being a requisite thing in the sports talk world where blowhards and mittenstringers are made to look hard-hitting and important, was an admittedly bad weekend for Byfuglien, who made a few costly errors that contributed to Jets losses. I get that “admission” from Byfuglien himself, as he’s quoted in the Lawless column: “Not playing my top. Something I have to figure out myself. Slow down and play the game I should be. Keep it simple. I might be playing a little too fast for myself right now. Tighten it up.”
That explanation, for Lawless, is “a refusal to be responsible with the puck.” But that’s just the beginning.