Where NHL Coaching Changes Did, and Didn’t, Help Their Teams

If you or anyone you know have seen this man behind your player, contact the front office immediately.  (Photo by "Dan4th Nicholas", via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author)

Photo by “Dan4th Nicholas”, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

Michel Therrien has an interesting distinction in the research I’ve been doing about NHL coaching changes: he’s given me 4 instances where he and his replacement have coached 20+ games within the same season. He’s also replaced or been replaced in three of those instances by legit coaching talent – he replaced Alain Vigneault for the Montreal Canadiens in 2000-01, was replaced two years later by Claude Julien, and lastly was fired in favor of Dan Bylsma for Pittsburgh in 2008-09. What’s incredible about these three cases is that, in every single one of them, there was a drastic change in outcomes for the teams involved. Using 2pS%, or possession measured by two-period shots-for divided by two-period shots-for and against together, the numbers tell a story:
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Outperforming PDO: Mirages and Oases in the NHL

Above is the progressive stabilization (game-by-game, cumulatively) of all-situations PDO over time for the 30 NHL teams. It’s a demonstration of the pull of PDO towards the average (1000, or the addition of team SV% and shooting percentage with decimals removed), and it gives you a sense of the end game: an actual spread of PDO, from roughly 975 to roughly 1025. In other words, if you were just to use this data, you could probably conclude that it’s not outside expectations for a team to outperform 1000 by about 25 (or 2.5%) on either side.

That’s all well and good, but PDO is a breakdown of two very different things, a team’s shooting and goaltending, two variables that understandably have very little to do with each other (they are slightly related because rink counting bias usually affects both). Shooting percentage can hinge on a number of contextual variables, though its reliance on a team’s player population usually can bring it a bit in-line with league averages. Save percentage, on the other hand, hinges on one player, and what’s more past performances suggest that a single goaltender can quite significantly outperform expectations. In this piece, I want to jump into the sliding variables of PDO, and what we can expect from teams, but first I want to begin with why I’m working with all-situations PDO.

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Why The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell is Wrong About Alex Ovechkin

File:Defense.gov photo essay 080220-F-6684S-642.jpg

Photo by Adam M. Stump via Wikimedia Commons

You know, there was a time when I relished The Hockey News, and really any hockey writing I could get my hands on. I grew up in the sticks in Wisconsin, where you can’t find jack about hockey, and so to convince your parents to buy a THN magazine was a real treat. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and I want those old reporting institutions to continue, but it isn’t going to happen with haphazard attempts at analysis like Ken Campbell’s piece on Ovechkin from today. In it, he tries to argue that Ovechkin is going to have the worst 50-goal season in NHL history because his plus-minus isn’t good. After the jump, let’s take a look at some of these gems.

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Friday Quick Graph: Season Stories Using % of Team Shots, Gretzky, Lemieux, Sheppard, and Simpson in 1987-88

This takes the progressive, cumulative percentage of team shots from the graphs below and compares them to one another (to view the original charts: Simpson, Sheppard, Lemieux, Gretzky). It really establishes how greatly Lemieux mattered to the Penguins…Gretzky had plenty of teammates taking over the shots, especially as he was dinged up during the season and players like Messier and Kurri were helping carry the load (not to mention Simpson and his 43 goals in 59 games). Any surprise Lemieux was one season away from 85 goals and nearly 200 points? Any surprise Simpson was already coming down from what would prove to be a career year? Any surprise that Sheppard was moving towards a quality career? These %TSh charts can really lend to interesting seasonal and career narratives.

Part of the reason I like doing graph work is because a good graph (with a little bit of contextual knowledge) can tell a really interesting story. In the past, I’ve been a proponent of digging deeper into the historical data, and noted that even though we have less data of the pre-BTN era it doesn’t mean we can’t make some intriguing graphs. %TSh, or % of team shots (in the games a player participated), provides a great opportunity to do just that, not just in a player’s career (as I’ve done before) but also over the course of a season. In the graph above, I took two well-known players, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, and matched them to two (to the younger readers) lesser-known players from 1987-88, Ray Sheppard and Craig Simpson; I expressed their %TSh cumulatively, game-by-game. Craig Simpson, at the tender age of 20, was having the best year of his career (56 goals on an incredible 31.6% shooting percentage), but a trade to the Oilers mid-season would alter his offensive role for that season and into the future. Ray Sheppard, like Simpson very young (21), over the course of the season earned Ted Sator’s trust and responded with a 38-goal rookie season. Sheppard would go on to be a very good offensive player for about a decade.

Yet their lines relative to Gretzky and Lemieux also remind us that, for as good as they were, neither were driving the boat to the level of those legends (and probably wouldn’t). So you do get some perspective on what some of the best-of-the-best were doing. Lemieux, who was entering his prime, was literally carrying a middling Penguins team on his shoulders, and his ability to do that would bring him, in 1988-89, to convince people that Dan Quinn and Rob Brown were really good.

For frame of reference, in the BTN Era (2007-08 to present) only Ovechkin has been able to come close to the kind of shot volume Lemieux was demonstrating in 1987-88.