Trading Off: How Much Possession Can My Team Surrender and Still Win?

Photo by Michael Miller, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

Photo by Michael Miller, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

Within the continuing discussions over the value of possession metrics, and the veracity of shot quality or shooting talent measures, there’s a point that seems to have slipped through the cracks. While there’s a spectrum of attitudes about possession and shot quality/talent, neither entirely refutes the importance of the other – and with that thinking, it’s worth considering how much you can sacrifice in one and still maintain success by the other. Put more simply, how little can a team possess the puck and still expect to shoot their way to success?
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Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close Numbers: Week 4

Mikko Koivu may actually really be the captain of a dominant possession team.

Two more weeks have passed since we last updated our Bayes-Adjusted Fenwick Close (BAFC) Numbers.  This means we now have a lot more data and our BAFC standings are starting to really be affected by this year’s results – significant changes have happened in the last two weeks, and results from this season are starting to be thought of as actually real. Continue reading

Friday Quick Graph: Does puck possession affect penalty differentials?

Screen shot 2014-10-30 at 11.55.42 AM

Using data from War-On-Ice.com, I grabbed the penalty and Corsi differentials for all teams for 5v5 score tied minutes. The whole point was to look at whether or not possession plays a role in a team’s penalty differential.

Above we see a weak but real relationship, with about 6.7% of penalty differentials being explained via possession.

From the regression curve, we estimate the average impact difference between a top and bottom possession team is about 11 penalties drawn per a season for 5v5 score-tied minutes. Of course, there is the opportunity to draw penalties for other team strengths and score situations. (The bottom/top difference is using the 40-60 rule)

Gordie Howe vs. Bobby Orr vs. Wayne Gretzky vs. Sidney Crosby: Not Your Typical WOWY

Photo by "Djcz", via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by “Djcz”, via Wikimedia Commons

With or Without You analysis, often referred to as WOWY, frequently involves either comparing the performance of a team or particular players when a single player is and isn’t playing. While the approach is a risky one (sample size is a pretty big issue), it can actually be quite telling when you collect enough data.

The value of modern WOWY is that you can definitely get data from precisely the seconds a player played apart from the seconds they weren’t on the ice. Historical WOWY, on the other hand, cannot do much better than taking data from games a player played versus games they didn’t. To this end, then, I wanted to see if historical WOWY can tell us much of anything, and the best way to do that is to focus on players that are undisputed in their value. In this case, I went for WOWYs of the big guns, four of the best players across the eras of NHL history: Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby.
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Value of Corsi possession measured in goals

The average on-ice shooting and save percentages a player experiences tends to be influenced by their average time on ice per game. This relationship likely occurs due to a combination of factors: shooting talents of linemates and opponent, defensive talents of linemates and opponent, system and psychological effects, and an effect I like to call “streak effects”.
(See bottom for discussion on these effects)

Regardless of the reasons why, these effects indicate that not all Corsi percentages are created equal in impact. This has been discussed previously on Hockey-Graphs both here and here. So, can we measure this difference in impact? Continue reading

How well do Plus Possession Rookie D-Men do in their next few years?

There is nothing perhaps more encouraging to fans of struggling teams than to see a rookie D-Man come up and put up big numbers right out of the gate.  I speak of course, not just about goals and assists – in this case I refer to good possession #s (Corsi, Fenwick, and the relative versions thereabout).  Fans of the Oilers (Marincin), Leafs (Rielly), Isles (de Haan, Donovan), etc, all seem to have higher hopes than they might’ve otherwise due to how well their rookie D has performed.  After all, a top pair D Man (under control for cheap for years to come) can have such a great impact and they are extremely hard to find on the free market (or trade market).

But can these standout rookie D keep up their great performances?  After all, we always hear about the so-called “sophomore slump” and it’s not like players disappointing after great rookie years is that uncommon.  How certain can we be about the futures of rookie D-Men who come up and right away show strong possession #s?  Let’s see how similar rookie D the last few years did.

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The Day David Staples Killed Corsi Because…Taylor Hall

File:Taylor Hall.JPG

Photo by Alexiaxx, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been following the story of Taylor Hall as the season progresses, particularly through Tyler Dellow’s attempts to un-vex the vexing year Hall is having (Parts IIIIIIIV). In Tyler’s second part, he notes three differences between this year and last year: fewer zone entries with a carry, poorer retrieval of dump-ins, and a lower shots-per-carry total. The latter, Tyler notes, is likely symptomatic of a larger emphasis on dumping-in, wherein a player carries to just inside the blue line before dumping. He quotes Dallas Eakins as suggesting that Hall, in-particular, seems to take this dumping-in approach to heart. I’d add that there’s a possibility that this is abbreviating potential offensive zone possession time, as overall Hall and the other Edmonton Oilers have dropped from nearly 50 seconds per shift to 47 seconds. Further to that point, Tyler noticed in the fourth part that the Oilers have seemed to adopt a tip-in dump-in, wherein the player in the neutral zone either redirects or chips, while standing in place, the puck into the offensive zone. Just based on the video evidence Tyler provided, this looks like an extraordinarily passive approach to the dump, equivalent to dumping and getting off the ice. In that latter scenario, you are unequivocally giving up possession. In the tip-in approach, you take your active close player and leave them in-place, in favor of a later-to-the-game forechecker. It would seem to me that you’d benefit from an active dump-and-chase forechecker.

There are a couple of others irons you can put in the fire, including variance of CF% (a 5% swing is not unheard-of, particularly moving from a 48 to a 56-game sample), potential fatigue from increased playing time (he’s taken on some penalty kill minutes and more even-strength minutes this year), and the swapping out of Ales Hemsky as a linemate (for Sam Gagner). The tougher competition, for me, is essentially washed out by a bump up in offensive zone starts. I don’t see evidence of recording bias, either. I suspect a couple potential, additional things: 1) the drop-off is right there with the Ovechkin-Dale Hunter drop-off, so there might be some player vs. system aggravation, and 2) some fatigue issues related to the early-season knee injury. Injuries aren’t just about pain, they can also compromise strength and endurance. A guy like him, who has had injury issues in the past, does not want the “soft” label (you’ve seen what that’s done to Hemsky’s time in Edmonton), and might not want to admit it to the media or himself.

Up to this point, you’ve seen Dellow’s and my own introspection into what appears to be a poor possession season from Taylor Hall. Enter David Staples.

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Friday Quick Graph: How the Possession Battle Stabilizes

Surely you’ve been exhausted with graphs from this December 30th, 1981 Oilers-Flyers game, but allow me one more. I wanted to demonstrate both how many possessions it took for the possession battle to grant us a clear picture, and also further speak to the value of 2pS%. The chart above demonstrate what happens when I establish a rolling possession-for % (as indicated by the y-axis, possession-for % is done from the perspective of Edmonton) using the last 10 possessions, then the last 20 possessions, and so on to 60 possessions. I stop there because we then arrive at a point where we are primarily measuring (in 60-120 on the x-axis) the 1st and 2nd period in-tandem. What we see is that, by that point, our possession battle has calmed down much closer to something that resembles the final battle (a 52% to 48% victory for Philadelphia). The y-axis shows how far above or below .500 (or 50% possession) the battle went; once again, this was measured from Edmonton’s perspective, so below the line is Philadelphia winning the battle, above is Edmonton (hence the color-coding). We also see, then, that the battle doesn’t calm down to a spread below the 60-40 possession benchmark until 40 possessions…which means it doesn’t really reach the likelihood of truly reflecting demonstrated possession talent until that point. For this reason, I think we can derive confidence in the signal that two-periods provide us with regards to possession battles. Additionally, it speaks to the potential problem with focusing on single periods of data.

NHL Defensemen and Shooting Contributions back to 1967-68

File:Defenseman Ray Bourque 1979.jpg

Photo by Dave Stanley via Wikimedia Commons

I have kicked around this data in the past, most prominently in my theoretical post on offensive systems, but I really wanted to get further into the intricacies of defensemen and their historical place in team shooting (among other offensive contributions). By looking at how much a defenseman contributes to a team’s shot generation (expressed as a percentage of team shots in the games a player played, or %TSh), we can draw some interesting comparisons across NHL eras, but I haven’t yet explored how the role of the defenseman has (or hasn’t) evolved from the Expansion Era to the present, nor have I taken a look at some of the more exceptional defense shooting teams. Let me correct that now.

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Wayne Gretzky vs. Bobby Clarke, December 1981: A Micro-Analysis

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Left image by “Centpacrr“, Right image by “Hakandahlstrom” via Wikimedia Commons, both altered by author

On December 30th, 1981, Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers and Bobby Clarke’s Philadelphia Flyers met in a Wednesday night tilt rich with symbolism. Clarke, 32, was a couple of years away from retirement; two of his three remaining teammates from the Cup years, Reggie Leach and Bill Barber (defenseman Jimmy Watson was the third), were themselves out of the league in two years (Leach due to talent drop-off, Barber due to injury). Ironically, there was little indication in 1981 that this was going to happen – all were around 30, all were near point-per-game scorers playing all minutes. Whatever the case, they were the last of the Broad Street Bullies, and were now mentoring a new generation of “Bullies” like Ken Linseman, Tim Kerr, and Brian Propp, who seemed at times more annoying than dangerous. Though in transition, Philadelphia was still a great possession team (4th in the league in 2pS%, an historical possession metric), but fought the percentages all year to squeak into the playoffs. Edmonton, on the other hand, was romping through the league at record pace, and by December 30th held a comfortable lead over 2nd place Minnesota in the old Campbell Conference. Gretzky, of course, was at the heart of this surge, and by game 39 he had 45 goals.

The 1980s Oilers were the next step in NHL offense, really a Canadian version of the 1970s Soviet style of hockey. They didn’t need to bully their way to victories – they let the other team take the penalties, and skated all over them. I should say, that’s what Edmonton would eventually do; on this night they lined Gretzky up with Dave Lumley and Dave Semenko, as they had done most of the year. More on that later.

As I said before, though, the Flyers were a great possession team, as they always had been when Clarke and Barber were in their prime (they averaged, averaged, 55% 2pS% in the years 1973-74 through 1981-82, placing them consistently among the top 5 in the NHL). They were fast and calculating with their puck movement; the grit was just extra work – and who knows, maybe it contributed to Clarke, Barber, and Leach’s early retirement. The Bully when met with the Oilers, though, learned that the box was the bigger enemy.

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