Category Archives: Hockey

Part 2: The Return of Adrian the Canadian

Yesterday, Adrian reasserted himself on the blog with a clear proposal to reduce diving in soccer.  Today, he shows off his versatility with a response to my recent thoughts on fairness in U.S. and European professional sports leagues (written in relation to my brother Conor’s defense of talent concentration in European soccer). For a taste of the historical, economic, legal, and political, set aside 10 minutes and read on:

How long has it been? Too long, I think.  But Tyler’s recent post has compelled me to withdraw from my self-imposed hibernation and away from the stultifying process of studying for the Ontario bar exam. In short, I disagree with the capitalist/socialist, American Sports/European Sports dichotomy or, rather, I think it abstracts away from the real issue – that cartels make a heck of a lot more money than entities that exist in competition with one another. In short, the NFL and MLB are not staunch defenders of equality values; Dan Snyder and Hank Steinbrenner are not driving the train to the Finland Station.

The standard argument goes something like this: isn’t it ironic that America, land of unbridled capitalism, home of animal spirits on free and open fields, has “socialist” sports leagues that redistribute resources from winners to losers while red, socialist, pinko Europe has a free and open market for sports talent? It’s a cute argument and one that elicits a nice “hmmm…” from readers and there are certainly large elements of truth to it. American sports are, at least nominally, more redistributive, and there is a larger perception that American sports are organized more “fairly” than European sports from a competitive standpoint. Still, it’s far from clear that European sports are more aristocratic than American sports if we look at the highest levels and, more importantly, I think this distracts us from a deeper, more thorough comparison of why European sports and American sports are organized so differently.

Barcelona’s greatness is undeniable, but it’s not a greatness that has translated into a dynasty at the highest levels of competition. While Barca has been the dominant team in La Liga, it’s only won three of the last ten Champions League titles despite making each of the last ten tournaments. This means that the Champions League may not even be as “aristocratic” as the NBA:  eight different teams have won the Champions League while only six have won the NBA championship in the same span. And, unlike La Liga Continue reading

The Islanders offered ALL THEIR PICKS for the 2nd pick: doh!

Incredibly, the Blue Jackets turned them down! I thought the Redskins trade for the second pick in the NFL draft (used to select Robert Griffin III) was crazy. The Islanders offered the fourth pick along with six other picks. How could the Blue Jackets — who are terrible — refuse the chance to collect six extra prospects? Doing so would give them trade assets and limit their risk exposure substantially. Even if their second pick (highly regarded defenseman Ryan Murray) works out, how can he possibly be worth more than seven draft-worthy players, including the fourth overall pick?

As in the NFL, I was shocked by the value the Blue Jackets and Islanders placed on the second pick. There’s so much risk involved with top draft picks. Given the price teams are willing to pay, why not trade them for known quantities (current NHLers) or multiple picks slightly lower down? I made this same argument about the first pick in the NFL draft this year. Just because Andrew Luck is “the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning” (or whoever) doesn’t mean the Colts should have drafted him. The value of that pick was astronomical precisely because Andrew Luck is considered to be a sure thing, when we all know there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in a sports draft.

Edit: At least the Bobcats have realized that they should trade the second pick this year. Even if they had the first pick (which they surely would keep), I would suggest that they at least check Anthony Davis’s market value.

“Fairness” in sports

My brother Conor (when he’s not blogging about political theory) does some excellent writing about Barcelona’s dominant football team. A couple weeks ago, he took up the age-old topic of fairness in sports in the context of European soccer. In most European leagues, there are no salary caps, revenue sharing agreements, or redistributive drafts. Rather than coddling the worst teams, leagues bust them down a division. Conor defends the uncontrolled European league structures with a call to the benefits of an aristocratic class:

There’s no escaping it. [Barcelona’s] degree of perfection requires an unequal distribution of talent and resources. This concatenated brilliance is probably unjust when measured against nearly any standard of fairness—but it’s also as close as anyone has yet come to fulfilling that specific style of play. FC Barcelona are but one example. For instance, recent Chelsea squads have flirted with perfection of a wholly different style of play. They are no less aristocratic simply because they have refined different aspects of their squad. Their strengths may be different, but they are no less refined for that. Every coat of arms is different—the aristocratic task for each is to live up to their particular identity. Undemocratic though they are, no one will mistake them for ordinary.

For whatever else they do to The Game As A Whole (or As A Spectacle), aristocratic clubs elevate the stakes and—more often than not—the peaks of athletic achievement. If Barcelona regularly administers whippings to clubs in La Liga’s middle and lower echelons, their clásico jousts with Madrid have periodically taken both teams yet closer to the pinnacle of sport.

I find this topic endlessly interesting, especially the comparison between United States leagues and European leagues.  The United States redistributes less income proportionally than many other Continue reading

Why are the hockey playoffs so unpredictable?

The NHL playoffs have many more upsets than the NBA. Adrian the Canadian tells me that this is ruining their product, since the most exciting teams often get unlucky and bow out early. I can’t help but agree — I stopped watching this year after my favorite team (the Red Wings), my local team (the Bruins), and probably the best team (the Penguins) got bounced. The NHL wasn’t always so unpredictable — the Canadiens, Islanders, and Oilers won 13 of 15 cups between 1975-76 and 1989-90. Adrian’s theory is that the the rise of the butterfly goalie has increased save percentages, which makes outcomes more random.

It’s pretty easy to show that increased save percentages do indeed muddy up the result. I generated 1,000 simulated games for three sets of parameters. First, the 1980s (before the butterfly):

  • Both teams: 89% save percentage
  • Team A: 32 shots per game on average
  • Team B: 28 shots per game on average

Then, for the late 90s/early 2000s (butterfly goalies, slightly fewer shots on average perhaps due to popularity of the neutral zone trap): Continue reading

Time for shootouts to go?

Here’s a fun fact. NHL first round winners were 45-54 in shootouts in the regular season. First round losers were 63-43.  Here are the match ups (higher regular season point total first, shootout record in parentheses, winner in bold):

  • Rangers (4-5)  vs. Ottawa (6-4)
  • Bruins (9-3) vs. Capitals (4-4)
  • Devils (12-4) vs. Panthers (6-11)
  • Penguins (9-3) vs. Flyers (4-7)
  • Canucks (8-7) vs. Kings (6-9)
  • Blues (4-10) vs. Sharks (9-5)
  • Blackhawks (7-7) vs. Coyotes (6-10)
  • Predators (5-5) vs. Red Wings (9-3)

So, the team with the lower shootout win percentage won seven out of eight series. The team with the higher point total only won four out of eight (Rangers, Blues, and Predators), in part because good shootout records inflated some teams’ point totals. Why do we still have shootouts again?

Sloan Sports research rundown

Following on my general analysis of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, here’s a look at the research presentations (you’ll note: nothing on the sports side of football or soccer! I submitted one of each but they were rejected . . . ):

An Expected Goals Model for Evaluating NHL Teams and Players (Brian MacDonald)

This paper tries to predict future performance better by incorporating more measurable statistics than past models (goals, shots, blocked shots, missed shots, hits, faceoff %, etc.). His prediction tests show that he makes improvements, and at the team level, I think these results have some value. However, moving to the individual level in a sport like hockey (or basketball, football, soccer, or rugby) is hard because of complementarities between players. For example, trying to measure one player’s contribution to team wins or goal differential based on the number of shots they take is hopelessly confused with the actions of other players on the ice that affect the quality and number of these shots.

Another issue in the paper is that MacDonald controls for team level statistics (such as faceoff win percentage) in the individual level regressions, when in fact much of player value may be driven by these statistics. For example, one of Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk’s strengths is faceoff win percentage, while one of his weaknesses is hitting. The value that individuals bring through these variables is caught up in MacDonald’s team level control variables. Still, the team-level analysis is a reasonable way to improve what’s out there.

Big 2’s and Big 3’s: Analyzing How a Team’s Best Players Complement Each Other (Robert Ayer)

This paper categorizes the top three players on each team Continue reading

Hockey Night in America! Part 2: Hitting in hockey

It’s Adrian the Canadian’s turn on part 2 of Hockey Night in America! Here’s what he proposes for the NHL, as they adjust to the new evidence about the dangers of head injuries:

Last night, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury almost had a dust up over Eric Nystrom’s hit of Kris Letang (Deadspin has the link). The battle lines are the ones I’ve discussed here before – Roenick believes that Letang put himself in a bad position, Milbury, who I’ve criticized before for his Paleo positions, thinks that the hit was unnecessary. On ice, the referees thought that Nystrom deserved a “roughing minor” for the hit. For the uninitiated, a roughing penalty is given when one player hits another in the head with his hand or fist. Roughing is usually a minor penalty.

“Roughing” seems like an odd call here, Nystrom doesn’t seem to obviously punch Letang. After Letang punches the puck up along the boards, Nystrom continues attempts to hit Letang, misses him, and catches him on the chest/chin with some part of his arm – there does not seem to be a “punching motion.” Yet, it seems clear that Nystrom has done something wrong: Continue reading