Tag Archives: National Hockey League

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.

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 1: NHL shootouts and playoffs

With the NFL all wrapped up, it’s time for Hockey Night in America! A few weeks ago, I watched the extremely exciting Edmonton Oilers play my Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings nearly got the win in regulation, but the Oilers scored with 39 seconds remaining (highlights here). Four on four overtime favored the fast skating Oilers, and Detroit needed two open net saves from defensemen to stay alive. The Wings are an excellent shootout team, but they lost this one.

The Wings are 7-2 in shootouts this year, which has earned them some extra points in the standings (shootouts fueled their record home winning streak as well). Back in December, I questioned whether these extra points are deserved. Shootouts reward individual skill that may not be related to game performance. In the interest of crowning the best team champion, maybe we’d be better off giving the Oilers and Red Wings one point each and going home at the end of overtime (the dreaded tie . . . ). But do teams that get into the playoffs with many shootout victories actually perform worse once they get there?

I started by calculating shootout-free points totals Continue reading

Adrian the Canadian presents his girlfriend’s Unified Theory of Sports

Since I’m on vacation, I’m giving Adrian a little more rope than usual. Here’s his girlfriend’s Unified Theory of Sports:

My girlfriend has a theory about sports. She thinks that all sports that have a physical goal, be it a net or an end zone, require some sort of physical handicap in order to be interesting. These handicaps can be divided along two dimensions — one we’ll call rules-based and the other opposition-based. Rules-based handicaps are things like “no hands” or “no running with the ball/Frisbee” or “the net is two basketballs wide,” while opposition-based handicaps refer to what your opponent is allowed to do to prevent you from reaching your goal. These two types of handicaps move in inverse relation to one another. A sport with many rules-based handicaps — think about basketball with its small net and prohibition against running with the ball or soccer with its single, significant “no hands” rule — has to minimize physicality. Imagine full contact soccer. It would be stultifying. Similarly, imagine Continue reading

Adrian the Canadian fixes hockey

Being Canadian, Adrian has a lot to say about hockey. I’ll let him take it away:

In August, the NHL held its (now annual) Research, Development, and Orientation (RDO) Camp. The RDO Camp is an interesting idea — it gives NHL teams a chance to evaluate top prospects and serves as a venue to experiment with potential rule changes. This year, they evaluated over two dozen rule variations, from the mundane (thinner nets) to the radical (line changes only permitted on the fly, 3-on-3 overtime). While I often complain about the NHL’s rules, especially in regard to player safety, the RDO camp is a great idea more leagues should implement. Moreover, it shows a surprising open-mindedness and willingness to change by the conservative NHL establishment. So, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly at the last RDO.  Continue reading