NHL Situational Performance- Western Conference Edition

Or “Amateur Night at the Apollo” as I like to call this post.

As I noted in my Monday droppings, I had been beating my head against a pretty hard wall trying to figure out something meaningful looking back at previous year historical summaries of Alan Ryder’s Player Contribution files. Well, I’m happy to report that the Thanksgiving turkey has made its way out of my system leaving me with a fresh mind and perspective.

I took another look back at my files and realized that I wasn’t going to get anywhere looking at each team’s performance in terms of percentage related to offensive play, defensive play and goaltending. Atlanta and Detroit had virtually identical splits last year! So any hope at concluding ‘structure your team like Detroit’ was out the window. *

* Of course you want a team like Detroit. But a team that plays offense, defense and goalkeeping in relative proportion to Detroit will be inferior to Detroit if constructed with inferior players. Hi Atlanta!

 

So I started looking at each year and each subcomponent of offensive, defensive and goalkeeping contributions to see if I could find any truths. Using a three year sample size leaves me putting forth a few insights that probably don’t hold up to history, but I won’t let that keep me from charging ahead!

The rest of this post is going to look at the following for 2007-2009:

  • Average performance of playoff and non-playoff team
  • Performance of the elite teams (San Jose and Detroit)
  • Performance of the contenders (Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary)
  • Performance of the barely playoff bound (St. Louis, Columbus, Anaheim)
  • Performance of the heartbreak kids (Minnesota, Nashville, Edmonton, Dallas)
  • Performance of the scratch golfers (LA Kings, Phoenix, Colorado)

Average performance of playoff and non-playoff teams 

The following chart takes Ryder’s Player Contribution analysis by team and pulls some averages. Again, Ryder breaks out each team’s records (in terms of points) and allocates it to individual players. He multiplies by a factor of 10 for ease of digestion at the player level. So Detroit having 1,120 PC equals a 112 point season.

0809 avg

 0708 avg

0607 avg

EH= even strength play, PP = power play, P Draw = drawing penalties, SH = short handed, S Out= shoot out, PK = penalty killing, P Take = taking penalties, Game= goalie’s contribution during the game and overtime

Ignoring some rounding issues, on average a team’s performance is 40% offensive, 43% defensive and 17% goaltending. I don’t have a sense of the reasonableness of the numbers but I would guess that in the scoring 80’s the split was more heavily towards the offense and in the pre-lockout trap days it swayed a bit more to the defensive end of things.

Also interesting is that goaltending wasn’t really a big factor between the haves and have nots other than 2006-2007. That was the year where the average playoff team had 106 points and the average non-playoff team had 76 points. So I don’t think we can conclude that goaltending is unimportant, rather that a bad team with bad goaltending very quickly sinks to the bottom of the conference. A team with super hot goaltending might just sneak into the dance (as Florida almost did last year). Groundbreaking work, I know!

So what can we cancel out? Drawing penalties, short handed offense, penalty taking and power play defense don’t matter much. I’m a bit surprised penalties has such a small variance as drawing a penalty puts a team on a power play which should have a 15-23% chance of a goal. For penalty drawing, the PC difference between the best and worst penalty drawing team was 30 (3 points in the standing) over the past 3 years. It is about a 40 PC spread on penalty taking over the best and worst over the past 3 years. I suspect a team’s ability to draw penalties and stay out of the box falls out of their EH play, so I’ll leave these items in the bucket of less important attributes for a team to focus on. Certainly a strategy of avoiding penalties or diving isn’t likely to result in significantly improved performance.

I also see that shootout performance doesn’t have much variance amongst the groups. I’m going to refrain from concluding they don’t matter as we’ve seen teams like Dallas and Edmonton have great success in past years which has really helped in the standings. *

 

* Edmonton would have been kicked out of the league in 2007-2008 for being so brutal if it hadn’t been for their 15 or so shootout wins.

The three things that jump out at me in the above tables are power play performance, and offensive and defensive even handed play. Playoff teams gained 2-5 points over the non-playoff teams on average over the three years based on power play performance. Even handed offensive play also counts 4-9 points in a season on average between those in the dance and those on the golf course. Tack onto that another 5-9 points for defensive play even handed we can see how teams separate themselves from one another.

Below I am going to put up the Western Conference standings for the past three years, breaking down performance into the various components of Ryder’s Player Contribution model. 

0809 avgs

0708 by team

0607 by team

The Elite: San Jose and Detroit:

Playoff choking notwithstanding, San Jose has been one of the top teams in the Western Conference the past few years. They get there with a killer power play (8 points up on #3 Chicago on PP alone), strong defense and strong goaltending. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this year with the addition of Heatley, who is, let’s just say, a one-dimensional player who deserves what he gets as long as what he is getting is bad.

Detroit amazes me that they bring such offensive power with great defensive team play. They do this to the point that their goalkeeping is almost inconsequential (2nd lowest contribution in the conference). Osgood, the player that some crazies want on Team Canada for the Olympics scored a zero. A zero! That is to say that Detroit could have played just about anyone in net and still been a great team, at least in the regular season. He’s going to have to do more for Detroit if they are going to survive all the early season injuries.

The Contenders: Chicago, Vancouver and Calgary

It kills me to rate Calgary highly on any kind of scale except the scale for bile inducement, but this is a good team. While they have very good goaltending, they don’t have Roberto Luongo. The fact that both teams have the same defensive contribution means that we are comparing Luongo and Kipper apples to apples. And Luongo stops more apples to the tune of 8 more points for his team.

Where Calgary appears to excel is with EH play, especially on the offensive side of the coin. If they could play a little better on the power play and get a bit more out of Kipper this year it would seem the experts who pick them to go a long ways in the playoffs could be right.

Vancouver on the other hand appears to have gotten just about everything out of their team last year other than some players who could score in the shootout. That said, Luongo and crew had a goalie PC of 294 back in 2007 when they put up 105 points so they may have more to give this year. There is something to be said for paying top dollar for a top goalie. If your goalie is worth 15-25% of your team’s points, why wouldn’t you make sure you had goaltending? I know who I want starting for Team Canada this February.

Which brings us to Chicago. Chicago is a great example of a young team coming into their own. They’ve actually had pretty consistent goaltending over the past three years but their offensive and defensive contribution has soared. It almost seems to me though that they are going to have to go the Detroit route and hope that excellent play at both ends of the rink covers mediocre goalkeeping. There are simply too many great players needing to get paid. I wish Edmonton had this problem!

The Barely Playoff Bound: St. Louis, Columbus and Anaheim

I had really hoped that I was going to find conclusive evidence on what happened to St. Louis and Columbus that got them over the hump. I’d then take that advice and try to apply it to the Oilers. Overall it seems like St. Louis used some smoke and mirrors to get in, while Columbus might just be the real deal.

St. Louis made a big jump from 14th in the conference to 6th last year. Their EH offensive play was actually less of a factor last year. One big thing for the Saskatoon Blues* was their power play, adding an extra 8 points to their record. On the defensive side of the ice, they added another 8 points or so with more solid play on the back end.

* For those too young, the Blues were a mere heartbeat from moving to Saskatoon in 1983. I remember seeing merchandise in stores back then. Wish I had bought a cap! http://www.stlouisgametime.com/2009/4/5/823172/the-saskatoon-blues-the-story

Intuitively we all know the Columbus story: Steve Mason. The stats support this, showing an additional 7 points being attributable to their goaltending. Beyond that, it seems like Hitch has them playing responsibly at both ends of the ice. Interesting to note that they had close to no contribution from their PP (20PC vs. league average of 96). If they can figure out how to score on the PP they seem like they have a real chance to be this year’s version of Chicago.

Anaheim was a team that surprised me. I had always assumed this was a great defensive team. The numbers would suggest that in 07 and 08 they benefited from unbelievable goaltending. Giguere wasn’t jiggy with it last year and the result was a tight squeeze into the playoffs thanks in large part to Hiller. I really don’t know what to make of the Ducks going forward. They might go to Disneyland, but odds are they’ll have to pay the entry fee to get in.

The Heartbreak Kids: Minnesota, Nashville, Dallas, Edmonton

As many have noted, who knows what to expect out of Minnesota this year. A new coach and a new scheme leave me scratching my head. We know they have great goaltending and we know that the players seemed to be tuning out Lemaire which is evidenced by a real reduction in EH play at both ends of the rink last year. Given this was a team that historically made the playoffs due in large part to high quality positional play, I’ve got to think they’ll stink if they try playing any other style.

Nashville is the team I love to hate. Or at least the team to be jealous of. How can a team that seems so crappy with lousy fans always find themselves in the hunt? The answer is a nice blend of offense and defense, coupled with really good goaltending. The story last year was that the offense went to sleep. When JP Dumont and Joel Ward are your 2nd and 3rd best forwards you might be in trouble. Combine that with the most competitive division in the west (huh?) and you have a recipe for a night at the Ole Opry come playoff time.

Speaking of teams I don’t like, Dallas rounds out this group. Sadly I can’t write them off for this year. The stats suggest that they missed the playoffs last year because their power play smelled bad and because the goaltending wasn’t up to grade.

Ahh Edmonton, my Edmonton. I’m going to do a full post on these guys next time to try to more precisely quantify what they need, what they now have and how it might all play out for us this year. They went from a team with no offense in 2007 to one of the worst defensive teams in 08 and 09, including the worst penalty killing team last year. They were a full 70PC below the 2nd worst defensive contribution in the league. Those 7 points could have been the difference between being in or out of the playoffs. That’s probably too simplistic a statement as Roli the goalie had the second highest PC in the Western Conference behind the Canucks. As the PC of the defense goes up, the PC of the goalie typically will go down as the shot quality and quantity decrease. If Edmonton is going to make the playoffs this year they are also going to need to also step it up in the offensive zone.

The Scratch Golfers: LA Kings, Phoenix and Colorado

How crazy was it to see Colorado fall off of the earth last year after so many great years? The story for them last year was really simple. They had no offense and no goaltending. They may now have their goaltender in Craig Anderson, who teamed up for a PC of 410 for Florida last year. That is a full 130 about Vancouver and 245 above the 09 Western Conference average! Part of that is really bad defense, but you have to be really good to put up those numbers. Add to the puzzle a lot of young guys and you have a team that might be on the cusp this year and back in there next year.

Which brings us to my new favourite team, Los Angeles! In addition to Stolly and Matt Greene, Hollywood now has Ryan Smyth in the fold. If you’ve never seen Smitty play in person, do it! No one works harder, gets on more pucks and creates chances to score. Add to that a really good young goalie, maturing defense and a few snipers and we have another candidate to make the jump to the playoffs this year.

Bringing up the rear are the Coyotes, whom I’ll have the pleasure of watching with 1,500 other fans in November when I’m down in the desert. They are a solid defensive bunch but have no scoring and no goaltending. Maybe Tippett pulls a rabbit out of the hat, but the rabbit is going to provide prime tee times and that is about it.

To the end we go:

That about wraps up my digging through the Western Conference. I think I’m going to skip the Eastern Conference for now and move onto the Oilers, taking a more in depth look at how they might shore up their defensive play and other weaknesses.

In terms of the numbers themselves, I take away the following:

  • Ryder’s PC figures really do support what I thought about each team in terms of the allocation of performance to offense, defense and goaltending. This gives me some confidence to push ahead with his numbers in future posts.
  • There is a solid 9-24 point spread between playoff and non-playoff teams due to relative performance even handed and on the power play. To get into the dance, a team probably needs to address 2 of these 3 items. In my opinion, power play is the easiest, followed by defensive play.
  • The power play is a big swing vote in terms of team performance. If you have a good power play, odds are you are in the playoffs. If it is great, odds are you have home ice advantage.
  • To be a consistent playoff team, at least 40% of your PC needs to come from the offensive side of the game. A team might sneak in because of outstanding goaltending, but that isn’t a team built to last.

To wrap up I thought it would be fun to make some predictions. I warn that these predictions are not statistically supportable and guaranteed to be wrong. Here’s the class of 2010:

  1. San Jose
  2. Chicago
  3. Calgary
  4. Detroit
  5. Columbus
  6. Vancouver
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Edmonton
  9. Anaheim
  10. Nashville
  11. Dallas
  12. St. Louis
  13. Minnesota
  14. Colorado
  15. Phoenix
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “NHL Situational Performance- Western Conference Edition

  1. Yeah, Osgood is $1.4MM and Howard is $0.7MM. It’s the perfect setup in Detroit. Great drafting so they always seem to have 2-4 new guys each year play well on the cheap. A stable on RFA type guys that opt to resign, plus the ability to sign free agents because players have a legitimate chance to win the cup.

    Makes me wonder about Vancouver who folks say are playing Moneypuck. I question whether or not they’ll be just like the A’s: make the playoffs but not good enough to go all the way. I think they are missing the ‘great drafting’ end of things and Gillis is too focused on pieces through free agency.

  2. Hockey Noob

    If we’re both right and it is Holland, then that pretty much explains Osgood–both in terms of why he factors so little into their wins as your analysis suggest, but also in terms of why they have him. He does have what like a $1.4 million dollar cap hit only.

  3. That definitely sounds like Holland. Wish someone would write a book on what they’ve done over the past decade. Would be a great read.

  4. Hockey Noob

    Overall, I can appreciate that it must have been a time-consuming endeavor to go through this analysis. Great post!

    Though I can’t remember who actually said it, I read an interesting quote some time over the past month. I think that it was Ken Holland though… The point of the quote was something along the lines of if you have a chance to get a top 5 goalie in the league, you take it! However, the 6-15 goalies generally cost more than they’re actually worth in terms of value to the team.

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