Friday, August 29, 2008

The Meszaros Offer Sheet

Yesterday Adam Proteau of The Hockey News reported that Andrej Meszaros has agreed to an offer sheet with an undisclosed NHL team. Meszaros is an Ottawa Senator defenceman who has been unable to come to terms with the Sens this summer. He is a restricted free agent. So far, we have no confirmation of this story on the traditional hockey news sites such as or In fact, we have denials that any offer sheet is done yet.

It appears that the Tampa Bay Lightning are the team interested in Meszaros and they agreed to terms with him on an offer sheet in excess of $5 million per year. Tampa has a rather weak group of defencemen, with Matt Carle, Filip Kuba, Shane O'Brien and Paul Ranger likely making up their top four. Such a move would make sense, except that it is not allowed. The compensation for signing a player with a salary in the ballpark Meszaros would get is the first, second and third round draft picks of the Lightning in 2009. The problem is Tampa Bay no longer has their third round draft pick. They traded it to Pittsburgh in order to gain negotiating rights with Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts. In order to make this deal, Tampa must somehow re-acquire that pick. Given the fact that they need the Lightning pick so badly, Pittsburgh may not let it go at a reasonable price. Further, Ottawa may make an offer for the pick to prevent the deal.

It appears that new Tampa owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie were either caught unaware of the rule or disregarded it. If they sign Meszaros how much can the NHL do to prevent the move? It is possible that this case could wind up in arbitration. It is a bit ridiculous that a restricted free agent signing can be prevented solely because of a seemingly unrelated third round draft pick. These kinds of complications from a CBA should not exist.

This Tampa Bay offer sheet would make both the Proteau report and the denials correct. Tampa would have agreed to an offer sheet with Meszaros, but no offer sheet is on file with the NHL because Tampa is prevented from such a move since they lack a third round draft pick. Tampa Bay has maverick new owners who are trying to play by their own rules, but the NHL won't let them neglect the rules of the league. I think we will see further conflict develop as a result of this situation.

NOTE: We have a resolution to this situation as Tampa Bay has traded for Meszaros. They sent Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and the first round draft pick they obtained from San Jose in the Dan Boyle trade. Tampa then signed Meszaros to a six year contract. Here is the TSN story on the trade.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ted Saskin Testifies For The NHL

Much of the history of the NHLPA is a history of NHLPA bosses who enjoyed too close a relationship with the NHL bosses and thus compromised the integrity of the Player's Association. Alan Eagleson and John Ziegler were essentially golfing buddies who would agree upon future NHL bargaining agreements that suited the owners. The 2005 lockout looked like a break from this pattern. Bob Goodenow was in charge of the NHLPA and he would fight for the players. That didn't last. Bob Goodenow was forced out and Ted Saskin brought in to lead the NHLPA. Saskin promptly caved to NHL demands and accepted the salary cap that the owners were looking for. This was an ownership win. It may not be a total loss for the players because salaries have been able to grow as NHL revenues grew (at least so far), but it immediately added value to all NHL franchises as they had cost certainty. It was an even bigger license to print money in the strong NHL markets than they had before. So far, it has kept alive all of the weak markets as well and limited their losses.

Eventually, Ted Saskin left the NHLPA in disgrace and the union was weaker than it had been in years. In order to maintain some appearance that Saskin attempted to do his job well and was not an owner stooge, you would think he would stay away from testifying on the side of the NHL in any dispute. Ted Saskin, however, will not take that advice.

There is an arbitration hearing to clarify a CBA related issue regarding Europeans. When the newest CBA was adopted, a rule was changed from the past to give teams two years to sign any Europeans they had drafted before they would lose their right and the player could re-enter the draft. In the past, a team held a player who stayed in Europe's right indefinitely. Several complex CBA provisions existed because of this (for example the defected player rules that affect Jonas Frogren). This would bring European players onto similar terms as North American players, who have two years from their draft (or the point when they leave college) to be signed. At the time, nobody was imagining the complication of a lack of a transfer agreement. That would make it very hard to bring Europeans over within the two year window.

This has direct consequence to the case of Alexei Cherepanov who was drafted in the first round by the New York Rangers in 2007. So far they have not been able to sign him and with a lack of a transfer agreement, it is very possible that he will remain unsigned by the Rangers and re-enter the draft. For this loss, the Rangers will receive the 17th pick in the second round of the 2009 draft (as Cherepanov was the 17th pick in the first round).

Ted Saskin will argue the NHL's position that two years means two years and no transfer agreement doesn't affect that, even if it is an unexpected situation when the CBA was agreed upon. In testifying on behalf of the NHL about a year and a half after being fired as NHLPA head, Saskin further hurts his legacy and further brings up questions about how much the NHL controlled him and how he was not looking out for the player's best interests.

Here is Larry Brooks with his version of the story.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Why You Can't Build Through Free Agency

In late June, I gave an All Star Team of players who were slated to be unrestricted free agents. Of the 23 players on the team, 20 have signed with teams in the NHL. Jaromir Jagr signed in the KHL and Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin seem likely to take sabbaticals for the first part of the season. Here is the team and who they signed with, along with their salary cap hits.

Sean Avery Dallas Stars $3.875 million
Pavol Demitra Vancouver Canucks $4 million
Sergei Fedorov Washington Capitals $4 million
Marian Hossa Detroit Red Wings $7.45 million
Kristian Huselius Columbus Blue Jackets $4.75 million
Jaromir Jagr left the NHL
Ryan Malone Tampa Bay Lightning $5.25 million
Markus Naslund New York Rangers $4 million
Brian Rolston New Jersey Devils $5.062 million
Joe Sakic unsigned
Cory Stillman Florida Panthers $3.533333 million
Mats Sundin unsigned
Radim Vrbata Tampa Bay Lightning $3 million
Jason Williams Atlanta Thrashers $2.2 million

Brian Campbell Chicago Blackhawks $7.1 million
Adam Foote Colorado Avalanche $3 million
Brooks Orpik Pittsburgh Penguins $3.75 million
Wade Redden New York Rangers $6.5 million
Michal Rozsival New York Rangers $5 million
Mark Streit New York Islanders $4.1 million
Brad Stuart Detroit Red Wings $3.75 million

Cristobal Huet Chicago Blackhawks $5.625 million
Jose Theodore Washington Capitals $4.5 million

All told twenty players on this team signed for a salary cap hit of $90,445,333. Given that the salary cap this season is $56.7 million, no team could have this roster. They could have at most about half of it with the rest of their roster filled with cheap, near minimum wage players. Given that this team is not a serious Stanley Cup contender even with its $90 + payroll that would be a recipe for disaster.

You cannot build a team through free agency, in part, because it's too expensive. You need players on your roster who out produce their contracts and there are very few candidates to do that this season on this roster. You also cannot build a team through free agency because, for the most part, these are older players who are locked up in multi-year contracts that will keep them throughout the decline phase of their careers. Not only is it a poor strategy for that reason. It is an impossible strategy due to economics.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gathering 5 on 5 Data From The NHL

I am attempting a rather large sabermetrics and hockey project where I attempt a novel method top look at +/- ratings. In order to do this, I need to know the amount of icetime players have with and against each other in 5 on 5 situations. Parsing this information from NHL boxscores is a non-trivial task. I found this tool to do it. It is a greasemonkey script that runs with Mozilla Firefox. The website about it is run by Vic Ferrari from the blog Irreverent Oiler Fans.

So far, I have found that the tool does the job well. There is one game (so far) the October 4th Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild game that it cannot run through to completion. I have not yet figured out why. The rest of the first quarter or so of games this season run correctly.

Produced by this tool are files that give the amount of 5 on 5 icetime all the players in the game played with their teammates and opponents. In principle one could expand the script to do this for power play and shorthanded time or to gather other events (have you ever wondered if there is a particular defenceman that Alexander Ovechkin scores more goals against than any other?).

I want to thank Vic Ferrari for providing such a useful tool for public use and to point it out to anyone else who might be interested in using it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Top 50 Player List

Since The Hockey News Top 50 player list is out, here is my top 50 player list. I am posting it in the same format I did last year. I will list all the players, but only include comments on the top 10 players and on any players who made my list but were excluded from The Hockey News List.

1. Alexander Ovechkin He was the top scorer last year (both in total points and in points per game). He scored significantly more goals than his biggest rival for this number one position (Sidney Crosby) and is a much better physical player. He does all this while playing on a weaker team.

2. Sidney Crosby Crosby is clearly a good player and not far off from number one, but I think the main reason he is number one on The Hockey News list is that he is Canadian and Ovechkin is Russian. Ovechkin is a better player.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom He was the best player in the NHL last season, but due to his age (38) and the fact Ovechkin will be 23 by next season and Crosby is 21, it is likely they have some more upside and Lidstrom may start to slow down, though he showed no signs of that last year.

4. Evgeni Malkin He put up a strong case for MVP last year. It was not as good a case as Ovechkin or Lidstrom, but it had merit. In only his third season in the NHL, he is clearly a player on the rise.

5. Martin Brodeur He is by far the best goalie in the NHL, having won four of the last five Vezina Trophies. Since he is 36 years old it is reasonable to wonder when he enters his decline phase of his career. He has shown no signs of it yet.

6. Pavel Datsyuk The NHL's Lady Byng winner for the last three years, +/- leader and Selke Trophy winner last season. I think he is Detroit's best forward. The fact he regularly outscores Henrik Zetterberg and has better defensive credentials makes that point hard to question, despite the fact Zetterberg was ranked ahead of him by The Hockey News.

7. Jarome Iginla The third nominee for the Hart Trophy last year. Though it was an undeserved nomination, he is a top player. Third highest scorer in the NHL last season.

8. Joe Thornton He was the 2006 Hart Trophy winner and is consistently one of the top scorers in the NHL. The Hockey News was too hard on him due to perceived playoff failures.

9. Vincent LeCavalier Another outstanding scorer. One can only imagine how many more points he might be able to get if he was surrounded by better teammates.

10. Roberto Luongo The heir apparent to Martin Brodeur, except that he has been unable to surpass him with a Vezina Trophy win. Maybe this could be the season, but it might be hard given the fact his Vancouver Canuck team does not look playoff bound.

11. Henrik Zetterberg
12. Dany Heatley
13. Ilya Kovalchuk
14. Chris Pronger
15. Scott Niedermayer
16. Daniel Alfredsson
17. Zdeno Chara
18. Marian Gaborik
19. Marian Hossa
20. Dion Phaneuf
21. Jason Spezza
22. Henrik Lundqvist
23. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
24. Sergei Zubov
He is a forgotten defenceman on The Hockey News list, who was well on his way to a Norris Trophy nomination before injuries slowed him down last season.

25. Sergei Gonchar
26. Tomas Vokoun
Playing in Florida has made him a forgotten man, but his .919 saves percentage was very impressive, especially given the many high quality shots he faced behind the porous Panther defence.

27. Eric Staal
28. Martin St Louis
29. Miikka Kiprusoff
30. Jay Bouwmeester
A very talented defenceman who is forgotten in Florida. He led the NHL in ice time. With his great skating ability, he is one of the better defenceman in the game.

31. Tomas Kaberle Toronto's defence did not have a very good year in 2007/08, but it was not his fault. Kaberle is consistently one of the best defenders in the game.

32. Ryan Getzlaf
33. Paul Stastny
34. Evgeni Nabokov
35. Andrei Markov
36. Rick Nash
37. Brian Rafalski
38. Rick DiPietro
DiPietro is a forgotten man in goal for the weak Islanders. He is the star of their team and of the key reasons they have not been in the race for last overall.

39. Marc Savard
40. Brenden Morrow
41. Olli Jokinen
A solid offensive player who will give the Phoenix Coyotes a big boost next season. He will be missed in Florida

42. Anze Kopitar
43. Wade Redden
If he can put up 38 points from defence with a +11 +/- rating in a year where most people sway he did poorly, that proves he is a good player. I think he will be a big boost to the New York Ranger defence.

44. Marty Turco
45. Brian Campbell
His 62 points made him third among defencemen last year and the Hockey News omitted him. He may not be the strongest in his own zone, but he is solid enough that with this offence he deserves a spot.

46. Alexei Kovalev The 11th highest scorer in the league last season and top scorer in the league on the power play. I think that is enough to make the top 50.

47. Shawn Horcoff He (and not Ales Hemsky) is the best player on the Edmonton Oilers. They both score at about the same rate per game, but Horcoff is better defensively and better physically.

48. Jason Arnott He was the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators last year. He tied for the team lead with 72 points and led the team with a +19 +/-. He has physical ability and is defensively valued.

49. Ed Jovanovski Many people think his best days are gone, but he tied Zdeno Chara with 51 points from defence. He is still producing and still in his prime. Maybe it is his Phoenix location that prevents his being noticed more often.

50. Nicklas Backstrom This is the Washington forward and not the Minnesota goalie (who spells his first name Niklas). Backstrom should have been the rookie of the year. He scores about as well as Patrick Kane and has far more defensive value.

Thirteen players made The Hockey News list who did not make my list. They are Zach Parise, Ales Hemsky, Vesa Toskala, Joe Sakic, Scott Gomez, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Toews, Daniel Sedin, Daniel Briere, Shane Doan, Derek Roy, Mike Richards and Patrick Kane. I gave reasons against their inclusion when discussing The Hockey News list. Had it been clear that they were going to play the entire season and not be on sabbatical Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin would have made this list.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hockey News Top 50

The Hockey News annual top 50 players list has been released and can be found here. These are my comments on each player in the rankings.

1. Sidney Crosby (1st last year). The question of whether to rank Crosby or Ovechkin first is one that leads to debate. Ovechkin stayed healthy last year and outscored Crosby (in total points and points per game). Ovechkin scored significantly more goals - which correlates with winning better than assists. He did so with lesser teammates. There is little defensive edge, although Ovechkin plays the more physical game. But Crosby is Canadian and the magazine is marketed to Canada and not Russia, so it's a more popular pick to give Crosby number one.

2. Alexander Ovechkin (2nd last year). I think he should be number one, though it is close enough that this ordering can also be defended. Maybe they will settle the battle in 2008/09 and give us a definitive number one, but its very possible this debate could rage for a few years.

3. Henrik Zetterberg (up from 25th). One would think that a player would have needed an MVP nomination in order to climb this fast. Zetterberg did not have that. Sure he was the Conn Smythe winner, but he was sixth in scoring in the NHL (his highest finish ever) and that is not enough to justify this big a climb.

4. Pavel Datsyuk (up from 36th). Another huge climb. His 3rd Lady Byng and a Selke Trophy to go with a Stanley Cup win pushed him up the list. He was 4th in scoring in the NHL as well. Although I don't see him quite this high, I do see him ahead of Zetterberg.

5. Vincent LeCavalier (up from 7th). He posted a very good year on a very bad team. I would argue that again this is a bit high since LeCavalier has never been a Hart nominee in his life.

6. Nicklas Lidstrom (down from 4th). He deserved the MVP but was not even nominated. He won the Norris Trophy in convincing fashion. Yet, he drops on this list. That doesn't make much sense. I would have rated him the best Red Wing and third behind Ovechkin and Crosby, but apparently the Hockey News disagrees.

7. Roberto Luongo (down from 3rd). Since he wasn't a Vezina nominee it is hard to justify his rating as the best goalie in the NHL. That said, he probably would have been one had the Vancouver Canucks made the playoffs (Luongo is the main reason they came as close as they did). It's possible the Canucks would have made the playoffs were it not for Luongo's wife going through a tough pregnancy, which somewhat removed his mind from the race at the end of the season when it counted most. Luongo has been seen as the heir apparent to Brodeur as the best goalie in the league for a few years now, but Brodeur keeps topping him. Unless that changes, Brodeur should continue to be ranked ahead of him.

8. Jarome Iginla (down from 6th). He is a Hart Trophy nominee and dropped on this list. That is hard to reconcile. Although, one might argue he was ranked too high last year and didn't deserve his nomination (Lidstrom did).

9. Evgeni Malkin (up from 44th). A huge climb for a Hart nominee. I think he should have climbed even further. I would rank him ahead of several of the names he is behind.

10. Dany Heatley (down from 9th). While Ottawa may have failed last year, Heatley but up a very good points per game (missing 11 games drops him a bit in the overall scoring race) and a very good +/- rating. This rating is about right.

11. Chris Pronger (down from 5th). A late season stomping suspension eliminated him from the Norris race, but he is clearly a top defenceman in the NHL. Hard to argue with this ranking.

12. Daniel Alfredsson (up from 21st). Another player who put up a very good season, despite his team failing. I am surprised he was not ranked higher last year.

13. Marian Gaborik (up from 16th). It's hard to know how good offensively he could be if he was in less of a defensive system. We may find out if he leaves as a UFA. He can do better than point per game in Minnesota and that is impressive. Hard to fault this ranking.

14. Henrik Lundqvist (up from 43rd). A huge jump like this implies he had a huge Vezina type season. He didn't. Sure he was nominated (for the third time in a row!), but nobody seriously thought he could win it. It wasn't close. Brodeur was well ahead of him (and Nabokov too in the final voting). Strangely Lundqvist is ahead of both of them.

15. Brenden Morrow (debut). This is an extremely high debut. Morrow did put up his career best season, scoring 74 points. That is below a point per game. Even with Morrow's defence and physical abilities taken into account, this ranking is ridiculously high.

16. Evgeni Nabokov (debut). He was a first team all star goalie and an almost Vezina winner, though it is largely due to over valuing of is win total. Nabokov is a good goalie, but not this good. He is yet another goalie ranked ahead of Martin Brodeur.

17. Marian Hossa (up from 19th). He failed to score a point per game for the first time since 2002, but he finally had that big playoff everyone hoped he could get. That moves him up the list marginally.

18. Ilya Kovalchuk (up 48th). Kovalchuk was ranked ridiculously low last season. He and Hossa were teammates for much of the season in Atlanta and Kovalchuk was the better of the two. Kovalchuk's 52 goals were second in the NHL. Being in Atlanta he didn't get the exposure and didn't get a playoff run, so he is rated below where he should be.

19. Eric Staal (down from 18th). Staal had a good year putting up 82 points, but when he scored 100 and was part of a Stanley Cup win in Carolina in 2006 didn't you expect he'd be further along by now? He's only 23 and the best is probably yet to come, but I think this ranking is a bit high.

20. Zdeno Chara (up from 39th). Last year's ranking was lower than it should have been. This year is more reasonable. Chara is one of the defenders who might win the Norris Trophy next year, should Lidstrom fail.

21. Joe Thornton (down from 8th). He is two years removed from the Hart Trophy and scored 96 points last year. The drop in his ranking is wrong. San Jose may not have had the playoff success we had hoped for, but Thornton is a top 10 player.

22. Dion Phaneuf (down from 17th). A Norris nominee and he drops in the rankings? I think that shows he was rankled too high last season. Phaneuf is one of the best defenders in the game. This ranking seems about right.

23. Martin Brodeur (down from 10th). I have no idea why he dropped in the rankings despite winning the Vezina. I have no idea why there are goalies rated ahead of Brodeur. This ranking makes little sense to me.

24. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (up from 33rd). He had a season worthy of a Vezina nomination (which he didn't receive). I think the reason for his rise in the rankings was that Anaheim's goaltending situation was unclear with he and Ilya Bryzgalov in the mix. Now that Bryzgalov is in Phoenix, Giguere is the clear number one. This ranking is about right, but it looks bad that he is ranked almost the same as Martin Brodeur, when Brodeur is the better of the two.

25. Martin St Louis (down from 15th). A reasonable ranking for a good player on a bad team. I think St Louis could have had a Hall of Fame career if he had to do things over again. It took him a long time to be given a serious NHL chance (he was 27 when he first got a regular first line shift). When he won the Hart Trophy, the league promptly shut down for a season killing any momentum and now he finds himself stuck on a last place team.

26. Scott Niedermayer (debut). He was not ranked last year due to his sabbatical. I would rank him higher than 26th. Niedermayer's return was one of the reasons the Ducks season turned around last year. I think it's possible he could win another Norris Trophy this year should Lidstrom not run away with it.

27. Brian Rafalski (debut). He was last year's best free agent signing and a bit overlooked at the time. A Stanley Cup in Detroit goes a long way to make it look like he had an improved season, but his 55 points matched his total in 2006/07 with New Jersey.

28. Sergei Gonchar (up from 42). Last year, Gonchar began to shed his reputation as an offensive defenceman who is a bit lacking in his own zone. He played very well defensively. This ranking is about right. He has an outside shot at a Norris Trophy in the future.

29. Marty Turco (down from 23). Turco is a good goalie worthy of a top 50 position, but not one this high in the list. Despite a good defence in Dallas keeps his numbers looking good, he put up a .909 saves percentage last year, which isn't among the league leaders.

30. Ryan Getzlaf (debut). Getzlaf had 82 points and a very good +/- rating last year. He took over as Anaheim's top offensive weapon when Teemu Selanne was away for most of the season. This ranking is about right.

31. Andrei Markov (debut). Markov had a good year and was a key to Montreal's league leading power play. I think this ranking is about right.

32. Zach Parise (up from 45th). I don't see what makes Parise a top 50 player. He scored a career best 65 points last year. There are other 65 point men who did not make this list at all.

33. Ales Hemsky (debut). Hemsky is the most dazzling member of the Edmonton Oilers to watch and that is why he is ranked here. I think Shawn Horcoff is actually their best player, but he makes less highlight reel plays. That is why I think Hemsky does not deserve this ranking.

34. Jason Spezza (down from 24th). Spezza was the 8th highest scorer in the NHL last year. His drop is not due to anything that happened on the ice. The Ottawa Senators fell apart in the stretch and he was one of the player's blamed for his off ice activities. I think if he produces on the ice he shouldn't drop in the rankings. I think his drop reflects a team failure and not a personal one.

35. Vesa Toskala (debut). This seems to be a token ranking to keep Toronto fans happy. Vesa Toskala is a pretty good goalie, and one of their few players with significant value, but he doesn't belong on this list.

36. Rick Nash (up from 37th). Nash has all the tools to be an NHL superstar. He tied for the goal scoring lead in 2003/04. His 2007/08 season's 69 points was a career best, yet he seems capable of so much more. Nash has never been among the top point scorers in the NHL and I think he has the ability to do that. Nevertheless, this ranking is about right. On talent alone, Nash should be well ahead of this point.

37. Joe Sakic (down from 12th). It seems Sakic is going to take a sabbatical this season. As such, I wouldn't rank him in the top 50 at all. A full year of Sakic may deserve this ranking, but the partial year that Colorado will likely get doesn't.

38. Scott Gomez (up from 41st). Gomez makes this list for being the likely top scorer on the Rangers in the upcoming season. He doesn't score enough goals to deserve his position. Gomez's 16 goals last year is actually the third best of his career.

39. Ryan Miller (down from 20th). Miller played a lot of games in Buffalo and thus had a decent win total. Even though they were a non-playoff team, Buffalo played a good defensive system and kept the goals and quality shots down. Nevertheless, Miller only managed a .906 saves percentage, which means this ranking is higher than it should be.

40. Jonathan Toews (debut). Toews had a good rookie season scoring 54 points in 64 games, but I would like to see more than that before ranking him this high. Let's seem if he can play a full season on Chicago's number one line with defences trying to shut him down before he earns this ranking.

41. Daniel Sedin (down from 32nd). I find it interesting that Daniel Sedin has made this list two years running and Henrik hasn't. Daniel is the better goal scorer, so it is the right choice, but it is hard to separate the two in my mind. I don't see either of them as top 50 talents, they are a little back of that.

42. Daniel Briere (down from 27th). Briere is the softest scorer in the NHL today. His -22 +/- rating on a playoff team in Philadelphia last year is troubling. He can score and he does well on the power play, but defensively he is very susceptible to being pushed off the puck and not making an impact on the play. I would not rank him this high.

43. Anze Kopitar (debut). He is the future of the Los Angeles Kings. The best player of a bad bunch. This ranking is about right.

44. Miikka Kiprusoff (down from 13th). He put up a relatively poor .906 saves percentage which held back the Calgary Flames last year, but he is two years removed from a Vezina Trophy and one year removed from a nomination. Although I have been down on players with relatively low saves percentages ranked ahead of Kiprusoff (Turco and Miller), Kiprusoff has a more successful recent track record and I think should bounce back and give Calgary a top season. I would rank him higher than this.

45. Paul Stastny (debut). He is a better than point per game player with 71 points in 66 games last year and a team leading +22 +/- rating. He is a better player than this ranking shows. I think Colorado will do better than most people expect when Joe Sakic is not around because Stastny will pick up the slack.

46. Shane Doan (debut). He had a career best 78 points last year and is a very defensively responsible forward, but I don't think 78 points is a reasonable expectation. He has scored 49-68 points consistently each year since 1999/2000 and those numbers are more reasonable. Without the almost point per game scoring, I don't think he belongs and I don't believe he can do that reliably.

47. Derek Roy (debut). He has a remarkable goals for average last year and scored at better than a point per game, but as a small player he has defensive problems and I would hesitate to rank him this high.

48. Marc Savard (debut). He has scored at a better than point per game rate for the last four years running. His 78 points in 74 games was actually a low for the post-lockout period. Savard has been treated poorly by the Hockey News rankings for a few years. He should be ranked ahead of this point and should not be debuting on the list.

49. Mike Richards (debut) He had a very good season last year, with better than a point per game and a good defensive performance. It was a breakout performance. His previous best was 34 points. I would like to see him repeat last season before giving him a top 50 position, but he is not too far from deserving this position.

50. Patrick Kane (debut). The rookie of the year, though I would have picked Nicklas Backstrom. I'm not convinced he is quite top 50 material yet. Kane's defence is a concern. He is another small forward who can easily get pushed off the puck. He may be exploitable now that he is a key part of the Chicago offence and teams will concentrate on him more. I would like to give him another season before giving him a top 50 ranking.

Here is last season's rankings and my rankings from last season.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Proposed New Method To Look At +/- Ratings

I have looked at the hockey sabermetrics problem of adjusting +/- ratings this summer. I have shown two methods to do this. One as a rate stat and one as a counting stat. It is clear that there is a lot of information in +/- ratings, but the interpretation of getting it out in a meaningful way is non-trivial.

One way to look at the problem, which to my knowledge nobody has done, is to calculate a player's goals for average and goals against average, while simultaneously calculating the time averaged goals for and against averages of the players on the ice who play against the player. In this way, it is possible to remove the issue of quality of opposition. Each player will have a GFA and a GAA as well as an opposition averaged GFA and GAA. An offensive and defensive +/- rating can then be calculated as the difference between a given player's GFA (or GAA) and that of his opposition.

The statistics exist to do this, but it is a non-trivial task to parse all of the gamelogs in order to determine who played against whom. This is a task I have begun and hope to produce results later on this summer. I think it will be a step forward in understanding +/- ratings.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals Against Average

In this summer's sabermetrics and hockey posts, I have been looking at the problem of on and off ice adjusted +/- ratings as set out by Gabriel Desjardins of In order to show that the on/off ice adjustment is an improvement, I have looked at the effect of this adjustment on the offensive goals for average part of +/- ratings and showed that this adjustment appears to make an improvement to the rankings, although it is not a large improvement as offence is a largely individual skill. A better test is to apply this adjustment to the individual goals against averages since defence is a much more team dependent skill. This adjustment will correct for team quality, but not for quality of linemates or quality of opposition, so although it should give a better list of good and bad defensive players (that raw GAAs) it should not be perfect.

Here are the top 10 on/off ice adjusted GAAs among players who played 50 or more games in 2007/08:

Top 10 Individual On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals For Averages 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamGFARank Unadjusted
1David PerronStL+1.4019
2Michel OuelletTB+1.2693
3Andre RoyTB+1.24106
4Riley CotePhi+1.2113
5Daniel CarcilloPhx+1.1015
6James DowdPhi+1.1042
7Mike LundinTB+1.10168
8Andreas KarlssonTB+1.02208
9Doug JanikTB+1.01138
10Kamil KrepsFlo+1.0126

There is no question this adjustment shuffles the order of the players on the list. Nobody from the unadjusted top ten appears on the adjusted one. George Parros, the unadjusted number one, slides back to 14th place to be the highest ranking of the unadjusted top 10 on the adjusted list. It is also clear that this list does not do a good job of identifying players who are defensive stars. It identifies players who played against low quality opposition and did an acceptable job. The list is dominated by Tampa Bay Lightning players (five of the top 10) who did not match up against top opposition. Since Tampa was a poor defensive team, they gain the most in the on/off ice adjustment (as they are compared to teammates who could not prevent goals against top opposition).

The question to ask is has this list been improved by the adjustment? The answer is not so clear. Gone are players on good defensive teams like Anaheim and Detroit and in are players on bad ones like Tampa who did well relative to teammates due to facing poor opposition. If I had to select 10 players for a defensive situation, I would chose the unadjusted group over this one because it contains defensive stars in Travis Moen and Johnny Oduya and no defensive talents of their level are found on this list. Perhaps, James Dowd is the most respected defensive player on the adjusted list. However, this may be a step in the right direction. The problem is that it is clear that quality of opposition is much more important than team adjustments, so this list is not in any meaningful final state. +/- ratings will come out better than this because a player must score as well as have a low GAA to make a top +/- list. This removes some of the players on this list who play against weak opposition and neither score nor allow goals with any frequency. The top two players in David Perron and Michel Ouellet do appear on an on/off adjusted +/- top player list but this is because they can score and thus succeed in their role with their team.

Here are the 10 worst on/off ice adjusted GAAs in 2007/08 among players with 50 or more games played:

Worst 10 Individual On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals For Averages 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamGFARank Unadjusted
1Marcel GocSJ-1.4441
2Vincent LeCavalierTB-1.271
3Alexander SeminWas-1.2419
4Ilya KovalchukAtl-1.212
5Anders ErikssonCal-1.1829
6Maxim AfinogenovBuf-1.1613
7Thomas VanekBuf-1.1315
8Jussi JokinenTB-1.1318
9Phil KesselBos-1.1287
10Martin St LouisTB-1.103

The worst adjusted GAAs are not as shuffled a list from the unadjusted list. The unadjusted list was made up of players on bad teams who face tough opposition. Some of them remain on this list in Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St Louis and Ilya Kovalchuk, but they are adjusted to not appear as bad. Other players with defensive weakness do appear on this list in much higher positions. This includes people like Maxim Afinogenov, Anders Eriksson and Marcel Goc. I believe that this is a list of worse defensive players than the unadjusted list, although it is clearly not a list of the worst defensive players in the NHL. The adjustment worked better at the worst end. This is because these are players who do play against tougher opposition and are not protected from it by their team matching lines.

While it is clear that the on/off ice adjustment does not produce definitive defensive rankings when applied to individual GAAs, it is likely a step in the right direction. Another significant step must be made to adjust for quality of opposition. I think this is a more significant step than the on/off ice adjustment. This little study does show that it is hard to rate defensive play sabermetrically. It shows that more work must be made in this direction.

On/off ice adjusted +/- ratings are a valuable tool to see which players excel and struggle in their roles with their teams. They do a pretty good job of measuring the offensive contribution of a given player and although they are not perfect, they do a better job at rating defensive play than unadjusted +/- ratings. Rating defensive play is hard. Definitive rankings do not exist right now, but I continue to take a look at a few more techniques that people use to try to measure them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Isles Hire A Coach They Can Fire

It's an often stated line that "Coaches are hired to be fired". While this is often true, there are some meaningful exceptions (for example Jacques Lemaire and Barry Trotz have been the only coaches in the histories of their franchises), several coaches are replaced each season. It seems that poorly run teams tend to replace coaches a lot more than the more well run teams and often at poorly chosen times, such as the New York Islanders firing Ted Nolan in mid-July. This left the Islanders without a coach until Scott Gordon was hired yesterday (well into August).

Faux Rumors believe that the plan on Long Island was to make Ted Nolan the fall guy in 2008/09 if things did not go well and given the roster the team will likely have that is a good possibility. The Islanders are a bad team that had looked somewhat respectable due to Ted Nolan's coaching. Adding Mark Streit and Doug Weight as UFAs this summer is not going to do much to improve the Islanders chances and after two years of overachieving under Nolan, a crash was quite likely. Some blame could be deflected from owner Charles Wang and his GM Garth Snow if they fired the coach and made him the fall guy. It doesn't matter if the coach is actually doing a good job and the team gets worse without him. A scapegoat would exist.

Ted Nolan was not so willing to go along with the company line that all was well, when it was clear that he would be fired by the end of the season if the team did not drastically exceed expectations. As a result, Teed Nolan was fired. A coach who would be more easily controlled by GM Garth Snow was needed. After considering retread NHL coaches, the decision was made to hire somebody with no NHL experience. Of course, you need to find a plausible hire with no experience. The candidate chosen was Scott Gordon. Gordon is the reigning AHL coach of the year (since coaches of the year are chosen as coach of the most improved team they are often not the best coach in the league). This makes Gordon a man who is happy to be coaching in the NHL, willing to give it his all and not jaded enough to see that he is the fall guy if the Islanders do not overachieve this season.

Garth Snow got what he wanted in a coach. He has somebody he should be able to control. He has somebody that in a year or two, he should be able to fire. He has somebody he can sell in the short term as a good pick. What more could he want - except for a winning team - which is likely something he is not capable of producing. Snow's best bet for longevity as GM is to find a coach that he can successfully blame for his inept management who will get positive reviews from the media for his hiring. I predict within less than 2 years, Gordon will be fired and the Islanders won't look any more like a playoff team than they do now.

Here is TSN's story on the Islanders new coach.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals For Average

In order to look at the biases of the sabermetric problem of adjusting +/- ratings using the on/off ice method, I thought I would apply it to a simpler problem. That of goals for average (GFA) (namely how many goals are scored per 60 minutes a player plays in 5 on 5 situations). As we have seen, the goals for average leaders are among the best offensive players in hockey and the worst GFA players are rarely significant NHL players. By subtracting the off ice GFA from a player's on ice one we should get a better look at the offence a player brings independent of his team (if there is value to on/off ice adjusted +/- ratings). The potential problem with this line of logic comes from the assumption that both offence and defence benefit from the on/off ice adjustment even though offence is far less team dependant than defence. It is possible that there are few team effects to remove from individual offensive numbers when compared to defensive numbers and thus defensive numbers are the only place where the adjustment makes sense. However, as +/- rating are made up of both offensive and defensive numbers, looking only at the offensive numbers is a simplified system to see that the adjustment provides meaningful results. Let's see what the results look like.

Here are the top ten on/off ice adjusted GFAs among players who played 50 or more games in 2007/08:

Here are the ten best goals for averages (among players who played 50 games last season):

Top 10 Individual On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals For Averages 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamGFARank Unadjusted
1Dany HeatleyOtt+2.471
2Sidney CrosbyPit+2.295
3Jason SpezzaOtt+2.222
4Ryan GetzlafAna+2.2019
5Pavel DatsyukDet+2.144
6Paul StastnyCol+2.113
7Alexander OvechkinWas+2.048
8Corey PerryAna+1.9832
9Jarome IginlaCal+1.8713
10Evgeni MalkinPit+1.8410

We are subtracting the goal scoring rate when a player is off ice from the player is on the ice. This is intended to see the effect the player has independent of his team. Does it? There are not many significant changes on the list by subtracting off ice goals for. The biggest change is the addition of two Anaheim players in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Their climb is significant. I think this is because Anaheim has a low scoring dedicated checking line and Getzlaf and Perry benefit from their comparison to players who rarely score. The unusual Anaheim checking line makes simple sabermetric calculations more difficult.

If we ignore Anaheim players, does this list look improved as a result of the on/ice adjustment? Gone from the previous top 10 are Henrik Zetterberg (who is now 11th), Jason Arnott (who is 12th) and Derek Roy (who is 18th). In are Jarome Iginla and the Anaheim pair of Getzlaf and Perry. Neglecting the Anaheim pair and thus adding Zetterberg and Arnott to the list, only one player makes this list that did not before (Iginla) and only one player is dropped (Derek Roy). That is a small change, but one that makes sense to any reasonable hockey fan. As for changes within the top 10, the biggest rise is Sidney Crosby who moves from 5th up to 2nd. Again, this move is one that seems reasonable. Its clear Crosby is a very important offensive player and an offense ranking system that sees that is a good one. The biggest drop who remains in the top 10 (neglecting Getzlaf and Perry) is Jason Arnott. That seems reasonable. He is not expected to be as big a part of his team's offence by most fans as his top 10 rank would show. The biggest drop among top players is Derek Roy. Roy is another player who ranks surprisingly high in GFA and (like Arnott) does it playing on a balanced team that does not overly rely on one offensive line. As a result, the off ice GFA is strong enough to drop him on the list (this is despite the fact both Roy and Arnott do not play on as strong teams as many of the players ranked ahead of them). I would argue that from looking at the top 10 on/off ice adjusted GFAs, this list is closer to a list of the best offensive players in the game than the unadjusted GFA list, as long as we take into account the complication of Anaheim's checking line. There is no huge change between either list, so this is not exactly a strong convincing argument, but it is suggestive of being on the right track.

Now let's look at the 10 worst on/off ice adjusted GFAs. Here they are:

Worst 10 Individual On/Off Ice Adjusted Goals For Averages 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamGFA Rank Unadjusted
1Ryan HollwegNYR-2.141
2Craig AdamsChi-2.0214
3Jarred SmithsonNas-2.0210
4Dallas DrakeDet-1.957
5Mark SmithCal-1.928
6Colton OrrNYR-1.912
7Jed OrtmeyerNas-1.8724
8Eric GodardCal-1.8111
9Jeremy ReichBos-1.693
10Sami KapanenPhi-1.6513

The bottom list is more shuffled than the top is, which is expected because there is more differentiation between the best players in the NHL than the worst (in general the worst players in the league are roughly interchangeable with one another). The biggest surprise is that nobody from the Anaheim checking line makes this list, especially given Travis Moen having the 4th worst GFA unadjusted (he is 11th so he barely misses this list). Players on teams that are higher scoring than Anaheim tend to rise on this list (to worse rankings) and players on lower scoring teams end to have rankings improve. That is the point of adjusted rankings. Team effects are being taken into account. Four players make this list that do not make the unadjusted list. They are Craig Adams, Jed Ortmeyer, Eric Godard and Sami Kapanen. All play on relatively high scoring teams. Other players on higher scoring teams such as Detroit (Dallas Drake) and Calgary (Mark Smith) find themselves moving up the futility list. Players on lower scoring teams tend to improve their rankings (getting less bad). Examples of this are Colton Orr, rising from 2nd to 6th and Rodney Pelly who was 5th and is now 14th. I would argue that if we are looking for offensive talent (or lack of it) these adjusted lists are better than the unadjusted lists.

In order to test the effect of the on/off ice adjustment to +/- that I have looked at in several posts this summer, I decided to look at a simpler system. Goals For Averages (GFA) is this simpler system. Defensive contributions to +/- are removed. Since defence is harder to measure than offence this makes a simpler system. For the most part, lists with the on/off ice adjustment are closer to what I might expect as a ranking of top (or bottom) offensive players in the league. There is one problem introduced by this method. The problem occurs in Anaheim. Anaheim is a low scoring team. They have a low scoring checking line made up of Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson who get significant ice time. This appears to give a large boost to Anaheim's scorers due to a low off ice GFA. This pushes Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry further up an adjusted list than they otherwise should be. Clearly, this adjustment is not perfect but it does appear to improve these offensive numbers by a moderate amount.

Monday, August 11, 2008

US Olympic Team

Yesterday, I posted a hypothetical 2008 Canadian Olympic Hockey Team. Today, I will do the same for the Americans. This is the team of players who I would chose to represent USA if there was an Olympic hockey tournament right now:

Rick DiPietro New York Islanders
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Tim Thomas Boston Bruins

Keith Ballard Florida Panthers
Mike Komisarek Montreal Canadiens
Erik Johnson St Louis Blues
John-Michael Liles Colorado Avalanche
Paul Martin New Jersey Devils
Brian Rafalski Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Whitney Pittsburgh Penguins

Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Erik Cole Edmonton Oilers
Chris Drury New York Rangers
Brian Gionta New Jersey Devils
Scott Gomez New York Rangers
Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Jamie Langenbrunner New Jersey Devils
Patrick O'Sullivan Los Angeles Kings
Zach Parise New Jersey Devils
Jason Pominville Buffalo Sabres
Brian Rolston New Jersey Devils
Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche
Keith Tkachuk St Louis Blues

Mike Modano Dallas Stars
Peter Mueller Phoenix Coyotes
Ryan Suter Nashville Predators

This is the US Olympic Team I would chose if they had to pick a team right now, assuming the same roster makeup as in the Turino Olympics.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Canadian Olympic Team

The Beijing Summer Olympics are underway. I thought I would make up a Canadian Olympic hockey team. These are the players I would put on a team if they played today. This is not a prediction for the 2010 Olympics where we imagine players are two year older than they are now and maybe some young players who are not Olympic ready have matured or that older players who are Olympic calibre today might no longer be at that time.

Here is my proposed team:

Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils
Jean-Sebastien Giguere Anaheim Ducks
Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks

Jay Bouwmeester Florida Panthers
Brian Campbell Chicago Blackhawks
Ed Jovanovski Phoenix Coyotes
Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Ducks
Dion Phaneuf Calgary Flames
Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks
Wade Redden New York Rangers

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Shane Doan Phoenix Coyotes
Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim Ducks
Dany Heatley Ottawa Senators
Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames
Vincent LeCavalier Tampa Bay Lightning
Brendan Morrow Dallas Stars
Rick Nash Columbus Blue Jackets
Mike Richards Philadelphia Flyers
Martin St Louis Tampa Bay Lightning
Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators
Eric Staal Carolina Hurricanes
Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks

Jason Arnott Nashville Predators
Robyn Regehr Calgary Flames
Marc Savard Boston Bruins

This is the team I would field for Canada if there was an Olympic tournament right now. I am assuming the same roster structure as the last Olympics.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Individual Goals For Average

We can calculate individual goals against averages and we can also calculate individual goals for averages. When a player is on the ice in a 5 on 5 situation and his team scores he gets credited with a goal for (even if he doesn't score or assist on it). This is another sabermetric method to find the best offensive players in the game. The statistic is somewhat team and situation dependent. Good teams will score more often than bad ones and give their players higher goals for averages. Players who play checking roles will likely not score as much as those who play offensive roles, but it is a useful way to look at who is valuable in scoring goals. This statistic is calculated at

Here are the ten best goals for averages (among players who played 50 games last season):

Top 10 Individual Goals For Averages 2007/08
1Dany HeatleyOtt4.37
2Jason SpezzaOtt4.26
3Paul StastnyCol4.15
4Pavel DatsyukDet4.04
5Sidney CrosbyPit3.92
6Derek RoyBuf3.87
7Jason ArnottNas3.86
8Alexander OvechkinWas3.79
9Henrik ZetterbergDet3.77
10Evgeni MalkinPit3.74

Clearly, offence is less team dependant than defence. More teams are represented on this list than on a defensive list. It only takes one player to escape from his check to score a goal. On defence, all players must responsibly take their checks to prevent a goal. This is why it is harder to study defensive values sabermetrically than offensive ones. Defence is by its nature a team effort, while offence is more individualistic.

Ottawa stars Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza lead the way in GFA. They are followed by Paul Stastny of Colorado, who looks to be on his way to an outstanding career. Next is Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who is also the Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward, as well as one of the top scorers in the game. Sidney Crosby is fifth on this list. Next comes Derek Roy of Buffalo, who is involved in a surprisingly high number of goals (where he does not get a point). He is followed by Jason Arnott of Nashville, who also might be seen as a surprise, but had an excellent year in a market where he was rarely noticed. The NHL's top scorer Alexander Ovechkin comes next. He is followed by a second Detroit player in Henrik Zetterberg. Finally, Evgeni Malkin, the second highest scorer in the league finishes out the list. This is clearly a good group of players.

The worst ten goals for averages (among players with 50 games or more) in 2007/08 are:

Worst 10 Individual Goals For Averages 2007/08
1Ryan HollwegNYR0.42
2Colton OrrNYR0.52
3Jeremy ReichBos0.76
4Travis MoenAna0.80
5Brian SutherbyAna0.84
6Rodney PelleyNJ0.87
7Dallas DrakeDet0.97
8Mark SmithCal0.99
9Brad LarsenAtl1.02
10Jarred SmithsonNas1.04

This list is mostly a list of marginal NHL players. The only player with any real value is Travis Moen who also provides very good defence. Many of these players are played in checking roles on their teams, but it is very hard to have much value when you are involved in as few goals as these players.

At the bottom of the list is the New York Rangers pair of Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr. I called Colton Orr the worst player in the NHL who gets a regular shift last season. I think the Rangers would improve by not giving these two as much ice time. Jeremy Reich is next. He is barely an NHL talent. Travis Moen is fourth lowest in GFA, but is still a useful player because his GAA is also very low and against tough competition. Brian Sutherby is another Anaheim player on this list, but he had little NHL value last season. Rodney Pelley is another marginal NHL talent. Dallas Drake is another who contributed little last season, though he was a useful player earlier in his career. Mark Smith provided little to the Calgary Flames last season. Brad Larsen is another guy who seems to be playing his way out of the NHL, who is ranked 9th. Finally, Jarred Smithson fills out this list for the Nashville Predators.

It is interesting that no defencemen make either the top or worst 10 GFA lists. This shows that scoring is often initiated by forwards and that defencemen play with far too many forwards to be at either extreme.

Calculating a goals for average (GFA) for players in 5 on 5 situations is a useful way to look at offensive value of a given player. There is less interpretation problem due to teams and situations where a player is used than for his individual goals against average. This shows that offence is far more individualistic than defence is. The players with low GFAs are usually players with little value as NHL players. Looking for players with the lowest GFAs in the league is one of the surest ways to locate players who should not be in the NHL. Of course, there is always an exception to the rule and that is Travis Moen, who also has one of the best GAAs against some of the toughest competition in the league to go with his low GFA.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Individual Goals Against Averages

I have written several sabermetrics and hockey posts this summer about adjusting +/- ratings. This is a useful method to rank NHL players. It is not an entirely simple or solved problem, but it is one that will likely lead to some sabermetric advances in the future.

If we want to rank defensive values of players, it might be a more useful starting point to look at the number of goals scored when a player is on the ice. It is possible to give each player a goals against average in the same manner that goaltenders get them. In order to remove some interpretation problems, for starters, I will look only at the time a player plays in an even strength 5 on 5 situation. These numbers are very raw and have some of the same problems as +/- does. The raw individual GAA numbers are strongly dependant upon the team in which a player plays. Good defensive teams allow fewer goals and thus their players have lower GAAs. Similarly, bad defensive teams allow more goals and their players have bad GAAs. This effect must be corrected for. There are other problems with strength of opposition and strength of teammates that need to be taken into account. Statistics to calculate these GAAs can be found on the behind the net website.

We can start by looking at the raw numbers and in further posts try to adjust them to make them more meaningful. As a context, we can compare to goaltender's GAAs. They are not exactly the same thing because goalie stats do not measure only 5 on 5 situations. They include penalty killing and power play situations. Among goalies who played 25 or more games last year (enough time to have meaningful numbers), Chris Osgood of Detroit led the NHL with a 2.09 GAA and Johan Hedberg of Atlanta was the worst with a 3.46 GAA. We will find that individual players have a much larger range in their GAAs. This is because, unlike goalies, many players only play in certain situations that will tend to help or hurt their numbers and goalies play the entire game. It is unreasonable to believe that a position player has more of an effect on a team allowing goals than the goalie does, despite the larger range of GAAs. This is an artifact of the situations in which individual players play that much be removed from the raw numbers to make meaningful player evaluations.

Here are the 10 best individual player GAAs among players who played 50 or more games in 2007/08:

Top 10 Individual Goals Against Averages 2007/08
1George ParrosAna0.88
2Kent HuskinsAna1.22
3Mathieu SchneiderAna1.27
4Shawn ThorntonBos1.27
5Johan FranzenDet1.33
6Brad MayAna1.34
7Michael SameulssonDet1.34
8Travis MoenAna1.35
9Blair BettsNYR1.38
10Johnny OduyaNJ1.38

Clearly, all the players on this list are from good defensive teams. Many are not players that are typically thought of as being particularly good defensively who are played in situations where goals are unlikely. Only a couple on this list are players I would consider good defensive players.

Anaheim dominates the list. They had the second best team GAA (behind Detroit), but their coach Randy Carlyle tends to match players to situations on the ice with more regularity than Mike Babcock of Detroit does.

George Parros leads the league in individual GAA, but he does it playing against very low quality opposition. This result is mostly a result of Anaheim trying to hide their goon from any tough situations. Next up come defencemen Kent Huskins and Mathieu Schneider. They generally do not play against the toughest opposition (Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin do on the Anaheim defence), but unlike a forward they cannot be as well hidden from tough situations. Shawn Thornton is next. He is another who regularly plays against weak opposition. Next up is Johan Franzen of Detroit. He too plays against relatively weak opposition as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg generally play against the toughest players or Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper do. Since he is on neither of those lines he benefits from easier opposition, although Detroit does not match lines as much as Anaheim does. Brad May is another Anaheim player who is kept from tough situations. Mikael Sameulsson is a Detroit player who regularly plays with Johan Franzen. Travis Moen is the first player who plays against tough opposition. His presence on this list says a lot about his defensive ability. Blair Betts is another beneficiary of weak opposition. Finally, Johnny Oduya is on this list. He plays tough minutes in New Jersey (not as tough as Moen's minutes), but they do not keep him away from top scoring players. Of the players on this list only Moen and Oduya play against the top lines on a regular basis. They are players who are among the best defensive players in the NHL.

Here are the worst 10 individual GAAs from the 2007/08 season among players with 50 or more games played:

Worst 10 Individual Goals Against Averages 2007/08
1Vincent LeCavalierTB3.80
2Ilya KovalchukAtl3.77
3Martin St LouisTB3.69
4Mike CammalleriLA3.56
5Brad RichardsDal3.53
6Paul RangerTB3.52
7Todd WhiteAtl3.50
8Kyle BrodziakEdm3.44
9Patrick O'SullivanLA3.44
10Filip KubaTB3.43

This list is dominated by players on bad teams who play against tough opposition. Usually bad teams have ineffective checking lines and put their most talented offensive stars out against the top line in a game (particularly if they are losing and want to attempt to comeback). Thus, we have a list of some of the best offensive players on some of the worst teams in the league. In fact, given the chance, I would happily trade the players with the 10 best individual GAAs for those with the 10 worst.

Vincent LeCavalier is the worst from the weak Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a very good offensive player. He is followed by Ilya Kovalchuk, the best offensive player on the weak Atlanta Thrashers. Martin St Louis is another Tampa star near the top of our list. Next up is Mike Cammalleri, one of the best offensive players on the weak Los Angeles Kings. Brad Richards is next. He would have done even worse had he not been traded to the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline, as they are far better defensively than the Tampa Bay Lightning. Paul Ranger is the first Tampa Bay defenceman on this list. Todd White is next as a frequent Kovalchuk linemate in Atlanta. Kyle Brodziak is a rookie who struggled to learn to play defence in Edmonton (who was a weak team but not as weak as the ones the other players on the list come from). He is the first forward on this list that is not used in an offensive role on many occasions. Patrick O'Sullivan is next. He plays an offensive role on the weak Los Angeles Kings. Filip Kuba is the final player. He plays against top lines on the weak Tampa defence.

Although these raw individual GAA numbers do little to tell us who the best defensive players (or worst) in the game are, they are a starting point from which that information can be obtained. Generally, the league leaders are players on strong defensive teams who play against weak opposition (there are a few exceptions). Generally the worst numbers in the league are players who play strong offensive games on the weakest teams (again there are some exceptions). Turning these numbers into something more useful is a process that I will try to explore in the future and show some of the unsolved problems revealed.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The +/- Challenge Of Anaheim's Checking Line

In my recent sabermetrics and hockey posts about on/off ice adjusted +/- ratings one group of players that keep coming up with unique stats is the Anaheim Duck checking line of Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. All three of them rank as one in the ten worst quality of teammates rankings and the ten best quality of opposition rankings.

Anaheim is the only team currently in the NHL that gives lots of playing time to a regular checking line that plays together most of the time. The line of Pahlsson, Niedermayer and Moen is very good at preventing goals. All three of them rank very well in a list of low individual player goals against. Among players with more than 50 games played last year, Moen ranks eighth with a 1.35 GAA when he is on the ice in 5 on 5 situations, Niedermayer ranks 12th with 1.42 GAA and Pahlsson has a 1.71 GAA (which is also well above league averages). They are clearly very good at preventing goals from being scored. They do this against very high quality of opposition (in fact Pahlsson has the highest quality of opposition, Niedermayer is 2nd and Moen is 6th). This makes them valuable players to the Anaheim Ducks. They do not score very well in the roles that they play. Last season, Niedermayer has 16 points, Pahlsson had 15 and Moen had 8 points. This gives them relatively poor +/- ratings. When compared to their team (Anaheim was a pretty good team that had the third best team +/- in the league) it gives them on/off adjusted +/- ratings that are well below zero. Pahlsson is -1.23, Moen -1.08 and Niedermayer -0.94. None of these are bad enough to get on the 20 worst list but they are not good. The fact that they continuously play against the top opposition and prevent them from scoring and continuously play with one another instead of Anaheim's higher scoring players makes their ratings worse than they should be. This is identified with the quality of opposition and quality of teammates rankings. It is not clear how to properly adjust for this. Some thought and effort needs to go into that problem.

When making sabermetric ranking systems, one must be aware of the unusual cases that continuously show up in unusual ways in the rankings in order to properly set their rankings. The Anaheim checking line is the most unusual case in the NHL today. Setting up a system that gives them appropriate value is hard. It is a challenge to the existing systems. A good sabermetric theory (beyond that which exists today) will need to be able to handle cases such as these. Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen are a good test to any such system. I think the information exists in the analysis of the on/off ice +/- system, but the proper analysis to do so is currently lacking. How best do we account for high quality of opposition and low "quality of teammates" (I put that in quotes because I do not mean to say they are low calibre teammates for one another - but under the system they appear and such and that needs correction). A proper system will show their value without any ad hoc adjustments and without compromising the value of any other player or class of players.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Measuring Quality Of Teammates

One issue to address in the sabermetrics and hockey problem of adjusting +/- ratings is the quality of teammates a player has. Since players will play different roles on their teams, different players will share ice time with different quality of linemates. Some players will play with better linemates than others. This will show up in their +/- rating. Players who play with better quality linemates will have better +/- ratings. This is very similar to the way quality of opposition influences +/- ratings. Credit this calculation goes to Gabriel Desjardins of behind the net.

This effect can be addressed in the same manner as with quality of opposition. The average on/off ice adjusted +/- can be calculated averaged over the time each teammate is played with. When we do this, we get the following top 10 quality of teammate rankings (for players who played 50 or more GP last season):

Top 10 Quality of Teammates Ratings 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamQ of Team Adjusted +/-
1Tomas HolmstromDet0.89+0.37
2Brian RafalskiDet0.61+0.53
3Henrik ZetterbergDet0.56+1.80
4Daniel AlfredssonOtt0.55-0.13
5Pavel DatsyukDet0.49+2.05
6Nicklas LidstromDet0.46+1.66
7Milan MichalekSJ0.45+1.89
8JP DumontNas0.45+0.74
9Daymond LangkowCal0.44+0.91
10Tomas PlekanecMon0.43+0.92

This first thing I notice upon looking at these numbers is that they are much larger than the quality of opposition numbers. Sami Pahlsson led the NHL with a 0.18 quality of opposition and this would be well outside the top ten in these numbers. I do not believe that the difference is really as big as these numbers show. I think it is an effect of averaging over many different opposition teams that decreases those numbers. A player has only a few regular linemates, so there is far less averaging that occurs to reduce values. One or two exceptional teammates will boost a quality of teammate ranking significantly. This is why Detroit dominates the rankings with five of the top six. Daniel Alfredsson is on the list for playing with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Milan Michalek makes it playing with Joe Thornton. JP Dumont makes it playing with Jason Arnott. Daymond Langkow makes it playing with Jarome Iginla. Tomas Plekanec is the onö ly player on the list who is not directly tracved to somebody in the top 20 on/off ice adjusted +/- rankings. Plekanec is probably the weakest member of the Montreal number one line, so his inclusion makes sense.

We can also look at the 10 worst quality of linemates last season:

Worst 10 Quality of Teammate Ratings 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamQ of Team Adjusted +/-
1Aaron DowneyDet-0.69-1.26
2Kirk MaltbyDet-0.67-1.61
3Rob NiedermayerAna-0.65-0.94
4Blair BettsNYR-0.62-0.67
5Jed OrtmeyerNas-0.62-1.52
6Matt EllisLA-0.59-0.58
7Travis MoenAna-0.58-1.08
8Dallas DrakeDet-0.56-2.46
9Sami PahlssonAna-0.54-1.23
10Kris DraperDet-0.53-1.58

Detroit dominates both the top and bottom of this list. I don't think this is reality. I think this isn't reality. It's a problem from the fact that Detroit has several high adjusted +/- players (Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom). Those who play with them have high quality of teammates and those who don't appear to have low quality of teammates. The Anaheim line of Rob Niedermayer, Travis Moen and Sami Pahlsson is a case of players pulling each other down. They play against tough opposition and have poor adjusted +/- rating as a result. Since they play together, they appear to have low quality of teammates as well. I would argue Matt Ellis, Blair Betts and Jed Ortmeyer are probably the only players on this least who legitimately have weak teammates. However, even if this does not always deliver players with poor quality of teammates it is useful as it will give an adjustment for players who have had +/- ratings unfairly lowered because of comparison to players with top ones on their team. The Detroit players probably do have worse adjusted +/- ratings than they should. That may not be because of poor quality teammates, but it appears as such from flaws in the method. That said it is no truer that a player appearing on the worst teammates list is actually a good player then it is true that a player on the best teammates list is actually a bad player.

Quality of teammates can be calculated from on/off ice adjusted +/- values. These rankings are dominated by any dominant teams (Detroit in 2007/08) at both the top and bottom. Those who play with the best players have the best quality of teammates and those who don't appear to have the worst quality. Nevertheless, this is a useful thing to keep in mind when making sense of +/- ratings because even in the cases where it appears to fail it has value. Those players who appear to have poorly ranked quality of teammates are the players who most suffered from comparison to teammates in the off ice portion of their adjusted +/- rating, so they are undervalued, but not directly from low quality teammates. It's a case of high quality teammates they do not regularly play with.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Measuring Quality Of Opposition

One sabermetrics and hockey problem that can be addressed using the on/off ice adjustment +/- is the strength of opposition that players face. This helps to correct one of the weaknesses in +/- ratings. Players do not play the same role for their team. Some play against tougher opposition (ie. first line players) while others tend to play against weaker opposition (third and fourth liners). Credit for doing this goes to Gabriel Desjardins of behind the net.

This can be measured by calculating the time average on/off ice adjusted +/- rating of the players who play against a given player. A player who plays against top players in +/- has a hard time then one who plays against the bottom ones. The adjusted +/- of all five players on the ice in opposition to a player is averaged between the five players and in time and then compared to the time average for their team's opponents (which is usually near - but not exactly - equal to zero). We can see from this which players play the hard minutes and which ones play the easier ones. A player who consistently plays against hard opposition is a better player than his +/- shows and one who is protected from hard minutes is not as good. The problem with this calculation is that is uses on/off ice adjusted +/- with its inherent flaws as a starting point, so any of those flaws will carry through the calculation.

Here are the ten players who played against the toughest opposition in 2007/08 (limited to players who played in 050 games or more):

Top 10 Quality of Opposition Ratings 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamQ of Opp Adjusted +/-
1Sami PahlssonAna0.18-1.23
2Rob NiedermayerAna0.17-0.94
3Keith BallardPhx0.16+0.66
4Nicklas LidstromDet0.16+1.66
5Derek MorrisPhx0.16+1.01
6Travis MoenAna0.16-1.08
7Jan HejdaCBJ0.16+1.40
8Jay PandolfoNJ0.16+0.85
9Mikko KoivuMin0.15+1.28
10Adam FooteCol0.15-0.03

This is a list of some of the best checkers in the NHL. These are players who are consistently used against the top scorers in the NHL. Two odd observations jump out when looking at this list. Only Jay Pandolfo plays on an East Conference team. Why is this? Does having a number of games against the weaker Southeast Conference make it hard to have a high quality of opposition for an East Conference team? Also, the only significantly negative players in their adjusted +/- are the Anaheim checking line of Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. Is this meaningful? It appears to show that this line struggled more in their hard minutes than any other players on this list.

Anaheim checkers Sami Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer played the hardest minutes. They are followed by Keith Ballard of Phoenix (now traded to Florida). Nicklas Lidstrom is next. Lidstrom had an exceptionally good +/- given how hard his opposition was. Next up come linemates of the earlier players on the list in Derek Morris of Phoenix and Travis Moen of Anaheim. Jan Hejda follows as a successful checking defenceman in Columbus. Jay Pandolfo is next as the only east player on the list. Mikko Koivu of Minnesota and Adam Foote, who split his season between Columbus and Colorado finish out the list.

Here are the ten players who played against the weakest opposition last season:

Worst 10 Quality of Opposition Ratings 2007/08
RankPlayerTeamQ of Opp Adjusted +/-
1Aaron DowneyDet-0.22-1.26
2Riley CotePhi-0.21+0.73
3Ole-Kristian TollefsenCBJ-0.19-0.13
4Dwayne KingStL-0.19-0.91
5George ParrosAna-0.18+0.17
6Kris RussellCBJ-0.18-0.96
7Eric GodardCal-0.17-2.15
8Nolan PrattBuf-0.16-0.78
9Nathan PaetschBuf-0.16+0.32
10Shawn ThorntonBos-0.16-0.03

This is a list of players who were shown very little faith from their coaching staff. They rarely played against good opposition and were often reserved for situations where they played against easy opposition. Those who played against low quality of opposition and still put up poor adjusted +/- ratings (such as Eric Godard and Aaron Downey) probably should no longer be in the NHL.

Aaron Downey leads up this list. He offered little to his Red Wings team last season. He is followed by Riley Cote, who was used only as a goon by the Flyers. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is next. He was heavily protected on the Columbus defence. Next up is Dwayne (D.J.) King who offered little to the St Louis Blues. George Parros was the Anaheim Duck goon. Kris Russell was heavily protected in his rookie season on the Columbus defence. Eric Godard was a goon in Calgary. Nolan Pratt and Nathan Paetsch played against easy opposition in Buffalo. Finally, Shawn Thornton played against limited opposition in Boston. None of these players were key to their team. All were reserved for situations where they could play against low quality of opposition.

Quality of opposition can be measured using the on/off ice adjusted +/- framework. It carries with it the flaws inherent in the system but does a good job of identifying players who play against high and low quality opposition. Those who play against high quality opposition should be ranked better than their +/- (or other stats) show. This is primarily a list of the best checkers in the NHL. Those who played against poor competition are borderline NHL players at best and those who failed in that situation should be out of the NHL soon.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

What Can We Learn From Adjusted +/-?

I have written several sabermetrics and hockey posts this summer about adjusting +/- to try to cancel out team effects both as a rate stat and as a counting stat. I have used the rate stat method to adjust +/- ratings on the power play and the penalty kill. The important question to ask about this is how much can we learn from these numbers?

It is obvious by looking at the numbers (for example the even strength rankings) that this is not a ranked list of MVP candidates. The even strength adjusted +/- leader is David Perron of the St Louis Blues. There is no reasonable way to imagine that David Perron is the most valuable player on his team, let alone in the league. So what does David Perron's adjusted +/- mean? It means that he played very well in the role that he was given. The top players on these lists all were some of the best players in the league in the roles that they played. The bottom players all struggled and did poorly in their roles. This is one technique to identify such players. It is not the only technique. It is no truer that one can look at the point totals at the end of the season and assume it is a ranked list of MVP candidates (though the 2008 Hart Trophy nominees read as a ranked list of the top point scorers). It is possible to be a high scorer but detract from your team in defensive play and thus have low value. It is possible to be a low scorer play such a strong defensive game that you have a high value despite your lack of scoring.

The main problem with adjusting +/- ratings is figuring out how to normalize them. It is clear that +/- ratings are heavily influenced by the team in which a player plays. A player on a really good team will almost certainly have a higher +/- than a better player on a poor team. In order to attempt comparison between teams, it is necessary to adjust for that. There are several potential adjustments one can make. I think the most reasonable first step is to measure the difference that a player makes when he is on the ice against when he is not on the ice. This is a good starting point. It makes for rankings that are far better than the unadjusted +/- ratings. The problem is that players are compared to their team in the off ice comparison and not all teams are the same. Even for two players on the same team it isn't the same. Different players get used in different roles. They play with different players and against different players. This is the context under which the player's numbers must be looked at. These are things that can be quantified to some degree.

I think +/- is a very useful tool to learn about players. It is probably the starting point from which the most meaningful sabermetric hockey theory will be developed. This theory does not exist in any final form today - and likely will never reach the level that it exists at in baseball - but I think big developments will come in the future. Right now it is a useful statistic to help see the value of players. It is not the only tool. It is crazy to use these numbers as "final rankings". They are not. There is no one set of numbers that rank NHL player's values in any meaningful way. This is the idea behind the conversation in the power play +/- comments. Adjusted +/- is another tool to rate players. It is good to have as many tools as possible in your tool box. Sometimes one tool gets a job done that another tool does not.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Edmonton Hires GM Steve Tambellini

Yesterday, the Edmonton Oilers hired Steve Tambellini to be their general manager. I didn't know they were looking for a new GM. If I did, I would have included them in the list of poorly run teams who did not have their coaching and management in place in the run up to the draft and in some cases well beyond or didn't even begin to make their moves until well into the free agency period.

It appears that new Oiler owner Darryl Katz wanted to make a mark on the team and was unhappy with some aspects of Kevin Lowe's job as GM. It is easy to criticize Lowe for his trades of Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth and his big money free agent signings including Sheldon Souray and Dustin Penner but he also took the Oilers to game seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals and he has left the team with a number of good prospects.

Lowe will remain with the team as president of hockey operations for Rexall Sports (a newly created position that is officially a promotion - possibly his job is to shill for a new taxpayer funded stadium?). I think Lowe was kept in part because of his new contract signed at the beginning of last season.

Steve Tambellini comes to the Oilers from the Vancouver Canuck organization, where he has held various positions including most recently Director of Public and Media Relations (whatever that means) in his 17 year tenure with the team. Tambellini has also been involved with building various Canadian teams that have played internationally (along with Kevin Lowe). Tambellini might have been a better selection to be Vancouver Canuck GM than their current selection Mike Gillis. He saw he was not in Gillis's inner circle and was put into his most recent position when Gillis brought in his own people after his hiring, so he was looking for a new position.

There is no good reason why this move could not have been made prior to the 2008 Entry Draft. The fact they waited this long will force Steve Tambellini to GM a team largely built by Kevin Lowe into next season. It would have been better if Tambellini had more of a chance to make his mark before next season.

The fact that Lowe is still around makes it unclear how much power Tambellini holds and how much Lowe holds. While it might be true that Tambellini can be a better GM than Lowe, a power struggle between the two of them will create problems that wouldn't have existed with only one of them in place as GM. It is not clear right now who has the final say in any player moves and that could be problematic. For the sake of the Oilers, Lowe needs to step aside and let Tambellini have the final say on any matters (though he is welcome to work with him along the way).

Here is TSN's story on the Oilers move.

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