Should teams play with 4 forwards when they’re down late?

This post originally appeared on Hockey Graphs.

Tl;dr

  • There is some evidence to suggest that teams should play with 4 forwards when trailing late in a game.
  • The timing of when to switch to 4 forwards is dependent on how large an impact the switch has on goal scoring rates, however even with a low impact on goal scoring, using 4 forwards still makes sense.

One of the weird things about sports that I find fascinating is how often coaches and players seem to go out of their way to avoid having a negative impact on the game, even at the expense of potential positive impacts. People often seem to prefer to “not lose” rather than to win, which can result in sub-optimal decision making, even in the presence of evidence to show that the correct decision is not being made.

There are many examples of this across sports, but the biggest two in hockey are pulling the goalie and playing with 3 forwards on the power play. Analysts have been arguing for many years now about why teams should pull their goalies earlier, but it’s only been in recent seasons that teams have become more aggressive in getting their netminders out earlier.

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Posted in Theoretical

Second Units and Zone Entries: Why teams should go all-in on the 4 forward power play

Using 4 forwards on the power play is generally a good strategy. Four forward units take more shots, score more often on those shots, and post a better goal differential than 3 forward groups do.

It’s also a strategy that has become more popular over the last few years. 4 forward units have accounted for roughly 56% of the 5-on-4 ice-time this season, up 4% from last year and more than 15% from 5 years ago.[1]

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Posted in Powerplay, Uncategorized

Measuring the Importance of Structure on the Power Play

This post originally appeared on Hockey Graphs.

tl;dr

  • We can measure a team’s power play structure using shot location data, creating a Power Play Structure Index that quantifies their ability to establish and shoot from a structured formation.
  • A Team’s Power Play Structure Index is a stronger predictor of future goal scoring than past goals, but weaker than shot attempt generation.
  • When examined together with shot attempt generation, power play structure is a significant predictor of future goals, although slightly less important than shot attempt generation.
  • A team’s structure index can provide valuable additional insight into why certain power plays succeed or fail.

Edit 2017-02-15: An earlier version of this piece had a small error in the regression coefficient for PP Structure Index. While the article previously indicated the coefficient was -0.19, it should in fact be -0.30. The text both above and below has now been corrected.

Introduction

The importance of structure in a team’s power play is something that’s really easy to see. We’ve all watched a power play executing at the top of its game: the puck flies from player to player, leaving defenders pivoting in place to try to keep up. Each shot looks exactly like it was diagramed by the coach, with attackers working to set up a specific shot from a specific player in a specific location.

A solid structure doesn’t just look good; it actually produces better results. Arik Parnass has written extensively on the importance of structure to power play success, showing that teams who get set up in a dangerous formation score more goals than those who don’t.

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Posted in Powerplay, Special Teams

Quick Post: Do Past Sv% Variables Predict Future Sv% Variables?

This post originally appeared on Hockey Graphs.

The usefulness of on-ice save percentage (and derivative metrics such as Sv% Rel and Sv% RelTM) has been the source of many, many heated debates in the analytics blogosphere. While many analysts point to the lack of year-over-year repeatability that these metrics tend to show (past performance doesn’t predict future performance very well) as evidence of their limitations, others (primarily David Johnson of HockeyAnalysis.com) have argued that there are structural factors that haven’t been accounted for in past analyses that artificially deflate the year-to-year correlations that we see.

David’s point is a fair one – a lot can change about how a player is used between two samples, it’s not unreasonable to think that those changes could impact the results a player records. But we don’t just have to speculate about the impact those factors have – we can test the impact, by building a model that includes measures of how these factors have changed and seeing how it changes our predictions.

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Posted in Goaltending

Quick Thoughts: On Drafting Goalies

A few days before the draft this year, I tweeted out a few ideas I had on the “Should you draft goalies early?” debate. In the interest of not losing these thoughts (and to avoid having to do any actual writing while still generating #content) I’ve pulled all those tweets together here, to preserve my insight and/or ignorance for all time.













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Posted in Draft, Goaltending

Does aggressive play on the penalty kill pay off?

This post originally appeared on Hockey Graphs.

Late last week, Arik Parnass pointed out a particular peculiarity about the Ottawa Senators’ penalty killing so far this year.

While the Sens may be an extreme example, their numbers tell the story of a constant struggle that teams are faced with when killing a penalty: do you focus solely on your own end and do whatever it takes to prevent a goal, or do you allow your forwards to take the play to your opponents, trying for a shorthanded goal and forcing them to defend in a situation where they may not be expecting it.

This risk-reward question is one that’s central to the value of hockey analytics. It’s very easy to make decisions based on personal experience which is so often dominated by memories of things that are out of the ordinary – a coach will likely remember watching his winger get caught deep trying for a shorthanded goal, while forgetting the 2-on-1 opportunity he generated earlier in the game. It’s just as easy, however, for a fan to complain that his favourite team won’t put out their best forwards to aim for a go-ahead shorthanded goal without any data to back up their argument. The challenge for analysts then is to dig through the available data to figure out what past experience has taught us about the overall net impact of playing for a goal on the penalty kill, so that we can make an informed judgement as to what the potential costs and benefits are.

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Posted in Special Teams, Theoretical

Trade Deadline 2016

With the trade deadline fast approaching teams are wasting no time stocking up for the playoff push (or, if you’re in the unlucky camp that will be golfing come spring, unloading their assets to the highest bidder). For those of you looking for the stats-savvy skinny on the deadline, there are several super smart number-crunchers tweeting out their thoughts on the deals and answering questions using the hashtag #NHLTrade16.

If you want my view (and really, why would wouldn’t you), I’ll be participating in the aformentioned Tweet-hang (pretty sure that’s the technical term), giving my hottest takes in this handy all-in-one chart I’ve come up with.

nhltrade16_phaneuf.png

If you don’t want to scroll through the terrifying depths of my Twitter feed (and I can hardly blame you) I’ve linked all the analyses below:

Ottawa acquires Dion Phaneuf and 3 prospects from Toronto for Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg and a 2nd Round Draft pick.

San Jose acquires Roman Polak and Nick Spaling from Toronto in exchange for Raffi Torres and 2 draft picks.

Colorado acquires Shawn Matthias from Toronto in exchange for Colin Smith and a 4th Round Draft pick.

Chicago acquires Andrew Ladd, Jay Harrison and Matt Fraser from Winnipeg in exchange for Marko Dano, a 1st Round Draft Pick and a conditional 3rd Round Draft pick.

Chicago acquires Christian Ehrhoff from Los Angeles in exchange for Rob Scuderi.

Chicago acquires Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise from Montreal in exchange for Phillip Danault and a 2nd Round praft Pick.

San Jose acquires James Reimer and Jeremy Morin from Toronto in exchange for Alex Stalock, Ben Smith and a 4th Round Draft pick.

Florida acquires Jiri Hudler from Calgary in exchange for a 2nd and a 4th Round Draft pick.

Florida acquires Teddy Purcell from Edmonton in exchange for a 3rd Round Draft pick.

Florida acquires Jakub Kindl from Detroit in exchange for a 6th Round Draft pick.

Pittsburgh acquires Justin Schultz from Edmonton in exchange for a 3rd Round Draft pick.

NY Rangers acquire Eric Staal from Carolina in exchange for Aleksi Saarela and two 2nd Round Draft picks.

Washington acquires Daniel Winnik and a 5th Round Draft pick from Toronto in exchange for Brooks Laich, Connor Carrick, and a 2nd Round Draft pick.

Los Angeles acquires Kris Versteeg from Carolina in exchange for Valentin Zykov and a conditional 5th Round Draft pick.

Colorado acquires Mikkel Boedker from Arizona in exchange for Alex Tanguay and 2 prospects.

Colorado acquires Eric Gelinas from New Jersey in exchange for a 3rd Round Draft pick.

Dallas acquires Kris Russell from Calgary in exchange for Jyrki Jokkipakka, Brett Pollock and a conditional 2nd Round Draft pick.

Anaheim acquires Brandon Pirri from Florida in exchange for a 6th Round Draft pick.

NY Islanders acquire Shane Prince and a 7th Round Draft pick from Ottawa in exchange for a 3rd Round Draft pick.

Boston acquires John-Michael Liles from Carolina in exchange for Anthony Camara, a 3rd Round Draft pick and a 5th Round Draft pick.

Boston acquires Lee Stempniak from New Jersey in exchange for a 2nd Round Draft pick and a 4th Round Draft pick.

Montreal acquires Stefan Matteau from New Jersey in exchange for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Anaheim acquires Jamie McGinn from Buffalo in exchange for a conditional 3rd Round Draft pick.

This page will continue to be updated as more trades come in, so check back for the most important numbers to know as we head towards Monday’s 3PM deadline for deals.

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Posted in Trade Deadline