Archive for April, 2012

Luongo sucked! Mike Smith was great! Canucks choked! Blow up the Sharks! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at some numbers from the first round matchups. First, the goalies:

The five tenders that made it out of the first round were remarkable, with Mike Smith’s .945 Ev Sv% and Jaro Halak’s .935 Overall Sv% coming in at the LOW END. If you taped Quick, Smith, Rinne, Halak, and Elliott together to make one supergoalie this round, they collectively would have turned in a .949 Sv% and a 1.57 GAA. That’s prettay…prettay good.

By contrast, the losing goalies showed more variance. Crawford was about who we thought he was (.915 Ev, .903 Ov regular season,) while Jimmy Howard underperformed (or was overwhelmed if you’re a Preds fan,) .929 Ev, .920 Ov regular season.

The narrative for the Canucks this offseason is that Luongo choked…again!…Schneider outplayed him, Schneider is the goalie of the future…et cetera and so on until our collective ears begin to bleed. However, they had the same Ev Sv%, while Schneider’s PP and SH rates were perfect, Luongo let in three power play goals and two shorties (gulp!) Schneider finished with better rate stats, but a couple of bounces here and a couple breaks reversed there and Luongo is 1-2 and Schneider is 0-2. Just saying…

Let’s look at Fenwick rates and total numbers of Sh and Missed Sh for the matchups:

LAK vs VAN

This series saw games where each team dominated in shots fired. The Kings had three games where they pushed the 60/40 mark, but in games 2 and 3, the Nucks blasted almost 60 pucks toward the net and dominated the stat. Also notable is that Game 4 (sans Daniel) and Game 5 (avec Daniel) were very similar in terms of shot output. Each game in the series was close, but the Hockey gods favored the Kings this time. Much has been made of the Kings out-fenwicking their opponents on the regular since the trade deadline, so I will be interested to see if they can continue that trend against a Blues team that is fantastic on defense…

STL vs SJ

Game by game fenwick rates were pretty even throughout the series, but what stands out to me is that after losing game 1 in double-OT despite outshooting the Sharks, the Blues turned around and won the next four despite being outshot by San Jose. LA vs STL could very well turn out to be the Bizarro PIT/PHI series where the losing goalie each night stops 39 of 40 shots and takes the 1-0 loss. It will be interesting to see if the Blues can continue to win games while putting up shots and missed shots totaling in the low-30s, or if the Kings can throw 50+ pucks at the net and find a couple weak spots in the armor of Elliott and Halak.

PHX vs CHI

It’s time for the requisite NHL-owns-the-Coyotes crackpot theory: the League FIXED the series so that the first five games would go into OT so they could sell more beer and make themselves more money! Those pigs. It all makes sense now…

I have written elsewhere on this site that Mike Smith won’t be on any of my fantasy teams next year, but there is no denying how locked in he was during the first round. The Hawks were touching 60 shots and misses in four games, and he still turned in a sub-2 GAA and a .950 Sv%. You have to hand it to the old guy. Maybe he’ll start doing credit card commercials where he’s locked in a taxi with a psychopath, frantically calling a gender-confused customer service agent with passive-aggressive tendencies…

What I said about St Louis needing to continue finding goals on a low number of shots goes double for Phoenix. I was surprised when they were able to run with the Hawks in game 1 and even game 2, but then they dropped off drastically in games 4-6, while Chicago kept increasing their total shot count. If Phoenix thinks they can settle in the low-twenties against Pekka Rinne, they must be feeling really lucky.

NSH vs DET

No team scored more than 3 goals in any game this series, while Pekka Rinne turned in some impressive performances in games 3 and 4, making more than 40 saves in each. I am not a Red Wings homer (they are so proud of their Hockeytown…Minnesota has a whole STATE OF HOCKEY) though I do sort of like their organization. I admit I had them picked to beat the Predators in this series, but that’s why they play the games. Nashville turned in some low total shot games, and if Mike Smith continues to be Voltron, they might be desparate for a goal. Phoenix has shown that even if they are undermatched on paper, they can take a game to overtime where anything can happen.

What do you think? What stats would you want to look at when breaking down a series? Who are your predictions to make it to the Western Conference finals and why? Leave a comment and share your thoughts, and don’t forget to follow me on twitter @Hashtag_Hockey

Will update with results of SJ/STL once that game is in the books. Eastern Conference coming tomorrow!

  • You can see that CHI/PHX is the closest series in the West, though Mike Smith’s injury could potentially shift the dynamic, the Hawks fired 59 (shots + missed shots) in each of the firs two games, and I feel pretty comfortable saying Mike Smith >>> Jason LaBarbera…
  • LA was outshot badly in game 2 yet still managed to score 4 goals. Then in game 3, in a scoreless game until late in the third period, they directed much more rubber at the net than did Vancouver. The Canucks need to find some way to make this into a series or they will be making tee times by next week.
  • The Red Wings are leading the Predators in Fenwick, but a Hot Goalie like Pekka Rinne can neutralize those differentials in short order. All three games have ended with a score of 3-2, and in each game the winner was outshot. It will be interesting to see if that pattern holds. A more advanced look at Fenwick would parse out 5v5 shots, but this is just a quick and dirty look at the series.

Here are some numbers from the Game 1 matchups. I will update these as more games come in…when FLA/NYJ plays their Gm1 and as the other series continue their matchups.

Image

  • Memo to Capitals: I think it was Nietzsche that first observed the direct correlation between shots not taken and goals not scored…
  • Everyone knew Chicago would send a lot of rubber flying through the air, but Phoenix and St Louis have matched their output. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up.
  • Detroit and St Louis should probably chalk up their losses as bat beats… High Fenwick + Low Sh%, Rinne and Niemi were great but regression to the mean goes both ways.

Inside the Numbers: Jaroslav Halak

Position: Goalie
Team: St. Louis Blues
2011-12 Regular Season Stats: 46 GS, 26 W, 1.97 GAA, .926 Sv%
Quality Starts: 31 (67.4% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 5 (10.9% of QS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 10 (32.3% of GS)
Bail-outs: 6 (13.0% of GS)

The St. Louis Blues were the stingiest team in the NHL this season, and while Brian Elliott got a lot of attention at the end of the year for his single season Sv% record and breakout-of-the-year candidacy, Jaroslav Halak was certainly no slouch himself. Halak will start the Blues first playoff game on Thursday, so let’s go inside the numbers and look at his performance this year. Halak finished the year with a sparkling 1.97 GAA and .926 Sv%, which is definitely impressive, but Jaro posted an amazing .938 even-strength Sv%, second in the NHL only to…you guessed it…Brian Elliott. While Elliott’s amazing numbers came out of nowhere, Halak has a track record of turning away a high proportion of pucks.

Halak did not have such a great year in 2010-11, his first campaign with the Blues, but in 2009-10, he maintained a .930+ Ev Sv% with the Canadiens. They say once is a fluke, twice is a trend…and Halak certainly seems like the genuine article. While he and Elliott maintained a timeshare this season, Halak still posted a very impressive ratio of Quality Starts, hanging 31 QS of his 46 starts, good for 67.4%.

A look at Halak’s game log shows that three of his five Terrible Starts came in the first five starts of the season, and after October 18, he only had two more blow-up games. Halak certainly righted the ship and found his groove after that. If we throw out the month of October, Halak’s rate stats would be 1.74 and .935, so if he can avoid that cluster of grenade games next year, he could be poised for an even more impressive season.

NHL Playoff Implication: Halak will start between the pipes for the Blues while Elliott nurses his “unspecified upper-body injury,” and the big questions will be 1) when will Elliott return, 2) when he does return, how will Ken Hitchcock split the starts between the two, and 3) if Halak plays great while Elliott is out, how will that affect the split? Of course, Elliott could very well get the start in game 2, and they could continue to split the starts the same way they did in the regular season. However, one of the best known tropes of the NHL postseason is that of the “hot goalie,” so how will the timeshare between Elliott and Halak play out? Statistically, they have both been playing out of their minds, and it is reasonable to think that whomever starts in goal, the Blues will be extremely hard to score on. San Jose’s lineup is rather potent, so St. Louis will have their work cut out for them, but Defense Wins Championships, and the Blues have the best defense anyone has seen in a long time.

By the Numbers: Jimmy Howard

Position: Goalie
Team: Detroit Red Wings
2011-12 Stats: 57 GS, 35 W, 2.12 GAA, .920 Sv%.
Quality Starts: 37 (64.9% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 5 (8.8% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 7 (18.9% of QS)
Bail-Outs: 5 (14.3% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Jimmy Howard just finished his third season as the full-time goalie for the Red Wings. He had a great rookie season in 2009-10, and finished as the runner-up for the Calder Trophy. Then, in 2010-11, he went through a sophomore slump, but this year he seems to have returned to form, and actually improved on his rookie numbers in some areas. In fact, a closer look at the statistics reveals some remarkable similarities between his 2009-10 rookie campaign and his recent 2011-12 season. While Howard’s overall Sv% was .920 this year, his Ev Sv% of .929 was the highest in his career, just edging out his .925 from 2009 in very nearly the same amount of starts (he had 61 GS in his rookie campaign compared to 57 this year.)

Howard’s performance when the Wings were shorthanded this year was not so great (27 PPGA on 243 S, or .889,) compared to 2009 when he let in 28 PPGA on 296 S, for .905. This is the reason that although his Ev Sv% was the highest of his career this year, his Ov Sv% was lower than when he was a rookie. However, special teams Sv% is not consistent from year to year, so if Detroit can bolster their PK unit or if Howard essentially has a lucky season on special teams, his full-season Sv% could end up in the upper .920s or even .930.

An examination of Howard’s Quality Starts over the last three years reveals an uncanny similarity between this year and his rookie year. This year, he posted 37 QS out of 57 GS (64.9%), with 5 Terrible Starts (8.8%).

In 2009-10, he had exactly the same number of QS, but started a handful more games that year. His terrible starts over the past three years have been nearly identical, and during his sophomore year, he had more “mediocre games” (neither QS nor TS) while only having 7 blow-up games.

2009-10 2010-11 2011-12
QS

37

29

37

QSW

9

5

7

TS

6

7

5

BO

8

14

5

TSBO

0

1

0

A look at Quality Starts Wasted and Bail-outs by the Wings shows some interesting findings. The Winged Wheels actually wasted less of Howard’s QS in his “down year,” and wasted less this year than his rookie year, but they bailed him out less this year, and posted a very high number of bailouts last year when Howard was slumping…lesson being, I guess, that it’s good to play on one of the league’s perennial powerhouses. Who knew?

So what can we glean from looking at all this data? Well, with a great year followed by a down year followed by another good year, it is a little difficult to confidently predict which Howard will show up next year? I would tend to think he is closer to what he showed us this year, because his great Ev Sv% gives me reason to be optimistic. That number may come down slightly next year, but even so, that would still point to a reliable netminder. Howard played his age 27 season this year, so while he is no spring chicken, athletes tend to find that sweet spot between athleticism and experience in their late-twenties. I would guess that what we’ve seen from Howard this year is basically who he is, and I would feel confident projecting a similar season next year, though if he doesn’t break any of his digits or limbs, he will certainly be expected to contend for the league lead in Wins. It is also possible that we haven’t seen Howard’s best season, and if he puts everything together and gets a little lucky, he could put up numbers that would rival the very best goalies in the league (obviously this is a best-case scenario, but the reason we love sports is that anything can happen.)

Bottom Line: With two good years and one decent year under his belt, I would not reach for Howard over other, more proven netminders. I would classify him as a middle- or low-end No. 1 option, and certainly as a No. 2 fantasy goalie he would make a great option. To pair Howard’s Win potential with another goalie who can be counted on to put up great ratio stats would certainly make a very formidable fantasy duo. I wouldn’t bank on him repeating his .929 Ev Sv% necessarily, not until we see it again, but for the fantasy owner that likes to gamble, Howard could be drafted as a 6-10 goaltender who could return a great deal of value if he does get that best-case season. We will let the playoffs and offseason dust settle before reassessing Howard’s fantasy value for 2012-13.

NHL Playoff Implications: The Red Wings certainly have the star power to make a good run at Lord Stanley’s Hardware, though many are talking up the “this is their last shot to win a Cup with this group” angle. I really like the Wings’ chances this postseason, and if they do come out of the Western Conference, I wouldn’t be surprised. It helps to have a stellar offense in front of you as a goalie, though that offense will definitely be tested by the Predators’ great defense and some guy named Pekka Rinne. Will Howard be up to the challenge? There’s only one way to find out…

P.S. For what it’s worth, I have the Red Wings beating the Predators in a tough series, and actually coming out of the Western Conference to face Pittsburgh. I know they are old but I put a high value on experience in the playoffs. Plus, it helps to have guys named Datsuyk and Zetterberg on your team. The Wings will need Howard to be on top of his game if they hope to beat Nashville or St. Lous if they can topple San Jose.

Inside the Numbers: Pekka Rinne

Position: Goalie
Team: Nashville Predators
2011-12 Stats: 72 GS, 43 W, 2.39 GAA, .923 Sv%, 5 SO
Quality Starts: 44 (61.1% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 11 (15.3% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 9 (20.5% of QS)
Bail-outs: 9 (20.9% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Let’s play the fantasy hockey dating game. Which player would you rather have on your squad? Goalie A made 28 starts, had a GAA of 4.228 and a Sv% of just .852. Goalie B made 44 starts, with a 1.39 GAA and a .957 Sv%. Trick question—these lines are Pekka Rinne’s quality starts vs. his non-quality starts in 2011-12. But you probably already guessed that…nothing gets by you. You’re the Sheldon Cooper of hockey.

No goaltender in the National Hockey League faced more vulcanized rubber this year than Pekka Rinne. He played in the most games, made the most starts, and made more saves than anyone else. He posted 44 quality starts (61.1%,) but also had 11 starts (15.3%) where he got shellacked (<.850 Sv%). Three of his terrible starts came right in a row just before Christmas, and then two more came in back-to-back games March 20th and 22nd. He finished the year with a solid combination of a 2.39 GAA and .923 Sv%. However, his fantasy owners selected him very high on draft day (ADP 29.2 ESPN, 18.7 Y!) and were probably hoping for a return closer to his 2010-11 numbers of .930 and 2.12. As our dating game suggested, in his quality starts he was amazing, but in the other 30 games, frankly, he stunk. This may surprise fantasy players who consider Rinne to be on the Mt. Rushmore of goalies, but what is more surprising is that in four of his terrible starts, the Predators bailed out Rinne in a big way and he was credited with a win! By comparison, most goalies will be lucky to get bailed out even once when they have a Terrible Start.

Rinne’s even-strength Sv% has been pretty consistent over the last four campaigns, while his overall Sv% has moved around a bit more. While he didn’t replicate his outstanding numbers from last season, it is good to see that consistency, particularly for Ev Sv%. Going forward, I would fully expect Rinne to be among the NHL’s best between the pipes. I would not bank on him necessarily surpassing his 2010-11 numbers, but if we view him as a solid and consistent player, we can expect him to be in the ballpark of the upper .920s for saves.

Certainly that type of production will help any fantasy team. However, if you have to invest a second- or third-round pick to acquire Rinne, you are putting a lot of stock in him and if he fails to return the expected production, you could be looking at a negative value. Personally, I prefer to wait a little later to grab my number one goalie, but I would not begrudge anyone who selects Rinne. However, the sheer volume of starts he has made makes me a little nervous. Could his dip in production this year be related to his superhuman workload? Perhaps…or maybe his true skillset is closer to what he showed this year, and last year’s results were slightly over his actual level.

Another consideration is that the data presented here are just for the regular season. This is Nashville’s third year in a row making the playoffs, and Rinne played in six postseason games in 2009-10 and a dozen more in 2010-11. He will certainly tack on a few more this year, and many people seem to think the Predators are serious contenders, so depending on how far they advance, his workload could just keep going up and up. I’m not suggesting there is any particular reason to doubt that Rinne can handle that amount of work, but it’s not unreasonable to say that sooner or later the grueling pace will catch up to him.

Bottom Line: Pekka Rinne is a great goalie, there is no doubt about that. His QS/Non-QS splits this year are definitely food for thought, but until he shows us that he can’t continue to perform at a high level, there is no reason to expect a dropoff. However, the sheer workload is definitely a little bit of a red flag for me, especially considering you will need to spend a very high draft pick to get him on your team. I wouldn’t steer anyone away from selecting him, but personally, I am risk averse and I am afraid that the huge number of games he is playing will catch up to him sooner rather than later.

NHL Playoff Implications: The Predators are finally getting some respect this year, and with Weber, Suter, and Rinne, they will be a formidable matchup for the Red Wings. The late-season addition of Alexander Radulov has many believing the Preds are serious contenders this year, especially if Rinne gets hot. He is nothing short of a force of nature when he is on his game, and the Detroit/Nashville matchup is perhaps one of the more interesting pairings in the first round, especially given that Nashville has home ice advantage. Will this be the year the Predators do some serious damage in the postseason? Only time will tell.

Inside the Numbers: Mike Smith

Position: Goalie
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
2011-12 Stats: 67 GS, 38 W, 2.21 GAA, 930 Sv%.
Quality Starts: 41 (61.2% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 7 (10.4% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 10 (24.4% of QS)
Bail-Outs: 6 (9% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Mike Smith enjoyed a breakout year in 2011-12 as he propelled the Coyotes to their first Pacific Division title while posting one of the best save percentages in the League (T-3 with King Henrik Lundqvist.) He returned exceptional value this season compared to where he was drafted (ADP 157.5 Y!, 191.9 ESPN,) and was a workhorse for the Yotes, starting 67 games. He finished the season with 38 wins, a 2.21 GAA and a .930 Sv%, and was particularly effective in the fantasy playoffs, winning his last five decisions to end the season, including a 54-save shutout of the Blue Jackets on April 3rd.

Smith posted 41 quality starts this season, good for 61% of all his starts, though he also had seven “terrible starts,” where his Sv% was less than .850. The fact that he came close to 40 wins is particularly impressive considering the Coyotes could not be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut this year. They averaged 2.56 G/gm (18th in the league,) and posted a 13.6% PP rate, just a hair above Dalls (13.5%) for worst in the league. The Coyotes lost 10 of Smith’s quality starts, though they did bail him out seven times, so with a little more luck he could have broken the 40-win barrier. Everyone loves a breakout season, particularly between the pipes, and Smith will enjoy a nice bump in the fantasy rankings of netminders next year.

MIke Smith GS Breakdown 2011-12

However, a look at some advanced metrics hints that his success this year might not be repeatable in future campaigns. In particular, his even-strength save percentage—which has been shown to be a better indicator of success than overall Sv%—was higher this year than any in his career except one, that in 2008-09. The past two seasons, his Ev Sv% was barely over .900, and this year it jumped to .936. Here is a breakdown of Smith’s Ev Sv% vs. Overall Sv% for his career:

Mike Smith Sv pct Over Time

Though he did have one other year where his Ev Sv% was above .930, in his last two seasons, both his Ev Sv% and Overall Sv% were right around .900. Considering Smith turned 30 this March, I’m willing to bet that he sees some regression next year. If nothing else, his up-and-down history suggests he is no sure thing to repeat his .930 season. He may also suffer some fatigue from the increased workload—his 67 starts in the regular season are more than his last two years combined and a 67% jump from his previous season high of 40 starts in 2008-09. (This article was written before the playoffs started, so it remains to be seen how much time he sees in the postseason.) It is interesting to note that his two seasons with .930 or higher Ev Sv% were his heavy-workload seasons…perhaps he is the type of player who performs better when he sees a great deal of action. However, it is also very likely that it’s just a coincidence.

It is very early to look at rankings for next fantasy season, but it is well within reason that most players could have Smith as a top-10 goaltender. Call me cynical (statheads are often given that label,) but I am just not that confident that Smith will repeat his great performance. How often do we see goalies break out after their 30th birthday? Tim Thomas comes to mind, but he should certainly be viewed as the exception and not the rule. If we anticipate some regression to the mean, and Smith’s Sv% comes back down into the .920s, he would not be considered as an elite option. Plus, the franchise will need to bolster their offense if they want to make another run at a division title. Factor in the age of the current roster—the Yotes’ two leading scorers, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata, are 39 and 30 years old at season’s end, —and Phoenix will certainly have a challenge scoring enough goals to help out Smith.

Bottom Line: No one can take away Smith’s excellent season this year, and he will long be remembered in Phoenix for his heroics. As they say, Flags Fly Forever, but I will not be drafting him in my leagues next year. I would certainly take him as a no. 2, but I would expect other owners to pay for his 2011-12 numbers. One of my rules is “never pay for a career year,” and it certainly looks like this is Smith’s best year. If he proves me wrong I will gladly admit it, but for now, remember that discretion is the better part of valor, and choose a more proven option.

Playoff Implications: The Coyotes will live or die by Smith’s performance this postseason. The fact that his save percentages this year—both even-strength and when his team is shorthanded—are some of the highest in his career leads me to believe that he has played a bit over his head. Plus, the Coyotes anemic power play and low goal production means if Smith is even mediocre, Phoenix will have very little margin for error. Their first round opponent, Chicago, is not known for their defense, so perhaps the Coyotes will be able to put up some goals, but the Hawks have an abundance of offensive talent. Jonathan Toews’ may not be 100%, but even if he doesn’t play, Chicago can still find a lot of ways to create offense. No goalie finished the season hotter than Smith, so if he can manage to continue his incredible performance, the Yotes might have a chance to steal some games. Personally, I’d give them a snowball’s chance, but that’s why they play the games!

Hello and welcome to Hashtag Hockey! I hope to grow this site to include a wealth of statistical information related to the great game of hockey. I am primarily interested in fantasy hockey, so a lot of what I write about will be through a fantasy lens. However, since the NHL playoffs are just getting underway as I launch the site, I will definitely put some playoff spin on a lot of the early content.

Who is this guy and why should I care? To begin, here is a little bit about myself. I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA (proud citizen of the State of Hockey,) but I currently live in Los Angeles, California, where the only hockey rinks are indoors. I am a professional research psychologist by trade and by training, which basically just means that I am interested in objectively studying human behavior and analyzing outcomes of different interventions.

I am also a lifelong sports fan, in particular hockey and baseball. In recent years, as advanced statistical analysis has gained traction, I realized that essentially, evaluating player performance is just another form of objectively studying human behavior and analyzing outcomes…sound familiar? I firmly believe that stats can help evaluate players because they are objective and nonbiased (although of course, Mark Twain would remind us that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

What will you find on this site? One reason I love fantasy sports so much is that they allow people to make their own decisions about players and do their own analysis. There are lots of good fantasy hockey sites out there, but I wanted to put my own spin on things because I believe that there is a great opportunity to integrate statistical analysis to the game of fantasy hockey. This is a very interesting time for hockey analytics, as we are still learning about what kinds of stats are useful and which are not. The bulk of the content I produce will be directly tied into fantasy hockey strategy, but I will also try to do some metagame analysis, look at overall strategies, and hopefully start some discussions about the state of the game. I hope you have some familiarity with basic statistical principles, but if not, don’t sweat it. I will try to provide links to other articles that describe the stats that I use in my analysis, but I will also give short descriptions of the things I use.

Why start a fantasy hockey blog after the regular season? It may seem like an inopportune time to start a fantasy blog, given that the fantasy season has just completed! I admit that my timing isn’t the greatest, but on the other hand, I now have another full season’s worth of data to use. Plus, with the NHL playoffs just getting started, I can offer some analysis that will still apply to the “second season.” During this offseason, I plan to do a bunch of individual player profiles, as well as the usual fantasy analysis of sleepers and busts, best and worst values for next season, etc.

With the NHL playoffs set to begin in just a couple of days, I will begin my journey by looking at the goaltenders of the playoff teams. I do have a full time job so to begin I won’t be able to devote as much time as I would like to writing, but I will do my best to put up new content as fast as I can.

Thank you very much for visiting my new site, and please share your feedback with me, as well as any ideas for articles or analysis you would like to see!