What’s Wrong With Patrick Sharp?

Patrick Sharp shot the lights out last season and this season cannot seem to buy a goal. Many have bemoaned his production this season blaming his lack of points up on anything from aging, being overrated or just suddenly forgetting how to play hockey. None of these theories has been backed by any sort of data, so what’s really wrong with Patrick Sharp? Assuming he’s not paying the back end of a deal with the devil for his spot on the Canadian Olympic team last season, nothing is actually wrong with Patrick Sharp aside from some bad luck.

Players go through slumps where things just don’t go right for them. It happens in baseball. It happens in hockey. It happens in virtually every sport. Sharp is in a slump and having some bad luck, but don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at the numbers.

Continue reading

Questioning the Credibility of the Jack Adams Award

Every season when the annual awards are being voted upon, big debates spring up about who should win what, usually with a big dose of homerism to go along with it. In the past, I would really get into those, but over the last few seasons I’ve come to find them to be more of an annoyance than anything. The awards themselves are not really the annoyance actually, it’s more the sometimes ridiculous levels the debates around them reach and the fact that so often, the voters seem in large part to do their voting based upon reputation or trendy picks more than anything else.

Recently, I was discussing some of the flaws in the breakout system (defensive zone exits) the Montreal Canadiens use with Mathieu Roy (@Le_Matheux on Twitter) and he told me that Habs’ coach Michel Therrien was getting some mention as a potential Jack Adams Award nominee. This led us into a discussion of how misguided we thought the voting for that award was and spurred me to do a little more digging.

The Jack Adams Award is voted on by the members of the NHL Broadcasters Association and is meant to reward the coach who has contributed the most to his team’s success. Everyone knows that coaching is important and it’s nice to give awards like this, but to think this award actually has anything to do with coaching is largely inaccurate. Frankly, they could easily change this award to something like “we really didn’t think your team would be in a position to make the playoffs this season” or “wow a player on your team had a great year” and it would go to the same people. Continue reading

Bowman, Quenneville & Player Development (Part 2)

Building off of my previous piece on the realities facing the Chicago Blackhawks due to the salary cap, I questioned the willingness of Head Coach Joel Quenneville to develop young players on the NHL roster given that he has not really had to do that very often during his time in Chicago. In the past when I have pointed out Quenneville’s hesitance to let younger players learn, people have often given a few examples of young players making the team to refute my claims. This spurred me to look through the past several years of player usage and movement to see if I was simply being too hard on him.

(All data regarding this season’s games played is current within the last two weeks. Data used throughout was obtained from: http://www.hockey-reference.com; http://www.hockeydb.com; http://www.prosportstransactions.com; and, http://www.nhl.com. Many thanks to these resources for making this information consistently available.)

1990-91 Through 2014-15chi 9091 to 1415 roster

The graph above shows the percentage of players on the Chicago roster during the regular season who were regulars on the roster the season prior. In determining this, I considered any skater with at least 20 games played during the season, excluding playoffs, as a regular roster player. They goalies were determined on a case by case basis since often goalies are called up to fill in sporadically, but they are not usually considered as part of the roster at the end of the season. Those skaters with under 20 games played or who were acquired in the offseason were obviously not part of the roster the prior season for my purposes here.

The major low point for the percentage of players returning to the roster was the 2005-06 season. After having the 2004-05 season cancelled, the team built itself around a crop of young players including Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and a few others. The low point after that is evidenced by the two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 09-10 when the roster was changed due to salary cap concerns and injuries. Continue reading

Bowman, Quenneville & Player Development

Stan Bowman took the reins as GM of the Chicago Blackhawks from Dale Tallon back in July of 2009. The team that Tallon had partially built went on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Due to the salary cap, many pieces of that team had to be traded the following summer. The supporting cast of the team was rebuilt and in the 2012-13 season won the Stanley Cup again. Last season the team lost in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

This season, despite being in a playoff position with just under 20 games left, the Blackhawks have been struggling a bit to play a complete game. Many rumors were swirling about trades prior to the deadline. On February 27th, Chicago traded picks for defenseman Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago then acquired forward Antoine Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes for AHL defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and Chicago’s 2015 first round draft pick. Finally, on deadline day, Ben Smith was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Andrew Desjardins.

Throughout his 5 and ½ years as the GM of the Blackhawks, Stan Bowman has met with considerable criticism of his moves, some of which is likely due to the loyalty some feel for Dale Tallon. Others like the moves Bowman has made, particularly in drafting players. Right now, after the focus on the upcoming playoffs, the biggest issue on the minds of many comes from the development and usage of the players in the system. With the team right up against the salary cap and the uncertainty of how much the cap will move, many believe that using the players already under contract in the system is more efficient than bringing in more seasoned players and will be necessary to the continued success of the team. This idea has merit of course, but the big stumbling block is whether the younger players, if brought up to the team, will even be played.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville has gained a reputation for being a very good coach, but also one who often balks at the idea of using young unproven players. This is fairly common in coaching at the NHL level, but with Quenneville, many see it as a refusal to allow young players to make mistakes and learn from them. From the outside, Quenneville seems like a coach who wants players on his team to be polished professionals upon arrival, regardless of where they are coming from and when you add in the salary cap struggles of the team, it may lead to frustrating results.

Put bluntly, Quenneville is a terrific NHL coach, but if the team needs to work in players who are not experienced pros due to salary cap issues, there are going to be problems. If Quenneville is not willing to adapt his methods to accommodate the realities of the business end of the team, I don’t see how the partnership can last much longer than next season. I embrace the “win now” temperament just like many others so I understand the moves that were made on the trade market, but looking long term, which is what the GM of the team must do, the realities of the money part of this business may make it necessary for a coaching change in the near future.

Let me once again stress that Joel Quenneville is an excellent hockey coach. His systems are, quite frankly, revolutionary in terms of modern hockey strategy. Quenneville has developed a three scoring line and one checking line approach to player usage that allows his teams to optimize their offensive talent while suppressing their opponent’s offense. It really is extraordinary and so it is with much difficulty that I would even think that Chicago may have to head in a different direction soon and really that thought is only driven by the constraints of the salary cap. If Quenneville cannot be given the team he wants, he has yet to show much willingness to take a chance on a young player with a learning curve to fill the roles the salary cap will not allow to be filled with a veteran player.

There are several factors that complicate this matter. First, the Blackhawks have had great success over the past several seasons including two Stanley Cups. Second, replacing Quenneville would only be an option if a coach with similar progressive strategies but who is open to allowing younger players to develop is available or attainable. Third, because the roster is packed with talent, short term results (i.e. going deep into the playoffs again this season) would have to be ignored with the goal being long term sustainable success.

If hockey was purely business driven, this would be easier to accomplish; however, there is a heavy dose of public relations and personal loyalty to consider with every move. All of these factors will likely lead to Quenneville finishing out his contract with Chicago and perhaps being given an extension. We’ve seen this happen around the league in the past. Teams enjoy great success and continue forward with the status quo despite knowing (or at least being in a position where they should know) that their current approach to team building and player development will cause problems down the road. Essentially, hockey cycles through being a reactive business when the team is successful and a proactive business when the team is struggling.

If teams want to sustain long term success in the salary cap era, they must begin to embrace a more proactive farsighted approach even in good times. In Chicago’s case, the star studded roster will eat the majority of the salary cap space over the next several seasons. Young players on cheap contracts will be an absolute necessity if the team wants to develop the depth required for successful season results. As those players get near the end of their cheap contracts, they will have to be moved for assets that will turn into not only the stars of the future, but the depth players too. Quenneville has shown some willingness to give young players a chance at the depth forward positions near the end of the season going into the playoffs. This has almost always happened when an injury late in the season suddenly requires improvisation to fill out the roster.

If the player is fortunate enough to avoid many mistakes, he may find himself making the team out of camp the next season or at least being the “go to guy” when injuries the following season require call ups from the AHL. The other recent trend that has allowed young players to see some playing time late in the season is when players like Marcus Kruger and Teuvo Teravainen have finished the season with their European teams and are being brought to North America. College players having finished their NCAA seasons have also gotten a chance for a little playing time such as with Ben Smith, Drew Leblanc, Matt Carey and others.

The problem with this end of the season approach is that instead of developing players throughout the regular season, Chicago often only gives them a shot during the pressure cooker of the run to the playoffs. Granted, that is still a great opportunity for a young player to get, but every mistake he makes has magnified consequences. If Chicago were more willing to take a chance on a young player earlier in the regular season, they would likely get a far better sense of what the player is truly capable of and allow the player to develop and learn so that when the playoffs do come around, he’s prepared for his role instead of scrambling to be perfect in a new high pressure situation.

I am not a hockey coach or an NHL GM. I do not presume to have the knowledge that Quenneville and Bowman possess. I am coming at this from the perspective of an outsider trying to piece together how things will go in the future based upon how they have gone in the past. In my years of reading and studying hockey, I have noticed a common theme in the comments made about great coaches. One of the most hailed attributes of great coaches in any sport is often encapsulated in quotes from former players that boil down to: He let me know that everyone makes mistakes and that the important thing was to learn from them so I could become a better player.

Again, as an outsider, it appears that coaching star players and coaching young developing players requires two different approaches. It is not one size fits all. Being a hardliner with star players often works to get the best from them; however, demanding perfection and accepting nothing less from young developing players does not seem to work very well. The more afraid you are to make a mistake, the more mistakes you make. At this point, at least from an outsider’s perspective, the level of scrutiny used on developing players in Chicago seems far more sharply focused than that used on the established players.

This season, Chicago was able to go out and get the polished professionals the team felt they needed to ice their best lineup without Patrick Kane. The question is, how long will they be able to do this as the veteran core of the team ages? The way Chicago develops young talent will need to be adjusted soon if the team wants to avoid the lulls in the cycle of success. Personally, I hope that Quenneville is willing to adapt his approach a bit, because he is obviously a tremendous coach and as a fan, I want the team to continue to be successful. Will that happen? We’ll see.

This article will be followed shortly by another post detailing Chicago’s player development and usage over the years.

Putting Chicago’s Play In Perspective

Recently, after a loss to the Colorado Avalanche, I was about to tweet out a reassurance to Chicago Blackhawks fans that there was still time in the season to fix the problems that have plagued the team. I am usually a very optimistic and positive person so when it suddenly occurred to me that I had been handing out this same type of assurance since the start of the season I was forced to rethink what I was saying. I realized I was forming that moment’s reassurance based not upon anything objective, but upon my personal feelings about the team. Obviously, as a fan of the team, I always believe in them and have faith in them to do great things. As someone who analyzes the team from a systems and statistics perspective, I feel it is my responsibility to be realistic about how they are playing. That can be very had to do and I don’t blame people for not wanting to hear it sometimes.

Instead of tweeting reassurances, I went on a mini-rant about how I did not consider Chicago to be among the very best teams in the league given their play this season. This stirred up a little controversy of course. Many very smart hockey analysts disagreed with me citing Chicago’s good possession numbers. It is true, when you look at their numbers from a percentage standpoint, they look pretty good. Chicago has some terrific offensive talent that drives those numbers even when they have small slumps in shooting percentage that cause ripples of panic to radiate through the fan base. Frankly, I am not worried about Chicago’s offense. I expect any glaring outliers in terms of shooting percentage will likely correct themselves. My biggest concern this season has been with Chicago’s shot suppression numbers. Shot suppression comes from stifling the opponent’s ability to gain the offensive zone, creating turnovers and exiting the defensive zone cleanly and efficiently. This has been the backbone of Chicago’s success despite the widespread perception of the Blackhawks as a high end offensive team (they are that too of course). Since the beginning of the season, the shot suppression metrics were not favoring Chicago, but many thought that once the defense got sorted out things would improve. The defense has not been completely sorted out at this point of the season with just over 20 games left to play.

With all of this in mind, I went through the metrics from Chicago’s recent seasons to see how they compare to this season in detail. Using the current season’s averages in each metric, I calculated the deviation from those averages on a game by game basis. Because I started with the 2008-09 season and continued forward, there was a lot of information. To make it more digestible, I graphed out the deviation from this season’s average with a 5 game moving average.

SAVE PERCENTAGE – 2014-15 5v5 SCORE ADJUSTED SEASON AVERAGE = 92.6675%

0815 SV PCT 1415 DEV AVG

Chicago’s goaltending appears to have been far more consistent this season than in prior seasons with less variance in the highs and lows. Continue reading

Penalty Killing Metrics and Pitfalls in Evaluating Success

The strength of a team’s penalty killing, in my opinion, is more important than the strength of a team’s power play. The element of a penalty kill that is of foremost importance is the neutral zone forecheck of the shorthanded team. If the team with the man advantage cannot gain the attacking zone, they cannot take shots and score goals. Unfortunately, at this point at least, the microstats that detail the efficacy of a team’s neutral zone forecheck are not available to the public and it is debatable that all teams in the NHL even collect or use these types of stats. So, with the supremacy of the neutral zone forecheck in mind, what is most important to penalty killing that we can measure? We often hear that the goalie is a team’s best penalty killer and while that seems pretty logical, I thought I would look over the statistics for the past several seasons in the NHL to see which metrics best describe the success or failure of a team’s penalty kill.

I started out with a theory that the shot frequency would have an affect on how successful the penalty kill was over a longer term so I looked at a slew of different shot metrics. The trick with shot metrics on the penalty kill is that they come in such small sample sizes. Sometimes a PK lasts 10-20 seconds and the Power Play team scores on their first shot attempt. Other times, teams kill off 10 minutes of penalties in a game without giving up a goal. Either way, penalty kills are small portions of the game in terms of minutes, so the rate stats (CA60, FA60, etc…) we often use for 5 on 5 play can be heavily skewed.

I looked at FA60 (All Unblocked Shot Attempts Against Per 60), SA60 (Shots On Goal Against Per 60), SCA60 (Scoring Chances Against Per 60), GA60 (Goals Against Per 60), Sv% (Save Percentage) and PK% (Penalty Kill Percentage) from 2008-2009 through the present. I also used the raw numbers, i.e. Shots on Goal Against, Goals Against and the like, to see if I could find any correlation there as well.

The most obvious correlation in penalty killing metrics is between goals against and PK%.

 0815 GA60 PK PCT

Since a team’s penalty killing percentage (PK%) is based upon times shorthanded and goals given up, the 96.67% correlation between PK% and Goals Against/60 is, quite simply, expected.

0815 SV PCT GA60

A team’s Goals Against rate (GA60) also heavily correlates with the team’s Save Percentage (Sv%) on the PK. The correlation between GA60 and Sv% is less than GA60 and PK% because Sv% is based upon Shots On Goal and Goals. Teams give up a varying amount of Shots On Goal and have goalies with varying talent levels so while there is heavy correlation, this variance shows here.

0815 SOGA60 GA60

When we look at Shots On Goal Against rates (SA60) and GA60 from 2008-09 through the 2014-15 season, the variance due to the talent of the goalie becomes clearer. Teams with a higher SA60 tended to have a higher GA60 to the tune of a 20.21% correlation. This is still a fairly strong correlation from a statistical standpoint, but it really underlines the differences between teams in terms of the performance they get from their goaltending. Continue reading

Breaking Down Chicago’s Defensive Breakdowns

As the season creeps ever closer to the finish line, the Blackhawks have started a home stand that many thought would bring a nice points boost in the jam packed Central Division. After the first two games, Chicago had one point from a shootout loss against the Arizona Coyotes and a point from an overtime loss against the Vancouver Canucks. At the same time, the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues continued to gain points.

Chicago’s daily topic of conversation has revolved around the defense. Michael Rozsival and Johnny Oduya have come under heavy scrutiny all season, but at this point, fans have just had it with them. Both players have had rough seasons for Chicago and deserve some criticism to be sure, but Chicago’s problems go deeper than one bad defense pairing.

ZONE EXITS

One of the most noticeable problems has been on zone exits. When trying to exit the defensive zone, the defenseman will often win the puck from the attacking team near the boards. At this point, it is time for a breakout play to move the puck up the ice. Virtually every breakout play used when the defense is under pressure in the defensive zone (i.e. not simply moving the puck back into the defensive zone to regroup with perhaps one forechecker pressuring) involves moving the puck up the boards to a waiting forward. There is usually too much pressure and congestion for a defenseman having just won the puck from the attacking team to simply skate the puck out of the zone. Trying this with heavy pressure often leads to turnovers and players being out of position to effectively execute their defensive zone assignments.

Once a defenseman has won the puck, he must quickly read his options and his defense partner must do the same. D1 is the defenseman with the puck and D2 is his partner. D2 will usually call out the breakout play so that D1 can quickly complete whatever maneuver he needs to make to begin the breakout. Whether the breakout is an Over, Wheel, Reverse, Rim, Up, etc…, the defense ends up moving the puck to a forward at or preferably, above the faceoff circle near the boards. This cuts down on the risk associated with making a cross ice pass with heavy pressure from the attacking players in the defensive zone. This also requires the defending forwards to keep a sharp eye out for what the defensemen are doing so that they can move to the correct position to receive the puck and break out of the zone.

Very often recently, Chicago’s forwards have not been ready to execute the breakout when the defensemen have retrieved the puck. You may have noticed recently when one of Chicago’s defenseman has gained possession of the puck and moved it up the boards where he expects one of the supporting forwards will be waiting, there is no one there but one of the point men for the opposition. The puck is held in the zone and the whole process starts over again. Not only is this sustained zone time problematic because it obviously leads to more shots against and chances for the opponent’s to score, but it has another effect as well. When there has been a board battle, particularly when it is below the faceoff circles or near the end boards, the defensive formation tends to collapse down toward the net creating a lot of congestion and traffic. The intention here is to put sticks and bodies in passing lanes near the net. This isolates the players in the board battle so that if the attacking player wins the puck, he has very limited options to move it to a better shooting area.

One way attacking players try to create shooting lanes when the defensive formation is compressed or collapsed down low in the zone is to move the puck back up high in the zone. This causes a lot of movement by the defensive players and provides an opportunity for the attacking players to find a lane to get a shot off. What has been happening to Chicago quite often is this: the defensemen win the puck low in the defensive zone, they move it up the boards where a forward should be waiting to carry on the breakout, no forward is present, the puck ends up on the stick of the opponent working the point, the defensive formation has to shift from low in the zone to high in the zone, passing or shooting lanes open up during this transition, the opponent is given the opportunity to get a better scoring chance. Essentially, the defense is doing the job of the attacking forward by moving the puck back to the point and decompressing the collapsed defensive formation because the forwards are not ready to execute their part of the breakout.

This is not entirely the forwards’ fault. The defensemen are well conditioned to execute these breakouts almost as a reflex. Quick decisions with the puck are a necessary skill of any NHL defenseman, but if the forwards are not ready to break out of the zone, blindly rimming the puck up the boards will not work. Just because a forward is pressured along the boards does not take away the forward as an option, so continuing the play and relying upon the forward to win the puck is not a bad plan.

Again, the big problem I have seen repeatedly in recent games has been the blind passes up the boards when no forward is present to battle for the puck. The additional problem with this is that when the defenseman looks to see if a forward ready to help and finds none, he has to decide what to do. That extra second or two holding the puck low in the zone is a recipe for disaster. Still under pressure from the attacking team, the defenseman must now either skate the puck to another location or find someone to pass it to. Standing there hesitating invites turnovers and poor decisions, so it is imperative that the forwards get to the right spot and that the defensemen make a quick decision for “plan B” to avoid these problems.

NEUTRAL ZONE FORECHECK

Another area of concern is combating the breakouts of the opponent. One of the Blackhawks biggest strengths last season was shot suppression. This season, shot suppression has been a real struggle for Chicago. One of the tools used very effectively last season was the neutral zone forecheck. Not only did the defensemen pressure the puck carrier trying to enter the offensive zone, but the forwards in the neutral zone did as well.

Chicago often uses a 1-2-2 formation with various motions therein to combat the opponent’s attack. One forward plays in the defensive zone to take away passing lanes and pressure the puck carrier to make a poor decision or force the puck carrier to pass into a specific area where other forecheckers are waiting to close off the routes into the offensive zone. This cuts down on controlled zone entries, which are known to lead to more shots against and offensive zone pressure.

At times this season, Chicago’s neutral zone forecheck has looked impressive and the efficacy of the system they use has shown in the stifling of their opponent’s zone entries. At other times, the system has been exploited by teams skilled in stretch passing or has outright broken down because of missed assignments, players being caught flat footed and sloppy play in the neutral zone.

I manually track Chicago’s zone entries and zone exits among other things. This data, often referred to as microstats, helps paint a picture of how effectively the team and their opponents are getting into the offensive zone and getting out of their own zone. Below, I have included data from 5 games in January of 2015 so that we can explore what this information tells us about how the team is performing. The games include Arizona (1/20/15), Pittsburgh (1/21/15), L.A. (1/28/15), Anaheim (1/30/15), and San Jose (1/31/15).

Below is a table of data from my tracking regarding Chicago’s defensemen. It is important to keep TOI (Time on Ice) in mind while looking at raw numbers. Players with more ice time will have higher numbers of course. The data in the chart directly below is during 5 on 5 play only. I track all situations, but this is the largest share of the data and most useful for our purposes here.

21415 table 1

 At 5 on 5, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook played the most minutes during this stretch of games followed by Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Duncan Keith and David Rundblad. Hjalmarsson and Seabrook handled the lion’s share of faceoff duties in all three zones and particularly in the defensive zone. Rundblad was used very sparingly on faceoffs and then almost always out of the offensive zone. Hjalmarsson, Seabrook and Keith were paired with Oduya and Rozsival sporadically during games on a shift by shift basis, usually when Rundblad was not being used.

In order to make the data above more palatable, I have converted the values into percentages. The first table below breaks down each type of entry as a percentage of the player’s total entries against. So for example, of the 51 times (100%) that Keith was targeted on an opponent’s zone entry, 12 times the puck was carried in resulting in 23.5% of Keith’s entries against being Carry Ins.

21415 table 2
Rundblad had the lowest Carry In Against % of the defensemen, but also had the lowest number of targeted entries against because of his rather limited ice time. The thing that stands out the most here is Rozsival’s stat line. 43.1% of the time that he was targeted by the opposition as they entered the attacking zone, they were able to carry the puck in. As we know, carrying the puck into the zone historically produces more shot attempts than dumping the puck in and trying to get it back. The really interesting thing here is that in tracking this data, I also track whether a forward was able to assist in pressuring the entry through the neutral zone forecheck or aggressive backchecking.

21415 table 3

As you can see, the percentage of carry in entries against the defensemen occur largely when the defense does not have the assistance of any forwards through either the neutral zone forecheck or aggressive backchecking. These are often situations where the defensemen are forced into a retreating type of coverage to take away the center of the ice and wait for reinforcements in the defensive zone. If the defenseman gets too aggressive in pressuring the entry in this situation and fails in his endeavor, his defense partner will end up defending the play on his own. That is a risk that teams try to avoid obviously. This also shows that when a forward was able to help pressure the zone entry with the defenseman, for the most part, the opponent was not able to carry the puck into the zone and either the entry failed or became a dump and chase situation.

When we look at the percentages from a comparative perspective, i.e., of the six defensemen, what percentage of the total was each responsible for, we start to see a fairly clear picture of what happened during this 5 game span.

21415 table 4

39.1% of the carry in zone entries where a forward was there to help pressure the entry with the defenseman came against Rozsival. He also had the highest share of the carry in entries against him when no forwards were there to assist. The highest shares of the entries that failed with forwards assisting in pressuring the attacking players belong to Oduya, Keith and Rozsival.

When the defenseman was on his own to thwart the attacking player’s attempt to enter the zone with the puck on his stick or by passing it to a teammate, Seabrook had the highest share of successfully defending against the entry. Hjalmarsson was close behind him with Oduya in third. Keith was last in this category, but again he had the second lowest ice time and targets as well during this period of time.

When we split up the team total in each category of zone entry, we can see which defensemen were responsible:

21415 table 5

So, from this information, we know that during this recent span of time, Rozsival had the most obvious struggles keeping opponents from entering the attacking zone with control of the puck. Despite being 4th on the 5 on 5 TOI depth chart, he had the highest share of the controlled entries (carry/pass in entries) of the defensemen. Oduya had the highest share of pucks being dumped in against him, but also the highest share of those dump ins being successfully retrieved. Seabrook had the highest share of failed entries against or put another way, had the most success at denying the attacking player to get into the zone. Both Hjalmarsson and Oduya had impressive marks in this regard as well.

Once the attacking team gained the zone during these games, how did Chicago get the puck out? Zone exit data can help us explore this. I only know of a handful of people who track exit data and all of us seem to keep track of different things, so frankly it is tough getting any comparison data around the league to give a decent gauge here. The only thing we can really do at this point is compare Chicago’s players against each other with the understanding that particularly when it comes to forwards, the defensive formation and breakout formation being used at the time will influence who is carrying the puck out of the zone.

Below is a table showing which players were responsible for getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Many of these plays happened after other players forced turnovers, made good passes or got the puck to an area of the ice where a teammate could retrieve it so I have included those as well. They are broken down into controlled and uncontrolled actions. The controlled actions include passing in the zone, carrying the puck out of the zone and passing the puck out of the zone. The uncontrolled actions include tossing the puck to an area of the ice where a teammate is likely to retrieve it and dumping the puck out of the zone.

21415 table 6

As you can see, during this span of games and frankly all the time, the defensemen are largely responsible for moving the puck in the defensive zone.

21415 table 7

The table above shows the percentages for the touches by defensemen only. The more the puck can be moved while under control the better. Many of the actions I have labeled as “Dump Outs” are actually passes to players in the neutral zone that missed their mark and carried on into the attacking zone with forwards in pursuit. Others include simply shooting the puck out of the zone and causing the opposition to have to go back, retrieve the puck and regroup in their own defensive zone.

When passes into the neutral zone miss or the puck is dumped out and icing is called, this is considered an unsuccessful zone exit and is not included in the data above. Below is a table of turnovers in the defensive and neutral zone forced by Chicago players and committed by Chicago players. Again, the defensemen are largely responsible for getting the puck back from the attacking players and moving the puck in the defensive zone so it is expected that they would have higher numbers in these areas.

21415 table 8
For the defensemen, the passing turnovers are largely due to trying to move the puck to an area of the ice where the player believes one of his teammates will be waiting to receive it. This is particularly good evidence of the problems Chicago has had on breakout plays under heavy defensive zone pressure that I referenced at the beginning of this article. 74 of the 97 passing turnovers were committed by the defensemen. This also includes passes into the neutral zone from the defensive zone that went directly to the stick of an opposing player allowing the attacking team to immediately put the puck back in, i.e. failed zone exits.

Another troublesome indication from the table above is the lower number of turnovers forced by Oduya. While he may not have had the struggles Rozsival had on zone entries during this span of games, his inability to get the puck from the opponent allowed them to have more zone time. Another thing to keep in mind here is that often during this period of games, once play was stopped after the goalie made a save, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook were brought on to handle the defensive zone faceoff. This pairing has borne the brunt of the defensive lapses committed by their teammates as a result.

The recent call up of Kyle Cumiskey and the injury to Rozsival may alter the dynamics of the defense enough to stir up some changes in how the team is playing, but the systemic issues facing the team on zone exits will require a larger adjustment. It remains to be seen how long Rozsival will be out of the lineup, but if the defensive pairings show an improvement in their play without him, the right move will be to keep him out for a while longer. He is an older player with a history of injuries that have caused significant wear and tear and affected his skating. Rozsival has good instincts and still makes good plays, but it just seems that his age and mileage are catching up to him. He certainly tries to make the plays that made him a valuable defensive asset in the past, but simply cannot physically perform in the manner necessary to be as effective as he once was.

A Family’s Struggle

My sons, 7 and 9 years old, have made lots of friends at school since we moved here a little over a year ago. My older son befriended a classmate who was held back a year so he’s 10 years old. We’ll call the boy “C” for our purposes here. C has had trouble at school not only with grades but also with some misbehavior such as taking things of very minor value, like a shiny rock or a Pokémon card, from another child’s bag. The items were returned and he served in-school suspension for this. C gets picked on by other kids sometimes and does his share of dishing it out too. He is often at the park across the street from his house where lots of preteens and teens hang out after school so he tends to act a lot older than his age would indicate. He has a younger brother who is 6. We’ll call him “N”. N has some developmental issues both physically and mentally.

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The New NHL Terms Of Service & Analytics

The NHL’s website, NHL.com, recently updated the language of the TOS (Terms of Service) regarding the use of the site’s Services and Content. This has caused a stir in the analytics community due to the possible implications of the language contained therein. A friend asked if I would look over the former and updated TOS’s and give my impressions of the meaning and possible implications there from. Of course, these are simply my impressions of the language in the old and new TOS’s and are not intended to be construed as legal advice nor should these impressions be relied upon in such a manner.

 OLD NHL.COM TOS:

In addition, the NHL Parties also provide access to certain footage (video and audio), photographs, text, images, statistics, logos and other media and intellectual property related to or otherwise associated with the National Hockey League, its member clubs and the sport of hockey (collectively, the “Content”).

- NHL.com Terms of Service (formerly used), Section 2. Services And Content

RTSS statistics and data (i.e. data targeted by scraping programs used for stats sites, stats/tracking projects etc…) were included in the definition of Content for the purposes of the old TOS.

You may not use any of the Content or Services for commercial purposes. The Services may not be viewed in areas open to the public or in commercial establishments where multiple people can view it at the same time. Further, you may not copy, distribute, modify, republish, broadcast, retransmit or publicly display any of the Content or Services, create derivative works of them, charge admission for their viewing, or transmit or distribute running accounts of them, unless you have the prior written permission of NHL ICE, which permission may be withheld in NHL ICE’s sole discretion.

- NHL.com Terms of Service (formerly used), Section 2. Services and Content

 

Sites and/or projects using RTSS data were prohibited by the old TOS. Enforcement of this provision was not undertaken as far as I know.

NEW NHL.COM TOS:

You may not access or use, or attempt to access or use, the Services to take any action that could harm us or any other person or entity (each a “person”), interfere with the operation of the Services, or use the Services in a manner that violates any laws.

- NHL.com Terms of Service (recently updated), Section 2. Prohibited Content and Activities

 

The new TOS details a general position by the league indicates a desire to protect their site and services from malicious attack and/or abuse. The language seems to target activities by outside parties attempting to use Content (included in definition of Services) that would hamper or interfere with the efficient functioning of the site.

For example, you may not:

  • Impersonate any person or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your credentials,  affiliation with any person, or the origin of any information you provide;
  • Engage in unauthorized spidering, scraping, or harvesting of content or information, or use any other unauthorized automated means to compile information;
  • Obtain or attempt to gain unauthorized access to other computer systems, materials, information, or any services available on or through the Services;
  • Use any device, software, or routine to interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Services or any activity conducted on the Services or attempt to probe, scan, test the vulnerability of, or breach the security of any system, device, or network;
  • Circumvent, reverse engineer, decipher, decompile, disassemble, decrypt, or otherwise alter or interfere with (or attempt, encourage, or support anyone else’s attempt to engage in such activities) any of the software comprising or in any way making up a part of the Services. The use or distribution of tools designed for compromising security (e.g., password guessing programs, cracking tools, or network probing tools) is strictly prohibited;
  • Take any action that imposes an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our network or infrastructure;
  • Upload or otherwise transmit any communication, software, or material that contains a virus or is otherwise harmful to our or our users’ computers, devices, or systems; or
  • Engage in any other conduct that restricts or inhibits any person from using or enjoying the Services, or that, in our sole judgment, exposes us, users or any other third party to any liability, damages, or detriment of any type.

Violations of system or network security and certain other conduct may result in civil or criminal liability. We may investigate and work with law enforcement authorities to prosecute users who violate the Terms. We may suspend or terminate your access to the Services for any or no reason at any time without notice.

– NHL.com Terms of Service (recently updated), Section 2. Prohibited Content and Activities

The majority of the examples provided in the Prohibited Content and Activities section focus on actions that would attempt to circumvent the site’s security such as paywalls, blackout provisions, etc. The specific language that has been the focus of added scrutiny for analytics users is “Engage in unauthorized spidering, scraping, or harvesting of content or information, or use any other unauthorized automated means to compile information”.

 Scraping or harvesting content or information is often used on sites that provide shooting/possession information and in projects that examine shooting in conjunction with manually tracked events such as zone entries, zone exits and the like. While this language could be used to enforce a prohibition of these activities, it’s inclusion in a section describing prohibited malicious activities could indicate the league’s intention in that regard. My reading of these sections together and in comparison with the former TOS language leads me to believe that unless a user engages in scraping activity that somehow harms the league’s site and/or its users, the league may not be enforcing the provision.

Additionally, the costs associated with enforcement of these provisions, including proving damages associated with the scraping activity could be a deterrent to enforcement unless the user engaging in the scraping or harvesting of data is somehow making a good deal of profit from the venture. Because the league’s site does not currently offer certain processed forms of the RTSS data (Corsi, Fenwick, etc…) the use of the data in this manner would appear to be harmless to the site in that it is not taking users or viewers away from the league’s site, thereby diminishing ad revenue, nor interfering with the need for users to register for pay services. These provisions appear to be geared more toward the league’s actions against sites providing “pirated” feeds of games and also entities that may try to harvest user data.

Both the TOS formerly used by the NHL and the current TOS include language that would allow the league to require activities such as scraping be stopped. The language is more specific in the current TOS of course, but in and of itself, is not represent a change in the league’s policies. Technically, these provisions could even be used to prohibit articles or other such writing that includes any statistics kept by the league, e.g. penalty minutes, power play opportunities, etc…

The fact of the matter is that it is good for the league to have widespread coverage of its product. So long as others are not making ill-gotten money off of proprietary information, it doesn’t seem that the league would benefit from or have a real interest in putting a stop to activities such as tracking on ice events and correlating them with RTSS data despite the fact that they most certainly could do so.

Again, these are simply my impressions of the language in the old and new TOS’s and are not intended to be construed as legal advice nor should these impressions be relied upon in such a manner.

*reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on August 15, 2014

A Quick Note On The Troll Writer & The Outrage

When I joined Twitter, I did not know who was who or what was what when it came to writers and columnists. I did not just immediately know who had reliable opinions and information or who the “troll” types of writers were. It took me a long time to discern who the good writers and troll-ish writers were out there and I’m still doing so with regard to various topics and issues. Many of us who have been around for a little while travel in small circles on social media and through experience have come to have a pretty good handle on who the writers are who will likely make us angry with their opinions.

Sometimes, when the issue is something close to our hearts, it is difficult to just ignore or hold back on voicing our frustrations with these troll-ish writers, their articles or their opinions. When this happens, occasionally, others in our circles get annoyed with what seems to be another round of outrage. I know it may be frustrating for those who have heard it before, but please consider a few things when you feel fed up with another episode of “Twitter gets angry” and want people to just ignore the troll-ish writers.

First, you can always just mute the person who is angry or the key words involved in the issue so you do not have to see it again. Second, think of an issue that is very personal to you. Think also of someone you often disagree with whether that is a politician, writer, or some other person with a voice that carries far and wide. Now imagine that this person you so often find yourself in disagreement with and frankly, probably have a pretty poor opinion of, has decided to unleash a particularly bothersome writing in regard to the issue important to you. Now try to imagine staying completely silent about it. That is a pretty tough task.

Every day new people join social media. Every day someone happens to see the reaction of someone they like and/or respect to these troll-ish writers. After seeing an opinion they may not have heard or thought about before, they may be moved to rethink the positions these writers take and their own positions on the issues addressed. Every day is a new opportunity for someone new to understand that thinking critically or outside of the accepted norms with which they are familiar on certain issues can be a healthy exercise.

Sure, it may seem boring or annoying to you that people you know are talking about issues you’ve seen them discuss before, but that does not mean those people should stop. The issues and the troll-ish writers are still present, but so are the people who have never heard these arguments before.

*reposted to correct a bug in the sharing button **originally posted on July 12, 2014