The Hockey News

Is Barry Trotz a magic man? Early Capitals’ advanced stats say yes

The Hockey News
Barry Trotz (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Dom Luszczyszyn

It’s still too early to make any meaningful judgments, but so far it looks like the Washington Capitals’ biggest problem has been solved.

The Caps have been a notoriously abysmal defensive team for a while now, and missing the playoffs last season meant changes had to be made to the former powerhouse. The biggest one was bringing in coach Barry Trotz, arguably the most reputable defensive coach in the game.

While changing the coach isn’t always the right call, it was clear that Adam Oates wasn’t getting the most out of his players, specifically his best one, Alex Ovechkin. The same can be said for Trotz, who was well past his expiration date in Nashville. Washington and Trotz were a perfect fit.


Looking back through the past seven years in Washington paints a dark picture of what over-reaction looks like. During the Bruce Boudreau era, the Capitals were a force to be reckoned with, but one playoff series against an overachieving Montreal team with a hot goalie changed all that, and the Caps haven’t been the same since. Not only have the Caps been bleeding in the defensive zone, but they were no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were.

The addition of Trotz has changed that. The offensive output may still be average, but the Caps have become a significantly tighter defensive unit. They have the eighth best 5-on-5 shot suppression rate in the league in the early goings at 48.6 shot attempts against per 60. That’s 8.4 fewer attempts than the year before. Why does that matter? Over a full season, that translates to almost five extra wins, based on the assumption every six goals gets you a win. Last year, that would’ve not only pushed Washington into the playoffs, it would’ve given them home-ice advantage.

A lot of credit for that has to go to Trotz, but he wasn’t the only addition. The Capitals signed defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik away from the Penguins over the summer, immediately shoring up their top four. Niskanen leads the Caps in ice time and has looked decent in driving possession. Orpik has been better than he was as a Penguin, but that might be because he’s getting much easier zone starts. The two have been important factors in creating balance on the Caps blueline.

To see how Trotz has really impacted the lineup, though, it’s best to look at each player individually. It’s only been five games, but it seems like the players are buying in to what Trotz is selling. Across the board, players who were on the team last year and have played the most this year have seen a dramatic reduction in shot attempts against them while they’re on the ice. The samples are small, but it’s very encouraging to see that the effect applies to everyone here (sorry Brooks Laich).


The most drastic improvement? Alex Ovechkin, who has shaved 20 attempts per 60 minutes from last season. The added defensive capability wasn’t at the expense of his offense, either. In fact, shot attempts while he’s on the ice have increased slightly (from 58 to 62) and he’s potted five goals already. Ovechkin’s terrific play so far should be comforting news to Caps fans, as rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Has Trotz not only fixed the Caps woes, but also turned Ovechkin into a defensive stalwart? The early results back up Trotz’s reputation.

All stats via

Follow Dom Luszczyszyn on Twitter at @omgitsdomi

THN Analytics: Slow start? Firing the coach might not be the fix

Randy Carlyle (Getty Images)

By Benjamin Wendorf – special to THN

As the fervor dies down from the fever pitch of opening games, NHL teams and their fanbases shift into the time-honored ritual of agonizing over early-season results. A few coaches begin to feel the walls close in, and regardless of testaments of faith by upper management, at least one will be fired in the first few months. Do teams carry out these decisions wisely? What kind of measures can help us determine if it’s a good move?

Reaching back to the THN Analytics stats primer, the best team measures we can use relate to regression and possession. For regression we can use “PDO,” or a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage (for historical comparisons, I only use the first two periods to avoid the effects of “protecting” leads). It’s often expressed as a whole number like 980 or 1000, rather than their actual values of .980 or 1.000. Teams that are far above or below a range of about 990 – 1100 pull heavily (or regress) towards that range the remainder of the season. PDO is a great metric for this kind of study because its measure speaks directly to a team’s success in scoring or preventing goals.

Possession is currently best measured by Fenwick Close, but we can go further back in NHL history by using a team’s shots-for in the first two periods divided by both teams’ shots-for in those periods, called two-period shot percentage or 2pS%. It runs side-by-side with Fenwick Close, has a strong relationship with outscoring, and provides about 50 more years of data.

Using these two measures, we can look at a large body of coaching changes in NHL history. Through 140 coaching changes (minimum 20+ games for each coach), the before-and-after of PDO and possession is telling:

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 7.42.33 PM

Historically, the changes have barely registered an uptick in possession (that 0.4% is worth a little less than one more goal-for), but that PDO shift would be good for about 14 more goals-for. In other words, NHL teams tend to cut bait when bad luck, not necessarily bad leadership, seemed to be the bigger problem. For comparison’s sake, I also put together a complete list of 97 coaching performances where the coaches had significantly low PDOs through the first 20 games but didn’t get canned: Read more

Why Mikael Backlund is a secret star at center for Calgary

The Hockey News
The advanced statistics show Mikael Backlund's value extends way beyond his point totals. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Dom Luszczyszyn

To compete in the West, the most important thing a team needs is depth and star power at center ice. The best of the West, including last year’s Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, have it in spades, and it’s a huge part of their success. So it should come as no surprise the Flames were pretty much a unanimous choice as the West’s tribute to the Connor McDavid Hunger Games.

On paper they look like they have one of the worst groups of centers in the league (we ranked their centers 29th in our season preview, ahead of only Buffalo), but on the ice that’s not entirely true. That’s because the Flames have a top center in their lineup who could be the West’s best-kept secret: Mikael Backlund.

Up until last season, the 24th overall pick in 2007 had been flying way under the radar, spending most of his time toiling on the Flames’ third line. But he made a huge jump last year and, by the end of the season, he became a fixture at the top of the depth chart. He even spent some time on the top power play and penalty-killing units.

“I’ve seen him over the years and I really thought last year his game took a significant step forward,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving. “He was a really impactful player here, especially down the stretch. He was a consistent guy last year, but I look at his games after Christmas — and I’ve gone back and watched all the games when I got here — he really just jumps off the map at you.”

Read more

Book Review: Hockey Abstract

The Hockey News
Brad Marchand (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Dom Luszczyszyn

Inspired by Bill James’ Baseball Abstract of the 1980s, Rob Vollman, one of the founding writers for Hockey Prospectus and the creator of player-usage charts, set out to create something similar for hockey, a sport that’s still lagging behind in the advanced stats world.

In the first version of Hockey Abstract, released last year, Vollman went over the basics. For his recently released second version, he went bigger and better, delivering entirely new content and enlisting two colleagues from Hockey Prospectus, Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe, to provide analysis.

The best of their work has Awad showing what makes good players good by grouping them into tiers based on ice time and looking at the differences in shot attempts and goals across the tiers. For Fyffe, it’s his deduction of what it takes to make the Hall of Fame and his prediction for which current players have the best shot (‘Sid’ and ‘Ovie’ can pretty much retire today and punch their ticket into the Hall of Fame).

Most of the book, though, is centered on everyday fan questions, but the answers aren’t as typical. Who’s the best goal-scorer? Well, that depends on who scores the most per 60 minutes, while accounting for manpower, usage, linemates and competition. Who’s the best penalty killer? Look at who suppresses shot attempts best relative to the rest of his team, while also accounting for who he’s up against.

These types of questions are a staple of Hockey Abstract. The best of them was an examination of who the biggest rat in the league was, which introduces a hilarious stat called “dirty rat penalty minutes.” The player who led the league last season is who you might expect: Brad Marchand.

How Vollman and company tackle these questions, though, is where the book really shines. Each answer promotes meaningful discussions on the topic at hand rather than rigid conclusions. Every angle is taken into account and arguments are presented in a clear, concise way that provides thorough and insightful observations about the sport. On top of that, the book is heavy on graphs and charts, making it much easier to visualize the concepts being outlined.

The book also contains analytic essays for every team that look at how each team fares in various categories including possession, goaltending, special teams and depth, culminating with a big-picture outlook of how that team stands from an analytics perspective.

With the second edition of Hockey Abstract, Vollman has created an essential resource for not just numbers junkies but also curious newbies ready to dive in to the growing world of hockey analytics.

Hockey Abstact

Join our Twitter party with TSN’s Bob McKenzie

The Hockey News

Come join us as we welcome one of our own back into the house.

Former THN editor in chief Bob McKenzie sits down with our writers and editors to chat via Twitter on Tuesday, Oct. 14. The TSN Hockey Insider, whose book Hockey Confidential launches that day, will also field question from followers.

Check it out on Tuesday @TheHockeyNews.

When: October 14 from noon-1 p.m. EDT
Where: Follow us @TheHockeyNews and use #THNLive
What: Ask Bob McKenzie questions about the world of hockey.

THN’s AHL 2014-15 regular season predictions

The Hockey News

After taking home last year’s American League championship, the Texas Stars look to go back-to-back. Spoiler Alert: they’re our favorites in the West, but the competition is stiff – and as any fan of the AHL knows, things can get wild very quickly. Picking the standings is a tough chore, but we’re up to the challenge.


EASTAHL Read more

AHL season starts tonight – will we see 3-on-3 overtime?

The Hockey News
Photo By JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images


The American League rulebook has been revised for the coming season, and some significant rule changes are set to take effect.

Most notably, overtime guidelines have been revamped in an effort to decide more games before the shootout, with 3-on-3 at the heart of the new format.

Regular season overtime moves from five minutes to seven, with the first three minutes being played at 4-on-4 and the final four minutes at 3-on-3. The shift in players per side will occur after the first whistle beyond three minutes of elapsed time. The OT period will begin with a dry scrape and teams changing sides, in order to create the “long change” that theoretically generates scoring chances against tired lines.

If the score remains tied, the game is decided with a three-round shootout. The league previously decided shootouts in five rounds.
Read more

NHL international: Where players come from and how much they make

The Hockey News

With the NHL season upon us, we looked at the ever-changing league landscape and where its players come from. And then we looked at the top salary breakdowns from these nations. Check out the infographic below to see where NHLers come from, who the oldest player is from each country and who brings in the most money. Read more