The Hockey News

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

The Hockey News
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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

THN experts predict 2014-15 NHL season

The Hockey News
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Every summer, THN’s editorial staff gathers together to make our collective picks for our annual Yearbook and Poolbook editions. But that doesn’t mean we all agree. We don’t. In some cases, our writers and editors disagree drastically with each other on how they see the coming NHL season playing out. To give you an idea, here are our staff members’ individual picks for the winners of each division, conference playoff finalists, and Stanley Cup champion:

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Read more

THN Analytics: An Introduction

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Jim Corsi (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

By Benjamin Wendorf – special to THN

When Tim Barnes made the argument in 2009 that “possession is everything,” he wasn’t announcing a unique conclusion that emerged from decades in a stats lab – he was quoting Mike Babcock, who was inspired by Scotty Bowman, who worked closely with Roger Neilson, who was inspired by Harry Sinden. Like any other hockey fan, Barnes looked to the great leaders and innovators of the past for ways to learn more about the game – in sharing his discoveries on his blog, Irreverent Oilers Fans, he helped spur the modern hockey stats movement. Barnes’s effort to quantify possession led him to a measure Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender coach Jim Corsi used to assess his players’ workloads (counting more than just shots-against, but also misses and blocked shots); ironically, Corsi had never intended it for anything but goaltending. Regardless, Barnes (an engineer by trade) used statistical testing to find, of all the widely available statistics, Corsi’s measure most closely mirrored possession.

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Barnes also proposed that we can use Corsi to measure the possession ability of individual players – Sinden and Neilson had done the same by comparing scoring chance counts while a player is on the ice to when they are off, but Barnes preferred Corsi over Sinden and Neilson’s arbitrary scoring chance definitions. To aid this research, Barnes created an NHL game-by-game data collection resource, timeonice.com, while at the same time Gabriel Desjardins (also an engineer) developed behindthenet.ca to aggregate the Corsi and goal data to help us look at player and team season performances. In the five years since, hockey analytics has experienced a meteoric rise in fan consciousness, while NHL teams have engaged in a virtual arms race to employ the emerging talents of renowned stats writers.

This emerging trend hasn’t come quietly; there have been many contentious debates over the merits of analytics, oftentimes involving mischaracterization on both sides of the argument. The truth is, insofar as there are “sides” in the debate, the sides are far closer than it appears. Supposed anti-analytics people actually quantify and count different things as important (wins, points, player grades or value relative to others), and proponents of analytics enjoy and watch the game with regularity, and often pore over hours of game footage. All want to better understand the game.

Over the years, dozens of powerful minds have researched hockey analytics, and entertained a variety of arguments about what is worth counting and how to improve Corsi measures. A new statistic emerged, coined “Fenwick” by its creator Matt Fenwick, which left blocked shots out of the Corsi equation and seemed to perform better as a team measure than Corsi in larger samples. In the end, a few major conclusions of this research stood out, and they’re handy for any hockey fan to carry in their back pocket as they watch the game:

1. Regression – Let’s say you and a friend are at center ice, shooting a puck at the net. Your friend shoots twice and scores once. Do you assume that your friend is a 50 percent shooter from center ice? You probably say to them, “Bet you can’t do it again.” The regression principle in hockey analytics revolves around scoring and save percentage at even-strength (which comprises around 80 percent of all gameplay): the players shooting or stopping shots way above or below league-average tend to shoot or stop shots at much closer to the league-average in the future. There are exceptions to this rule at the “tails” of the sample: some players are good or bad enough to sustain shooting percentages up to ±3 percent from average, and save percentages up to ±1 percent from average.

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While individuals can potentially maintain shooting or shot-stopping talent, it’s very difficult for teams to maintain well above league-average rates. A team’s even-strength shooting percentage plus a team’s even-strength save percentage, named “PDO” after innovator Brian Kings’ profile name, is used to indicate whether a team is unusually far above or below this average and thus due for PDO to push back towards the league-average (1.000, though usually referred to by whole numbers like 980 or 1032).

2. Possession – Possessing the puck, as Darryl Sutter once said, has always been the goal. The best current indicator we have for measuring possession in analytics is called “Fenwick Close,” “Close” a reference to tracking Fenwick only in tie games or when the game is within 2 goals in the 1st and 2nd periods. The top 3 “FenClose” teams in 2013-14 were the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks; the bottom 3 were the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres. Contrary to Babcock and Barnes’s assertion, possession is not “everything” to winning in a season; a team can maintain a slightly elevated shooting percentage or ride a particularly talented goaltender to wins. But in the long run, since teams pull towards the league-average, what more consistently differentiates a team will be its ability to possess or gain possession of the puck.

3. Deployment – Not all players play with the same teammates, or against the same level of competition. Deployment must be considered when looking at a player’s Corsi measure because it does have a bit of an impact; in analytics, this is often signified by measuring what frequency they start their shift in the offensive zone (Offensive Zone Start Percentage). The Corsi measures of teammates and opponents when the player is on the ice (named Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammates) is also considered. Coaches’ systems can have an influence on shot generation and suppression, but ultimately their greater impact is how they use their players (who they play against, who plays with them, how often they are on the ice, etc.).

4. The Problem With Using Goals – Goals are clearly the point in hockey, but a given game might only yield 2 or 3 goals for your team. Was that goal a direct result of skill? At times, yes, at times, no. Would a fluke goal count in your analysis? A powerplay or shorthanded goal? Remember “bet you can’t do it again?” Well, goals rarely offer enough “agains” with the same players in the same situation for us to say, “I think we can count on that happening again.” Corsi measures, instead of giving us 2 or 3 events to assess a team, grant us around 45-50 each game. Put another way: would you be more confident that you know your friend’s center-ice shooting ability after 2 or 3 shots, or after 45-50?

5. League Talent Spread – The NHL has been the same size, or nearly so, for the last 15 years. The differences between teams are becoming smaller, pushing them to find an edge wherever they can. As long as some teams ignore possession, that edge will continue to be the most glaring. League size is also why “shot quality,” as a concept, is largely muted. In a less-talented league, it might be a bit easier to simply take more shots closer to the net, but in today’s NHL, no matter the opponent, the closer you get to the cage the harder it is to get a decent shot off. You trade away shot volume, a function of possession, for percentage and a less reliable outcome.

These five over-arching concepts are some of the more-important ideas to emerge from the modern hockey stats movement, but hockey stats continue to evolve. To date, adjustments to Corsi measures are being tested (a scoring chance study revealed that scoring chances and Corsi run extremely close together), the value of tracking the way teams enter the zone is becoming more widely accepted, and a variety of adjustments are used to address rink counting bias. As analytics continue to push towards conclusions like the ones above, and expand on the principles of Sinden, Neilson, and Barnes, we only get closer to a better understanding of the game.

Top 50 players in the NHL: 1-10

The Hockey News
Sidney Crosby (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

In THN’s 2014-15 Yearbook, we asked our panel of executives, broadcasters and observers to rank the best hockey players in the world right now, heading into this season. If you were starting a franchise from scratch today, which players would you take?

We ended up with a ranking of the top 50 NHLers and we’ve been releasing that list in chunks of 10. Today, we finish with the top 10 players in the NHL and where they ranked on last year’s Top 50 (LY). Here is the rest of the list:

11-20
21-30
31-40
41-50

1. SIDNEY CROSBY | PITTSBURGH | C | LY: 1
It’s pretty difficult to go against the guy who won the MVP award in voting by the players and media last season and won the scoring championship by 17 points. Crosby only had two goals in 19 Olympic and playoff games, but an injured wrist undoubtedly contributed to that. Read more

2014-15 NHL predictions: Standings, awards and Stanley Cup picks

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Weeks ago, the THN team gathered to debate and argue over the 2014-15 NHL standings as we went through the league team by team. We shared our final predictions in the annual Yearbook and ran individual breakdowns of each team over the past month. In our Season Preview magazine, we took it a step further and picked our winners for the major individual awards.

Here, on one easy page, are THN’s official predictions for the 2014-15 NHL season. Read more

Top 50 players in the NHL: 11-20

The Hockey News
Shea Weber (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

In THN’s 2014-15 Yearbook, we asked our panel of executives, broadcasters and observers to rank the best hockey players in the world right now, heading into this season. If you were starting a franchise from scratch today, which players would you take?

We ended up with a ranking of the top 50 NHLers and we’re releasing that list in chunks of 10. Today, we present players ranked 11-20 in the NHL and where they ranked on last year’s Top 50 (LY). On Tuesday, we’ll share our top 10 NHL players.

11. SHEA WEBER | NASHVILLE | D | LY: 27
One of two things missing from Weber’s resume is a Norris Trophy. The wait for that won’t be much longer, though a Cup could take a while. Nobody in the Western Conference has a harder shot. Read more

Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Drouin consensus fantasy hockey picks of expert panel

The Hockey News
Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby (Getty Images)

Fantasy hockey aficionados always have tons of questions about the NHL. So do people who work in the industry. That includes former players who, in their post-career days, became media analysts. THN canvassed a half-dozen of them in the off-season to answer 20 questions on a variety of fantasy-related topics.

1. What do you prefer: a straight points fantasy league or a head-to-head fantasy league with different stat categories?

Jeff O’Neill, analyst, TSN: Different stat categories. So many ways a player can show his importance.

Jamie McLennan, analyst, TSN: Straight points league.

Matthew Barnaby, TV/Radio analyst: Points. I like playing players as a whole, not a different team each week.

Mike Johnson, analyst, Sportsnet: Straight points. Easier to manage and follow.

P.J. Stock, analyst, Sportsnet: Straight forward points. The fewer math calculations I have to do…

Kevin Weekes, analyst, NHL Network: Head-to-head. It gives the players a more realistic feel.

2. What’s the earliest fantasy round you’d draft a goalie in?

O’Neill: Fourth round. I want to load up on studs.

McLennan: First round. Goalies always draft other goalies.

Barnaby: I never take a goalie early. Always look at about my seventh pick.

Johnson: Eighth round. You can find value in the depth around the league.

Stock: Late rounds. They are all so good.

Weekes: No limits. If he’s an impact player, why wouldn’t you pick him early?

3. Who wins the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy?

O’Neill: Sid. He’s the one player in the league that beat everyone by 20 or more points.

McLennan: Crosby. I see him looking for redemption for his playoff failure.

Barnaby: Crosby. Won by almost 20 points last year and has more to prove.

Johnson: Sidney Crosby.

Stock: Crosby. Did it on injury-plagued team & should have no problem repeating.

Weekes: Steven Stamkos. Read more

Top 50 players in the NHL: 30-21

The Hockey News
Jonathan Quick. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In THN’s 2014-15 Yearbook, we asked our panel of executives, broadcasters and observers to rank the best hockey players in the world right now, heading into this season. If you were starting a franchise from scratch today, which players would you take?

We ended up with a ranking of the top 50 NHLers and we’re releasing that list in chunks of 10. Today, we present players ranked 21-30 in the NHL and where they ranked on last year’s Top 50 (LY). Stay tuned for the rest of the list. Read more