Author Archives: Pat Holden

Advanced stats are not scary

Advanced stats have gotten a lot of attention in the hockey world this summer, in part thanks to numerous hires by organizations around the league that indicate the debate is over as to whether NHL teams are using advanced stats as part of their evaluation process. While dubbing it the ‘summer of advanced stats’ (or ‘analytics,’ if you prefer) may discredit the wave that has been building in the hockey world for years, advanced stats are certainly part of hockey conversations more than ever.

A word on the term “advanced stats”: Does calling these stats “advanced” increase the divide, perceived or real, between the “watch the game” crowd and the “advanced stats” crowd? The current state of advanced stats within hockey uses a lot of the same basic math required to understand the more well-known stats we’ve all been familiar with for quite some time. While the stats may be different and, at times more in-depth, the math is largely the same. Using the word “advanced” may dissuade those unfamiliar with what “advanced” stats are.

Truth be told, both watching the games (scouting) and using numbers are essential, and you should be skeptical of anyone who tells you otherwise. Why are (advanced) stats important? Well, for a lot of reasons. First off, no one watches every game. On top of that, every fan I’ve ever spoken to uses numbers and stats as part of a conversation about sports. Advanced stats aim to provide the most accurate, telling, and/or predictive (depending on the stat and sport) statistics possible. Advanced stats do not aim to replace the sports that we all love with spreadsheets and data.  If we’re already using stats to quantify things about sports, shouldn’t we seek to quantify these things in the most meaningful way possible? Advanced stats are not the start of a new conversation. Rather, they are a continuation of and an attempt to better inform conversations we have been having about the games we love for as long as they’ve been around.

Today, Puck Daddy broke the news that the Maple Leafs have hired, among others, Darryl Metcalf, the founder of has been the site I’ve used the most when combing through advanced stats. I’ve seen some people on Twitter wonder where to turn for their advanced stats needs now that Extra Skater is offline. The good news is, there are other similar sites out there. The two I have used the most (other than Extra Skater) are and Behind the Net. With so many smart people out there that have an interest in advanced stats, I fully expect similar sites to pop up sooner rather than later (as I was writing this, I saw this tweet from Peter of RMNB). Editor’s Note:  More details are now available about Peter’s plan. Check them out and contribute to the conversation here.

The bulk of this post was initially intended for something else but it felt relevant today with the news about Extra Skater. To those of you opposed to or skeptical of advanced stats: Dig around online, ask questions, and don’t be scared of them. To those of you mourning the loss of Extra Skater: I’m with you, but there’s still useful resources out there and more help is likely on the way.



Caps reportedly interested in Paul Bissonnette

As reported by Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, the Caps are reportedly interested in signing free agent winger Paul Bissonnette. Considering the Caps already have a crowded situation at wing, and the fact that Bissonnette is more known for his Twitter account than his production as an NHL player, I immediately questioned the reason for the Caps potential interest. Bissonnette has played in 202 NHL games and has totaled 7 goals, 15 assists, and 340 PIM during that time. He has averaged 5:18 TOI in those 202 games.

However, Bissonnette, as pointed out in The Post article linked to above, has tried to change his style of play as the enforcer role in the NHL has begun to fade. This past year Bissonnette fought 3 times, a career low. But does it make sense for the Caps, a team with just over $1 million in cap space and depth at wing, to pursue a player with such marginal production? Well, it depends. Given the Caps crowd at wing, it would seem signing another winger would have to come with a corresponding move. Aaron Volpatti would be the obvious candidate to be moved out, as I discussed on Twitter with Katie Brown of District Sports Page when she brought up the scenario.

While switching out Volpatti for Bissonnette is far from an impact move, it would be a beneficial one, as the chart below shows (2013-14 stats).

Bissonnette 184.8 55.1 +4.4%
Volpatti 299.4 39.7 -9.2%


So, the Coyotes were actually a better possession team, by 4.4%, with Bissonnette on the ice than without him. The Caps fared 9.9% worse when Volpatti was on the ice. In fact, since posting a -2.3% FF Rel in 2010-11, Bissonnette has been a positive relative possession player in each of the past 3 seasons.

So, if the Caps want to bring in Bissonnette and move out Volpatti, without having much impact on the cap situation, I can get behind the idea. While their reported interest in him surprises me, I was also surprised to find Bissonnette’s possession numbers to be so favorable, which could benefit the Caps 4th line.


Line combinations for the new coaches in the Eastern Conference to consider

There were 6 coaching changes in the NHL this off-season, with 4 of them coming in the Eastern Conference. While a change in a team’s system can often be the biggest difference a new coach can make, deployment of the roster is also something that can affect the quality of impact a new coach can have. Here is a look at combinations that each new coach in the East should consider, based off of the success players on their new team’s roster have had together in the past. I’ve excluded the Caps from this post because I will have a more detailed look at Barry Trotz’s options closer to the start of the season.

Carolina Hurricanes-Bill Peters

It will probably be pretty easy for Peters to put together a top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, and Alex Semin, given the success that trio had has together. After all, while Semin is generally a positive possession player regardless of his linemates, Staal and Tlusty both see a considerable drop when not playing with Semin. In fact, they both become negative possession players. When playing with Semin, Staal (53.2% CF) and Tlusty (51.5%) both find their team on the right side of the possession game. However, in the time the 3 have all played for the Canes, taken away from Semin, Stall and Tlusty both see their CF % plummt to 48.5% and 48.7%, respectively.

However, I still think another combination could prove very successful, depending on how Peters decides to deploy his forwards this year. In over 413 minutes of ice-time (general sample size warnings apply to this, as well as the article in general) together over the past two seasons, Jordan Staal and Alex Semin have been very successful. JStaal’s CF is 55.8% with Semin vs. 53.4% without him. On top of this, the duo has seen a 70% GF ratio when playing together. An argument could easily be made that JStaal seems to hold his own, possession-wise, with or without Semin, whereas his brother Eric doesn’t, so Eric should play with Semin. That’s a fair point, but JStaal and Semin are a duo worth considering.

Nathan Gerbe could be a good fit as the 3rd forward on that line. Gerbe has only played 207:21 with Semin, but the two have been downright dominant in that limited time posting a 58.6% CF. Gerbe’s CF without Semin is a medicore, if not bad, 47.3%.

Florida Panthers-Gerard Gallant-

Tomas Fleischmann had a down year offensively, netting only 8 goals after scoring 27 in his first season with the Panthers and then 12 in the lockout shortened season. However, expect a bounce back this season. Fleischmann shot just 4.3% last season, a far cry from the 11.0% career shooter he is. Many of the players Fleischmann has shared the ice with the most since joining the Panthers have since moved on. However, a couple remain that Gallant should consider playing him with, in what I think will be a bounce back year for him.

Both Scott Upshall and Tomas Kopecky are intriguing options to play with “Flash.”  In 357 minutes with Fleischmann, since the start of the 2011 season, Upshall has a 55.8%, as opposed to 49.7% in the 1177 apart from him. Fleischmann sees his CF% go up from 49.4 to 55.8 when playing with Upshall. The duos GF% of 36.4 is sure to rise if they can continue those possession numbers over a larger sample.

Kopecky and Fleischmann have also had strong possession numbers when playing together. In the 576 minutes they played played together, Fleischmann sees his CF% improve from 49.8 to 50.1. But the real story of this duo is the improvement in Kopecky, from 48.5 to 51.4 CF, when he plays with Fleischmann.

Pittsburgh Penguins-Mike Johnston

With the departures of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, the Pens D will have a different look this year. Johnston should play Paul Martin with Kris Letang. Since the 2010 season, the two have played 610 minutes together. A somewhat significant amount of time, sure, but both have spent far more time other partners than with each other.  However, when united, Martin and Letang have a CF% of 58.0. When apart, they seem their CF drop to 52.% (Martin) and 53.5% (Letang). I could see the argument that they are both solid possession players, so perhaps they should be split up, but they certainly offer Johnston a formidable top pair in his first season as the Pens coach.

It will be interesting to see how these coaches deploy the new personnel at their disposal. In the near future I’ll take a look at line combinations for the new coaches in the West to consider and then, as I said above, I’ll take a more detailed look at line combinations for Barry Trotz to consider.





Mikhail Grabovski: Caps loss is Isles gain (Jeremy Roenick is still wrong)

Yup, this is my second post about ex-Caps player Mikhail Grabovski in the past week. While it’s not my intention in writing this, this is further proof of how wrong Jeremy Roenick is about Grabovski.  But this post is more about the fact that the loss of Grabovski hurts the Caps, while the Isles will benefit from signing him.

On a personal level, Grabovski was the Caps player I most enjoyed watching last season. From a team level, he was a possession monster and a nice solution to the Caps problems at 2C that could have been had long-term for a reasonable salary. But I shouldn’t be the only one missing Grabovski. In fact, most everyone of his teammates should be missing him because almost every Caps player saw an improvement in their possession numbers in the minutes they played with Grabovski vs. when they played without him.

Here is a look at how every Caps forward fared while playing with Grabovski vs. while playing without him. I cut off the minimum minutes at 19:48, so as not to exclude possession anchor Aaron Volpatti. Sample-size warnings obviously apply, but you can see a trend. SA% is the % of shot attempts the Caps saw go in their favor while that player was on the ice.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Brouwer 273:16 51.6 756:55 46.4 +5.2
Fehr 271:10 55.1 641:53 46.4 +8.7
Ovechkin 235:19 50.8 888:27 48.8 +2.0
Chimera 223:53 49.8 804:11 45.6 +4.2
Ward 207:13 51.2 787:24 46.2 +5.0
Laich 123:59 48.1 508:47 47.9 +0.2
Backstrom 82:42 47.3 1070:13 49.5 -2.2
Wilson 40:53 48.8 598:32 44.8 +4.0
Erat 38:20 58.5 799:17 49.7 +8.8
Johansson 27:26 54.8 1039:55 48.2 +6.6
Beagle 19:49 46.2 609:13 44.6 +1.6
Volpatti 19:48 38.1 279:42 39.7 -1.6

-10 of the 12 Caps forwards who played 19:48+ with Grabovski this past season saw an increase in SF% with Grabovski vs without him, the only two exceptions being Backstrom and Volpatti.

-Remember when Adam Oates started the season with his obvious 2C (Grabovski) on the 3rd line and obvious 2W (Erat) on the 4th line? One wonders what the two could have done if ever given extended minutes together (something I, and many others, called for all season) given their dominating 58.5% SF in the very small sample.

-One interesting tidbit not shows here is that Backstrom, the player with the worst “Grabovski Effect,” saw his highest Goals For % with Grabovski out of all Caps forwards. Certainly just a sample size thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Here’s how are the Caps top 7 D, in terms of minutes played with Grabovski, fared with and without him last season at 5-on-5. Again, sample size warnings apply, but a clear patterns emerges.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Carlson 291:57 49.1 1029:15 46.3 +2.8
Alzner 287:30 49.9 1005:32 46.4 +3.5
Green 275:10 55.3 1003:39 50.4 +4.9
Orlov 166:52 59.9 795:41 49.0 +10.9
Schmidt 130:48 49.0 358:10 51.3 -2.3
Oleksy 119:42 50.4 316:32 44.9 +5.5
Erskine 92:14 53.3 405:21 43.9 +9.4

-Other than Nate Schmidt, every defender listed saw an improvement in their possession numbers, many of them pretty drastic improvements, when on the ice with Grabovski.

 -It’s especially interesting that the two worst puck possession players on the list, Oleksy and Erskine, both became positive possession players in their minutes with Grabovski, which were admittedly limited.

-I know it’s only 166 minutes, but the Caps were dominant when Grabovski was on the ice with Orlov.

Like I said above, sample-size warnings obviously apply here.  It should also be noted that none of these numbers include any caveats such as zone starts or quality of competition. But make no mistake about it, regardless of that, the Capitals were a better team with Grabovski on the ice, and his new Islanders teammates will start reaping the benefits in October.

All stats pulled from

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Jeremy Roenick is wrong about Mikhail Grabovski

I know that Jeremy Roenick’s tweet about the Islanders inking Mikhail Grabovski is old news at this point, but the stupidity of the tweet still hasn’t worn off for me, so I decided to look at it just a little closer. 

Jeremy Roenick was a very good hockey player. Jeremy Roenick is now paid to analyze hockey. Jeremy Roenick is proof that being a very good hockey player does not necessarily make you very good at analyzing the game. Given that Roenick is paid to analyze hockey, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to spend say, oh, the 10 minutes of time it took to put this post together, in order to research his opinion on things before he spouts them off on Twitter just prior to running to the gym.  In case you haven’t seen the tweet, here it is.

(Grabovski did respond to this tweet, you can check it out over on RMNB.)

I decided to look at this from only the angle Roenick looked at it, that being Grabovski’s point production the year prior to signing the deal. I’ll leave out prior years. Heck, I’ll even leave out Grabovski’s glowing possession numbers. Why? Because Roenick’s argument is so unfounded that it’s easily proven wrong, even on the turf that he defined. $5 million per year, at 4 years, is actually a perfectly reasonable contract for a second-line center (and any decent hockey analyst or hockey fan knows this fact without having to do any research).

Here’s how Grabovski compares to the two other Centers in the NHL who have a cap hit of $5 million per year on a deal that was signed as an unrestricted free agent. The chart is ordered by the far right column, points per 60 minutes.

Player Season prior to FA Contract Games Points P/60
Grabovski 2013-14 4 yr/$5 mil per 58 35 2.30
Cammalleri 2013-14 5 yr/$5 mil per 63 45 2.16
Filppula 2012-13 5yr/$5 mil per 41 17 1.40

Like I said above, there is a lot more nuance and context that could be added to the discussion about Grabovski’s contract. But my point is that Roenick’s analysis is wrong, even within his own narrowly defined parameters.

You would hope that someone who gets paid to “analyze” hockey, even when doing shallow analysis, could do so in a way that his point isn’t easily defeated by 10 minutes of work done by a random blogger on the internet. Do better, Jeremy. I’m going back to the gym. Good God.

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Who should play the point on the Caps power play?

When the Caps signed Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million contract, new coach Barry Trotz was given another intriguing option to play the point on the power play. Niskaenen is an offensively-gifted defenseman, finishing 12th among all defesemen in scoring last season with 46 points (10 goals 36 assists). While it remains to be seen if Trotz will use 2 defenders on the PP or skate one defender with Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, the Caps coach has 3 formidable PP options from his defensive corps in Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green.

One consideration when deciding how to divvy up ice-time, as pointed out by Peter from RMNB, is that Carlson plays a significant amount of time on the penalty kill. We don’t yet know how the coaching and personnel changes in Washington will impact PK deployment, but last season Carlson saw the ice for 65.2% of the time the Caps were on the PK, while Green played 8.6% and Niskanen saw 13.8% in Pittsburgh.

Glossary for chart

FF% rel-The % of unblocked shot attempts the player’s team saw with him on the ice, relative to with him off the ice

SA per 2:00-The number of total shot attempts (SA) for a team with the player on the ice, per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00-Estimated number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot attempt, per 2:00

All of the numbers are PP only. Per 2:00 was obviously chosen to represent the time of a standard PP.

Player FF% rel SA per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00


+6.3% 3.91


Green -8.3% 3.35


Niskanen +0.8% 3.54


-The Caps perform significantly better, FF%-wise, with Carlson on the ice during the PP while the Caps saw a significant drop in FF% with Green on the ice during the PP.  This is interesting, considering Green was the Caps best possession player in 5-on-5 close game situations. The Pens PP generated slightly more unblocked shot attempts with Niskanen on the ice.

-The differentials in SA per 2:00 may look insignificant but they add up quite a bit when given proper context. The Caps averaged 3.54 PP per game, so the difference between Carlson (13.8) vs Green (11.9) amounts to just about 2 additional SA per game in a hypothetical world where they each separately play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-Green has a significant advantage in setup passes per 2:00.  Discussing his numbers relative to Niskanen’s here is probably apples to oranges, since they played on different PP. There are all kinds of factors, such as set plays and who they are funneled through, that could impact this rather than passing ability and vision. For example, one possible reason Green’s numbers are so high is that he was often funneling the puck to shooting machine Alex Ovechkin for his patented PP one-timer. However, when comparing teammates, Green (3.82) would produce nearly one more setup pass per game than Carlson (2.93) were each to play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-One interesting tidbit not shown in the chart is that opponents’ average shorthanded shot distance with Carlson on the ice was 52.7 feet compared to 34.6 feet with Green on the ice. That’s the difference between 7.3 feet inside the blueline vs. 5.4 feet inside the top of the faceoff circle.  While not proof in and of itself, those numbers could serve as a launching point for someone who wants to show that Green is prone to take risks that can backfire (I’m skeptical of that theory).


Individual SA per 2:00







-Carlson generates .08 more SA per 2 minutes of PP time than Green and Niskanen (Like above, reading too much into Niskanen’s numbers at face value vs. Green and/or Carlson is probably a bit faulty since they played on different PP). Last season, the Caps average 3.54 PP per game. Over the course of a season, at 3.54 PP attempts per game,  Carlson would generate 23.2 more PP SA than Green or Niskanen, were they each to play 100% of their team’s PP minutes (this also assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that each PP attempt is 2 minutes) . The Caps scored on 8.3% of their PP SA this past season. This would mean that, through his SA alone, Carlson would generate 1.93 more PP goals per season, in a hypothetical world where all 3 players assume the Caps average PP goals per shot attempt % from last season (8.3%) and the Caps average 3.54 PP per game for a season.

From all of this data, it appears that John Carlson should be first choice to play the point on the PP in 2014-15 for the Caps. The team generates more unblocked and overall shot attempts with him on the ice, and he personally takes  more shot attempts than Green or Niskanen. However, should Trotz choose to manage Carlson’s PP time in order to keep him fresher for PK and 5-on-5 play, and depending on what position Ovechkin plays on the PP, both Green and Niskanen offer Trotz viable options.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below or send a tweet. Follow us on Twitter here.

S/T to for being such a great resource for this article (and in general). 

Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2010-11 season

Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.

With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.




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-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.

-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at  +1.9%.

-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.

-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%

-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.

-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).

-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).

This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at how Brooks Orpik’s possession stats compared to defensemen around the NHL who faced similar minutes in terms of quality of competition and zone starts during the 2013-14 season. The contract Orpik signed with the Caps on July 1st has been met with a lot of criticism, and I am certainly among those who don’t like the deal for the Caps.

However, some context can help us better evaluate the Orpik contract. Below I’ll take a look at how Orpik fared compared to the top 5 Caps defenders in terms of games played in the 2013-14 season.


FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shots. Instead of 0 being even, like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

As noted in my last post, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone during close-game situations and also faced tougher competition than any other Penguin defender. Here is how he stacks up against the Caps defenders last year.  The players are in order of FF%, best to worst, but I’ve also noted their ranks in QOC TOI% and ZS% (ranked toughest to easiest).

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
Orlov 50.1% (3rd) 28.0% (5th) 52.5% (1st)
Green 53.2% (6th) 28.5% (4th) 52.0% (2nd)
Orpik 48.2% (1st) 29.3% (3rd) 47.6% (3rd)
Alzner 49.1% (2nd) 29.4% (2nd) 47.3% (4th)
Carlson 51.3% (4th) 29.6% (1st) 46.3% (5th)
Erskine 52.8% (5th) 27.7% (6th) 45.1% (6th)

-Orpik was a better possession player last season than Alzner and Carlson, who are generally considered to be the Caps top-pair defenders that play the toughest minutes among Caps defenders. Orpik did this while having a tougher ZS% than either of the Caps defenders. Carlson faced the toughest competition of the three with Orpik finishing 3rd barely behind Alzner. One important thing to remember in terms of FF% is that the Penguins were a better FF% team than the Caps, so Orpik has an advantage there. FenClose rel % is a stat that can be better to compare possession stats of players on different teams, but I chose not to include it in this post, for the sake of simplicity.

-Orpik ranks 3rd in FF%, but it’s a distant 3rd. Green and Orlov are significantly better possession players than the other 4 defenders listed.  Green and Orlov did face far easier ZS’s than Orpik, which isn’t particularly surprising since they are thought of as more offensively-minded defenseman. Green and Orlov also faced weaker opponents than Orpik.

So, while I still don’t like the Orpik contract, there is no debating the Caps have improved their defense this off-season. Hopefully the last two posts have provided some insight into what exactly to expect from him moving forward with the Caps.




Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 1

In my recent post about the Caps signings in free agency, I was critical of the deal to which the Caps signed Brooks Orpik. However, in that post I also mentioned that Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone, as well as faced the toughest competition among all Penguins defenseman last season. So, while Orpik’s puck possession numbers are troubling, the zone starts and quality of competition are important to keep in mind. Make no mistake, I still think this is a terrible contract for the Caps. However, I thought it might be helpful to look at other defenseman around the league who faced zone starts and/or competition similar to Orpik’s this past season. The one difference to the ZS% from my last post is that I am going to look at it only in close-game situations, which is explained more below.


FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/-, but for shots. Instead of 0 being even like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes, as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-The quality of competition a player faces, as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

The first chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players with a similar close-game ZS%. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
52 Vlasic 48.0% 29.1% 58.2%
53 Goligoski 48.2% 29.3% 52.8%
54 Orpik 48.2% 29.3% 47.6%
55 Edler 48.4% 28.9% 52.6%
56 Gudbranson 48.6% 28.2% 52.0%

Notes about the chart:

-Every player on this chart performed significantly better than Orpik in terms of puck possession. In fact, Orpik is the only defender on the chart to be a negative puck possession player. In other words, he’s the only defender from the chart that saw his team get out shot when he was on the ice in close-game situations.

-Only Goligoski faced competition as tough as Orpik. Goligoski also has the same ZS% as Orpik, but had a FF% 5.2% better than Orpik’s.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), a 5.2% difference in puck possession is the difference, in the 2013-14 season, between Chicago (55.2%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

-Relative to their teams, the Stars performed 1.3% better in terms of FF% when Goligoski was on the ice. The Pens FF% was 3.8% worse with Orpik on the ice compared to when he was on the bench.

The second chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players who faced a similar level of competition. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player QOC TOI% ZS% FF%
23 Lovejoy 29.4 48.6% 49.5%
24 Timonen 29.4 57.4% 52.5%
25 Orpik 29.3 48.2% 47.6%
26 Goligoski 29.3 48.2% 52.8%
27 Sekera 29.3 49.4% 50.1%

Notes from the chart:

-The ZS% is fairly similar for 4 of the 5 players, Timonen being the exception.

-Once again, Orpik has the worst possession numbers of the 5 players. He does have some company on the wrong side of 50% this time, in the form of Ben Lovejoy. But even relative to Lovejoy, Orpik finds himself a worse possession player by 1.9%.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), 1.9% was the difference, in the 2013-14 season, in possession between the Stars (51.9%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

It is certainly important to keep in mind that Orpik faced very stiff competition and ZS%, especially relative to the rest of the Penguins’ defenders.  However, when compared to players given similar assignments around the league, Orpik’s possession numbers are still pretty weak.  My next post will look at how Orpik stacks up compared to others Caps D from last season.

Thanks to for most of the data used in this post. 


Caps aggressive in first day of free agency

Brian MacLellan’s first day of free agency as GM of the Caps was anything but quiet. MacLellan handed out over $69 million on July 1st, more than any other GM in the league. MacLellan said his priorities were to bring in a veteran goaltender and to bolster the Capitals defense. While the effectiveness of the moves is up for debate, MacLellan certainly made moves that he feels addressed his priorities.

Justin Peters

Justin Peters comes to the Caps from the Carolina Hurricanes to serve as the backup to Braden Holtby. MacLellan was very clear in stating that he wanted to bring in a goalie that sent the message to Holtby that he is the Caps number one guy and that the organization believes in him.  This is refreshing to hear after the disastrous way Adam Oates handled Holtby and the effect it had on him. While it remains to be seen how new coach Barry Trotz handles his goalies in Washington, the fact that the organization is doubling down on Holtby as their guy is a step in the right direction.

Last season, Peters played in 21 games for the Hurricanes and posted a 7-9-4 record. Peters’ 5 on 5 save % of 92.3 ranked 33rd among goalies with 21 or more games played.  According to Rob Vollman, Peters faced the second toughest competition last season of all the goalies that were available as unrestricted free agents. The money on this deal makes sense as well, as Peters annual salary for the 2 year deal is $950,000, which currently ranks 48th among all NHL goalies.

Brooks Orpik

So that’s where we’re starting from. Not only did the Caps sign the one guy I singled out to avoid, they signed him to an absolutely insane 5 year, $27.5 million dollar deal. Brooks Orpik will be 34 before the season starts. While this deal may not kill the Caps immediately, the thought that in a couple years the Caps will have a defender on the wrong side of 35 taking up $5.5 million in cap space is troubling, to put it mildly. Yes, Brooks Orpik fits the bill of a “tough” and “hard-nosed” defenseman that many Caps fans have long called for. However, Brooks Orpik has never been a positive possession player in his career, meaning his team has always been out shot over the course of a season while he’s been on the ice. However, to be fair to Orpik, some context on these numbers is helpful. For example, this past season, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone than any other Penguins defender who played in at least half of the team’s games. Orpik also faced the toughest competition among this same group of Penguins D, and finished 26th overall among all NHL defenseman in terms of quality of competition faced. So, while Orpik’s team struggles with puck possession while he’s on the ice, some of this, at least from this past season, can be attributed to the fact that Orpik is given tough assignments.

There were a couple things MacLellan said about the Orpik signing that were troubling.

“The total dollars were centered around Brooks” (Alex Prewitt, Washington Post)

The fact that the Caps’ entire off-season plan revolved around a 34 year old defender, and giving said defender a 5 year deal with an expensive cap hit, is very troubling in terms of what it says about the vision of the Caps new management. In addition, the fact that Mikhail Grabovski (or any adequate second line center) was not in any way the focus of the “total dollars,” (thus far), is cause for even more alarm about MacLellan’s vision as GM.

I’ll skip over the fact that he used the phrase “the corsi.” Could coming to Washington and playing with an offensive, puck-carrying defender help Orpik’s possession numbers? Hmm, if only the Penguins had such a player like, I don’t know, Kris Letang. Over the past 3 seasons, Orpik has played with the offensive-minded Letang for 496:46 (less than 40 minutes of this time comes from this past season, due mostly to Letang missing significant time because of injury). When on the ice together, Orpik and Letang saw 49.5% of shots go in the Penguins favor. Perhaps MacLellan has a point, because Orpik’s shot for % when separated from Letang drops to 48%. But a stronger case could be made that Orpik will weigh down an offensive defender because Letang saw his shots for % jump to 53.4% when separated from Orpik.  I could go on and on. Bottom line, I think this is a terrible contract for the wrong player, a double-whammy. Orpik could provide decent (but overpriced) play for the Caps for a couple of years, but there will be many people, myself included, in line to say “I told you so” when he is bought out in the Summer of 2017.

Matt Niskanen

Not long after landing Orpik the Caps landed another ex-Penguin by signing Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million deal. The inherent risk in any 7 year deal is cause for concern, but apparently Niskanen is the player the Caps identified as worth this type of deal, so while the deal is risky, it’s not outright ridiculous like the Orpik contact. Niskanen posted impressive offensive numbers this past year with 10 goals and 31 assists in 81 games, after never topping 6 goals or 29 assists in a season since entering the league in 2007. Some of this rise in production can be attributed to the increased opportunity Niskanen received due to Letang missing so much of the year. Niskanen was on the ice for 55.4% of the Penguins power play time this past year after never topping 39.8% during his time in Pittsburgh. It will be interesting to see how the Caps divvy up their PP time among their defense this season, but it’s likely that Niskanen’s PP time will decrease in Washington. This is one factor that will likely lead to a decrease in Niskanen’s offensive numbers this season. Another factor in this is that the Penguins shot 10.3% with Niskanen on the ice this past year, while stopping 93%, for a PDO (combined on-ice shooting and save %) of 103.1, that is almost certain to regress closer to 100.0, no matter how well Niskanen plays. In short, don’t evaluate this deal solely based off of the offensive numbers Niskanen puts up next season. For reasons not within his control, they are almost certain to drop, even if he is playing well. 

Niskanen, as opposed to Orpik, has very strong possession numbers. He has consistently, over the course of his career, seen his team have more shots for than against when he’s on the ice.  This past season, Niskanen saw 53.3% of unblocked shot attempts in all 5-on-5 situations go in his team’s favor when he was on the ice. This would not only lead the Caps’ defense, it would lead the Caps’ team. The Pens saw 6.3% more of these shot attempts go in their favor with Niskanen on the ice than without him, which is also better than any Caps’ defender performed, relative to their team.

Brian MacLellan was anything but dull or quiet on his first day of free agency as an NHL GM. He got nice value in a backup goalie with Peters, signed Orpik to an absolute monstrosity of a contract, and signed Niskanen to a risky deal, but one that improved the Caps’ defense corps. He also made what could prove to be a major blunder in letting Grabovski walk, but I’ll withhold judgement on that to see if the 2C situation improves. The aggressive approach proved for an interesting day, but the shrewdness of said aggression is questionable, especially as it pertains to Orpik.


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