As part of their 40th anniversary season, the Caps are asking fans to help them vote on the 40 greatest Caps players in the team’s history. I’m not asking for your vote and I’m not looking at the entire history of the team. Instead, I am looking at the Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Alex Ovechkin era (2005-06-present). I am not claiming that advanced stats are the end of the discussion when it comes to player evaluation. However, they are for my purposes here. I also didn’t consider forward specific positions. Instead, I picked 3 forwards and 2 defenseman. I set the minimum games played to a completely arbitrary 115 games.
To rank the players, I looked at FenClose, FenClose rel, zone starts, and quality of competition. If a player ranked 1st, he got 5 points, down through 5th place getting 1 point. This was done for each of the 4 categories.
Without further delay, here are the long-awaited Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Ovechkin era.
Forward #1-Sergei Fedorov (10 points)
Fedorov finished first in FenClose (56.19%) and FenRel (+4.43%). He wasn’t anywhere near the top in zone starts (0.73%% ZS rel), but did finish 8th in quality of competition (28.82).
Forward #2-Nick Backstrom (9 points)
Backstrom’s FenClose was good enough for 5th (53.44) and his FenRel 3rd (+3.28%). Backstrom’s zone starts were not noteworthy (6.08%). Backstrom really shines in quality of competition, where he finished first (29.63%)
Forward #3-Viktor Kozlov (7 points)
Kozlov finished 2nd in FenClose (54.48%), but did not place in the top-5 in FenClose rel (0.34%), a sign that he benefited from playing on very strong possession teams. Kozlov also didn’t find himself in the top-5 in zone starts (5.58% ZS rel). However, he finished 3rd in quality of competition (29.39), cementing his place on the All-Star team.
Defenseman #1-Mike Green (10 points)
This isn’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to possession numbers. Green finished 1st in FenClose (53.10%) and 2nd in FenClose rel (+3.12%). Green didn’t place in the top 5 in zone starts (4.54%) but came in 5th in quality of competition (28.62%).
Defenseman #2 Shaone Morrissonn (9 points)
This was the biggest surprise to me, by a long ways. Morrisonn finished 5th in FenClose (50.21%) but didn’t make the top 5 in FenClose rel (-1.21%). He faced the toughest zone starts (-4.17%) and the 3rd toughest quality of competition (29.03%).
Here’s a player usage chart of the 5 All-Stars.
Morrisonn was the only negative possession player relative to his teammates. However, this is counter-balanced by the fact that he faced the toughest zone starts and 3rd toughest competition among all qualified defenseman. His inclusion is still shocking to me.
Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over. Let’s hear it for your Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin era.
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
Barry Trotz has not been shy in heaping praise upon Nick Backstrom since becoming head coach of the Caps. Trotz has also noted how under appreciated he feels Backstrom is around the league. I think Backstrom is deeply appreciated by Caps fans, generally recognized as one of the most important players on this team. But, just in case you forgot about how great Backstrom is, here’s a reminder.
Backstrom’s career usage chart displays a few things,none of which are surprising, but that I think are cool to see in visual form. The first is that he’s only been a negative possession player relative to his teammates once in his career. That is was in 2008-09, and it was by less than 1/4 of a %. Other than that, the Caps, season-by-season, have always been a better possession team with Backstrom on the ice than without him. Backstrom has also faced pretty stiff competition, almost always finishing a season north of 29.2% TOI competition. That’s what we’d expect to find from a 1C who is often deployed with Alex Ovechkin.
Much has been made about the fact that Alex Ovechkin will likely start the season back at LW. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Backstrom will line up at Center on a line with Ovechkin. What potential RW would benefit the most by being centered by Backstrom? And what player would Backstrom most benefit from having on his right side?
I’m making a few assumptions in my considerations. One is that Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov are not candidates, as I expect them to fill the 3C and 2C spots, respectively. I’m also assuming that most any winger is eligible. It is safe to assume that Trotz won’t be as obsessed with handedness as Adam Oates was, right? I’ve also excluded Tom Wilson from my list of viable options to play alongside Backstrom because their sample size together is minuscule, so there’s nothing to learn from their history together. Here’s how the remaining options for Trotz stack up, measured in Corsi For with and without Backstrom. These are career numbers.
A note on the sample size here. Minutes with Backstrom are as follows: Brouwer 758:32, Johansson 991:41, Ward 88:53, Fehr 391:26, Chimera 314:37.
Here’s how Backstrom fared with and without each player listed above.
The “with” sample sizes here are obviously the same.
Brouwer and Johansson have by far the biggest sample sizes playing with Backstrom. It’s clear that Brouwer and Backstrom are not a good match as they both see their possession numbers plummet when playing together. Johansson sees his possession numbers improve with Backstrom, but he’s dead weight to Backstrom, who sees a significant jump in possession away from Johansson. Jason Chimera also appears to be a poor fit with Backstrom.
Joel Ward’s sample size with Backstrom is quite small, but the results are decent. That being said, his skill set is one that thrives on a 3rd line and is likely not suited to play with the likes of Backstrom and Ovechkin on a regular basis.
That bring us to Eric Fehr. Fehr’s success with Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski is something we’ve already talked about here in other posts. Fehr’s possession benefits from playing with Backstrom and Backstrom’s possession drops the least when playing with Fehr out of all of the RW options. Long story short, if Eric Fehr is not playing RW alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on opening night, I’ll consider it a mistake by Trotz.
Nicklas Backstrom is awesome, isn’t he? And boy, an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line on opening night sure does make a lot of sense.
All stats pulled from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis
As we’ve already highlighted here on the blog, advanced stats have gotten a lot of publicity this summer. A large part of this was due to NHL front offices making hires that were aimed at forming analytic departments. One of those hires, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com. Extra Skater was the go-to advanced stats resource for many people, myself included, but was shut down when Metcalf was hired by the Leafs. One site that has popped up in Extra Skater’s place is War on Ice. I’ve tweeted some of the stuff that makes War on Ice such a cool site, even eclipsing Extra Skater in terms of depth and quality. While Extra Skater had stats from the present day dating back to the 2010-11 season, War on Ice has stats starting with the 2002-03 season. Much like I did when Extra Skater added stats from the ’10-11 season, I wanted to highlight some interesting stats on War on Ice from seasons that were not available on Extra Skater. This post will take a look at advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season. This post will far from exhaust all there is to say about the information available on War on Ice from the 2009-10 Caps. Instead, this post is both an effort to point out some interesting highlights, as well as show off some of the stuff that makes War on Ice so great.
For those who don’t remember, 2009-10 was the season that the Caps dominated the league and were then Halak’d out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were dynamic. 6 players had over 20 goals. Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games. As a lifelong sports fan, this team was the most exciting team I’ve rooted for, regardless of the sport.
To start, here’s a look at 2009-10 via just one of the seemingly endlessly customized chart options on War on Ice. This is a chart looking at all 30 NHL teams. The X-Axis is Fenwick %. The Y-Axis is team goal +/- and the color bubble variance is PDO. The bubble size variance is time on ice, fairly trivial for this chart. This is at 5-on-5 in close game situations.
The further right, the better the team was, as measured by puck possession. A blue bubble would indicate good fortunate, with red representing poor fortunate.
-The Caps were good, according to Fenwick, but not elite. They finished 12th in FenClose as a team. The Caps FenClose % of 51.19 is their 3rd best since 2002.
-The Caps have the darkest blue circle, meaning they led the league in PDO at an absurd 103.60.
-My quick takeaway from this chart is that the Caps, at 5-on-5, were a good team that was also very fortunate, which resulted in the huge goal differential.
-War on Ice tracks PDO back to 2002, and the 103.60 is by far the highest season PDO the Caps have had in the time frame. The next highest is 101.78 (2002-03)
The next chart is a look at the Caps defenders. The X-axis is FenRel % and the Y-axis is TOI Competition %. The bubble size and color are set to TOI/G. I’m not sure what variable to use as the 4th that will contribute to the substance of this chart, so I TOI is left as a repeat. I’m open to suggestions!
A few takeaways from this chart:
-Tom Poti and Joe Corvo played a lot of minutes. They were tough minutes and they handled them really well.
-Karl Alzner played against weak competition and he struggled.
-Why was Brian Pothier getting more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina?
Here are some other interesting details. First, the Caps top 5 FenClose Rel from 2009-10
And the 5 worst
These charts are pretty self-explanatory. Ovechkin and Backstrom, those two guys are pretty good, eh?
Let us not forget that 2009-10 was the year that Jeff Schultz led the league in +/-. Now, when arguing with someone about how flawed of a stat +/- is, you can give them Schultz’s exact PDO in the ’09-10 season. Schultz’s PDO was 105.75, which was somehow only good enough for 4th on the Caps that season, behind Carlson (105.89), Fehr (105.87), and Ovechkin (105.81). If only considering players who played in 41+ games, Henrik Sedin finished first in the NHL in PDO at 106.71. The next 3 players league-wide were Caps! Carlson only appeared in 22 games, so the top 4 in the NHL is rounded out by Fehr, Ovechkin, and Schultz.
This look at the 2009-10 season is just scratching the surface of the data available on War on Ice. Go ahead and head over there yourself but be prepared to get lost for days!
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 Extraskater.com. Extraskater.com 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 HockeyAnalysis.com 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.
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
-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 ExtraSkater.com for being such a great resource for this article (and in general).
Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. 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.
-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.
Hockey writer Neil Greenberg was a guest today on The Tony Kornheiser Show. Kornheiser has referenced Greenberg’s writing recently on-air, appearing to become somewhat of a fan of the advanced hockey stats expert and Washington Post, ESPN contributor. Here are some highlights from today’s appearance, Greenberg’s first ever on the show:
Greenberg on drinking from the Stanley Cup after the Rangers won it in 1994:
“I was frequenting some of the bars in Nassau County…there were people taking pictures with the Cup outside of one of the bars, so we stood in line. As soon as I turned the corner to enter the bar, someone said, ‘Do you want to drink from the Stanley Cup’ and I said ‘Absolutely.'”
On Alex Ovechkin’s decline:
“He’s getting older. There’s two things that are happening. One is just your general age progression. People have a misconception as to when hockey players, especially goalscorers, peak. It’s typically between the ages of 22 and 24 and then you start to see a down-slope at age 27. Ovechkin has pretty much been in that exact pattern.”
“If you look at how Ovechkin scored his goal early on in his career when he entered the league it was by a volume of shots. It was more quantity than it was quality. He led the league with 425 shots when he came in. He was just a completely dynamic player that tossed rubber at the [net] from ever angle. And as those shots per game decreased, it took the goal scoring along with it. And what we’re seeing now is a player who’s putting up 300 shots on goals as opposed to 500 and 400 shots on goal. So, the goal scoring numbers are going to come down. Now, to his credit those shots on goal have up-ticked a little this year but a lot of goal scoring is also luck. You have a clank of the pipe here, it goes through the wickets there. He hasn’t been seeing a whole lot of puck luck as maybe he’s had in the past. He’s just going to be the 50 goal scorer that he was probably ever again.”
On if Ovechkin is an assist guy, a set-up guy like Gretzky or Lemiuex, with room to elevate his game:
“Ovechkin is a good passer. I think that’s actually one of the most underrated parts of his game. However, he’s not Gretzky, he’s not Lemieux. He’s not going to tally a whole bunch of points from… [Kornheiser jumps in and says, "He's not Crosby."] He’s certainly not Crosby. So, he’s not going to be getting points that way. The switch to right wing was an effort to get him away from that overpowering move he had down the left side where he would go down the left wall and try to cut in and score the goal that way, because that just wasn’t working anymore. The defenses have caught up to that. So, you’re right. His points are going to come from goals and, unless he starts to adapt his game a little bit more on the right wing, we’re going to see some 25 to 30 goal seasons.”
On Ovechkin making “a lot of money”
“That’s where people’s expectations, I think, are coming unglued because they see on paper this 65, 50 goal scorer that’s making $10 million and they think that’s going to happen in perpetuity. But, look, the Ovechkin contract was a bad contract. When they signed Ovechkin to that contract, for that period of time, it was a bad deal. And you can never expect a goal scorer to score 60, 50, 60 goals a year for ten years. It’s just not reality.”
On if the Caps know what Greenberg knows about Ovechkin
“I think so. Hockey analytics has definitely become bigger in the past couple years, however you still have, and I’m not speaking specifically about the Caps, but in the NHL in general, there are some teams that are embracing it. I know that Tampa Bay has a hockey analytics guy on staff, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Calgary, some other teams are embracing it. But, as far as the Capitals are concerned, they seem to trust the coaches more than the numbers. An I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. However, I think that there’s room for both, especially when you’re looking at player evaluation.
[I'm going to interrupt this transcription, as I've just read on Twitter that Russian Machine has sent out a transcription of the entire interview. So, rather than duplicate work, check the Russian Machine Never Breaks transcript of Neil Greenberg on the Tony Kornheiser Show by Peter Hassett and I'll go write something else.]