Friday, September 30, 2005


NHL Brainstorm!

[Update: Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Finale (Part 5) here.]

sacamano and I come from the world of general interest/current events/political Canadian weblogs. Naturally in Canada, some of that general interest is hockey, and as I noted when introducing this site, there are lots of general purpose Canadian bloggers whose hockey takes deserve a hockey audience.

In that spirit, we’ve invited several of Canada’s finest to lay out some predictions for the upcoming NHL season. Starting today, and for the next four days, we’ll be publishing their (and our) responses to five hockey queries. First, the introductions:
Here's the challenges we posed:
  1. Name one thing that's widely expected (or bit of conventional wisdom) about the upcoming NHL season that you doubt will happen.
  2. What is the biggest unknown for you in the upcoming season, or what will you be most curious to see?
  3. A) Pick one player who you think will break through, and B) pick one player whose performance will drop off considerably, relative to what we're used to
  4. A) Pick one team who you think will break through, and B) pick one team who has been good recently who you think will be bad this year
  5. A) What will the results of the Stanley Cup Finals be, and B) how is *your* team going to do.
Enough preamble! Here's our experts' takes on #1:

Name one thing that's widely expected (or bit of conventional wisdom) about the upcoming NHL season that you doubt will happen.

The Calgary Flames will NOT do well. They will return to relative obscurity, despite all the hype.

The new goalie equipment is, I think, widely expected to ruin Jean-Sebastien Giguere's career. I think he will surprise everyone and remain a world-class goalie even with smaller pads. I realize much of his skill has been attributed to his artificial Hulk-like size, but I've always had the sense that it had as much to do with preternatural puck anticipation. He has the tools to survive.

I think that zero tolerance will fail, as it has so many times before.
Scoring will not increase substantially, and coaches will find it difficult
if not impossible to wean themselves from clutch-and-grab hockey. It feels a
bit like the old Lucy bit. "This year we're cracking down. We mean it.
Really. We're getting tough. Watch out...." And then the big cave.I thinking
by Christmas.

As an aside, I think the one change that will bring work is the renewed
focus on regional play. I think playing divisional rivals more often will
have the desired effect of adding tension and excitement to the season.

Matt is going to hate me for this, but I am going to have to go with the expectation that the Calgary Flames are a top 1-3 team in the Western Conference. Calgary was the sixth best team in the Western Conference the last time the NHL was in session, and the twelfth best team in the league. I just don’t see the additions of Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty as pushing the Flames over the top. I have to give the Flames credit for making it to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, but it won’t even be close this year. Todd Bertuzzi is back in Vancouver, and Martin Gelinas is gone. Welcome to going down in the annals of Stanley Cup history with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers as teams that overachieved and never made it back, Flames fans.

I can't imagine that scoring will be up that much this season, but all the cool kids seem to be all over that prediction already, so here's one that I haven't been seeing much else...

For this season at least, the new CBA isn't going to change the playoff bound teams.

Sure, not all 16 teams from 2003-2004 will be there, but like every playoffs for the last ten years, 12 will be repeat playoff teams, with up to 4 teams dropping out to be replaced with 4 teams coming in. And the teams coming in (with the exception of Atlanta), were all in the playoffs at least once in the last three seasons.

Were I a betting man - and I've been accused of that in the past - I would bet that it looks something like this (though how they rank, I don't know right now).

Eastern Conference:
Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Boston are in for sure. I don't think Toronto or New Jersey will play so badly that they'll fall out. The New York Islanders, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Atlanta will contend for the final two spots.
Western Conference:
Calgary, Detroit, Vancouver and San Jose are all likely staying in. I like Nashville to stay in, as well as Dallas. St. Louis is an automatic drop from playoffs, but Colorado stays in the hunt, along with Edmonton, Phoenix and Anaheim for the final two spots.

So that's it. This first year out, only 19 teams have a real shot at playoffs. Some, like Columbus in the west and Florida in the east, could take run, but I don't see them there at the finish line.

The idea that intra-division blood-feuds will erupt as a result of the eight game scheduling and increased back-to-back series. Playoff histories will continue to feed the best rivalries. Of course, suckering a division rival's player out of the league doesn't hurt either (is Colorado/Vancouver the new Colorado/Detroit?).

I don't know how widely expected is, but I hereby predict that the mobility restrictions on goaltenders will either have no effect on play or they will do the opposite of what they were intended to. Goalies remain untouchable no matter if they're in their crease (which is good for exactly what these days?), in their ridiculous trapezoid or roving around on the white ice. If anything it will work to the advantage of goalies like Brodeur and Belfour — they'll be that much closer to the red line when they skate out, unmolested, and redirect the dump-ins up ice.

I'm guessing that the new rules for goaltenders will not result in goalies handling the puck less than they did in the past. Instead, I bet we are going to see a lot more goalies rushing out to catch the puck before it crosses the back line. This has the potential to create some interesting races, and I predict in the first month we see at least 3 classic highlights of goalies misjudging their own skating ability and giving up embarrassing goals (Belfour x2 and Cloutier).

The consensus seems to be that the defending Stanley Cup champions are going to drop back to become just another above-average team, which is bloody confusing. They won the East in the last regular season, then won the Cup, but because they lost the Bulin Wall (Stillman? Lukowich?), now they’re back in the pack? Bollocks!

Khabibulin obviously made a non-trivial contribution to the Cup win, but the young core of the champs remains. And the record shows that even last season, John Grahame had a better GAA, SV%, and WIN% than Bulin, and played in over 1/3 of TB’s games. As far as I can tell, skepticism about the new Lightning comes from too many people never believing they were the real deal in the first place; their Cup win makes this belief indefensible.

Tune in tomorrow for responses to #2, and keep coming back for the rest. I've scanned the rest of the contributions, and I think you'll find them a hell of a lot of fun to read. Also, be sure to check out all the sites of our contributors - they really are some of the best teh intarweb has to offer.


On a closely-related note, Tom Benjamin reminds us here that regardless of what you think of the "rule changes", or whether it sticks, total goal scoring doesn't really increase when the number of powerplays increase.

The math is roughly this: teams score about twice as much while on the powerplay, and about zero while shorthanded. These figures neatly cancel each other out, leaving the same number of total goals even when there's lots of powerplays.

Maybe I'm missing some math here, but I don't buy it.

Imagine two games - one in which there are no powerplays, and one in which all 60 minutes are powerplays.

Are you trying to tell me that they both have the same number of goals?

The problem with your math is that powerplay and penalty kill are not independent when you are talking about total goal scoring. They are only independent when you are talking about any single team's scoring since it is difficult to be on the powerplay and the penalty kill simultaneously.

In terms of total scoring, however, a penalty kill is always at the same time as a powerplay - duh.

So, to say that the 2x increase in scoring on the powerplay is offset by the .65 goals on the penalty kill is baloney. If the whole game was on the powerplay, we should expect to see 2x more total goals scored.

Imagine a regular NHL game where you would expect the score to be around 3-3 thru 60. Compare this to a game where one team had 30 powerplays, the other none. You'd expect the PP team to score, what, 5 or 6 goals (15-20%)? You'd also expect the SH team to score none, or maybe one. Still about 6 total goals.

The final sentence of your last comment is incorrect. Imagine even if each team is on the PP for 30 minutes, and SH for 30 minutes. Team A will score roughly twice as much while they're on the PP, roughly not at all while SH. Team B does the same, and the total goals scored is the same as if there were no powerplays - or any number in between.

Ya, I see your point. But, I'm stubbornly sticking with Selley's rule on this one that "statements that are 100 percent counterintuitive are probably at least 50 percent wrong."

One additional factor is that you can have way more than 30 penalties considering that it is possible to score in the first 10 seconds of every powerplay.

I like Selley's rule, but alas, numbers are numbers.

And yes, a team that was theoretically on the powerplay for 60 minutes, with a 20% success rate, would actually have 33 or 34 (and change) powerplays (you have to assume that on average, the PP goal is scored about 1 minute in). It's a simple limits problem, or rather, it would be if I went back in time to Grade 12.

I still don't buy it no matter what your simple dehumanized limits solutions tell you.

My guess is that a team who is on the penalty kill 20 times in any single night gives up more penalty kill goals than they would killing 5 penalties/game over four games because of exhaustion, mental fatigue, frustration, having to put out bad penalty killer to give your normal guys a breather, etc.

"I am but a simple Unfrozen Caveman. Your world of Numbers is strange to me..."

Funny how that pans out. Let's say teams score about x times as much while on the powerplay, and never while shorthanded. If x equals 2, as posited here, overall scoring won't be affected. But if it is greater than 2, there really will be more goals overall. And if it's between 1 and 2--if scoring on the power play increases, but by less than 100%--then more power plays will actually drive scoring down. Weird.

But Sacamano is right to be suspicious. Average power-play percentages in the real world hover around 20%. The average power play, assuming a roughly random distribution of the timing of the goals within the power play, should last about one minute. (A little longer, since no goals are scored less than three or four seconds in.) At 0.2 goals per minute the average goals-per-game rate for one team would be 12. Surely that's way more than twice the average goals-per-game rate at even strength.

The average power play though, Cosh, even with those simple assumptions, is 1:48. Every 5 PP, you have 4 that last 2mins, at 1 that lasts (on average) 1 minute.

OR, call it one PP goal every 9 minutes of PP time. That comes out to 0.11 goals per min, or 6.67 per game. This is closer to the observed numbers Tom talks about.

Jesus Christ, guys, the reason I left school because I was tired of math. Statistics should be left to sports which require them to enliven the game, i.e. baseball.

In case anyone was interested, my own take on your post is linked here:

or, rather ...

Huck, you come in here and slag on baseball AND statistics (or as we say in Indiana, sa-tistics)? Dubious!

Anyway, a hyperlink to Huck's post is here.

Tom at Canucks Corner points out that in the pre-season so far, scoring is up slightly to an average of 5.65 goals per game, but that time on the power play is up quite a bit - a whopping 46% of all minutes in 20 games were with one team on the PP.

So it would appear that so far at least (and obviously this is very early), the extended power play time is not having that much of an effect on total goals scored.

What remains to be seen is how teams and officials adapt to the new realities. I confess I have my doubts that the officials will keep up with calling every single infraction. Hasn't this been tried before?

And guys, I must say. Could you not have found a single Canucks fan to participate in this discussion?

We're here! We're here! Sheesh.

> Hasn't this been tried before?

Yeah, I've lost count. At this point, it's like Robert Downey Jr. telling you he's going to get clean. Whether he's "lying", or whether he "really means it this time", is meaningless. The NHL saying they'll crack down on obstruction is a totally meaningless assertion - all you can do is watch and see what happens.

And as for why there's no Canucks fans in this blog survey -- I frankly assumed that Tom Benjamin was the only Canucks fan around with basic literacy skills, let alone the manual dexterity to type a response.

Despite linking to the same story in Comment #15 as I did in Comment #1, I think you've proved me wrong. If you want a Canucks fan in, you're invited. Send me your responses to the five questions - jerryaldiniblog AT hotmail. If you're not inclined, no more complaining!

Someone trashed on metrics? And baseball?

I would like it to be known that the Buffalo Sabres need to be added to my list of flash in the pan Cup finalists.

I think that since Cosh is from Edmonton you should all head his warnings.....5 rings baby......

That being said, I am left to wonder about the Oilers as our netminding is looking a little weak. Our lines are looking great, but we need some pads between the pipes.

It sounds like there'll be a lot of 2 man advantages. I'm not even going to think about the math with that.

I have a foreboding feeling that 30 to 1000 penalty minutes a night will be annoying. But its gotta be better than a lotta grabbing. I think the refs have a hill to climb in convincing the players that they will call it like this consistently.

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