Tuesday, July 18, 2006


On Powerplay, Preamble & Part I

"Opinions are great—don't get me wrong. They're great for starting research projects. Then you go study and see if you can prove the opinion or not. But when placing multi—million dollar bets on future outcomes, opinions are wholly unsatisfactory. Opinions as conversation starters are fine. Opinions as conclusions are very bad. I started research projects to discern the objective “why.” I wanted to know why certain teams won and why other teams lost; why certain drafts produced big stars and others didn't. This was the naïve question at work."
--Paul Depodesta,
"The Genesis, Implementation, and Management of New Systems"


Over the next little while, I am going to look at the Edmonton Oilers powerplay during the Stanley Cup Finals. The complete post is enormously large (surprise!), so I have taken the liberty of breaking it up into five parts. I started out with an opinion on the Oilers powerplay in the Finals, but had no idea if it would be supported by the evidence. I have seen the numbers, the only numbers I was able to scrounge up, and now have more of a clue on how right and wrong I was. But I have no idea concerning the full validity or value of these numbers, or my thoughts. At this point, I am still the naive questioner searching for answers. Hopefully, these posts will bear some fruit. They took me an enormous amount of time to do, so I hope they are also of some value to others, even if the value is in how poorly the examination was performed.

And for those of you who are tired of all the numbers, and just want some good old fashioned ranting and raving, don't worry. It's coming. GOIL!!!

Part I: The Opinion

During the Stanley Cup Finals between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers, there was a great deal of debate and discussion about the Oilers powerplay. Personally, I had been frustrated by the Oilers powerplay all season, as it seemed entirely predicated on one, and only one, strategy: get the puck to the point. The strategy worked fairly well through the first three rounds, and the Oilers were able to score timely powerplay goals. In fact, they scored a powerplay goal in 13 of their first 17 playoff games.

Oilers Playoff Rounds
Game 1
Game 2
Game 3
Game 4
Game 5
Game 6
PP Success/Total
PP Success/%
vs. Detroit
vs. San Jose
vs. Anaheim

The powerplay had stalled in the Finals, however, as Carolina adjusted to what was, at least to my mind, the Oilers singlular powerplay strategy. I was of course furious about this lack of diverse planning, as I had been all year long. Other, more moderate voices, however, suggested that the powerplay was getting better, and would come through to make a difference in the end. I didn't believe them. In between Game 5 and Game 6, I contacted Tyler and Avi, who I both knew to be statistical nutbars. An opinion was brewing in my head, and I wanted to be able to validate it. Here's how it all broke down, in present tense:

• I am intrigued by the assertion that the Oilers powerplay is getting "closer". I disagree.

• Other than Hemsky's goal in Game 5, when was the last time someone other than a player on the point took a shot on the Oilers powerplay?

• I would bet that over 80% of the Oilers shots on the powerplay throughout this series, if not throughout the entire playoffs, have been taken from the defensive side of the hashmarks.

• Based on what I know about hockey and basketball, but admittedly without much data to back me up, I want to identify those shots as being low percentage shots due to variables like distance and traffic.

• I also want to identify that a high volume of shots taken from the point also lowers their effectiveness, despite the quality of the shot-taker, due to their predictibilty.

• It also seems to me that the strategy is a waste of the talent within those players north of the hashmarks, but that probably demands a type of analysis that I am unqualified to perform.

• I want to know if anyone keeps a running tab of shots in the NHL, like they do in the NBA. I am sure stats companies do, but is any of it public? Like this:

• The NBA shot chart allows me to see the shots broken down by quarter, by distance, by location, and by shooter. It also tells me which shots were made, and which shots were missed.

• What is guiding my thought process here is indeed the NBA. If a team took 80% of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc, with two defenders always in their face, they would be crucified by players,coaches, managers, reporters, fans, and even casual observers. And they would be crucified, even if they had Michael Jordan and Larry Bird taking those shots. They would be attacked even more if they had a solid supporting cast in higher percentage shooting areas who weren't taking the easier shots. Essentially, I think this is what the Oilers are doing, even though not even Chris Pronger is as good as Jordan or Bird.

• I am also aware that the NBA and NHL are two very different games, and the analogy may therefore be tenuous at best. But it is the best way I could think of to describe it.

• I suppose that at the end of the day, the success of a powerplay can be broken down into sheer results. We got one more goal in Game 5 than we did in the previous three games, so I guess it did, indeed, get better. Maybe my question really should be, "Is a poor coaching strategy inhibiting the powerplay from being even better than it currently is or becoming?"

These were the thoughts, questions and opinions running around in my head. I knew already that the guys at Hockey Analytics had done some work on shot quality, showing that indeed distance does matter. I also knew that Tyler had done some work in relation to shot quality and goaltending, but that it was different from the answers I was trying to find. Tyler has now done some more work, focusing on the powerplay, and more powerplay, but again it doesn't really cover the things I want to know. It's probably best that he didn't cover them actually, as he knew I was working on this, and I'd be forced to kill him if he posted on it before me (That goes the same for those of you who might want to jump the gun on things, and start talking about items best discussed in future posts. I have already completed most of this baby, so be patient. And if you know of someone who has already done all sorts of work on these questions, please wait until the end of the last post to tell me. I don't know if my poor little soul can handle it!).

Anyway, I was seemingly on my own, and would have to figure it out for myself. So I did what any sane person looking for information on the NHL would do. I typed in www.NHL.com. And that is where my problems began.

Part II of "On Powerplay" will be posted tomorrow. It will focus on the barriers I faced in getting the numbers I needed.


CBS Sportsline keeps a shots graphic on its site during games, very similar to the example that you have there. They also have a graphic depicting the five scoring areas of the net, along with how many shots were aimed there and how many went in. Which could be very useful towards determining goalie weakness if you notice a lot going in high on the blocker side for example...


Let's try this again...



Ya, I know all that. It's coming.

This is why I hate posting in parts. I really shouldn't read these comments until I post them all.

Hey Andy,

Good post. I know as a coach, the thing I emphasize on a PK, is to try to keep the puck to one side of the ice, prevent passes going cross ice, and never allow a shot from the low slot area. If you know the opposing team has a good shooter on the blueline, keep a tighter gap on them. This is what Carolina did to the Oilers in regards to Pronger.

As far as shots from the point, I don't care if they go 100mph or 50mph. Get it to the net. The simple rule for point shots is shoot for a deflection or rebound. Don't shoot to score. Get it to the net, and get two forwards to crash the net as the shot is taken.

Sorry Andy, I jumped the gun. I made the mistake of just skimming the article my first time through...


No problem Randy. It's natural that it happens.I just wish I could post it all at once. But it is huge.

Jeremy, wtf? Patience dude. The numbers are coming.

I like the looks of this Andy...does blogger allow you to use the same comments page for the whole series? You might find that useful.

No it doesn't. I don't think so anyways. It would help.

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