Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This I Believe

ONE. Dave Nonis may be a smart guy, and has a debatable point on the underlying issue, but using Sidney Crosby to illustrate his beef with the CBA is laughable and absurd.
"Pittsburgh is going to put seven years of development money into him and he can leave when he's 25," Nonis told a B.C. Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Yeah, the Penguins are out-of-pocket for meal money and power skating lessons until Crosby gets up to speed. Whatever: Crosby is a gift from the heavens for the Penguins. Thanks to the CBA (most critically the rookie pay scale), even if Crosby does leave on July 1, 2012, the Penguins will have received services and economic benefits that exceed what they will have paid for them by tens of millions of dollars. Boo-hoo. (Visualize the televised draft lottery back in Summer '05, with all those GMs at their tables chatting with each other: "I almost hope we don't win; I'm pretty nervous about sinking all this development money into the kid.")

TWO. Nonis is right about the schedule, though. Back in January I looked at a minor tweak that at least would have each team play each other every year, and have each team visit your building every other year. As for the overall travel problem though, Dave: move the team to Hartford or let.. it.. go.

THREE. The most overrated and overanalyzed element of hockey is faceoffs. I finally did some back-of-the-envelope math about this, with some really round numbers and somewhat dodgy assumptions, but take a look.

One area where you can take a stab at the objective relevance of face-offs is on the PP/PK. Every PP begins with a faceoff; usually it's in the end of the team on the PK. Winning this faceoff generally means you get to set up immediately (if you're the PP team) or you clear the puck down the ice (if you're the PK team). I estimate this makes a difference of about 20 seconds. The other assumptions I've made for the purposes of this rough calc:
So, roughly, you're taking 10 faceoffs on the PP every game. Now, a superb faceoff team would be one that wins 60% of their draws. Since an average team wins 50%, that means the superb team wins one extra PP faceoff per game. As noted above, that translates to about an extra 20 seconds of actual or effective PP time.

The average NHL team last season, in their 600 seconds of PP time, scored 84 goals. An extra 20 seconds per game then (1/30th) should result in about 2.8 additional goals over the course of the season. That 2.8 Goals figure may look familiar to some of you; using Poisson, it's the number that equates to one point in the standings. Add a second point for the 2.8 goals saved on the PK, and my estimate is that a 60% faceoff team will gain two points in the standings off of the improvement in the 20/60mins per game spent on special teams.

My best guess for the effect of FO% at even strength is maybe a third point. Obviously, feel free to challenge my assumptions, but I'm pretty sure this is the order of magnitude we're looking at. (Last piece of evidence: if face-off prowess is really so important, I'd expect more teams to be paying for it. Yanic Perrault, who was the only guy in the league over 60% last season, just signed this weekend. Nashville, who was very good in the dot last season, let their top 3 F/O guys leave in the offseason: Perrault, Sillinger, & Greg Johnson.).

FOUR. Something's wrong with the Flames right now. Dennis is right; they got beaten convincingly last night, at home, by a team that's probably not going to make the playoffs. I don't believe, nor will I ever, that effort and desire are lacking, but "passion" visibly is. Is this the inevitable consequence of an atmosphere and motto of All Business? (God, is that link depressing.) I don't know yet, but I'm pretty sure if the 3rd/4th lines manage a total of 3 goals over the next 10 games like they did in the 1st 10, their record is going to be similar as well.


I may keep counting later...


The most overrated and overanalyzed element of hockey is faceoffs.

Good work, Matt. This has been somewhat of a gut feeling of mine also, as there have been good and bad teams that are good and bad at faceoffs.

It's a contributor, sure, but I would say less important, than say, shot-blocking or something a little more relevant to scoring goals and winning.

I think Nonis is right about the UFA age as well... the worst part about it is that kids who begin playing in the NHL when they're 18 are somehow rewarded (and their teams penalized) because they're able to make the jump sooner. Why should there ever be a debate about Staal staying or going if he's playing an integral part in the Penguins winning hockey games?

At first when you said faceoffs were not worth much, I was thinking neglible effects on season points. But isn't that final figure of points gained actually quite considerable?

I should have added the qualification that you do support the contention that hiring a face-off specialist is a bad idea... but isn't that something we already knew?

Good stuff Matt. Especially when one considers that a player percentage of 60% is remarkable let alone a team percentage that high.

I'd like to see you flesh out the ES side of the FO argument though. That's obviously more complicated to deal with though.

One aspect of the ES thing is interesting to me. One would assume that more faceoffs won would lead to more puck possession. This increased puck possession should in turn lead to fewer penalties taken and more penalties drawn. The change in your team's situational icetime distribution will impact their success as well. Just look at what taking fewer penalties has done for the NJD over the years.

Too bad this is currently near impossible to quantify.

The other thing Nonis does not say is that the team that has Crosby (or other desireable soon to be UFA) under contract has the ability to sign that player to a contract that extends into what would otherwise be their free agency period. Both the Flames and the Oilers have done this with Iginla and Hemsky. The Lightning have done it with LeCavalier. there is no reason to think that the Penguins will not attempt to lock up Sid the Kid with some long term contract as his free agency time approaches. The Penguins alone will have this opportunity. Sid might even warrant a ridiculous 15 year deal. The Penguins can attempt to ink such a deal as soon as his rookie contract expires.

Face offs are over rated. Nonetheless, it makes me crazy the Flames spend the first 20 seconds of every single freaking power play setting up behind their own net after losing the face off in the opposing zone.

To your Point No. 4: Sutter reminds me of every soul-destroying blood-sucker of a boss I've ever had or heard of. A guy who takes your passion for whatever you're doing and tramples it on the way to a visioning session or re-engineering exercise. Where your only goal each day is not to get fired. If the Flames were a collection of 14-year-old boys, they'd quit to smoke dope and chase girls.

it makes me crazy the Flames spend the first 20 seconds of every single freaking power play setting up behind their own net after losing the face off in the opposing zone.

This got me thinking. It's not actually 20 seconds, now, is it? I'm just spitballing here, but it's only 20 seconds if they get in and set up on their first attempt to get into the opposing zone, right?

If, for example, you were watching the Oilers' playoff bipolar powerplay last year during one of its "down" phases, you might recall that they often ran into problems getting into the opposing zone. There were times (hair-pullingly too frequent times, actually) when an entire PP was wasted by failed attempts to carry the puck over the line, or failed attempts to recover a dump in.

I'm not saying that this necessarily, or absolutely, makes faceoffs more important, but clearly winning that offensive zone faceoff is a bigger benefit (bigger than, for example, 20 seconds of offensive zone PP time) the worse your team is at getting set up in the offensive zone.

At the least, to painfully recall my probability courses, the expected benefit of winning that first PP offensive zone draw would be:
20 seconds + (20 seconds / probability of getting set up).

(So, if you had a 50% chance of setting up, winning the draw would earn you (20 + 20/0.5 = ) 30 seconds more PP time.)

I have neither the ability, nor the lazinesslessness to figure out the real effect of this on my own, but I think it's at least worth considering that teams that had poor setup skills benefitted quite a bit more from their faceoff prowess (sound familiar?).

Par makes a good point. Even given that this exercise controls for PP/PK success, there should probably be some "setup probability" (average estimated) factored in there, which on its own would make FO% more important.

That said, most of the other assumptions probably err on the side of exaggerating its importance, so maybe things cancel out. As RiversQ notes, no team actually ever hits 60%; Yanic Perrault was the only player last season to exceed 60% in a large sample size. Also, many faceoffs are not won cleanly, and do not lead to a "real setup", if you catch my drift.

And as to Anon's point, no, 2 points is nothing to sneeze at. But it's more on point to go backwards one step and say it would be worth 6 goals in Goal Differential. No coach would shrug at anything he could do to improve his team's GD by 6, however, there's no guarantee that it will actually translate into points (see the Poisson Link in the main post).

Did you guys catch the story in the National Post containing the following quote?

"Today my sister could lace 'em up for the so-called Battle of Alberta, a name that should be retired out of respect for those whose blood was spilled in the building of the legend."

Calgary does lack passion and I believe it comes from a different perspective from the coach. Playfair is not and never will be Darryl Sutter and I believe it was a mistake to make the change.

The players even mentioned that before the Phoenix game that Darryl was in the Dressing room and his look was intimidating. I do not hear that about Playfair.


I totally agree with the Post article. AS a Caps fan, I missed the old Patrick division rivalries, fueled by the brawls but, more importantly (as the article mentions), the yearly playoff matchups. Why do Caps fans hate the Pens so much? Because we seemed to face them in April year in and year out.

Instead of adding more divisional games during the season, just return to the balanced schedule and instead also return to the division semi-finals/finals format, instead of this ranking teams 1-8 NBA-style nonsense.

You can keep the unbalanced schedule if you bring back divisional playoffs. It'd probably require realignment to the traditional four-division format, but if you drop the Coyotes and the Isles to the AHL, it works out neatly, anyway.

Second-round matchups between the Flames and Oilers used to be a given. When that was the case, any BoA was a powderkeg. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out why the League office is trying to discourage the violence. Violence and passion feed off each other, and help generate hype that sells tickets. And clearly, their cleaner game isn't really generating the kind of growth they'd hoped for. I've been trying to avoid agreeing with Tom Benjamin for over a year, but he's right: there's not a whole lot of emotion here anymore. Kill the NBA-wannabe structure and go back to what worked.

Pepper, it would be impossible for me to agree with you more.

Of course, the flip side is that, for a time, the Division matchup between the Flames and Oilers was, de facto, the Stanley Cup final.

I'm not sure I'd like to see the best two teams matchup early in the playoffs just to recapitualte an historic rivalry. Let the chips fall where they may -- the Oil vs. Dallas seemed to do pretty damn well over the years.

Well, it's not necessary that the two best teams in the League meet in round two. That was a happy coincidence of geography, really. All I'm saying is, divisional regular season schedule demands divisional playoff schedule, if the interest is rivalries.

Truthfully, if the NHL wants to reduce travel, why not have longer home and away stands? The Oil could make a huge loop from Edmonton to Calgary to Vancouver to California to Phoenix, Colorado, and back for seven or eight games. Better than going Edmonton-Dallas-Chicago-Nashville-Edmonton, as they do in December. That makes all kinds of no sense, geographically. The flight from Dallas to Nashville is about the same as the flight from Edmonton to Vancouver.

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