Rates And Context

The other day, David Staples at The Cult of Hockey threw together a post that basically divided hockey fans into two camps - those who base their opinions of players on what they have seen on the ice and those who blindly trust numbers to tell them how good a player is or isn't. Now, I've never met anyone in the latter group, but the man with the biggest headshot of himself that I've ever seen in a blog banner says they exist, and therefore they must [disclosure: I actually dig most of Staples' work, so that cheapshot makes me a bad person]. One of my favorite bloggers out there - Matt at BoA - took Staples to task for his portrayal of the "debate," and a good discussion ensued in the comments thereto.

If you've been a reader in these parts for a while, you know that I'm probably a little more on the "stat guy" side of center ice than at the "traditionalist" end of the rink, but I'm definitely still in the neutral zone - I like to see statistics that corroborate what my eyes and gut tell me, and when the two disagree, I'm likely to reassess the value of the player (see Schultz, Jeff)... or the value of the stat (Tomas Fleischmann had third best takeaway-to-giveaway ratio on the team, behind only checking centers Boyd Gordon and David Steckel.).

All of this is just a set-up for an application of some loose guidelines that Matt offered up in a post yesterday. Go read the post - I'll wait (it's Friday, you ain't got no job, etc.).

Alright. To summarize, even strength points per sixty minutes of ice time (EVPts/60) tells you a hell of a lot about a players' offensive production and often allows for fairer evaluations and better comparisons than numbers that don't take into account time on ice (duh). So let's see if the benchmarks, applied to last year's Caps forwards, corroborate what our eyes and guts tell us, or if we need to reassess the value of some players or the utility of the statistic generally:

>3.00EVPts/60 = excellent, elite, fantastic.

Alex Ovechkin came in at 3.00 on the nose. I feel comfortable calling him excellent, elite and fantastic.

~2.00EVPts/60 = the mushy middle. No one in this range is embarrassing themselves, but there is a wide range in what we might call perceived player quality. A non-star player in this range who you know had mediocre linemates has done well to hit this mark; conversely, if you get much below 2.00 and you see a player who has the reputation of creating offense, it might be time to reconsider that reputation.

Viktor Kozlov and Nicklas Backstrom clocked in at 2.19 and 2.18, respectively (not surprising, as they were Ovechkin's most frequent linemates five-on-five). Michael Nylander was next at 1.91, followed by Alex Semin (1.75), Sergei Fedorov (1.65), Brooks Laich (1.55), Chris Clark (1.51) and Fleischmann (1.42). Are we "much below 2.00" yet?

1.00EVPts/60 = Lowetide's Mendoza line for hockey players. If you are near, at, or below this level, you stink at creating offense. Unless you are outstanding defensively, or good at punching other guys in the head, your days of a regular NHL shift are numbered at this level.

Continuing our descent, Matt Bradley clocks in at 1.36, followed by Gordon (1.20), Quintin Laing (1.06), Steckel (1.03), Donald Brashear (0.78) and Eric Fehr (0.57).

Eric Fehr?! The sample on Fehr is incredibly small and he played with the lowest quality of linemates of any of the team's forwards 5-on-5, but this certainly isn't where you'd like to see your top forward prospect at any point (I still say give him a shot on the second line, though).

Any huge surprises so far?

Now on to power play points per sixty (PPPts/60), which we find loaded with caveats:

>6.00PPP/60 = WOW, >5.00PPP/60 = excellent, >4.00PPP/60 = capable
Here's where we need to make the obligatory note that common sense still needs to be applied. The PPTOI totals, and thus the sample size, are relatively small in a given season; small enough that a handful of lucky goals or heroic saves can produce a big swing in someone's rate. (Accordingly, rating a player's PP chops based on a single season's results is probably unwise.)

The Caps forwards' PPPts/60 (and this is just 5-on-4) shook out as follows:
  • Fehr (7.32)
  • Laich (5.39)
  • Nylander (5.22)
  • Backstrom (4.59)
  • Ovechkin (4.55)
  • Fleischmann (4.40)
  • Semin (4.05)
  • Clark (3.31)
  • Kozlov (3.01)
  • Fedorov (2.93)
Now, the "small sample" applies to Fehr again - he had just under 33 minutes of ice time on the power play all season and four power play points. And perhaps you can probably throw Fedorov's number away, as he was stuck on the League's fifth-worst extra-man unit for most of the year (though 3:54 of PP ice time per game is a healthy amount of opportunity). But this is probably the first time I've seen any assessment of Alex Ovechkin's 2007-08 season that would describe his production as "capable." Also worth noting is just how dominant a power-play producer Nylander is (and how good Backstrom was as a rookie); how much Laich took advantage of his limited PP time (and how surprisingly productive Flash was in his); and how little Kozlov chipped in man-up. But again, as Matt said, rating a player's PP chops based on a single season's results is probably unwise.

The bottom line is that you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows and you don't need EVPts/60 or PPPts/60 to tell you that Alex Ovechkin is a better 5-on-5 producer than Tomas Fleischmann. But they help you to realize that Alex Semin was no more productive, individually, 5-on-5 than Maxime Talbot. Or that Nicklas Backstrom was more effective on the PP than Eric Staal or Vinny Lecavalier.

That's what the stats say, at least. Do your eyes and gut believe the numbers? If not, which are you more inclined to trust?

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