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Leveling the Playing Field

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It's in the nature of just about every sports fan to analyze their favorite team. The problem is that the data to do so is oftentimes incomplete, unreliable, or just not there. Defense in hockey, for example, is notoriously difficult to measure. Point production is at least in part a factor of who a player plays with and against. Save percentage is a decent measure of goaltender performance - but a goalie playing behind a bad team's going to have a hard time putting up the same kind of numbers as a goalie playing behind a defensive juggernaut.

One way to try and compare data is to normalize it - to do whatever you can to make it so the players on a level playing field, so you can compare apples to apples.  That's the logic behind a lot of what Gabriel Desjardins at Behind the Net does: sure Nicklas Backstrom has more goals than Eric Fehr, but given the disparity in playing time, power play time, and strength of teammates, is that disparity as big as the raw numbers make it seem?  Does it exist at all?  By turning ice time and goals in to goals per minute, you can get a little bit closer to the answer.

The problem is that when you do that, the numbers lose some of their relate-ability.  When you say Alexander Ovechkin's 56 goals were an incredible achievement, people are right there with you.  When you tell them he scored 1.57 goals per sixty minutes of five-on-five play they might assume it's impressive since it's Alexander Ovechkin, but they don't relate to it in the same way.

With that in mind, we've decided to normalize individual player scoring data and convert it in to run-of-the-mill statistics by assigning everyone on the team the same amount of "ice time".  We decided to go ahead with 18 minutes a night, since that's more or less what a player who gets regular ice time but isn't a top line or top pairing guy gets.  Each player is assumed to play 14:12 of even strength ice time and 1:57 of power play ice time per game i"in order to roughly correspond with how much time the player would get based on the amount of time the Capitals have spent in each situation so far this season.  We also assume each player get 1:51 of penalty kill time, although this doesn't factor in to point totals since the team doesn't have any shorthanded goals.  The method isn't perfect - it doesn't account for quality of competition or teammates, and obviously some players are hurt by the fact that in reality they play so rarely on the the power play.  Still, it's an interesting exercise to see the effect of. standardizing ice time does on total production

Or, in other words, if everyone got the same ice time and scored at their current rates, what would their stats look like?

Nicklas Backstrom 3 14 17 2 11 13 1 3 4
Matt Bradley 5 6 11 5 6 11 0 0 0
Chris Clark 2 10 12 2 5 7 0 5 5
Eric Fehr 7 8 15 7 5 12 0 3 3
Tomas Fleischmann 12 6 18 8 2 10 4 4 8
Boyd Gordon 0 7 7 0 7 7 0 0 0
Mike Knuble 7 13 20 6 11 17 1 2 3
Brooks Laich 7 11 18 4 9 13 3 2 5
Quintin Laing 4 0 4 4 0 4 0 0 0
Brendan Morrison 7 9 16 6 8 14 1 1 2
Alex Ovechkin 16 8 24 14 6 20 2 2 4
Mathieu Perreault 6 12 18 6 12 18 0 0 0
Alexander Semin 7 15 22 5 5 12 2 3 5
David Steckel 0 3 3 0 3 3 0 0 0


John Erskine 0 2 2 0 2 2 0 0 0
Mike Green 2 13 15 2 10 12 0 3 3
Milan Jurcina 0 3 3 0 3 3 0 0 0
Shaone Morrisonn 0 3 3 0 3 3 0 0 0
Brian Pothier 4 5 9 2 5 7 2 0 2
Tom Poti 0 0 4 0 3 3 0 1 1
Jeff Schultz 1 5 6 1 5 6 0 0 0

So what've we got?

  • Mike Knuble was in large part brought in to help the team's power play, but he's tied for seventh in power play points among forwards and doing most of his damage at even strength.
  • Shaone Morrisonn makes $1.975 million, is tied for the worst GAON/60 on the team, and has done nothing offensively despite playing most shift with Mike Green.  If the Capitals want to free up cap space and are tired of waiting on Michael Nylander, I have a suggestion for them...
  • David Steckel...oof.
  • Matt Bradley's more productive at even strength than Tomas Fleischmann.  Take it for what it's worth (hint: not much).
  • At even strength Mathieu Perreault is outproducing Nicklas Backstrom, and Brendan Morrison and has been equal to Tomas Fleichmann and Brooks Laich.  Très bien.  Now how 'bout some power play time for the kid?
  • Jeff Schultz has been the team's third most productive defenseman.  As much as I like Sarge, that's not good.  Maybe instead of pining for that "big, crease-clearing" defenseman we should be hoping that Caps find away to get another puck mover on their roster.  Or that Tom Poti starts bringing the kind of offense he's capable of.  Either/or.
  • Eric Fehr is third in even strength goals and twelfth in even strength ice time per game.
  • Chris Clark has as many or more power play points per minute as Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas, Backstrom, Mike Green, Brendan Morrison, Mike Knuble, or Brooks Laich, raise your hand.  Maybe we can cut him a little slack in terms of raw numbers?

What jumps out at you? Who might deserve a few more minutes each night to showcase what they can do? Just as importantly, whose numbers do you really think are indicative of their talent, and whose numbers aren't telling the whole story?