- Nico Hischier
- Nolan Patrick
- Miro Heiskanen
- Cody Glass
- Elias Pettersson
- Gabe Vilardi
- Owen Tippett
- Nick Suzuki
- Erik Brannstrom
- Lias Andersson
- Cale Makar
- Juuso Valimaki
- Timothy Liljegren
- Eeli Tolvanen
- Casey Mittlestadt
- Kailer Yamamoto
- Martin Necas
- Robin Salo
- Kole Lind
- Kristian Vesalainen
- Jason Robertson
- Nic Hague
- Jaret Anderson-Dolan
- Robert Thomas
- Conor Timmins
- Cal Foote
- Klim Kostin
- Michael Rasmussen
- Mason Shaw
- Jonah Gadjovich
- Nikita Popugaev
Every playoff loss is usually accompanied by fans and radio hosts demanding big money players to be traded, especially in a town like Boston. However, after some time to reflect on the loss to the Senators I’ve decided that the Bruins don’t need to blow it up or make any earth-shattering moves. I think it would have been a very different series with Krug, Carlo and a healthy Bergeron (who played the whole year with a sports hernia). On top of that, trades involving upwards of 6 million in salary are rare. With that in mind, I made this off-season game plan as realistic as possible. All the moves I made are plausible considering the front office’s past decisions. It’s more likely that the NHLPA will choose to use the escalator, but I worked off of the assumption that the cap will stay flat just to keep my decision making as conservative as possible.
Here is the projected roster:
Players that left via free agency/buyouts
Liles was a victim of the cap. I thought his play this year made it clear he is still a legitimate NHL defenseman. Liles is an analytics darling. His GAR (goals over replacement) makes him an attractive defenseman for analytically minded teams, but the Bruins don’t have space for him. He isn’t taking Krug or Chara’s spot on the left, and Colin Miller still has plenty of room to grow as a defenseman because of his age. Liles will easily find a job this summer.
Stafford was a good rental, but he’s a shot anchor and ideally Beleskey will take back his spot next to Krejci. Bruins also need the cap space.
Morrow is probably tired of sitting in the press box, and I think his limited ice time this year shows that the Bruins don’t have too much confidence in him. He played quite a bit in the playoffs, but that was with a ridiculous number of injuries to the defensive core. Better for both parties if the Bruins and Morrow part ways.
Moore is replaced by younger and cheaper players in this universe. He had a good year for a fourth liner, but the Bruins won’t have any problem filling in his role internally.
If Hayes was hurt to end the year it may not be possible to buy him out. I’m going to assume he will pass his physical during the buyout window. He just isn’t that good. Bruins will need that extra cap space.
Players that left via trade/expansion draft
I guessed that the Bruins will protect Chara (NMC), Krug, and Colin Miller. That leaves Miller as the odd man out, and I think a number 4 defenseman who is dependable in his own zone would be attractive to Vegas.
Spooner hasn’t shown that he can really hack it at 5v5, and his powerplay scoring was down this year as well. I think he has quite a bit of value as a trade asset. I traded his rights to Anaheim for Montour and a 2nd round pick in 2018. The hardest thing to do as an armchair GM is make a balanced trade, but I think this works for both teams.
Players signed re-signed/acquired from free agency
Pastrnak’s agent is allegedly looking for a long-term deal similar to the Monahan contract. He had 70 points this year, so my best guess is 6 million AAV for 6 years. This takes Pastrnak to UFA and locks him up for his prime years. Works for both sides.
Schaller is cheap, plays good defense, and can step into the top 6 for a game in case of an injury and not look too out of place. I signed him to a deal that was a tiny raise. 950k AAV for the New Hampshire boy.
Acciari will be a fixture on the fourth line for the foreseeable future. He’s had a little bit of a scoring touch in Providence (and roughly 500 goals taken away by video review this year), so expect him to get a couple more next year. Acciari is also very cheap: 950k AAV.
The Bruins consider themselves cup contenders in this world. Williams gives them considerable depth on the right wing. I gave him a contract for 3 years totalling 12 million dollars. An AAV of 4 million is not difficult to get rid of. They could buy out the last year of his contract or retain salary in a trade if they were desperate to get rid of him.
Montour came from the Ducks in the Spooner deal. Very promising AHLer. Shoots a ton for a defenseman. The league is trending towards guys like this. Probably would be the 7th guy before McQuaid gets hurt fifteen minutes into the season.
This is what the salary structure looks like going forward:
I should talk about Matt Beleskey. He had a terrible year. There were a few things that contributed to his down year: a knee injury, different expectations in a checking role, lack of puck luck, and just not playing good enough. His trade value has tanked. I doubt he’s worth as much on the market as he is to the Bruins if he rebounds. Worst case scenario, the Bruins can retain salary at the trade deadline. Best case, he’s back to being a 35-40 point guy. Moving him would expose the lack of depth at left wing as well. Beleskey is a great second liner if he plays like he did in 2015-16.
I think the biggest problem with this lineup is the lack of defensemen Cassidy will trust to kill penalties. One of Colin Miller or Krug will have to step up and take over that role. Miller would probably surprise. He’s better than people think at boxing out players in front of the net.
I have Nash centering the third line. I think he’s a good bottom 6 forward who can contribute by scoring the occasional goal. Khudobin has also been buried in Providence to allow Subban or McIntyre to take the backup role. Otherwise, the lines probably look familiar to anyone who watches the Bruins.
I believe the Bruins team I’ve built is a legitimate playoff team, and could possibly contend for the cup. It hinges on a few things: McAvoy continuing to play like he did during the playoffs, decent goaltending, and some puck luck from the bottom 6. It goes without saying that Bergeron, Marchand, Krug and Pastrnak need to be healthy for most of the year.
The NHL point system is broken.
The NHL has focused on fixing things that don’t need to be fixed (the divisions) and breaking things that definitely didn’t need to be fixed (Olympic participation). At the same time they have completely ignored what could be the biggest problem with the league: the point system.
Currently, a team who gets a win, whether it’s in regulation, overtime, or the shootout, gets two points. When a team loses in overtime or the shootout they are awarded one point, and if a team loses in regulation they do not get a point.
At first this sounds like a good points system, but if you look into it you quickly find the flaws.
First of all, simple math. A game that ends in regulation awards two points. But when the game is tied after regulation three points are awarded. So, if a game goes past regulation it is now mathematically 50% more important to the NHL. Should a skills competition be worth that much?
So, knowing now that overtime and shootout games are 50% more important, and knowing that hockey is a team game, why is it that a game becomes more important when we get to a time where only a handful of players matter?
So if we can’t use the current point system, what can we use? Well, why not use the IIHF’s point system? It’s used in many different leagues, and is better suited for a league who would rather avoid ties.
Under the IIHF system, a regulation win nets a team three points, an overtime or shootout win gets two points, and an overtime or shootout loss gets one point. A regulation loss is still worth zero points. This way no game is any more valuable than another game, and a team is rewarded for winning the game in the first sixty minutes.
So, the first question that comes to mind when you talk about this system is, what would the NHL look like if they had this system? Well, the standings would’t change much. No team outside the playoffs would sneak in. There would be a little small change in playoff seeding, as well a few changes for the teams outside of the playoffs.
The playoff match ups in the Eastern conference would be the same except Boston would have home ice advantage over Ottawa.
In the Western conference there is a bit more shuffling around with the wild card teams and the central division. The playoff match ups would look like this:
1st in central Minnesota versus 2nd wild card Calgary
2nd in central Chicago versus 3rd in central St.Louis
1st in pacific Anaheim versus 1st wild card Nashville
2nd in pacific Edmonton versus 3rd in pacific San Jose
Take a look at what the standings would look like for yourself:
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (Current)||Position change|
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (current)||Position change|
|Eastern Conference Wild Card|
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (current)||Position change|
|New York R||40||8||6||28||142||102||NC|
|New York I||33||8||12||29||127||94||NC|
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (current)||Position change|
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (current)||Position change|
|Western Conference Wild Card|
|Team||W||OTW||OTL||L||PTS||PTS (current)||Position change|
|PTS:||Points using 3 point system|
|PTS (current):||Points using NHL’s current point system|
|Position change:||Changes in a team position within their respective division|
We all have that one player who we would hate if it were not for the fact that they play for our favourite team. Players like these are usually classified as “pests” and are notorious for aggravating the other team. They do this to draw penalties, which improves their teams’ chances of scoring and, ultimately, winning. Although they draw plenty of penalties and take few themselves, the most annoying part of their game is that they can also score often and make plays. As a Leafs fan, the player who best fits this description for me is Nazem Kadri. While his offensive talent is obvious by both the eye test and the numbers, Kadri has often been labelled an embellisher and is not exactly a gentleman on the ice. But when he plays by the rules, he is a highly effective skilled agitator who is loved by Leafs fans and despised by everyone else.
This season, however, Nazem Kadri seems like a much different player. Kadri had the best offensive season of his career this season, scoring 61 points in 82 games, despite losing a core component of his game: his ability to draw penalties. Indeed, the whistles seem to have gone silent for him this year. This was especially clear in the early stages of this season, when Kadri could not draw a penalty if his life depended on it. Now that the regular season has ended, I decided to dig into the numbers to see if the statistics support what we see on the ice. Is Nazem Kadri drawing less penalties this year than in the past, or is the eye test deceiving us?
In order to answer this, we need to know how frequently he was able to draw penalties in previous seasons and compare it to how often he did so this year. The graph below shows his penalties drawn per 60 minutes in all situations throughout his entire career (according to data from corsica.hockey):
Kadri did not get much ice time in the beginning of his career so the results for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons should be taken with a grain of salt (and are coloured lightly as a result). Once he earned a regular spot in the Leafs lineup, Kadri frequently enabled the Leafs to go on the powerplay, drawing 2.738 penalties per 60 minutes in the lockout shortened season. While that year was a career high for him in this area, we can clearly see that this season is likely a career low due to sample size issues in 2011-12. For every 60 minutes of ice time Kadri played, he drew nearly one less penalty this year compared to last year. That is a significant drop for any player in a large sample of ice time, and is especially noticeable for a forward who plays a shutdown role against the opponents top forward lines. The data confirms the eye test when we approach it from this angle.
The sudden decline in Kadri’s ability to draw penalties tells us that our eyes have not deceived us this season, but it does not tell us how costly it has been to the Leafs. By framing this drop in terms of goals, we will learn how it has effected the Leafs as a team. This can be achieved using a component of a statistic called “Goals Above Replacement” (or GAR for short) by @DTMAboutHeart. While you can read a more detailed explanation of it here, the basic idea is to quantify the value of a player in terms of how many goals their play is worth. A player provides value to his team if he is worth more goals than what you would expect from a replacement level player (i.e. an AHL caliber player). One component of a players GAR measures how many goals he is worth solely from his ability to draw penalties; at the risk of sounding redundant, I’d like to clarify that if a replacement level player was given playing time in the NHL, we would expect his penalty drawing ability alone to be worth 0 goals above replacement. The graph below displays the value of Kadri’s ability to draw penalties, expressed in terms of GAR per 60 minutes:
The peaks and valleys of this graph look identical to the previous one, except Kadri’s 2011-12 season is missing from GAR (and this graph) due to an insufficient sample size of TOI. Nazem Kadri’s penalty drawing abilities have always been positive and have therefore never hurt his team. Last season, Kadri’s penalty drawing ability was worth ~0.35 goals above replacement level every 60 minutes of ice time, which dropped to ~0.08 per 60 minutes this season. In total, his penalty drawing ability plunged from 7.44 GAR last year to 1.80 GAR this year, costing him 5.64 goals above replacement. That dramatic drop in value is too large to be explained away by bad luck alone. Drawing penalties was obviously a significant aspect of Kadri’s game and the referees have taken that away from him this season. Both the data and the eye test tell us that the referees have caught on to his embellishment tactics and are consequently reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt.
For additional context, it is also useful to look at the penalty drawing rates of his linemates as well to see if it is effecting them too. We want to know how often Kadri’s linemates drew penalties in previous seasons and then compare those rates to this season. To measure this, I simply found out how often the Leafs drew penalties when Kadri was on the ice and then subtracted the penalties that were drawn by Kadri. The following graph contains data from corsica.hockey and displays how often Kadri’s linemates drew penalties with him on the ice:
The top line shows how often the Leafs drew penalties when Kadri was on the ice, while the bottom line illustrates the rate at which Kadri’s linemates drew penalties. The top line tells us that the Leafs are drawing penalties less often with Kadri on the ice than they have in the last two seasons. Earlier in this post, we learned that Kadri himself is drawing penalties less often than before and now we can see that his entire team is suffering because of it (whenever he is on the ice). Despite this, the slight uptick in the bottom line shows that Kadri’s linemates are actually drawing penalties more frequently than last season. However, an increase of 0.367 penalties drawn per 60 minutes is not very much especially given the variability of Kadri’s own rates throughout his career. The penalty drawing rates of Kadri’s linemates suggest that Kadri’s inability to draw penalties at a high frequency this season is an issue that is isolated to him alone.
While this is an interesting way to explore Kadri’s penalty drawing rates, no method is perfect and we must be aware of the flaws of our analyses. When we analyze the penalty drawing rates for Kadri’s linemates, for example, we are not accounting for the fact that Kadri does not play with the same four skaters every shift of every season and that players may vary in their capability to draw penalties. It is therefore possible that the slight uptick in the rate of penalties drawn by Kadri’s linemates can be explained away by the possibility that one of those linemates this season is also good at drawing penalties. Nevertheless, all three approaches we have seen thus far have painted a clear picture that matches what many fans have noticed throughout this season.
By analyzing Kadri’s penalty drawing abilities from different perspectives, we have observed that the data passes the eye test. Kadri is drawing less penalties than ever before while the penalty drawing rates of his linemates have remained virtually unchanged since last season — a signal that this issue has not become a problem for his linemates too. He personally drew 0.926 less penalties per 60 minutes compared to last season, decreasing his value in this area by 5.64 goals above replacement. Although this particular drop is not as large as the one from 2012-13 to 2013-14, this one is more noticeable because it is recent and examples of blatant non-calls against Kadri from this season come to mind easier than examples from three years ago. This is confirmed by the data, which reveals that the value of his penalty drawing abilities is at an all-time low. It makes sense, then, that many fans including myself have noticed so many non-calls against Kadri this season in particular. Altogether, the data and the eye test both paint the same picture of silent whistles (belonging to the referees) and loud complaints from Leafs fans. While Kadri still plays like a skilled agitator, he is less effective in that regard without his ability to send his team to the powerplay. Hockey fans who cheer for other teams and dislike Kadri for his embellishments should rejoice if this trend continues, but Leafs fans should hope that the whistles don’t stay silent for long.
The NHL playoffs are just around the corner. People around the hockey world have already jumped to making their own brackets, trying to predict who will win Lord Stanley this year. So, before the games start this Wednesday, April 12th, and before you go and enter your buddies playoff bracket challenge, you need to take a look at this guide to making your bracket.
Many people wonder what to look for when choosing their bracket, and there are so many stats that it’s hard to narrow it down. My personal favorite is a team’s points percentage since the trade deadline. It shows how hot a team has been before the playoffs start, which I believe is a very important predictor of a team’s success in the playoffs. Anecdotally, last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins, who weren’t in a playoff spot at one point in the 2015-16 season, got hot at the right time and went on to win the Cup.
My first round picks:
Washington v Toronto
This Capitals team won the presidents trophy for a reason. They are arguably the league’s best team. A young Maple Leafs team even winning a game should be something to be proud of. The Capitals score more and give up fewer goals. The Capitals also had an incredible +81 goal differential in the regular season.
Pittsburgh v Columbus:
An underrated story line in the second half of the regular season is that the Blue Jackets didn’t play great. They had just a 56.8 point percentage, which isn’t terrible, but heading into the post season you would want to play a little better. A big knock on the Penguins going into the playoffs is they are banged up pretty bad, but they have been dealing with a number of injuries for a while and that didn’t stop them from winning games.
Montreal v New York Rangers:
Assuming both teams go into this series playing their best hockey, this will be a close one that could easily go either way. However, the Rangers haven’t been playing their best hockey lately. They have just a 50 point percentage since the trade deadline. Montreal, on the other hand, hold a 71.1 point percentage since the trade deadline. The Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins started to challenge Montreal for top spot in the Atlantic division and Montreal responded by playing their best hockey all year after picking up Claude Julien.
Ottawa v Boston:
This one sounds tight, but looking at the stats it appears otherwise. The Bruins have the edge on Ottawa on almost any stat you look at, from GF%, to SF% and the shot differentials are completely in Boston’s favor. The Bruins are not a great team by any means, but they have the edge on Ottawa in every category necessary.
Chicago v Nashville
These teams are very close when looking at stats. Chicago has the slight edge in goal scoring while Nashville has an even slighter edge in shooting and shot differential. They have both been playing pretty successfully, with Chicago playing a little better. The thing that makes me pick Chicago is their playoff experience. While all these fancy stats are nice, I think something can be said about a team who has had success in the playoffs before.
Minnesota v St. Louis
I’ve said a lot about a teams points percentage since the trade deadline in this article, and given that you would think I picked the Blues to win this series. They have a strong 76.2% since the deadline. However, while Minnesota did struggle for a long period of time, I believe they’ve gotten over it in the last couple weeks of the season after winning four straight to end the year. And given that, I think the Minnesota Wild are a better team than the Blues all around. Minnesota has a much better GF%.
Anaheim v Calgary:
The Ducks have had a 81.6% points percentage since the trade deadline, and they finished the season with a four game winning streak. The Ducks have a 53.1% GF%. Both better than the Flames. Calgary should be proud to be back in the playoffs after missing out last season, but much like the Maple Leafs I don’t think they have much of a chance against the Ducks in the first round. I believe Anaheim is a real cup contender this year and no one seems to notice them.
Edmonton v San Jose:
If the season only started at the trade deadline the Sharks wouldn’t be in the playoffs. They have a 47.6 points percentage since the trade deadline. If they didn’t start the season strong they would have been in big trouble this year. Overall the numbers between these teams are close, but I don’t think San Jose can turn their game around in time to make a serious run in the playoffs.
GF60, GA60, GF%, SF60, SA60, SF%, FF%, CF% all in 5v5 only
stats from: http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/teamstats.php?db=201617&sit=5v5&disp=1&sortdir=DESC&sort=GFPCT
|Team||GF60||GA60||GF%||SF60||SA60||SF%||FF%||CF%||DIFF||PP%||PK%||Special teams||points % since trade deadline||streak||Points|
|New York R||2.51||2.3||52.20%||28.3||29.9||48.70%||48.80%||47.90%||36||20.2||79.8||100||50%||1W||102|
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings went on an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Finals where they beat the New Jersey Devils in 6 games, as the 8th seed out of the Western Conference. Just two years later, in 2014, they won Lord Stanley’s prize again, this time after finishing 10th in the NHL.
Following their 2014 Stanley Cup win they had been deemed one of the NHL’s best teams, alongside the Chicago Blackhawks. But were they ever really that good, or did they just get hot at the right time?
During the 2012 run, LA made the playoffs by just 5 points, beating out the Calgary Flames for the 8th and final playoff spot. The team had to face the 1st place Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. It seemed impossible for them to pull off the upset, but clearly nobody told them, as they went on to win the series in just five games. Next up was the St. Louis Blues, and once again the Kings won it with ease, this time pulling off the four game sweep. After this was the Western Conference Finals, against the, then Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings took the series in just 5 games. They went on to the Stanley Cup Finals where they beat the New Jersey Devils in 6 games. The Kings won the cup after playing just 20 playoff games.
What made this run so unbelievable was that they barely made the Playoffs and didn’t exactly put up great numbers during the regular season. That year the LA Kings averaged just 1.84 goals per game in 5v5 situations, second last in the NHL. They had a shooting percentage of just 6.03% in 5v5 situations, last in the NHL. They couldn’t score any goals. Their leading goal scorer was Anze Kopitar with 25 goals on the year.
After winning the Cup in 2012, despite having trouble scoring any goals, the Kings were labeled a team to look out for entering the 2014 Playoffs. This time around they faced the San Jose Sharks in the first round, and after a hard fought series that went 7 games, the Kings were victorious.
In the second round they played the Anaheim Ducks, and once again the Kings won the series after playing 7 games. Then came the Western Conference Finals against the previous victors, the Chicago Blackhawks. For the third straight series, it went to 7 games, but despite playing their 21st playoff game in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Kings managed to pull off the win, booking their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the Finals, the Kings would meet the New York Rangers, who had also played a lot of games in the playoffs that year (20 games for the Rangers.) Many expected a long series after both of these teams had played so many games in the playoffs, but this series wouldn’t last long as the LA Kings won the series in 5 games, winning their second Cup in three years.
This time around the Kings were expected to be more dominant, and in the regular season they finished with 5 more points than they did two seasons prior. But did they manage to figure out their scoring woes? They did improve their goals per game at 5v5 from 1.84 to 2.03, but still sat 5th last in the league in the category. They also improved their 5v5 shooting percentage from 6.03% to 6.51%, but remained 2nd last in the league in that category. They did, however, get a much better individual scoring performance from Anze Kopitar, who had a shooting percentage of 14.5% and had 29 goals, but 10 of those goals came on the power play. Other than Kopitar there was only one 20+ goal scorer on the team, Jeff Carter. So in the two years following the 2012 Stanley Cup run they were still having trouble putting the puck in the net, and because of that, they still weren’t a dominant regular season club.
The LA Kings were one of the first NHL teams to really buy into the Corsi trend that swept the NHL around the time they won their first Cup. They have been one of the best possession teams over the last several years. They also rely heavily on the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, who has been arguably one of the best goaltenders in the NHL since the Kings Cup run of 2012. While having a good possession numbers and solid goaltending may be important, at the end of the day you’re going to have trouble winning if you can’t score goals, and the current LA Kings are a great example of that.
It seems as though, until a new management core takes over in LA, which I don’t believe is entirely necessary yet, the Kings will be a team that just always has the puck and will shoot a fair bit, but will have difficulty getting it past the goalie. Dating back prior to the 2011-12 season the Kings have been having trouble scoring, so one would think they would go out and find a decent goal scorer. To their credit, they did pick up the 5v5 goal scoring for a few years during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, but their offensive production has plummeted this season.
When the trade deadline came around this season, the Kings knew what their problem was: goal scoring. While there wasn’t a lot available in terms of goal scorers, there were players available that could have given the team a little boost. However, instead of finding that little boost in an attempt to make the playoffs, they went out and picked up goalie Ben Bishop. This move made little to no sense as they had Quick returning from injury and Peter Budaj playing pretty well, so they didn’t need a goalie, but for some unknown reason, they made the trade. What was stoping them from calling Arizona and asking the price for Radim Vrbata? A lot was made about the Vrbata contract that sees him getting a $1,000,000 dollar salary and another million in bonuses, with additional playoff bonuses that would ensure he gets paid $312,500 for every series his team wins. Should his team win the Cup he would cost a team 3.25 million dollars, of which the Coyotes could retain up to 50%. According to Capfriendly.com, the Kings have just under $500,000 in cap space. Assuming you avoided the Ben Bishop trade, and made getting a goal scorer your priority, you would then have roughly 4.16 million dollars of cap space to work with. Vrbata would be worth spending your cap space on if you need a goal scorer, he has 15 5v5 goals on the 29th place Arizona Coyotes this season.
The LA Kings weere known as one of the NHL’s best since 2012, however they have had difficulty scoring goals, and only play like an above average team in the regular season. Now the lack of goal scoring, and management refusing to address the problem, have caught up to them and that is the main reason they are not going to make the playoffs this season.
If you start learning about Wayne Gretzky’s iconic hockey career, you will eventually hear about something called “the office.” The area behind the net was dubbed “the office” because it was where Gretzky wreaked havoc on opposing defenders and preyed on helpless goalies. By taking the puck behind the net, Gretzky forced the opposition to pay attention to him while turning their backs to his four other teammates. His spectacular play in “the office” is one of the reasons he tallied so many assists throughout his career. While teams have gradually adapted their defensive systems and tactics to control this area of the ice, the advantages of playing the puck behind the net in the offensive zone still exist. Courtesy of Ryan Stimson and the Passing Project, we can now analyze data from the 2015-16 season to see which forwards succeed by playing below the icing line.
Quantifying play within this area may seem complicated at first, but we can make it easier for ourselves by simplifying things as much as possible. While Gretzky’s “Office” was only the section of ice behind the net, we’ll expand our version of this space to include the entire area below the icing line. We can be certain that every shot assist from below the icing line has two characteristics:
A player located below the icing line makes a pass to a teammate.
The recipient of the pass shoots the puck.
These two characteristics can now be quantified using the data released in the article linked above. Analyzing the data will tell us how often players make passes from “the office” (and elsewhere below the icing line) that lead to shots. We will also be able to see which players receive these passes and take the subsequent shots most frequently. Although we probably won’t find anyone as dominant as we’d expect Gretzky to have been, it is fun to look at the data nonetheless.
Lets begin by determining which forwards are the best at being sources of danger when they have the puck below the icing line. The metric that quantifies this is called Behind-the-Net Shot Assists per 60 minutes, or BtNSA/60 for short. In other words, a Behind-the-Net Shot Assist is any pass that originated below the icing line and led to a shot. We are looking at a sample of 282 forwards who played at least 300 minutes at 5v5 during the 2015-16 regular season games that have been tracked. Here is the top 15:
The first thing I noticed is how good Henrik Sedin is. His 3.201 BtNSA/60 dwarfs the black line which shows the average of 0.972 BtNSA/60. When he has the puck behind the net, he assists on shots more than three times as often as the average forward in this sample. That is very, very good.
Sidney Crosby also shows up here, as does Joe Thornton. Fresh off recording his 1000th career assist a few nights ago, Thornton is considered one of the best playmakers in the league. Their ability to create offence in this way is merely one reason why they are both elite players.
While a Behind-the-Net Shot Assist is awarded to a player who completes this type of pass, the next step is to see which players were frequently on the receiving end of these passes. But first, a bit of clarification. Since not all passes lead to shots, the following distinction is crucial: behind-the-net passes that lead directly to shots are different than behind-the-net passes that do not. The latter is not a Behind-the-Net Shot Assist because a shot was not taken after the pass was completed. Because we want to know who is taking these shots most often, we should not assume that these shooters are also the most frequent recipients of behind-the-net passes. It is important to know what the data is telling us before we analyze it.
Here is the leaderboard using the same sample as before, but this time we are measuring forwards by how often they shot the puck after receiving a behind-the-net pass:
Nino Niederreiter shows up first here, taking a shot following a behind-the-net pass more than once every 30 minutes (2.159 times every 60 minutes) at 5v5; the average is 0.830 iBtN Shots/60. Niederreiter’s result is interesting itself, but more importantly, I believe, is that the previous leaderboard revealed that he is also one of the best passers from below the icing line. If you look at the first leaderboard again, you will see that Niederreiter shows up third overall, with 2.491 Behind-the-Net Shot Assists every 60 minutes at 5v5. This suggests that Niederreiter might have a subtle talent that is overlooked by the traditional hockey statistics. Further analysis of Niederreiter’s play below the icing line should be conducted to determine how and why he is so successful in both of these categories.
While Henrik Sedin led the way in terms of Behind-the-Net Shot Assists, his twin brother, Daniel, was the 6th most frequent shooter following a pass from below the icing line. I found this to be quite fascinating because their chemistry is undoubted by traditionalists and the analytics crowd alike, and this is yet another lens through which we can view it. Henrik is responsible for digging the puck out from below the icing line and then passing it in front, where Daniel is waiting to receive the pass and to shoot the puck towards the net. Playing below the icing line is one of the ways the Sedin twins create their magic.
Altogether, we can graph each player’s results in both metrics to visualize where their results rank in both areas.
The x-axis measures the first metric in this post: Behind-the-Net Shot Assists. Players who appear to the right of the vertical green box are the best passers from below the icing line. Along the y-axis, you will find the most frequent shooters following a behind-the-net pass. The forwards who appear in the second leaderboard shown in this post are the ones who appear towards the top of this graph. The boundaries of both green boxes represent one standard deviation above/below the mean (i.e. the gray line) for their respective metrics. In the top right, you can find the players who are most involved in passing from behind the net and shooting the puck following these passes.
Two linemates on the Washington Capitals – Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin – are another interesting case study here. They spend most of their 5v5 ice time together, yet they appear on opposite ends of the graph. We can see that Backstrom is found in the bottom right, meaning he records Behind-the-Net Shot Assists quite frequently but is rarely the shooter, while Ovechkin is found in the upper left, indicating that he is the shooter more often than the passer. This passes (no pun intended) the eye-test because everyone knows that Ovechkin loves to shoot and is very good at it, too. Like the Sedins, I’d presume that Backstrom and Ovechkin work together to generate offence from below the icing line. Perhaps this is one reason why Ovechkin is arguably the best goal scorer of this era.
If you would like to see how the players on your favourite team perform in these metrics, you can do so here.
The ability to generate offence from behind the net has clear strategic advantages for teams who seek to be as offensively dynamic as possible. While entering the offensive zone with control of the puck is the best way to generate shots, teams with players like Nino Niederreiter or the Sedin twins in their lineup will probably create more shots following a dump and chase than teams without them. Sure, dump-ins are inferior to controlled entries, but players who can generate offence from “the office” or elsewhere below the icing line minimize the gap between both options.
Although I don’t suggest that coaches should preach the dump and chase, I assume that this strategy might be less risky if conducted with players who excel at generating offence below the icing line. In the future, we will eventually be able to pair this data with zone entry data to determine if this impact actually exists. Assuming that the impact is noticeable, I highly doubt that it will turn out to be a preferable option to controlled entries. At best, it is most likely the best option for an inferior strategy.
Of course, all of this theory assumes that playing below the icing line is a skill that can be repeated year after year. In other words, is a player’s BtNSA/60 a repeatable skill? From the post linked at the beginning of this article, we know that BtNSA/60 is one of two components within a metric called Danger Zone Shot Assists. Compared to G60 (i.e. current scoring rate), Danger Zone Shot Assists per 60 minutes is a metric that is not only more repeatable, but is also a better predictor of future scoring than a players current scoring rate itself. A players Danger Zone Shot Assist rate is calculated by adding his Behind-the-Net Shot Assist rate with his Royal Road Shot Assist rate (i.e. how often he completes passes which travel across the slot prior to a shot being taken). While BtNSA/60 itself might not be an improvement upon existing metrics, it is definitely a core component of a statistic that improves our ability to predict a players future scoring rate.
Predicting future scoring is very difficult, especially in an era where goals are scarce and defences thrive. The data from the Passing Project is one resource that can help us discover new ways to repeatedly create offence — a mission that is now more important than ever before. The data shows us how players like Niederreiter and Backstrom break down these modern defensive systems by posing offensive threats whenever they have the puck below the icing line. Passing from this area is an avenue for success in the low-scoring environment that is today’s NHL. But for Gretzky, it was just another day at “the office.”