How Does Size Relate to Winning and Offense in the NHL?

Byron Bader
December 18 2013 12:56PM

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) and Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis (26) during the third period of a NHL game in Boston on April 25th, 2013.  The Bruins beat the Lightning 2-0.(Photo: Brian Fluharty)

-piv via insidehockey

Since Brian Burke has taken over and emphasized a need to get bigger, the Flames fan base has mixed reviews on whether or not they are on board with this notion.  With this in mind and after a recent request from FN reader Matthew Kutarna, we're going to have a look at size as it relates to impact players.

Kent talked at great length about  the issue of "getting bigger" yesterday.  A sticking point of the article is that teams should not be getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger. Rather, teams should be  focused on getting skilled rather than bigger and not the other way around.  If the skill comes with size that's an obvious double threat that any fan would welcome with open arms.  

Jonathan Willis looked at size and impact  in last year's playoffs .  He composed an average weighted size for each playoff team.  The average was based on the height and weight of every skater on the team, adjusted for their ice-times.  For instance, a player that played 20 minutes per 60 minutes would be weighted double the amount of a player who plays 10 minutes per 60 minutes.  With this method, we can get a better idea of which teams are actually bigger as it controls for the 4 minute face punchers a team might employ on their bottom lines.  Having these nearly irrelevant hockey players boosting a team's average size  gives an incomplete picture of "size" on a hockey team.  

Based on Willis' method, lets have a look at team size, based on deployment, for the mid-way mark of the  2013-14 season.

THE NUMBERS

Team

Height (Inches)

Weight (Pounds)

Points

Place

Sabres

73.95

193

19

30

Jets

73.94

205

35

20

Bruins

73.76

200

48

5

Senators

73.61

202

34

21

Maple Leafs

73.52

201

37

16

Predators

73.47

203

35

18

Ducks

73.46

204

53

2

Capitals

73.45

206

39

14

Coyotes

73.43

200

41

13

Flyers

73.43

203

32

23

Kings

73.3

207

48

7

Canucks

73.28

200

46

8

Sharks

73.24

203

48

6

Panthers

73.24

197

31

27

Devils

73.16

202

32

24

Lightning

73.08

197

43

12

Rangers

73.05

200

33

22

Stars

73.04

199

35

17

Avalanche

73.01

203

45

9

Blues

72.9

207

48

4

Blackhawks

72.89

197

55

1

Oilers

72.86

188

25

28

Penguins

72.81

198

49

3

Red Wings

72.74

196

39

15

Blue Jackets

72.67

202

32

25

Flames

72.61

196

31

26

Islanders

72.53

198

25

29

Hurricanes

72.37

201

35

19

Canadians

71.91

195

45

10

Wild

70.77

194

45

11

Thanks to FN reader, David Balcom, for aiding with the data collection. The chart is sorted by height (tallest to shortest). Blue indicates teams that should currently be playoff bound while pink indicates teams that shouldn't be.  Of course, the East is less than great and half the teams that are blue aren't actually in the playoffs because they play in the West. However, many of these teams would be a sure bet for the playoffs if they played in the East so we'll go with it.

The main thing that comes out is having above average skilled big players is not predictive of overall team success.  In fact, the split is right down the middle.   Half of the best teams are in the tall range and the other half of the best teams are in the shorter range.  Interestingly, the Sabres are the tallest team in the league, based on their deployment, but are the lanslide winners for worst team this year.  The Jets, the runner-ups for the tallest team, are a little better than the Sabres but not an elite team by any stretch. 

In terms of the Flames, they are indeed one of the shorter teams in the league (5th shortest team overall with the weighted analysis). Could they get bigger?  Probably. But there are shorter teams and same size teams as the Flames that are quite a bit better than the home squad.  Of note, the Penguins and Blackhawks have arguably the best team assemblages of elite skill in the league and are in the bottom tier of the league in terms of size.  On the other hand, the Bruins, Kings and Ducks are some of the tallest teams in the league.  They are also some of the most well-rounded teams in the league.  There's clearly different recipes for success.

Next, lets look at height as it relates to offensive impact players (150 Top scorers in the current 2013-14 season) specifically. After all, the most important thing in the NHL is having guys that can score with regularity so I want to see how big scorers tend to be .  With that, I also wanted to look at the proportion of offensive impact players each team has at their disposal.

Height

Top 30 Scorers

Top 150 Scorers

Goal Scorers (10+ Goals)

Short (5'9'' and Below)

3.33%

4.00%

3.03%

Average  (5'10''- 6'0'')

32.43%

43.33%

37.88%

Tall (6'1''- 6'4'')

65.86%

49.33%

53.03%

Gigantic (6'5'' and Above)

0.00%

2.67%

1.52%

Most of the offensive talent is in the average height to tall range with the scales tipping a little bit to the tall side.  Tall players seem to make up the vast majority of the players in the truly elite category for this early season though.  This is not surprising that there tends to be more tall elite/offensive impactful players.  Teams are twice as likely to draft a tall player than they are an average-sized player, especially in the 1st round.  It's a numbers game.  It's encouraing that so many average size players can make an impact in the league though.  An indication that size isn't everything.

When we look further at the offensive impact players each team possesses we get a real good look at Calgary's problem.

Team

Top 30

Top 150

Avalanche

0

6

Blackhawks

5

9

Blue Jackets

0

6

Blues

2

8

Bruins

0

6

Canadiens

0

6

Canucks

2

6

Capitals

2

6

Coyotes

0

8

Devils

0

3

Ducks

2

6

Flames

1

1

Flyers

0

4

Hurricanes

0

3

Islanders

1

4

Jets

1

7

Kings

1

5

Lightning

1

6

Maple Leafs

1

5

Oilers

0

5

Panthers

0

1

Penguins

3

6

Predators

0

2

Rangers

0

5

Red Wings

1

5

Sabres

0

2

Senators

2

5

Sharks

4

7

Stars

1

3

Wild

0

4

Right now, at this moment, the Flames' issue is they have very little highly impactful offensive weapons. Jiri Hudler sits 27th in league scoring and is having the season of his career. Our next closest scorer, Monahan, is at least 150 spots away.  I'm not saying that Monahan won't be one of these offensive impact players going forward. If he wasn't injured for a while he would probably have snuck into the Top 150. I think he will be a Top 60-90 guy in a few years he's just not there yet. However, as of right now, we only have the one offensive impact guy.

To put it into perspective, based on some earlier research I've done, from 1998 to 2013, teams that had 6 or more players in the Top 150 at the end of the season made the playoffs about 80% of the time.  Conversely, a team with less than 3  players in the Top 150 never made the playoffs. Furthermore, teams with 3 to 4 impact players that did make the playoffs rarely made a dent in the playoffs.  Exceptions being the 2012 LA Kings, the 1998 Washington Capitals and your 2004 Calgary Flames!

SUM IT UP

I am not quite sure where Brian Burke's head is at in terms of "getting bigger".  On one hand, he has a history for trading for big guys with skill (JVR, Pronger, Beauchemin, S. Neidermeyerc, etc.) but he also has an affinity for signing dancing bears to multi-year deals to fill a useless 4th line.  If Burke pulls off a few trades similar to the JVR for Luke Schenn deal I'm all in. I have no qualms with adding size if that size comes highly skilled.  However offensive skill, in the end, is what the Flames are in dire need of.  Drafting, developing, acquiring and signing skill should be the focus of this early rebuild. If size comes with that.... so be it.

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Byron has always been curious about numbers and stats, especially related to hockey. His background includes schooling heavily-focused on psychology, economics and statistics and a professional background revolving around reseach, segmentation, data mining and statistics. His love for hockey is as deep as the ocean is wide. Tell him your questions and let him into your heart. Twitter: @Baderader; Email: byron.bader@gmail.com