By The Numbers: The Winnipeg Jets should not be playing such low event hockey

Garret Hohl
December 29 2016 01:34PM

The Winnipeg Jets are currently the lowest shot event team in the league for 5v5 situations. That means per minute of ice time, the sum of the Jets and their opponents shots are lower than any other team.

The Jets' goaltending struggled early on and injuries began to pile up, so I can understand the theory behind it. However, here is why this is a bad plan and not using the Jets to the best of their abilities.

Since the arrival of Paul Maurice, the Jets rates of events trended downward. It started with Maurice attempting to improve the Jets defensive play, which came with a lot of success for the Jets 2014-15 team. That team, outside of its goaltending, was a legitimate threat for the post-season, but ultimately succumbed to its greatest weakness and some injuries.

This trend of decreasing event-rate style continued after 2014-15, and eventually the offense creation started to dry up as well. The Jets were not just preventing the opposition, but themselves.

The Jets now sit as the lowest 5v5 shots-for-and-against-rate team in the NHL:

Rates

Low event hockey is not necessarily bad. In theory, the worse team you are, the more advantageous it is to play low-event hockey. The inverse is also true, where stronger teams should be encouraged to play high-event hockey.

If you are a team that tends to get outshot and out chanced, the lower you suppress the sample size the more likely an outlier can cause you to outshoot and out chance the stronger team. In addition, the lower number of shots and chances makes shooting/save percentage variance play a relatively larger role, further decreasing the chance the better teams win.

We can even see this in the numbers:

RatesGood

Graphic courtesy of @petbugs13

I've also previously shown that teams that play medium rates tend to have teams play "their game" more often than the teams that play in the extrema.

Now what about the Jets? They have not been winning much and currently sit in 24th place in points per game. From this, it could be thought that playing low-event hockey is to the Jets' own advantage.

However, the standings can misadvise in this case. We would be taking special teams (which the Jets are terrible at), penalty differential, shooting/save percentage variance, and even the actual effects of the low/high-event style itself into account. Even strength performance for skaters is a large driver in Win%, but it is not everything.

If we want to see how the Jets' skaters should play for 5v5 minutes, we would be best isolating how the Jets perform for 5v5 situations:

5v5xG

Graphic courtesy of @DTMAboutHeart

The above graph shows the expected share of 5v5 goals a team should control given the quantity and quality of shots a team creates and allows. This may be surprising, but the Jets are closer to the top than they are to the bottom.

It would likely be advantageous for the Jets to increase the number of shot events that occur in a game at even strength. This would especially be true when they play all the teams lower than them on the above rankings (optimally you'd want to account a tiny bit for goaltending as well).

There is one variable being ignored here so far. Some event-rate styles may be preferential to particular skill sets. The Winnipeg Jets are known for three things: being big, being skilled, and being fast. It would seem that of all teams, a fast paced game would fit the Jets well, and may even push their expected goal share even higher; therefore, further increasing the benefit to the Jets playing higher event hockey.

And let's be honest... hockey is entertainment and high-paced hockey is fun!

Closing Thoughts

Every sport has its own set of "truths" or things that "one has to do to win" that has been handed down for generations. Get pucks deep. Drive to the net. Take it to the hoop. Stay on your check. Post-up. Sacrifice yourself to put someone in scoring position. Save your closer.

They are ingrained into culture. Coaches and media have been teaching them to athletes when they are young. These lessons are ingrained early and consistently reinforced throughout their development.

One example: defense wins champion.

Defense is important. One must not only attempt to increase their own goal scoring to win, but reduce their opponents.

This is where analytics comes in. Analytics and statistics are not synonymous. Analytics is not simply looking at a bunch of stats a player puts up. Rather, analytics is the computational study of these numbers. Looking at what the trends say. Evaluating the relative importance to different statistics.

One thing analytics has shown is that the trade off offense to improve defense is not one-for-one. Rather, it seems offense wins games, at least relatively more-so than defense.

Of course, some teams may be the exception to the general trend. However, it does not appear the Jets are such an exception.

The Winnipeg Jets have been playing a low-event game, likely to improve their defense and goal prevention, but it seems that it will come at a cost.

I leave you with these somewhat related thoughts from Dan D'Antoni:

All numbers are courtesy of Corsica.hockey unless otherwise stated.


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I like hockey. I like numbers. I like the Jets. I have written for the Winnipeg Free Press, Jets Nations, Hockey-Graphs, Arctic Ice Hockey, and Hockey Prospectus. Currently I am managing Jets Nation and you can catch me tweeting @GarretHohl.
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