Trading Tatar or Nyquist Would be a Mistake

Kyle Krische
August 17 2016 12:40PM

The Detroit Red Wings had a backlog of forwards last season. Twelve skaters up front on any given night, long term injuries to Pulkkinen, Miller and Franzen and a healthy Jurco watching from the press box. 

This was also to the dismay of fans who only got to see Mantha for a few games and Athanasiou for less than forty. Further still, this was before they went out and signed three more forwards this offseason while letting no one walk and even extended Luke Glendenning, who still had a year left on his deal. Well, they did lose one forward and that void is going to prove harder to fill than I think even the most level-headed Wings fan or critic is projecting even now. This is all while putting themselves $4M over the cap. 

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How many statistics do you need to evaluate the 5v5 performance of an NHL forward?

Sam Mercier
August 17 2016 12:15PM

"Who is the best forward in the NHL?" used to be a pretty simple question. As points used to be the main publicly available indicator of offensive production, it was pretty much a given the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner was also typically considered the best forward in the game.

As we all know, the number of different statistics available to evaluate the performance of forwards has literally exploded over the last 5 to 10 years. 

While two-way forwards always had some value level, the backing of evidence of just how effective certain players can be in other areas than simply point production has changed the way we view NHL players significantly.

On alone, we can extract more than 130 (!) different statistics to evaluate a forward at 5v5. 

Yet, it is simply impossible for a human being to properly consider 130 statistics at once. 

Even if you have a Ph.D. in mathematics, when you try to reconcile at once the information provided by more than 10 statistics, your head pretty much begins to spin.

This is why, when evaluating the performance of a forward, a typical approach is to select a few, maybe 3 or 4, key statistics considered to be the most important and disregard most others unless something out of the ordinary stands out. Such an approach is taken, for instance, when we use a Vollman player usage chart to compare different forwards. 

Some effort has also been made to derive an ultimate “catch-all” statistic to discriminate the performance of forwards from a single number. We recently attacked this question in the NHLNumbers "Stat of the Union" Roundtable, asking nine of hockey's brightest minds about how they'd evaluate a player.

The search for an accurate strategy to discriminate forward performance based on a few statistics is understandable given the considerations mentioned above, but raises some very important questions: can we accurately evaluate the performance of forwards from 3-4 statistics? 

Is it possible to develop a single statistic discriminating the performance of multiple forwards? Or, more specifically: what is the minimum number of statistics required to properly reflect the performance of forwards? Luckily for us, we can get a pretty good answer using a technique called principal component analysis.  

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This Year's Model: Are This Year's Leafs Mirroring Last Year's Sabres?

Greg Brady
August 17 2016 10:06AM

Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SPORTS

Last summer, I began to talk myself into the Buffalo Sabres, if not making the Eastern Conference playoffs, at least being in that conversation for a good chunk of the season.  Yeah, yeah, 30th place team (two years in a row, actually), and if anything, their impending issues didn't show enough in the 48-game shortened season of 2013, where they were a point-per-game team finishing with 48 points exactly.  

Yes, a year ago at this time, I had talked myself into numerous "best-case" scenarios for the 2014-15 Sabres.  A terrible team, to be sure, for years previous; having won 24 games in regulation time over the prior 164 NHL contests.  But there were additions, and maybe more talent was added to the Sabres than this current offseason for the Maple Leafs.  We'll see if you agree by the time we're done here.

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Does "buying UFA years" drive up cap hits?

Ryan Pike
August 16 2016 12:00PM

One common phrase that's popped up during the interminable wait for the contract extensions for Calgary Flames wünderkinds Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan is "buying UFA years." The concept is this: in a player's first contract after their entry-level deal there are two kinds of deals, short-term "bridges" and long-term deals. The theory is that as a contract goes longer and stretches into the years in which that player would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent (UFA), the deal's cap hit will go up.

But is that what actually happens? And more precisely, does the number of UFA years covered in a post entry-level deal make much of a difference?

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3 ways NHL teams can get more data driven

Kent Wilson
August 15 2016 12:00PM


"Inculcating a data-driven culture is...fundamental. What do we mean by data-driven? Most every company in the world today depends on data. But the vast majority of them use data in retrospect, to understand history, not to drive decisions ...

When we say data-driven, we're talking about companies that operationalize data."

- Winning With Data

The NHL isn't the only business experiencing seismic ripples and paradigmatic shifts in the information age. The time of "Big Data" is upon us, driven by mass adoption of powerful communication technologies. There's deep wells of information everywhere for those who care to look, waiting to be plumbed for valuable insights and new efficiencies. 

Of course, access to information is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to operationalizing data in an organization or business. NHL teams have begun to dip their toe in the "advanced stats" pool, but are no doubt encountering challenges in effectively leveraging the various analyst bloggers who have been scooped up in the past year or two. It's one thing to bolt on a "stats consultant" to existing organizational structures and quite another to integrate empirical processes from top to bottom. 

I recently read the book Winning With Data by Tomasz Tunguz and Frank Bien. In it, Tunguz and Bien lay out a roadmap for successfully operationalizing data, as well as the many roadblocks businesses often encounter in trying to become more empirical. 

Here are three key insights I discovered in Winning With Data that could help NHL clubs become truly data driven.

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