Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Fun with Figures

18

It is clearly way too early to make any definitive statements about the all new hockey game that will be played in the NHL this season, but I thought I’d have some fun by looking at the 20 exhibition games played over the past few days.

  • Are goals up?

    Yes, but not by much. In the 20 games, teams averaged 5.65 goals, about half a goal more than 2003-04. Time will tell whether this is a real increase or whether it reflects the normal higher scoring preseason.

  • Are the players adjusting?

    Not so far. A staggering 46% of the minutes in the 20 games had one team or the other on the power play. One game – Carolina at Florida – had nearly two full periods of special team play. Only two of the 20 games had less than one full period when one team or the other was on the power play.

  • Well, at least the game is more wide open when the teams are at even strength, right?

    Hardly. At even strength teams scored at the rate of 5.46 goals per game.

  • Until the players adjust, we’ll at least get more goals on the power play, won’t we?

    Not really. Fans don’t realize that about the same number of goals are scored per minute whether there are lots of power plays or not. The team with the extra man is twice as likely to score as they are at even strength, but that’s offset by the lack of shorthanded goals. Teams score at the rate of 5.18 goals per game when they have the man advantage, but only at .65 goals per game when shorthanded.

  • What’s it all mean?

    So far it isn’t good news for Gary Bettman. The data implies that the more things change, the more things will stay the same. Even if the crackdown sticks goals will rise only marginally.

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  • Comments

    18 Responses to “Fun with Figures”
    1. baroose says:

      Some other questions that will need answers:

      1. Are more people watching?

      2. Is the game more entertaining? Feel free to pick your own definition of “entertaining”. For me that will mean; Are there fewer whistles, fewer scrums along the boards, and more standing ovations?

      3. Are there more highlights of dazzling goals and fewer of brutal behavior on SportsCenter?

      I agree that it’s too early to answer these (and your) questions. We will need at least half a season, and possibly the whole season, to know if things are better or worse than expected.

    2. InsultComicDog says:

      I think there will be an increase in goals but mostly because of two things: the reduced size in goalie gear, and the increased size of the offensive zone (which will make it easier for attacking teams to cycle the puck without losing it offside).

      All of the other changes will have minimal effect, most notably the ability to make two line passes.

    3. Joe Cheesy says:

      Not to knock any of the comments made previously, but I’ve never understood the clamoring (among some) for more goals. What I want to see are more and faster scoring chances (and great goaltending to go with it), as opposed to more scoring. I long to see more driving to the net, more passing plays that happen at full speed, more guys trying to beat guys one on one, more open ice hitting. Less garbage (goals), more poetry.

    4. Subversive says:

      Tom, I think the same 5 questions could be asked with 5 completely different answers.

      Are goals up?

      Yes, by about half a goal a game, a 20% increase (pretty substantial)

      Are the players adjusting?

      Yes, I’ve been to two pre-season games and have already seen many players able to walk out of the corners without all the tugging, and have seen fowards go around the slow defencemen several times without being hauled down.

      At least the game is more wide open when the teams are at even strength, right?

      For a man who always talks about how you trust your eyes more than stats, you sure are happy to use the stats to try and prove a point that my eyes (having actually been to a game) aren’t seeing. The games are more wide open. Is it the 80′s? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.

      Until the players adjust, we’ll at least get powerplay goals, right?

      Teams powerplays always suck in the pre-season. Give them another month and the PP will be clicking like it should. Plus, by then there should be less of them and more ‘wide open’ 5 on 5 play.

      What does it all mean?

      So far the changes are helping, and the game, while not perfect, is moving in the right direction.

      I guess I’m just an optimist.

    5. beingbobbyorr says:

      I think there will be an increase in goals but mostly because of two things: the reduced size in goalie gear ..

      I still maintain that the reduced GAA of the last 15-20 years is due much more to the tremendous influx of real, quick athletes into the position of goaltender (vs. the “slow, fat kid who can’t skate” of previous generations) than the increase in goaltender gear dimensions. So they decreased the size of pads? Big deal. Those pads now have that much less mass for the goalie to move to stop a puck. I think it’s a push.

    6. Subversive says:

      Edit to my math, .5 goal a game is more like 10%. Doh. I still maintain that’s a substantial increase, though.

    7. Tom Benjamin says:

      Yes, by about half a goal a game, a 20% increase (pretty substantial)

      It’s 10%, but never mind that. It is also preseason when more goals are the rule, but never mind that. The point is a point that I have been making for a fairly long time. Even with zero tolerance, goals won’t go up very much and the game doesn’t change very much.

      This is fairly critical. One of the assumptions built into the relaunch is that zero tolerance will produce a much more entertaining product, one that allows the stars to be stars. We are supposed to be patient and put up with yet another parade to the penalty box for a few months. My objection to that is twofold:

      1) It’s very painful now

      2) Even if we endure the pain, even if the players adjust to reduce the parade to a few floats, nothing really changes.

      Yes, I’ve been to two pre-season games and have already seen many players able to walk out of the corners without all the tugging, and have seen fowards go around the slow defencemen several times without being hauled down.

      We see that happen in most hockey games and one time or another. A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

      Besides which, when I talked about the players adjusting, I was talking about adjusting to the new standards and taking fewwer penalties.

      For a man who always talks about how you trust your eyes more than stats, you sure are happy to use the stats to try and prove a point that my eyes (having actually been to a game) aren’t seeing. The games are more wide open. Is it the 80′s? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.

      Individual statistics can’t be trusted, but this is a different thing. We could get more goals without having a more open game, but the reverse is not true. If the game really does open up and there really are more chances to score, goals will go up for sure.

      If it is a step in the right direction, it is a tiny one that is not worth the price being exacted. That is the issue. There is no flow in a game with 40 minutes of power play time. There is a lot of whacking the puck down the ice and tons of whistles. They will either loosen up the standards like they always have or the players will eventually stop taking penalties. Either way the game won’t change much in the end.

      A clicking power play won’t change anything. Goals are scored at about the same frequency regardless of the number of power plays. It’s always like that.

    8. Roberto says:

      I long to see more driving to the net, more passing plays that happen at full speed, more guys trying to beat guys one on one, more open ice hitting. Less garbage (goals), more poetry.
      Hear, hear.

    9. Roberto says:

      They will either loosen up the standards like they always have or the players will eventually stop taking penalties. Either way the game won’t change much in the end.

      I disagree. If the players stop taking penalties, with the game being called as it is now, they game HAS to open up.

    10. Tom Benjamin says:

      If the players stop taking penalties, with the game being called as it is now, they game HAS to open up.

      Why? It will only open up if the reason it shut down was the level of rule enforcement. I don’t think it will make very much difference at all because I think the referees did a pretty good job (or at least a not awful one) all things considered. They called the flagrant fouls – the ones that prevented the star from shining – and let the trivia that did nothing really except annoy, go. If I’m right on that score, the game does not have to open up. It will hardly change at all.

      Second, if I’m wrong the game should be opened up when the teams are at even strength. The players don’t have to learn to see what the results will be when there is zero clutching and grabbing. We see that when the teams are playing even strength.

      It is early yet, but even strength goals should tell this tale fairly soon. We all agree that a more open game is the desired objective, and not necessarily more goals. But I also think we can agree that a more open game must produce more goals. In other words, if goals go up, it may be arguable as to whether the game has opened up. We can have more goals without achieving the objective. But we can’t achieve the objective without getting more goals.

      If we are seeing more open hockey with stricter enforcement, why aren’t goals up?

    11. _meta_ says:

      I still maintain that the reduced GAA of the last 15-20 years is due much more to the tremendous influx of real, quick athletes into the position of goaltender (vs. the “slow, fat kid who can’t skate” of previous generations) than the increase in goaltender gear dimensions. So they decreased the size of pads? Big deal.

      I think the notion that goaltenders have historically been less athletic than the average skater is a myth.
      The improvement in goaltending in the last 20 years has three sources, in order of importance:
      1. the rapid improvement of goaltending technique, most notably the use of the butterfly position and other methods that cover the bottom half of the net, which (along with the development of defensive strategies) far outpaced any development of scoring techniques;
      2. The functional improvement of goaltending equipment, especially masks that provide real protection and enhanced leg pads;
      3. Lastly, the gradual increase in size of equipment.
      So, like you were saying, a small correction to equipment size won’t have much effect.

    12. Roberto says:

      Why? It will only open up if the reason it shut down was the level of rule enforcement. I don’t think it will make very much difference at all because I think the referees did a pretty good job (or at least a not awful one) all things considered. They called the flagrant fouls – the ones that prevented the star from shining – and let the trivia that did nothing really except annoy, go. If I’m right on that score, the game does not have to open up. It will hardly change at all.
      I disagree completely. I think they called the game fairly consistently, but that doesn’t mean they called it correctly. Players dumping the puck in were held up long after the puck was gone. Players making passes were run into the boards long after the puck was gone. Anybody going anywhere near the net looked like he had grown a parasitic twin on his back. Anybody skating with the puck, or trying to catch up to the offensive play had to pull along a water skier. These things do affect the quality of the game, and they do affect the numbers and quality of scoring chances, and I for one will be glad to see them banished to the same scrap heap as Don Cherry’s whining ass.
      If we are seeing more open hockey with stricter enforcement, why aren’t goals up?
      Because teams are playing farm hands and juniors? Let’s see what happens in the regular season before we start crying like Chicken Little. A 10% increase in goals isn’t terrible, after all.

    13. Roberto says:

      2. The functional improvement of goaltending equipment, especially masks that provide real protection and enhanced leg pads;
      This can’t be underestimated. The pads worn by Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent would weigh almost twice as much by the third period due to all of the water they soaked up. Today’s pads barely retain a few ounces of water. Never mind the fact that Palmateer’s pads were horsehair and leather, not the ultralight high-tech things they wear these days. Add to that the weight difference and increased protection of the gloves, blockers and chest protectors, and you’ve got a less-encumbered goalie who is much fresher for most of the game.

    14. Limey says:

      I don’t think the ‘trivia’ you refer to – the tugging, holding and grappling – has no effect.

      The fouls they are trying to eliminate slow play down. I don’t think there’s any arguing that point. If those fouls aren’t committed play should speed up, at least for those with the ability to play at speed.

      IF these rules are enforced and continue to be enforced smaller skilled players will have an advantage over large, unskilled defencemen. This transition could take a few years to reach full effect. Teams will draft and develop smaller, faster, more skilled players at the expense of lumbering plumbers whose only skill is handcuffing skilled players.

      In my opinion more skilled hockey is worth fighting/waiting for.

    15. Roberto says:

      F these rules are enforced and continue to be enforced smaller skilled players will have an advantage over large, unskilled defencemen. This transition could take a few years to reach full effect. Teams will draft and develop smaller, faster, more skilled players at the expense of lumbering plumbers whose only skill is handcuffing skilled players.
      Exactly. This clutch-and-grab, hook-and-hold game didn’t happen overnight. It evolved through the ’90s as Don Cherry cried “Let them play!” while Pat Burns and Mike Keenan and Darryl Sutter screamed at the refs for calling a penalty just because one of their forwards jumped onto the back of a guy as he went to the net. By 2003, it was at the point where constant, unrelenting cheating was the order of the day, to the point that if every penalty was called, there would be nobody left on the bench to ice a team. I want it gone.

    16. Alex says:

      Tom, your 20 game sample is way to far too small to even begin to establish any effect of the new rules, especially in exhibition play. That said, and the fact that you haven’t been watching any games yourself, I find it difficult to take any of your questions and answers seriously. I suggest that you revisit this in 2-3 months, and then again at the season’s end.

    17. Brian says:

      I think the key to allowing the game to change is for fans, media, coaches and players to not complain about the number of penalties being called.

      There will be an adjustment period, and in the end IF the new rules are accepted by the players, and the coaches aren’t screaming at officials after every call, the game should and will benefit from it all.

    18. Ian D. says:

      I think the key to allowing the game to change is for fans, media, coaches and players to not complain about the number of penalties being called.

      Yup, especially in the playoffs, where the whistles have historically disappeared even more. If they call the playoffs the same way they’re calling the preseason, I’ll dance a little jig on top of Westminster Abbey. But it won’t. :(

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