Advanced Statistics Every NHL Fan Should Be Familiar with
On the one hand, one’s eyes and video chronicles can underscore aspects of a hockey game that no statistics can uncover. On the other hand, there are times when one gets through watching a game and does not pick up on a given aspect of it until reading a statistics sheet.
Those looking for a breather from the debate over the NHL potentially expanding its team membership and/or which cities are worthy can take to a slightly alternative topic. Namely, should NHL statisticians expand the various stat sheets and, if so, what sorts of stats should be added?
There are many so-called “advanced statistics” that one can already find on various web pages, but they would be worth filing under their own column on the NHL’s official site.
Like any other statistic, these would not (and already do not) tell anybody’s full story. However, they should intrigue a fan to watch more studiously in hopes of deciphering why a player or team is among the leaders or trailers.
Here are five categories that, in comparison to currently kept stats, would be easy enough to track and could valuably improve assessments of a player or team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this slideshow were found via NHL.com.
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Scroll through any play-by-play sheet on NHL.com and you will see every occurrence of a penalty italicized with the time, the offender, the infraction and the opposing player who drew the penalty.
If employed observers can jot that down, then surely official statisticians can tally up how many power plays a player draws just as they track the penalty minutes each player incurs.
Elsewhere, Daniel Wagner of theScore.com once proposed a “penalty plus/minus” category to track individual differences between penalties drawn and penalties taken.
If the NHL were to pick up on this and keep a straight tally of how many power plays each individual grants his team, the leaders will garner more hard-earned recognition. It can be an extra means, besides mere point production, of measuring a high-end forward’s compete level and the challenge he poses to opposing skaters.
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As it is with the guilty party and the drawing party on every penalty, NHL.com’s play-by-play sheets indicate who gives and who takes every body check in a game.
Naturally, they tally up everyone’s total in terms of the hits they delivered, which can help to gauge one’s physicality. But there would be equal merit to tracking how many bumps a player takes on any given night and over the course of the season as well.
Unless the play warrants a call for interference on the checker, taking a hit means one either possesses the puck or is within the puck’s reasonable vicinity.
A heavy hit count on the receiving end can indicate that the player in control is considered particularly dangerous and therefore has his adversaries on alert. Or, especially if it joins a large bushel of hits given, it can speak to one’s willingness to engage in heated scrums along the walls.
Once again, Wagner is among those in favor of formally following how many checks a player absorbs. In a November 2011 blog post on theScore.com, he published a list of the previous season’s 20 leaders in that category and also calculated each individual’s number of hits taken per 60 minutes.
Not a bad idea, but a straightforward cumulative hit count over the course of a season would be helpful, too. Just to name one benefit, it may absolve a player or an entire team from undue blame when and if they wear down late in the playoffs.
Or, if they have a high hits-taken tally by season's and postseason's end and still win, that achievement could be underscored as a greater act of valiance.
Icings For and Icings Against
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Consider this a two-in-one slide.
On the one hand, a suppler defensive team can be expected to feel more frequent pressure to take the easy way out of its zone. Just like penalty trouble, subpar resistance to icing the puck and its consequences can speak to a modicum of discipline.
On the flip side, teams with a more forceful forecheck are more likely to draw regular icing calls against the opposition.
Whether it stands alone or in alliance with a disproportionate tally of shot attempts and/or shots on goal, an imbalance in icings can explain a visible imbalance in ice shavings between the two attacking zones.
At least one website, Arctic Ice Hockey, has made an attempt to tally up how many icings every NHL team induces and incurs over the course of the season. The findings, published on April 2, 2010, went a step further to track percentages, awarding a higher ranking to teams who committed the minority of icings that occur in their games.
That approach or a simple for-against differential column would make a fascinating bonus layer of a team's offense-defense ratio. Not much different than goals and shots at either end per game and per season.
Goals-Against Average (For Skaters)
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Not to toot one’s own horn, but this author has developed a habit of calculating and tracking this stat for key players. Life would much be easier, though, if NHL.com had it readily available.
When P.K. Subban claimed the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s defenseman of the year in June, plenty was made of his 42 points and plus-12 rating. The former stat is certainly an integral element of an all-around defenseman while the latter can measure one’s efficiency in either end, depending on the context.
But if you want to tap into a skater’s defensive dependability with a more direct hit, why not take his total minutes and opposing goals and apply the same goals-against average formula you use for a goaltender?
To lend it more context, size it up with that of his fellow skaters, big-minute defensemen on other teams, his team’s top goalie and his team as a whole.
Incidentally, Subban’s GAA was quite sound in 2012-13. With Montreal allowing 34 goals over his 976:15 total minutes on the ice, he was in action for a 60-minute average of 2.09, much tidier than the team’s 2.58 or the 2.59 GAA of Carey Price.
Among defensive forwards, 2013 Selke Trophy winner Jonathan Toews witnessed 29 defensive drawbacks in 909:05 minutes, which translates to a 1.91 GAA. That was not only one of the stingiest results in the league, but also a cut above the Chicago Blackhawks team average of 2.02 and the 1.94 authorized by goaltender Corey Crawford.