Advanced Hockey Stats – 101


As I have mentioned in my previous post, I am a big fan of the advanced hockey stats being done at behindthenet by Gabriel Desjardins.  In this article I am going to explain some of the techniques I use to interpret those stats and how I use them to evaluate hockey in general and the Chicago Blackhawks in particular.

I am going to talk about 4 stats in this article; Quality of Competition, Quality of Teammates, Zone starts and Zone finishes.  We will talk about  ‘+-/60 minutes of ice time on”, and ‘+-/60 minutes of ice time off”  and maybe a couple of others in a future article.

Quality of Competition

The first stat I generally use when looking at a player is Quality of Competition.  Using this stat you can get an idea of who a particular player typically plays against.  The higher the number is positive, the more this player only competes against top end talent.  The larger the number is negative, the more this player only plays against 4th line talent.

This is important when looking at the Chicago Blackhawks because Quenneville is a matchup coach.  Q will match certain players against the top opposing players and others against the bottom of the other teams roster.  Q does this so much it is almost, as if, players like Seabrook and Campbell were playing against different teams.

You can expect your top defensive players when matching up against other teams top lines to have as high as a .08 something QoC.  And players that coaches play exclusively against top level opponents can go into the .120’s.  And you can expect your 4th line players playing against mostly 4th line talent to have somewhere in that -.08 to -.121 range. Though some players go much lower.

Q uses Dave Bolland so much against top end talent that his QoC number is .121 which is the highest rated QoC for a forward in the league.  And only one other player is in that .120 range, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, who has the highest rating at .128. So you can get an idea of how special Q feels Dave Bolland is defensively.

And at the other spectrum, Ryan Johnson‘s QoC was a -.121 while John Scott’s rating ended up at -.181.  However, for awhile there Scott had the lowest QoC rating for anyone in the league.

Using QoC while looking at centers can give you a good idea of what their responsibilities were:

From the Quality of Competition numbers you will see that Bolland played against the highest level of competition which is something that is pretty well understood.  What is probably less understood is the Toews and Sharp numbers. Typically you would expect number one lines to be matched against a checking line and second lines playing second lines. So you would think Sharp would have the higher level of Competition.  That’s not the case. Some teams would match their top line against the Hawks top line when that team didn’t feel their checking line was up to the task.  So by the end of the year, top lines generally face stiffer competition.

And I know that the local beat writers had Johnson for a stretch as the Hawks third line center but that just was never the case.  Johnson played almost exclusively against 4th line talent.  And you can see it in the QoC numbers.  And if you were wondering why Johnson doesn’t appear to be in the Hawks future plans, well that number might be why.

Quality of Teammates

You can use QoT in a similar way.  Personally, I don’t use QoT as much as QoC.  I feel it is a much smaller sample size so you need to be careful when using it.  So I use it more as a check for other stats.  Is this guys numbers good because of who his line-mates are?

In the table you can see that Bolland was playing with a lower “quality of teammate” then Sharp.  This make sense since Bolland was playing with Bickell and Pisani type players while Sharp was playing with Hossa, Toews and Kane.  That is one of the reasons that Bolland had such a special 2010/11 season.  At least when considering his positive Plus-Minus rating while playing with weaker linemates and against the best competition in the league.

It is also why Sharp’s 5on5 numbers were disappointing, especially at center.  And it is why guys here at BlackhawkUp have been looking this offseason for the Hawks to acquire a better defensive second line center.

Yes, Bowman defended Sharp as a center, that doesn’t mean he wants to play him there.  And it is why I believe Bowman when he says that Kruger is going to get the first crack at that position.  The Hawks drafted Kruger because of his two way hockey skills.

Zone Starts

Zone Starts are another useful tool to determine how a coach views a particular player. If a coach is not manipulating lines, most players ratio of offensive zone draws to defensive zone draws would not change much.  They would all be around the team average which for the Hawks is around 54%.  Yeah, the Hawks are a pretty good team.

Now if coaches have a couple of well rested lines, he might decide to change lines depending on whether there is a face-off in the offensive or defensive zone.  A team might use their checking line in defensive zone draws and use their top scoring line in offensive zone draws.  This manipulation can give offensive players an offensive zone to defensive zone ratio in the 60% range.  While defensive players can have offensive zone draw ratios in the 30-40% range.

Typically Centers will have the lowest offensive zone draw ratios because a coach will sometimes send them out as a second center in defensive situations.  This is just in case a center is thrown out of a face-off.  So they might be slightly lower then their normal line-mates.  Ryan Johnson is an example of this.  He would be on the ice for a defensive zone draw and move off if the Hawks obtain the puck.

Looking at these numbers you see that Bickell and Pisani were the primary checkers for the Chicago Blackhawks. At the other side of the spectrum are the players that are primarily offensive players.  It is no surprise that Kane is at the top of that list.

What is a little bit of a surprise is to see Sharp next in line to Kane.  Hossa is over 12 percentage points lower.  Sharp is a player that coach Q used more often in offensive zone draws this year compared to last.  And it is why his reputation as a defensive forward is somewhat suspect.  Coaches will “protect” players who are a defensive liability by putting them in more offensive situations then defensive ones.  As the season progressed, Sharp appeared to be more and more in that category.

Obvious players in that category are John Scott and Victor Stalberg.  These players started around 60% of their non-neutral faceoffs in the offensive zone.  Since they aren’t offensive threats you can assume coach Q was doing this to protect them.

Looking at this year compared to the previous, this year’s 4th line wasn’t as good in either QoC or Zone Starts.  That generally means that Q was protecting it and the reverse means the Hawks couldn’t attack the other teams 4th line as much as they did the year before.  Q had to leave the opponents 4th line for his 4th line just to get his 4th line on the ice.  That also meant getting the 4th line on the ice was harder in general this last year then the cup one.

Zone Finishes

I don’t use zone finishes as much as zone starts.  The stat is based on where play was stopped.   Thing is play doesn’t always stop at the end of a shift so this is an inference of overall play based on the times it does stop.  Basically, it is supposed to even out and I think it “mostly” does.

Now generally what you will see is players that start in the offensive zone will more often finish in the defensive zone.  And this is true in reverse for defensive zone starts finishing in the offensive zone more often.  And that is because hockey tends to move to the middle.

So I mostly use Zone Finishes in comparing players and in looking for anomalies.

When looking at Hossa and Hendry you can see that when Hossa is on the ice the Hawks are much more effective in keeping play in the offensive zone.  Not really a surprise but you can look at players you don’t really know that well and look for comparisons like that.

Finally one of the interesting uses of Zone Finishes is to look for anomalies.  Basically something unexpected.  Certain players seem to be able to move the puck in the right direction.  When looking at Olesz you can see he starts around 50% of his shifts in either zone but his shifts end more often in the offensive one.  That is kind of a big number for a checking line player.  The ability you see there, basically winning puck possession, is possibly why the Hawks are taking a flyer on Olesz and keeping him on the roster.

So stats can by useful.  They can tell you things you might not be seeing during the game.  They might not tell you everything but they can at least tell you where to look.  And it’s the looking that makes them fun.