• Elite Teams And Depth (Pittsburgh Isn’t Good)

    by  • March 1, 2014 • Hockey • 43 Comments

    If you polled 100 hockey fans on the seven most likely teams to win the Stanley Cup, I think you’d probably come up with Chicago, Boston, LA, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose and Pittsburgh. I don’t entirely agree with that list – I’d probably have Tampa ahead of Anaheim – but those would seem to me to be the seven teams that hockey fans would pick as most likely to win. For what it’s worth, the bookmakers agree – those teams seem to be the favourites, with Colorado inexplicably edging in on some books.

    One of the long running themes of this blog is trying to pull teams apart and see what makes good teams good and bad teams bad. I thought it would be kind of cool to look at the 5v5 Corsi% and GF% that the first/second lines are putting up on contending teams versus what their third/fourth lines are putting up. I went through each of these teams and tried to identify two players who play first/second line minutes who rarely play together to use as a proxy for this. Here’s what I came up with.

    LA: Kopitar/Richards
    CHI: Toews/Kane
    SJ: Thornton/Couture
    BOS: Bergeron/Krejci
    STL: Backes/Berglund
    PIT: Crosby/Malkin
    ANA: Getzlaf/Bonino

    First/second lines:

    I think it should be pretty obvious why I’m skeptical of Anaheim. Their first/second lines aren’t really doing that much possession wise relative to the other contenders but they’re killing it in terms of their share of the goals scored when they’re on the ice. It’s a dangerous way to live. I’m actually surprised that Pittsburgh are so low – Malkin/Crosby have posted much better numbers in the past two seasons. I kind of wonder whether their defence is very good this year, particularly with Letang out. I’m skeptical that St. Louis really the offensive powerhouse that they appear to be.

    Boston’s a little bit special because I’m about 60% that they actually impact shot quality against. I’m not sure how yet but that’s an area of understanding hockey that I think someone’s going to make their name in. I was interested yesterday, watching the Sloan Sports Conference tweets roll through my Twitter timeline, to see that Boston’s assistant GM talked about it a bit. That said, I’m sure that there’s some good fortune in that number too – Krejci has a .952 save percentage at 5v5 at the moment. Other than taht, about what you’d think.

    Soooo…at some point someone in Pittsburgh is going to say “Given that Crosby and Malkin were there when he got here, what HAS Ray Shero done to make the team better?” right? Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines were a disaster last year, their first without Jordan Staal (another player Pittsburgh just got by being terrible) and they’re a mess again this year. They’re markedly different than all of the other contenders. If the Pens lose in the playoffs, as they probably will, it will probably involve Crosby/Malkin having a few cold games (or Marc-Andre Fleury blowing up). When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.” Perhaps they should point out that Pittsburgh is trying to win with an abysmal bottom half of their team, which piles an awful lot of pressure on the other guys.

    As for the rest of it…there’s Anaheim’s bottom six, outperforming their numbers again. Not a real contender. I’m skeptical about St. Louis’ goal numbers, as I said above. I’m very, very impressed by what Chicago and Los Angeles accomplish with their bottom sixes. Chicago looks like an elite 5v5 team even if we cut out every minute that Kane and Toews are on the ice. By definition, that’s going to include a lot of the time that their other star forwards are on the ice as well. What we’re seeing there is just the Hawks third and fourth lines, killing other teams.

    That’s a pretty amazing thing to me. I’ve kind of shifted in how I think about things a little bit over the years. There has to be an element of coaching in that. If there isn’t, you sort of wonder a bunch of Chicago’s depth players aren’t stars somewhere else.

    All told, I’m kind of inclined to think that there are five real contenders for the Cup this year: LA, CHI, SJ, BOS and STL. That’s the standard that the Oilers should be aspiring too. Long, long way to go, I think.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    43 Responses to Elite Teams And Depth (Pittsburgh Isn’t Good)

    1. Daniel
      March 1, 2014 at

      What does “I went through each of these teams and tried to identify two players who play first/second line minutes who rarely play together to use as a proxy for this” mean? Relatively new to Advanced stats and I’m having a hard time deciphering this.


    2. Tyler Dellow
      March 1, 2014 at

      It’s very hard to determine when a first or second line is on the ice because lines change so much. My solution to determining that is to identify two players who the coaches play a lot, top six minutes, but who don’t play togehter. Then, if they’re on the ice, I call that first or second line minutes.

      • Daniel
        March 1, 2014 at

        Ah, Ok now I get it. Great read.

        Thanks for the prompt reply.

      • Scott
        March 3, 2014 at

        Wouldn’t it make more sense to consider the stats for the top 6 skaters in terms of TOI?

    3. Jay
      March 1, 2014 at

      So you still consider STL to be one of the real contenders despite them having similar CF/GF splits to Anaheim?

    4. Tyler Dellow
      March 1, 2014 at

      I don’t think those Corsi splits are similar.

    5. Adam
      March 1, 2014 at

      While I agree that that Pittsburgh is a weak depth team on forward especially with the slew of injuries that they are having this season (tops in the league for games lost to injuries), their above average defense this season makes up for it. Paul Martin has been great with defense partner Brooks Orpik (USA Olympians), and Matt Niskanen has been phenomenal, having the highest plus minus rating in the league. Rookie Ollie Maatta has been a standout and Robert Bortuzzo a reliable fill in. The defensive depth has been so good that tough guy defenseman Deryk Engellend has been switched to forward and promising prospect Simone Despres who was supposed to make the team this year, is stuck in the minors with fellow prospects Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington. Letang has also been a powerhouse offensively when healthy. I believe that only Chicago, St Louis and LA have that kind of depth. Combine this with Fleury’s bounce back season and the top two line scoring consistently, the Penguins are a cup contender.

      • Chris
        March 1, 2014 at

        So youre saying that Boston doesnt have the same depth? Loui Eriksson, the centerpiece of the Seguin trade is on our third line, and the Marchand – Bergeron – Smith line as well as the Lucic – Krejci – Iginla line have each had their time as the hottest in the league for an extended stretch.

        Add in the fact that even with Seidenberg out for the year, we still have 7 defenseman that have contributed. At one point we had Chara, Seidenberg, and Mcquaid out – and against arguably the best team in the NHL we still went to OT against them. Boychuk had more games in the NHL than the rest of the 5 D combined, by about 50 games.

        Our D pairings were:

        Boychuk – Hamilton
        Krug – Miller
        Warsofsky – Bartkowski

        • Adam
          March 2, 2014 at

          Pittsburgh at one point had all four of their top four defenseman out.
          Niskanen- Maatta
          Bortuzzo- Engelland
          (just an FYI, because most don’t know Dumoulin was a second round draft pick, not some ahl depth defenseman.

    6. chris
      March 2, 2014 at

      “Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines were a disaster last year, their first without Jordan Staal (another player Pittsburgh just got by being terrible)”

      Yeah. That’s how the draft works, buddy. You pick people that you think are going to be good, and you get higher picks if you finished lower in the rankings. Are you suggesting that teams should draft bad players or something?

      • March 3, 2014 at

        Maybe if you loser Canadians would produce enough profit to raise the salary cap every year, Pittsburgh wouldnt have been cap strapped and able to sign a 3rd line this year. Success always breeds the overpayment of role players on good teams. Chicago and Pittsburgh have experienced this greatly over the past few years and Pittsburgh has admittedly made some poor decisions in the past few years to exacerbate the issues. I feel most of the issues can be attributed to the cap lowering (and the Letang signing, lol).

        • Art V
          March 4, 2014 at

          “Maybe if you loser Canadians would produce enough profit to raise the salary cap every year, Pittsburgh wouldnt have been cap strapped and able to sign a 3rd line this year.”

          Is this satire?

    7. Tyler Dellow
      March 2, 2014 at

      I’m suggesting, “buddy”, that good management can build a decent bottom six without needing picks in the top five of the draft to do so.

      • derp
        March 3, 2014 at

        What is so wrong with building from the draft? Are you an anti-tanking crusader? Do you have an elitist sports attitude, Stat-Citing Sports Blogger Bro?

        • Jeremy
          March 5, 2014 at

          His point was that Ray Shero isn’t very good. Derp.

        • March 5, 2014 at

          Is it that hard to understand that the point was that Ray Shero has done nothing in particular to make the Penguins better and has made a lot of decisions that made them worse?

          As an aside, anti-tanking has been a pretty consistent theme here for several years. For every Chicago or Pittsburgh, there’s a dozen Thrashers, Islanders, etc. etc. It’s playing the lottery and hoping for the best, rather than steadily building your way towards a better future.

          • derp
            March 12, 2014 at

            I think a lot of things in hockey escape reason, foresight, and quantitative analysis, which I’m sure is understood by the readership here but perhaps occasionally overlooked. If the Penguins put together another deep playoff run before the end of Shero’s tenure, what will we be saying then? “There has to be an element of coaching in [how CHI's bottom six rips up the competition].” — Understatement, but I also think there are other intangibles at work. I feel that way even moreso after reading Mr. Dellow’s recent, excellent article concerning Taylor Hall. Pittsburgh’s depth chart looks good to me, but the on-ice performance leaves me with doubts about the coaching staff.

            I am curious as to why you instantly write off the Avalanche.

    8. Rudie
      March 2, 2014 at

      If the Bruins are truly doing something to impair the quality of shots against then I’d think this would show up in the CF/GF of both the top six and the bottom six. Looking at your charts in isolation, however, it just looks like Boston’s top six – while dominant – are still punching well above their weight.

      I’m very interested to read what you’re seeing that leads you to think otherwise. Here’s to hoping that there will there be a follow-up post to the teaser mention of the Sloan conference and Boston’s SQA.

      • Liz
        March 10, 2014 at

        That’s a good point. That leads me to question whether it’s systematic, or if someone on the ice in the top 6 (Bergeron) or who is frequently on the ice with the top 6 (Chara) is to defense what Crosby is to offense.

    9. March 2, 2014 at

      Long time reader, first time commenter.

      So in your opinion, what should the Oilers do in relation to your article? It seems like their top 6 is pretty much sorted out apart from Gagner. Hendricks and Gordon are showing up. Would it be best for Mac-T to fix the bottom 6 via free agency or start dealing out of the prospect cupboard?

      Thanks! I’ll hang up and listen.

    10. stevezie
      March 3, 2014 at

      So, in 10-11 when Crosby, Malkin, and Stall each missed half a season (I don’t think they ever had all three of them in the line-up, and obviously spent a lot of time with at least two), how did they stay so successful?
      I just took a glance at their roster, and it does look deeper than today on forward but not miles ahead. I’m not sure their D is any better (obviously Letang hasn’t been Letang this year, though). At the time I attributed it to coaching, but that hasn’t changed. It wasn’t goal-tending. Their PK was top of the league but their PP was bottom-ten (not surprising with their big guns out).
      So… I’m at a loss. This team did not always need both Sid and Geno to be competent.

      As long as I’m asking Pittsburgh-based questions, I’d really like to know how Brandon Sutter went from sleeper Selke candidate (http://www.coppernblue.com/2012/4/14/2948313/nhl-tough-minutes-forwards) to the centre-peice of what appears to be an abysmal bottom six. I know offence can dry up, but D is supposed to be pretty reliable, no?

    11. Daisy
      March 3, 2014 at

      bonino most often centers the fourth line for Anaheim (unless Perrault is injured). He is the number three for points on the Ducks. You would have done better to pick Selanne/Getzlaf.

    12. brian
      March 3, 2014 at

      This is great work Tyler DEllow. I really appreciate the numbers and the work you put into it.
      Its very intriguing and since these are the consensus cup favorites, it makes me curious to see how far off all other *current playoff teams are in their 5v5 corsi% of 3rd/4th liners. I have a few theories about where others stack up and agree a few teams, esp TBL, are on the cusp of these “consensus” teams.

      Can I request a link to see where this info is available for all *current play off teams on 5v5 corsi% 3rd/4th lines? Or can you please compile yourself? would love to read.

    13. Chris
      March 3, 2014 at

      Wow, some real peckerwoods posting on the blog here.

      Tyler does thought-provoking, unbiased, and somewhat ground-breaking work. He is highly regarded by very bright minds in the hockey community.

      If you disagree, state your thoughts clearly and without venom, and then check back for further comments. If you have nothing better to do than to support “your” team in somewhat aggressive and condescending tones, don’t bother coming to this site – you’d be more appreciated at HFboards.

      • Art V
        March 4, 2014 at

        No comment board is complete without the usual, “You slagged my (fill in favorite team name here); therefore, you must be a poopy-head.”

    14. Chris
      March 3, 2014 at

      By the way Tyler, I’m not sure what motivated you to use the colours you did for your graphs, but man are they ugly! (and a little tough follow visually with the doubled-up use of black and yellow)

      • Charles
        April 25, 2014 at

        Agreed. Those colors are horribly confusing! Just do two colors total – 1 for Corsi and 1 for GF and use them for all the teams. I kept trying to figure out what the colors meant (I assume they’re the team jersey colors). The graph is great once you understand it – but good data presentation means it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to interpret.

    15. mcarmody
      March 3, 2014 at

      Great stuff. Do you think LA’s relatively poor GF% on both sets of lines can be explained by bad luck, or is there enough data to say there is probably some shot quality or coaching effects happening?

      • Tyler Dellow
        March 3, 2014 at

        LA is one of the teams where I wonder about shot quality. Their S% has been low forever.

        • Rob
          April 25, 2014 at

          You guys obviously don’t watch LA or Anaheim play much. They are in my market so I see both teams a ton. LA has very low quality chances due to most of their shots being from the blue line. They also tend to shot the puck behind the net hoping for a bounce in their favor (adding to their corsi). They do all this while not really getting high quality chances but their numbers sure look great. Anaheim does the opposite. They don’t tend to shoot the puck in from the blue line too much (obviously they still do it sometimes) and they tend to stay away from the intentional shot wide (not helping corsi) in favor or much higher quality scoring chances. I’ve tried to go back a look it up but I can find it (hopefully you can) but it seems like every game I watch Anaheim has far more quality scoring chances than their opponent. I’m no lt sure if LA struggles in that stat compared to their opponent or not (my guess is yes). Just saying numbers don’t tell the whole story. You gotta watch the games to see what’s really happening. People have been saying this about Anaheim for 2 years, but 130 games is a long time to be ‘lucky’.

    16. Alex
      March 5, 2014 at

      It would be interesting to see some of these comparisons for teams over the past couple of years. Is there historical precedent that correlates postseason success and corsi/goal splits for the lines?

      • Kris
        March 5, 2014 at

        As far as I know there isn’t much of a correlation between playoff success and possession metrics, but they haven’t really been keeping track of those stats until somewhat recently. This is mostly due to the small sample size nature of the playoffs where sh% and sv% can make a much bigger impact due to the sample size being small.

        Last year though 7 of the final 8 teams I believe were in the top 10 as far as possession.

      • May 6, 2014 at

        October 27, 2010 at 5:13 pmThis blog is very good and informative. It is pttrey hard task but your post and experience provide and teach me how to handle and make it more effective and manageable.Thanks for the advice. Today I am lucky and I find a lot of nice posts.

    17. Scott Lemieux
      March 8, 2014 at

      When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.”

      Excellent point. This was an insight of early sabermetrics. that was particularly poignant for an 80s Expos fan; when teams fail to properly supplement a championship-caliber core, fans, media and the management alike are likely to misplace blame on the core.

      Obviously, depth matters more in baseball than in hockey because in the former the best players only get a few more opportunities and in the latter the best players get a lot more ice time, but on a lower level the point still holds. It’s dangerous for an organization to blame its best players for its failures.

    18. Ed
      March 28, 2014 at

      Pens fan here. Great analysis. Keep up the good work.

    19. Ice_Hawk
      April 25, 2014 at

      “When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.”

      Very prophetic. However Malkin/Crosby/Fleury have been terrible.

    20. KDan
      April 25, 2014 at

      Interesting analysis. I have often believed teams that win cups have depth and it’s often the 3rd and 4th lines that make the difference when top lines cancel each other out.

      Curious though-what players did you use for the 3rd 4th line analysis?

    21. April 25, 2014 at

      I’m curious what the #’s would look like for Columbus, since they seem to roll fairly balanced lines for all 4. Granted, their first 2 lines are better, but i’m curious what the drop off is to the 3rd and 4th lines.

    22. AJ
      April 25, 2014 at

      “Given that Crosby and Malkin were there when he got here, what HAS Ray Shero done to make the team better?”

      Not that Shero is beyond reproach, but I think that most years he has done a good job of upgrading his team a the trade deadline. I know it didn’t work out last year, but getting Iginla, Morrow and Murray was widely applauded and Jussi Jokinen for a conditional 6th worked out pretty well. Hard to argue against trading Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. Chris Kunitz (and a once highly though of Eric Tangradi) for Ryan Whitney, or how a bout Colby Armstrong, Erik Christiansen, Angelo Espisito and a 1st for Marrian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. I know I am cherry picking the good ones, but I can’t think of any examples of players Shero has traded away that have been sorely missed by their former club. Again, I’m not looking to say that Shero is perfect, but he deserves some credit were credit is due, no?

      And you are perfectly correct in identifying the Penguins 3rd/4th line depth as a (fatal?) flaw, but it is only fair to mention that they had 100 more games lost to injury (429) than the next closest (Winnipeg at 329). For reference, the median was 169 games lost to injury. So I don’t know, blaming Shero for the lack of depth doesn’t seem entirely fair.

      • Levi
        June 6, 2014 at

        Vokoun accounted for 82 of those man-games lost, among others with relatively insignificant roles, so don’t read too far into that.

    23. JeremyOK
      May 14, 2014 at

      Revisiting this post was extra-interesting today.

      • Shucker
        May 14, 2014 at

        Indeed, J-OK, indeed.

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