Pat McLean’s been on an absolute tear lately, writing some great stuff to read. It’s been like reading Bill Simmons, only if Bill Simmons wasn’t a 39 year old frat boy. (I actually went and looked up Simmons’ age, if only because it’s hard for me to believe that Simmons is only a year or two younger). If you’re not a regular reader, check it out.
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A while back, Vic Ferrari commented on something he called a PDO number. A PDO number is a team’s ES S% plus their ESSV%. The idea, and I know that this will make some people uptight, is that there’s a lack of sustainability in that number – if it’s high, it’s going to come down; if it’s low, it’s going to go back up. We’re just past the quarter pole in the NHL, so I thought I’d check out how that idea holds up over the years for which we have information (2003-04 onwards). Here are the twenty best and worst PDO numbers from the first quarter since the 2003-04 season, along with the team results for the remaining three quarters:
Overall, the effect is really startling. At left, I’ve summarized the differences between the best 20 teams and the worst 20 teams in terms of the percentages for the first quarter and then the final three quarters. While there’s still some differences in the final three quarters, they’re much, much smaller.
Just as an aside, dealing with the whole mention of luck. There’s a fine BP article from a few years back by former BP staff writer and current Tampa Bay Rays
As a brief aside, it’s important to clarify what is meant by batting average being subject to great deal of “luck.” This is not to say that all major league hitters are equal when it comes to AVG, and the differences evident between them are entirely random. Rather, players have a theoretical AVG-ability that varies from player-to-player, but the sample size of a season is too small to accurately reveal that every year. The high volatility of AVG from year-to-year–the statistical “noise,” if you will–is sufficiently large enough to obscure the differences between many major league hitters of similar ability.
When I’m talking about luck, that’s the issue I’m talking about. It may be that there are other factors in play, the kinds of things that people love to talk about – Horcoff taking his shots from the outside, Smid making great defensive plays but it seems to me that in the long run, these things seem to disappear. If Shawn Horcoff will, in the fullness of time, start again getting his nose dirty in the crease and Laco will start losing the backdoor play again, I have a hard time getting worked up about their failures in that area for the time being. If the team percentages seem to snap back to much closer to the NHL average over the course of of an entire season, it seems silly to me to get too worked up one way or the other about what’s happening at any given point in time. That’s a separate issue though and one I’m sure I’ll revisit at some point in the future.
Additionally, this all comes back to the idea of outshooting that I like to harp on. As the rate by which a team gets outshot at evens increases, you need to rely on the percentages more and more. I’ll come back to this below; the 2007-08 Capitals and 2007-08 Oilers are an interesting comparison here.
Coming back to the lists of teams above, I really find the teams that make the list to be fantastically interesting – there’s just way too much cool stuff there. Let’s start with the 05-06 Senators. Shortly after the first quarter ended in 2005-06, the following headline was published in the Globe and Mail:
ARE THE SENS THE BEST EVER?
The ‘talented bunch’ from Ottawa is manhandling its opposition this season. The Senators are an offensive juggernaut, and their defence isn’t too shabby, either.
The percentages disappeared for the Senators in the final three quarters and, given that was the foundation of their claim to the title of “BEST HOCKEY TEAM EVER!!!!!1111ONEONEONE!!!111″ (in fairness to the writer of the story, Tim Wharnsby, the story really didn’t match the headline), so went the Senators claim to greatness. It also strikes me as more than a little bizarre that all three Senators teams between 05-06 and 07-08 had PDO numbers that place them in the top 20 of the 120 team-seasons that have been played since 2003-04. It’s not a wonder that every winter seems to bring stories about what’s wrong with the Sens; they crank up the expectations with the PDO number every year in the first quarter and then, once luck evens out, things get ugly.
I’m happy to see the 2007-08 Flyers on the list of teams for whom the bubble popped. I had them as a team that was due to fall off a cliff around this time last year and sure enough, it did. If I was a Flyers fan, I’d probably blame Joffrey Lupul.
The 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes: I’ll say it again – I can’t believe that the Oilers lost to that bloody team. The hockey gods have a wicked sense of humour – Oilers win as serious underdogs (Detroit) and mild underdogs (Anaheim and San Jose) and then lose to the team that they’re probably better than. Cam Ward has been junk ever since he stopped Pisani with about four minutes left in G7. Hilarious.
The teams that performed poorly in the first quarter are fun to look at too. There’s the 2007-08 Washington Capitals, handily outshooting the opposition at ES, but with little to show for it. Bruce Boudreau comes in, Washington keeps outshooting the opposition but the percentages snap back to normal and suddenly Boudreau wins the Jack Adams Trophy. Does it diminish the credit that he gets if we know that the PDO number almost always comes back to closer to 100% for the teams that have had brutal first quarters? I would think that it must. The Oilers and Caps are fun to compare here too – the Oilers were -16 and the Caps -9 at evens in the first quarter. For the final three quarters, the Oilers were -3 and the Caps +27. The Caps were better positioned to take advantange of the percentages turning because the puck was spending more time being directed at the other team’s goalie than it was at their own.
The 2005-06 Sharks are interesting too – they were terrible to start the year, made a trade for Joe Thornton and didn’t look back. While adding Thornton obviously improved their team and, I would argue, made it more likely that they’d have a high ES S%, they weren’t nearly as bad as they appeared in the first quarter.
Mirtle was picking on the 2005-06 Columbus Bluejackets (something I think that we’ve all done, given that they’re an horrific franchise) around the end of the first quarter that year, writing:
I was going to write a post on the Blue Jackets as the worst team in hockey over the weekend. I caught their game with the Oilers on Friday at work, and while the score was only 3-1 for Edmonton, Columbus looked so disinterested and disorganized that the game’s outcome was never really in doubt.
Columbus had a terrible PDO number that year through the first quarter; they ended up posting a 101.0% through the final three quarters and, while they didn’t really sniff the playoffs and other aspects of their game improved as well, they ended up third in the Central, suckering their fans into buying tickets for another season.
Here’s how things look this year, at the end of the first quarter:
There’s all sorts of fun stuff in there. The Canucks and Oilers make an interesting pair to look at together – they have very similar ratios of SF/SA, but the pucks have gone in for the Canucks and not for the Oilers while, less surprisingly, Vancouver has stopped pucks that the Oilers goalies haven’t. Looking at the two teams and at the tables above, I think that the only reasonable expectation is that this gap will narrow with time.
The Bruins are one of the darlings of the media right now; everyone is fawning over them. Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe just wrote a story praising virtually everything about the team, which featured some of the following lines:
1. Claude Julien. His coaching thus far has been masterful, among the keys the standard he set with the yanking of a gritless Phil Kessel from last year’s playoffs…Julien’s X-and-O scheme is simple, straightforward, and the minutes he doles out are earned, not granted.
2. Tim Thomas. Forget all the bunk about his unorthodox style. Thomas stops the vast majority of pucks that come his way. That’s the job, right?
5. David Krejci and Kessel. Krejci’s spatial awareness and timing are sublime, and they seem to grow by each increment of 2-3 games. Kessel, post-playoff benching, is developing legit feistiness (a distant cousin of crustiness) to his attacking game, and has turned into a responsible citizen in three zones.
Dupont sees an awful lot of stuff there. We’ll see how the final three quarters go for the B’s, but I would expect that at least some of this praise will be tempered by a following PDO number, followed by columns about how they need to get back to playing like they did in the first quarter.
Detroit is going to be scary if their PDO number moves back towards 100. Similarly, Toronto is an interesting team – they outshoot the opposition at evens by a healthy amount but have the worst PDO number in the league, thanks largely to their inability to stop the puck. Maybe Brian Burke’s first miracle, as certified by the Toronto press corps (I think we should call them “The Disciples”), will be to push their PDO number towards 100.
The Bluejackets appear to have turned into a legitimate ES team. Ken Hitchcock and Scott Howson have had them moving in the right direction for a while now and they posted a healthy ES + in the first quarter without relying on a good PDO number.
Anyway, this is, to my mind, pretty interesting stuff. We’ll check back in at the end of the year and see if the trend of the past four years held up.