Backchecking: Trying To Reward the Intangibles
3/11/2010 2:34:27 PM
One of the many challenges presented when trying to evaluate hockey players is attempting to measure the impact of the "intangible" elements on the game.
While fans are all very familiar with goals, assists and plus-minus, evaluation gets trickier when it comes to categories like hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, face-offs and penalties.
I endeavour to include these statistics in my player rankings because it represents a certain fairness to the players (often defencemen) who aren't lighting up the scoreboard; some tangible evidence that their contribution matters, even if the measure is an estimate.
There isn't a great answer for how many blocked shots equates to a goal scored at the other end, or how many hits it takes to be worth the same as a goal. In reality, 100 hits isn't worth as much on the scoreboard as a single goal, but there should be some way to indicate the contributions of players beyond simply turning on the red light.
While these are statistically-generated rankings, I consider them the intangible portion of the player rankings because, for one thing, the statistics go beyond those that are rattled off everynight on Sportscentre or in the boxscore and their value to an actual win is completely debatable. I just know, if given the choice between two otherwise equal players, I'd be happy to take the player who consistently sacrifices their body in the name of the game.
It's not all sacrifice, as having few penalties doesn't always equate to discipline; sometimes it's merely indifference. But, when all these stats get rolled together, there appears to be a fair measure of which players are doing the "little things" -- things that might generally go unnoticed.
I've listed the top three "intangible" leaders, along with the lowest-ranked regular (at least 40 games played) for each team, presenting some indication of which players might be considered unsung heroes and a comparable at the other end of the spectrum.
A couple of caveats:
These measures are cumulative, which presents an obvious advantage to players who haven't missed many games. I could easily transition the calculation to a per-game basis, but if a player is going to have a real effect on the game in this way, it sure helps to be in the lineup night-in and night-out. Likewise, players who log more ice time have a greater likelihood of accumulating these statistics. (Perhaps the "per game" and "per 60 minutes" leaders will be a future blog.)
Players that have low ratings aren't bad players and I'm not trying to suggest as much. Some guys don't block shots and don't do a lot of hitting, but they put the puck in the net -- a most valuable contribution. Additionally, players that have the puck frequently when on the ice -- think the Sedin twins cycling ad nauseam in Vancouver -- aren't really in position to block a lot of shots or deliver a lot of hits. Obviously, this doesn't mean they're not incredibly important to their team.
In conclusion, then, the point of this exercise is to look at some of the players who may have at least a little more value than what their standard "back-of-the-hockey-card" stats might suggest.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
DETROIT RED WINGS
LOS ANGELES KINGS
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
NEW YORK RANGERS
ST. LOUIS BLUES
SAN JOSE SHARKS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Scott Cullen can be reached via e-mail at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen