The Rangers `Sophisticated` Stats Package

In a recent interview with Newsday, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault dropped this quote:

 Newsday: Ryan McDonagh returning to form for Rangers | 12/20/2017

Newsday: Ryan McDonagh returning to form for Rangers | 12/20/2017

Now, in AV's defense here, when the team you coach is 30th in the league in shot attempts against per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, well, you can't really go on record saying that you care about it or coach it because, well, you're terrible, and that wouldn't be a good look for you. 

But this isn't really a good look for the Rangers, either. The studies are essentially conclusive at this point. Shot attempts, Corsi, is the foundation of the analytics movement. CF% is a better predictor for future team success than scoring chances, some xG models, and actual goals. These are all things we know, and the debate on these should be behind us at this point. Then, you see a quote like this from a respected coach in the NHL, and we get set back.

Let's see if we can figure out what the Rangers do value in their `sophisticated` stats package, and let's see if we can do it using only the data available on Corsica.Hockey, publicly available data. Obviously we won't know for sure, but let's see what we can infer.

The picture we'll be looking at is 5v5 data, unadjusted, team ranks for this season. We already know that the team is 31st in CA/60, but in some other telling metrics, they rank:

26th in CF/60
30th in CF%
7th in GF/60
21st in GA/60
15th in GF%
2nd in xGF/60
31st in xGA/60
20th in xGF%
1st in xFSh%
30th in xFSv%

Above, I've bolded the highlights. 

What can we infer? The Rangers don't care about quantity, they care about quality. But, the damage they're doing to themselves on defense with the quality against they allow is partly cancelling out the good things they're doing on offense to generate the quality shots. Can one exist without the other?

I think this is AV hockey in a nutshell. Sacrificing defense for offense. The man-to-man scheme that the Rangers employ in the defensive zone allows for quick breakouts, rush opportunities, odd-man rushes. But, it leaves Lundqvist and Pavelec out to dry, and if they aren't making the saves, and the Rangers aren't finishing their chances, the score gets ugly.

Luckily for the Rangers, their goaltending duo has been carrying the load and masking a lot of the defensive deficincies we see with our eyes and on the stat-sheet.

Sean Tierney, ChartingHockey, has a very handy-viz based off of Manny's K metric that displays the Rangers thought process quite well:

 The visualization displays what is discussed above. The Rangers strength lies in the quality they can generate for themselves. The Rangers weakness lies in the quality against they allow. The system?

The visualization displays what is discussed above. The Rangers strength lies in the quality they can generate for themselves. The Rangers weakness lies in the quality against they allow. The system?

 

Further, we need to debate sustainability. What's more repeatable, quantity or quality? If you're coaching to quality, as the Rangers clearly are, are you playing with fire?

To isolate what teams are generating in terms of quantity versus quality, we'll be exploring split CF/60 (a measure of quantity generated) and split xFSh% (an isolated quality metric based off of Manny Elk's expected goals model). I'll also be using a split-half of last season's games in order to get more data.

First half: through Jan 10th

split_cf60.png
split_xfsh.png

On the visualizations above, the blue line represents the line of best fit via a linear model, the gray line is a simple x=y line.

Basically, the visualizations show us what we know, what we've known since the beginning of the movement. Shot attempts have a very strong repeatability. It's a skill. We don't see the same strength in shot quality. 

Flaws in the above: The sample size is way, way too small. To make a stronger point, we should analyze and chart these splits for each season going back to 0708. I didn't do that. I should've done that.

Thus, if you're coaching to quality rather than quantity (or a strong mix of both, which is pretty clearly the best option), then you're playing with fire. This `sophisticated` stat package that the Rangers are boasting essentially seems to boil down to what the Rangers thought they were getting when they originally hired John Tortorella, safe is death.

Now, 35 year-old Lundqvist is still producing as one of the best goalies in the league (8th in the league in goals saved above expected per 60 among starters), and the system and stats-package that the Rangers and AV are utilizing is exploiting that fact. And maybe they should be, but there is a serious lack of quantity, and we see that relying on quality isn't as sustainable.

Further, noting again how reproducible quantity is, we see the Rangers being nearly dead last in the league in terms of allowing attempts against. Unless the system changes, well, there's no end in sight for this.

We can debate endlessly the types of players that we think the Rangers are missing, specifically in my opinion, a RHD to pair with McDonagh that is an undervalued shot suppressor (think Connor Carrick in Toronto, Josh Manson in Anaheim before people woke up, etc...), and perhaps maybe a winger in the mold of Benoit Pouliot circa 1314 to complement our centers and make sure the game is going in the right direction. But if the system isn't going to change, or if we're going to bring these types of players into the fold just to find Carrick in the pressbox instead of Steve Kampfer, then what's the point?

The `sophisticated` package and system are played out. We see it every single year. The Rangers launch themselves into the playoffs via a ridiculous PDO, and then the game tightens up, the refs swallow their whistles, there's less space on the ice, there is less opportunity for rush attempts for. The game clogs. And what do we see in the playoffs? Lundqvist left out to dry, because that's the system, and the offense disappears.

Rinse and repeat, but `sophisticated`.

The Rangers Should Not Bet on JT Miller

Two blogs in one month brought to you by: Me needing to kill vacation time at work so I don't lose the hours.

All stats for this blog provided by Corsica.Hockey unless otherwise stated.

Chances are if you got into a discussion about the New York Rangers and JT Miller, you'd hear a lot of praise. On the surface, the 24 year old C/W has 24 points, good for 2nd on the team. He's been utilized across the forward lines at all positions by the coaching staff. He's trusted, and they like him. Maybe they should. But what happens when you dig deeper into those numbers?

For starters, his goal scoring has become a concern. Despite two goals in the last two games (one an empty netter, but at the end of the year, a goal is a goal, and no one is being picky about them in contract negotiations (cc: Michael Grabner's agent)), Miller is still struggling. Of his six goals this year, only 2 have come during 5v5 play (12th on the team), for a 5v5 goals per 60 rate of 0.27 (last among TOI qualified forwards on the team). The reason for JT's goal scoring downfall is no mystery, he's not shooting nearly enough. At an individual shot attempts per 60 of 9.07, the only forwards on the team who attempt less shots than JT are Desharnais, Nieves, Carey, and Fast.

If we dig slightly further into JT's point total (back to all situations), we discover that half of his 18 assists are secondary. The only issue with this is that secondary assists are less repeatable than primary assists. They are given out less often, and are far more subjective on the scoresheet. A point is a point, but a primary point is a bit more important.

Another item to take a look at is how JT's career is pacing thus far:

Miller has been in the NHL full-time for this season and the two prior, so if we take a look at these three years, we can see how Miller is trending in some important metrics:

 (5v5 only to ignore noise of differentiating PP time)

(5v5 only to ignore noise of differentiating PP time)

Now. It is important to keep in mind that JT's shooting percentage has plummeted this year, and GMs are extremely susceptible to trading low on players when their Sh% has a dip year (see: Stepan, Derek or Smith, Reilly).

The million-dollar question becomes, what is JT's actual shooting %? Well, we can use Manny Elk's expected goals model to see where JT should be. JT's expected total sits just under 4 goals at the moment. The thing is, even taking into account his low shooting percentage, his expected total is also drastically beneath where it should be, and again, this falls back to the fact that JT Miller is not shooting the puck enough during 5v5 play.

His iCF60 dipped from 15-16 into 16-17, but he kept up his shooting percentage, so the goals still came. This year, thus far, JT's shot attempt numbers have dipped again, and the shooting percentage has not been sustained.

One more point on this is, was JT Miller ever actually a 14 or 13% shooter? Rephrasing: Is JT Miller's shot good enough to be a 14% shooter? Going back once again to Corsica's expected model, In 16-17, Miller outshot his expected rate by nearly 2%, in 15-16, that number was 4.5% Again, the million-dollar question: Do you bet on JT Miller reaching or exceeding his expected total again? How good is his shot?

JTM_prog.png

With this viz, coupled with the data tale above, we can see that in terms of expected goals, JT is essentially the same player this year than he has been in year's prior (slight dip), but, he's not converting. Is this because he's shooting less? It could be. Is it bad luck? It could be. That's the bet. Where do you fall?

There are things that JT Miller does well on the ice, obviously. His versatility is important. Up and down the lineup, and across the line. JT is also a good, if not great, passer, and is adept at carrying the puck into the zone.

But, he's not scoring goals anymore. And, he's never been a true diver of shot attempts. Securing a now barley positive relative shot attempt percentage this year after a -4% last year. JT is also failing at suppressing shot attempts against, operating at a +4.3 after a+6.62 relCA60 last year (the amount of shot attempts per 60 that Miller is on the ice for relative to the team when he is off the ice). 

There was a sneaking suspicion last year that it was Kevin Hayes bringing down JT's shot-attempt based metrics, but Hayes has rejunivated the strong shot suppression game we saw from him in 15-16, operating at -3.04 this year. It should be noted that JT, while allowing shot attempts against, is also still driving shot attempts for, with a +4.22 relCF60 slightly. JT is slightly outpacing his weak suppression with strong generation.

What does this all mean and why is it important? Well, the Rangers are coming up on what is going to be a very important off-season in terms of the direction they want to take the team. Nash's $7.8m AAV is going to come off the books, and Jeff Gorton finds himself with four restricted free-agents to re-sign. JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei will all be in need of a new contract. Vesey can't really demand more than $2m AAV, so that's an easy one if the Rangers decide to make it easy. The big decisions will come at the table with Miller, Hayes, and Skjei.

Brady Skjei should be bet on long-term. Kevin Hayes, if he continues his strong play from this season, should also get a long-term deal.

But what do you do with Miller? JT Miller who has 6 goals in 33 games this season, 6 in 45 dating back through last year's playoff run, and 12 in 87 if you dial that back to last year's all-star break. This is a goal-scoring slump that is flying under the radar as JT continues to rack up A1s and A2s.

Do you bet long-term on that banking on JT rekindling whatever it was he had before that had him outshooting his expected totals at the rate which he was? Coupled with the decline in his shooting rate?

I don't think I would.

Free Rick Nash

[Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all stats for this post are via Corsica.Hockey]

It's time for the Rangers, Alain Vigneault and co, to get Rick Nash off of the PK, and let him play his minutes 5v5 and 5v4 where he can be more effective.

It may come as a surprise to some, as Nash's PK ability has been heralded since Babcock used him there in the 2010 Olympics, but no Rangers forward has been on the ice for more goals against on the PK, no forward has a higher GA/60, only Kevin Hayes has a worse xGA than Nash.

Is that totally the fault of Nash? Of course not, but, it is concerning, and it begs the question if he's doing more harm than good to the Rangers on the PK. And this needs to be considered along with the detriment to Nash's 5v5 time, where he's consistently proven to be one of the league's most efficient goal scorers.

Including this season dating back to 15-16, Rick Nash has skated 1,907 5v5 minutes, roughly 12.46 minutes per game and scored 25 goals. Sounds low, but consider that this ranks 4th among all Rangers forwards in those three seasons that meet a 1000 minute minimum (Grabner, Kreider, Brassard). If there's something that Nash doesn't have to prove, it's his ability to score goals.

What should shock you most about the paragraph above is that Nash only averages 12.46 minutes a game of 5v5 time on ice. That is not enough, and I think part of it is because he is an all-situations player for the Rangers. I think it's time that Nash, now 33, spends no time on the PK and instead gets his minutes in during 5v5 and PP time.

Let's jump into how the TOI spreads for the Rangers look on a game by game basis...

Nash gets the 5th most TOI per game during 5v5 play on the team. If you're using TOI as your identifier, these are borderline second-line minutes. It's not enough.

(This data is via my own scrape)

NYR_F.png

This is pretty typical for AV. The TOI splits are closely bunched. AV doesn't "run his horses" at even strength, and tends to distribute the ice time. This is a good visual to display, at least, the players that AV has no idea what to do with, those being the players with wide distributions. Carey, Desharnais, Vesey, Grabner, and Buchnevich (somewhat), ignoring Boo here because his left-tail was the game he was injured in.

Here's the defense for fun, since I have it handy...

 Spread on Holden is interesting. Basically splits between third-pairing and being McDonagh's partner. Still cool to viz.

Spread on Holden is interesting. Basically splits between third-pairing and being McDonagh's partner. Still cool to viz.

Let's compare AV to another coach that is widely respected around the league, Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs...

TOR-F.png

These might be better as data tables than as viz's, but, here we are. It's not as exaggerated as I'd like it to be, but you can see the Babcock Leafs are clearly riding a few players more than others. Matthews, Nylander, Kadri, Marleau, seem to be tightly at the top. Tyler Bozak (42) has a very interesting, small-spread, with a sharp peak indicating that his ice-time is pretty consistent, as are the 'depth guys', Dominic Moore and Matt Martin.

Point being, it's somewhat easier to indicate usage from the TOR chart than it is the NYR chart, and that's because AV spreads the ice time.

Back on topic...

It's important to get Nash that 5v5 ice, and less important to get him that PK ice. He's not really doing anything to help the Rangers 4v5. He's getting pounded by goals against (again, probably not entirely his fault, but he's on the ice for them, so who would be worse in this position?), and it eats at his potential 5v5 time.

It's also important for AV to start riding guys more. There needs to be a heavier discrepancy in 5v5 TOI between the top-guys and the depth. 

One major issue with this, is that AV doesn't trust the depth to do the PK'ing. The bottom 3 players for NYR even strength toi/gp, Carey, Boo, and Desharnais, have combined for just 8.8 minutes of total PK time. They're not even on AV's, or Lindy Ruff's (who runs the PK), radar. I'm all about playing your best guys, but there's something that irks me about depth-players who can't PK. If they can't PK, and aren't really contributing offensively at 5v5, well, then why are they on the team? (This doesn't really apply to DD51, who has seen some good scoring when given quality wingers. I expect this will be short-lived, and he'll be back to the days where AV isn't sure how to use him when MZ93 returns to the lineup).

So what's the fix here, and why is it important?

Well, the easy fix is to just start giving guys like Nash, Kreider, Buchnevich, Zibanejad (when healthy), and Zuccarello, the bulk of the EV TOI. These are your horses, and you should ride them.

Back to Nash, specifically (and back to Corsica.Hockey, 5v5 data for that matter), he may not be the possession driver that he used to be, but he is still the active shooter that the Rangers need him to be. Nash is 2nd on the team in indivdual shot attempts for per 60, and first in total shot attempts. Nash is 5th in both individual expected goals for 60 and total expected goals.

Let's see if we can work the lineup (ie. Nash off the PK and more time 5v5) to give Nash the opportunity he needs to be the 25 goal scorer that the Rangers need him to be.

Replacing Derek Stepan: re-create him in the aggregate

All stats for this blog provided by Puckalytics.com unless stated otherwise.

Most of the talk surrounding the Rangers this off-season is, rightfully, how the Rangers are going to replace Derek Stepan in their lineup. Say what you want about Stepan, but this narrative that he wasn't a "1C", or that his contract was going to be a hindrance to the Rangers in the future is just wrong. We have no evidence that shows that Stepan's career trajectory was going to start taking a hit. What we did have from Stepan last year was a career low shooting percentage, and the confidnece of the organization shook. Shook enough to move Stepan for futures. There ain't no such thing as half-way GMs.

But, we move on. Stepan has been dealt, and now the Rangers are tasked with 'replacing' him.

I find myself always thinking back to this scene from MONEYBALL where the scouts are hung up on replacing Giambi, Damon, and Saenz for the 2002 Oakland A's. Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta flip the script. We get hung up on names, we need to look past the names and to the numbers. You don't replace Stepan, you re-create him in the aggregate.

Thus, the Rangers aren't necessarily tasked this off-season with replacing Stepan. What they are tasked with, is figuring out if Mika Zibanejad is the guy to re-create Stepan on the top-line. If Kevin Hayes is the guy to re-create Zibanejad on the second-line. If Lias Andersson is ready to take on the third-line. If David Desharnais can re-create Oscar Lindberg on the fourth-line.

Our main focus, of course, flips to Mika Zibanejad. But first, we need to know what we're trying to re-create, and what the Rangers lost, with Derek Stepan moving to Arizona.

Combining the last two seasons of 5v5 play among NYR forwards, Derek Stepan was third on the team in raw points, third on the team in points per 60, third on the team in individual shot attempts, second on the team in relCF%, first on the team in relGF%, fourth on the team in relative shot suppression, and second on the team in relative shot generation, and third on the team in time on ice per game played.

On the PK, Stepan provided stability. On the ice for the team's fourth best GA60 metric.

On the PP, Stepan provided offense. On the ice for the team's second best GF60 metric. 

What the Rangers need to re-create, is an all-situations, top-line, effective player. And with the questions above, forcing everyone to step up a level on the depth-chart, the most important item the Rangers need to figure out is whether or not Mika Zibanejad is the guy to replace Derek Stepan.

For the comparbales below, I'm only using 5v5 data from last year so it's Rangers to Rangers data and not Rangers to Rangers/Sens data.

Obvious heavy-edge to Stepan here in most categories sans production per 60. Which, at least, is slightly encouraging. Had Zibanejad played 81 games like Stepan did, it's likely that he'd have caught up in goals (obviously), and perhaps even points. Stepan is what he is. He's a 55-60 point NHL player. Considering Zibanejad's production history, it's not totally out of the question that Zibanejad can also become a 55-60 point player, if not more. Offense is not where the Rangers are going to hurt by using Zibanejad in the Stepan role.

Where they're going to hurt, if anywher,e is in the on-ice impacts that Stepan had. An interesting piece to isolate this data may be to look at Chris Kreider. Both Stepan and Zibanejad spent quite a bit of time with Kreider as their winger last year.

Stepan with Kreider: 614:29 | 53.3 CF% | 59.5 GF%
Zibanejad with Kreider: 295:21 | 53.8 CF% | 53.3 GF%

Where Derek Stepan helps you is in his subtlety. His on-ice impacts in terms of both shot attempts and goals speak for themselves. He's going to log major minutes for you in every situation against the other team's best players. He's going to limit goals against, and he's going to score goals for the Rangers, or, contribute to goals. I have full confidence in Mika Zibanejad being able to replace Stepan's 55 points (like clockwork), where my hesitations lie will be in his on-ice impacts. Will he turn it around there? Playing a full season with Kreider will certainly help.

The Rangers will need Zibanejad to step up in a major way in terms of shot and goal suppression, as well as on the PK, if the envision him playing there. No denying that Arizona got one hell of a player in Derek Stepan, but the Rangers also got one in that trade with Ottawa last year.

Furthermore, the best thing you can do is continue comparing these guys. Use all the assets available to you. Draw your own conclusions.

Hockeyviz:
Stepan
Zibanejad

DTM xG

Corey Sznajder Rangers data

 

Alain Vigneault, Turtling in the Third Period of Playoff Games, and Score Effects are Real

A big point of contention against AV hockey, especially in the playoffs, is that AV's Rangers tend to grab a lead, and then turtle. Turtle, of course meaning, going into a shell, and allowing a barrage of shot attempts against your goalie. This was highlighted no more in the most recent Rangers vs Ottawa playoff series in game 5. Jimmy Vesey would give the Rangers a 4-3 lead in the third period. After that, the Rangers would go no to be out-attempted by Ottawa 22-2, and lose in overtime.

Score-effects are a very real thing, and of course, there are adjustments that exist to take these into account. (Best reading is here from Michah Blake McCurdy). We know that trailing teams get more attempts than the teams that are leading them. It's just one of those hockey things.

With that, it shouldn't be surprising that the Rangers get out-attempted as they do after taking a lead in the third period. However, it does appear often watching these games, that the Rangers suffer from this at a more alarming event because of the way Vigneault chooses to defend his leads.

So, as we should with the things that we can, I set out to discover if the Rangers under Vigneault have been damaged more by these score-effects in the third period of playoff games versus their peers as a result of "AV hockey".

Methodology:

  • The data that was used in this analysis was pulled from playoff games from the 2014 playoffs through the 2016 playoffs. This year's playoffs are not included in this data set
  • The data was sourced from Corsica.Hockey's public RData files
  • The data focuses on:
    • All situations of play
    • The only data we are using in the analysis are play-by-play events that occur when the team in question has a lead in the third period at any time

Flaws:

  • All situations data here is a choice that was honestly made out of ease of use for me. 5v5 only might have been a better play here
  • Doesn't include this year's data
  • No study conducted on goals or blown leads
  • No time on ice, only a games played number
  • More that I'm sure I can't think of

With that said, I think most importantly is the high end number. This study features 7787 total shot attempts. Of the 7787 shots, 3051 were taken by the leading team, and 4736 were taken by the trailing team, for a leading team CF% of 39.2%.

There were 24 teams that had a lead in the third period of a playoff game from 2014-2016. Here's how they all shake out:

The Rangers end up as the 10th best team in terms of Relative CF% to the rest of the league (Team CF% minus League CF% not including that team). Of course, the -143 in terms of running differential is not the "sexiest" number in the world, but it comes with the territory of the amount of games played in the sample.

(Flaw: Again, better here would be to have TOI in these situations for each team so we could get a per 60 measure. Oh well.)

For aesthetics, here's a running differential visualization for the Rangers (each team in the study above can be found at this link

 

Conclusion:

Are we too hard on AV for this specific item? Maybe. It's a league-wide phenomena. Score-effects are very, very, real. That didn't need to be proven again. But, the interesting take away here, at least for me, is that perhaps for this item, I've been a little too hard on AV. I think that this year's post-season would draw the Rangers a little further down that list, and perhaps this is worth re-visiting after compiling those numbers together when the post-season ends. Not there yet, though.