NHL Special Teams: A Different Look

Do that more often now.

This morning, I took a look at a special teams rank called the Bowman Index, by where a team's leaguewide rank in both the power play and penalty kill are added together to make a unified score. According to legendary head coach Scotty Bowman, a team should ideally have a combined rank which adds to 10 or less. In that post, I looked at that index compared to 5-on-5 play during the regular season to see how well that matched up to a team's playoff expectations.

Now I want to take a slightly different look at special teams again. This time I don't have all the figures for teams going back to the playoffs, but I want to get a little deeper into this season's rate stats and what exactly that means for special teams. We all know that a team can have a meaningless two-second power play to end a blowout win which hurts their overall percentage rank, but that doesn't mean we can't look at it another way.

Looking just at power play effectiveness, you can get a decent sense of how a team is doing at special teams, but there's also something of an underlying assumption that all things are created equal in a statistical world ruled by a single percentage figure. Unfortunately, that's not how the real world works. We all know that 10% of 1,000 is bigger than 50% of 100, after all. With that in mind, there are plenty of good sites out there which have advanced statistical data which help shine the light of context on these stats. Behind the Net is a great source for advanced statistics, as is HockeyCSSI.com.

Below the jump, I've put together a ranking of the NHL teams based on end-of-season expected special teams production.

These numbers are taken from all teams as of the end of February. What I've done is taken the per-game rate of power plays for and against each team and taken that out to an 82-game size. I then took the expected amount of PPs and PK for each team and multiplied them by their current effectiveness to get an expected end-of-season number of power play goals scored and power play goals given up. Then, I took the rate of short-handed goals for and against and added those in. The final figure is the expected special teams score differential for each team.

TEAM EXPPGF EXPPGA EXSHGF EXSHGA EXDIFF
Anaheim Ducks 47 50 4 6 -5
Boston Bruins
50 42 9 1 16
Buffalo Sabres
43 53 4 7 -13
Carolina Hurricanes
51 52 13 5 7
Columbus Blue Jackets
52 65 8 8 -13
Calgary Flames
44 46 1 5 -5
Chicago Blackhawks
43 56 9 3 -7
Colorado Avalanche
44 53 6 3 -6
Dallas Stars
36 54 5 3 -16
Detroit Red Wings
54 50 3 10 -3
Edmonton Oilers
62 53 5 9 5
Florida Panthers
57 50 5 8 4
Los Angeles Kings
46 38 6 1 13
Minnesota Wild
42 48 7 5 -4
Montreal Canadiens
41 33 10 10 8
New Jersey Devils
45 32 17 17 13
Nashville Predators
56 46 6 4 12
New York Islanders
46 43 4 5 2
New York Rangers
40 36 9 4 9
Ottawa Senators
54 57 8 8 -3
Philadelphia Flyers
70 65 5 11 -1
Phoenix Coyotes
33 39 7 4 -3
Pittsburgh Penguins
61 31 12 10 32
San Jose Sharks
58 53 4 4 5
St. Louis Blues
42 46 5 4 -3
Tampa Bay Lightning
39 61 1 12 -33
Toronto Maple Leafs
54 59 5 4 -4
Vancouver Canucks
63 40 5 5 23
Winnipeg Jets
49 59 4 5 -11
Washington Capitals
44 55 3 10 -17

Sorted by rank, you'll see that Detroit is in the middle of the pack here. If things continue to go as they have, we can expect that Detroit will lose the special teams battle for the season with a negative differential.This will make their jobs that much more difficult in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh continues to maintain a very good team thanks to having their PP and PK specialists carrying a large portion of their burden. Boston and Vancouver are two teams which have a very good special teams differential and a very good even strength differential. They are going to be top contenders.

Here is the expected special teams goals for/against in ratio format ranked from 1-30 as well as each team's current Bowman Index and Bowman Index Ranking

Team Special Teams GF/GA Ratio Bowman Index
Bowman Index Rank
Pittsburgh 1.78 7 1
Vancouver 1.51 7 1
Boston 1.37 20 5
Los Angeles 1.33 28 11
New Jersey 1.27 23 6
Nashville 1.24 19 4
New York Rangers 1.23 34 20
Montreal 1.19 30 14
Carolina 1.12 43 25
San Jose 1.09 32 17
Edmonton 1.08 14 3
Florida 1.07 33 18
New York Islanders 1.04 25 8
Philadelphia 0.99 28 11
Ottawa 0.95 25 8
Detroit 0.95 29 13
St. Louis 0.94 37 21
Toronto 0.94 39 23
Phoenix 0.93 38 22
Minnesota 0.92 33 18
Anaheim 0.91 24 7
Colorado 0.91 30 14
Chicago 0.90 49 29
Calgary 0.88 27 10
Winnipeg 0.83 31 16
Columbus 0.82 48 28
Buffalo 0.78 43 25
Washington 0.72 39 23
Dallas 0.72 43 25
Tampa Bay 0.55 52 30

You'll notice a lot of ties in the ranking because the Bowman Index allows for teams to do that easily. They're not broken, but they are the reason for missing numbers. If two teams are tied for #1, that doesn't mean the next-best team after them is #2. They are the third-best team in the league at it.

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