The Trend is Not Our Friend

The NHL web site provides comprehensive team stats back to the 1997-1998 season. Since this corresponds very nicely to the Red Wings' period of dominance, this morning I decided to take a look at some key trends for the team.

As we all are aware, the team's overall performance has slipped somewhat over the last few years. This shows quite clearly in a graph of the team's rank in points. (Note on data: the year represents the year of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a given season; rank is determined using the Excel Rank function, which allows for ties).


I have found that the trend in the standings closely mirrors the team's rank for goals scored, but is far less correlated with goals allowed:


Note that the team was especially poor in Goals Against rank in 2009 and 2011 but these were not down years for points in the standings. On the other hand, the team experienced significant declines in Goals For during 2007, 2010 and 2013, years in which the team's rank in the league standings also declined significantly. Also note that the glory years from 98- 02 were years in which the team always ranked higher in scoring than in defense against scoring.

I've been doing some other research to be reported in the future, using logistic regression to figure out what score sheet data (other than goals) produce the best model of a team's probability of winning on any given night. So far, face-off win percentage is the strongest factor. Notably, shots against is not statistically significant, although shot differential is. And I have found that there is a clear causal relationship such that face-off win percentage leads to wins. So with that in mind, here is the trend for face-off percentage, shots for and shots against:


I decided to call this graph "puck control," but I admit that it is only a very indirect proxy for a true puck control stat. In any case, the graph of Face Off Win Percentage Rank is strikingly correlated with the teams overall points rank. Only 2002 stands out as a mild anomaly, but even there the face-off rank was well within the top 10. Also, it is clear from this graph that Shots Against is not a very good predictor of overall success.

So my conclusions from this quick look is that the Red Wings do much better when they are tough on the puck and score a lot of goals. Although defense is important, the stats show that we can err by placing too much emphasis on it. In particular, it really doesn't matter how many shots the other team takes (this is again independently found in game-by-game logistic regression analysis). What matters most is winning the puck more often and outshooting the other team.

Given all this, what is most troubling to me about last year and the early returns from this season is that the Red Wings are going seriously in the wrong direction. No matter how we look at the situation, the stats are well outside of our experience since the team returned to greatness in the mid 1990s.

I don't have time today to go any further with this but I would like to take a look at individual player stat trends, separating those who have come from those who have gone. I think the reason for the decline will be found at the individual level; that might be helpful in making player decisions in the future.

This is a fanpost written by a WIIM community member. The views and opinions expressed here are that member's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the site itself.

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