NHL Playoffs: How Much Do Analytics Matter
Dissecting NHL playoffs analytics
By Bob Duff
The team that led the NHL in analytics during the 2016-17 season just fired their coach and general manager.
A team that has invested heavily into analytics, the move seemed to pay dividends when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2011-12 and 2013-14 but it appeared irrelevant this season, as the Kings never developed any consistent success despite posting an NHL-leading Corsi of 54.99 per cent in terms of five-on-five shot attempts.
Somewhere, some old-school types are chortling at the expense of the fancy stats folks, insisting that they need to emerge from their bubble, because it has just burst.
What does this all mean? Are analytics, like many statistics have been known to do, simply lying to us?
Do they really matter?
Yeah, they do.
The Kings went all in on Corsi, and like that old saying, when you put all of your eggs in one basket, all you usually end up with is a lot of broken eggs.
The Kings would shoot the puck from anywhere, taking low percentage shots in the hope that their large-bodied forwards would be able to crash the net and find rebound chances.
To employ another old adage, Los Angeles chose quantity over quality, making it difficult to quantify the value of the fact that the Kings were the kings of Corsi this season. They ended up seventh in the NHL in shots on goal per game (31.1) but a dismal 25th (129) in five-on-five goals. That’s hardly an efficient trade off.
So utilize the Kings to devalue analytics but do so at your own peril.
As is the case with any data, it’s always advisable to dig a little deeper below the surface, to see if patterns emerge, and in this case, it’s best to forget about the Kings.
The Predators are an interesting study. Over the last 25 games of the season, they led the NHL in score-adjusted Corsi, an indication that they are heating up at the right time of the season.
History shows that the eventual Stanley Cup champion will be a team up there among the Corsi leaders. Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were second in the NHL (52.72). In 2014-15, both Stanley Cup finalists, the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, were 2-4 in Corsi. The Kings were atop the league (56.80) when they won the Cup in 2013-14.
In fact, since the Kings won in 2011-12, no Stanley Cup champion has finished worse that fourth in the league in Corsi.
Based on that math, it means you can whittle your choice of Cup winners down to three teams – the Canadiens, the Bruins, or the Capitals.
Last spring, when everyone thought the Capitals were the favorites to win the Cup, they were 14th in the NHL in Corsi. In fact, this is the first time they’ve cracked the top 10, let alone the top four.
Might this all mean that the time to shine has finally arrived for Alex Ovechkin and company to wear hockey’s crown, to lift the NHL’s Holy Grail skyward?
Of Corsi it could.
Stanley Cup Pick: Washington Capitals