Resistance is Futile (but stubborn)

NHL teams have been trying to use math in order to unlock the draft since the beginning of the universal draft. From a distance, it looks like NHL teams haven’t advanced as far as they could and the culprit is money.

As early as 1971, NHL teams were looking to the computer in order to get a better gauge on drafting teenagers. This article from 1971 (it is here) tells us the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues were tackling the projection problem with math 40 years ago (the universal draft began in 1969).

Quoting the article: "the machine isn’t going to tell us what to do, but it is going to come out with a better assessment than we could." The idea being that if the right information is entered into the system then a computer could correctly decipher your best available player based on organizational priority.

What would the right information look like? I’d suggest that along with boxcars (GP, G, A, PTS, PIM) plus minus and time on ice per situation (EV, PP, PK) would be valuable. It might also be an idea to split the season into halves or quarters to see if there is some evidence of late development. Of course, shots for and against while on the ice, zone starts and any number of stats would be glorious but let’s start with the basics.

If Toronto had grabbed the boxcars and added those numbers to time on ice, I think they might have been on to something. However, there’s no evidence they did; in fact, there’s no evidence that NHL teams have the time-on-ice information NOW. In an interview for Nation Radio not long ago, Marty Williamson (coach and GM of the Niagra Ice Dogs) was asked if his team tracks time on ice totals for Niagra:

  • "No, we looked at a program but we have so many other things like heart rate monitors and different things we don’t have a time on ice program with our team."

The Ice Dogs have two elite draft eligible talents available for this year’s draft. Would it not benefit the NHL teams to know if Ryan Strome is posting his offense in fewer minutes than Ryan Nugent Hopkins (if that is the case)? What if Nugent-Hopkins is playing 2line minutes at evens as has been implied by many observers, wouldn’t that explain his even strength offense?

I have no idea what it might cost for an OHL team to grab that information, but it seems to me the NHL as a league would benefit heavily from knowing TOI totals for all CHL teams. It might also give the NHL some insight into why the OHL seems to turn out so many NHL ready kids and give each team a more accurate idea about each player.

Those forward thinking General Managers in Toronto (Jim Gregory), Philadelphia (Keith Allen) and St. Louis (Scotty Bowman) were way ahead of the curve and I suspect some of the NHL’s 30 teams have some way of measuring TOI for each of these clubs. The advantage enjoyed by those teams would be substantial in my opinion, as their ability to read the numbers would have more clarity.

The machine can only be as useful as the information it is given. Still.

  • CurtisS

    I think Math has a 50/50 chance just like anything else has when looking at a 17 year old kid and seeing what hes going to project into. Sometimes right sometimes wrong.

  • magisterrex

    “I suspect some of the NHL’s 30 teams have some way of measuring TOI for each of these clubs”

    If Edmonton does, would they be any more likely to tell the world than those other teams have?

    Frustrating for those looking in from the outside. But with or without exact numbers, I’m guessing the nhl teams could probably tell you within 10% how much EV ice time each top 10 player got. Hell the 2nd half nights they didn’t have a scout in red deer Stu’s guys could have given Oilers tickets to a few fans to log RNH’s time.

    • Lowetide

      All the more reason to measure it over an entire season, imo. Along with “saw him good” errors might come a period where said player is playing wonky minutes.

      I think it’s very important, like plate appearances in baseball. A guy hits 20 dingers in 650 plate appearances, that’s one thing. He does it in 300? That’s power.

  • magisterrex

    i think there is one other variable that needs to be mentioned to have a true reading of a player when he exits the CHL.

    who that player had on his line?

    did not pouliot have great numbers in the CHL? and weren’t his numbers over valued because of who he played with. i could be wrong and i realize i have presented only one example but i suspect there are more.

    imo the super computer can be a very useful tool to help design a draft list but this computer im certain can not detect heart and will. or can it……da da da?

  • LT,

    Do you think interviews with the team have a great affect on ones draft position? maybe when rnh talks to the oil or coutrier and one of them is more passionate, articulate. ie, when i heard hall speak at the draft last year i wanted him on the oil then and there and i was totally in line with seguin prior to that.

    what criteria is the most important to you that a team must have in order to best define a draft pick?

    • Lowetide

      Interesting question. I think best player available, with a heavy skew toward the toughest thing to do (scoring goals).

      I don’t think the interviews impact a whole lot. A wonderful book to read on this subject is Gare Joyce’s Future Greats and Heartbreaks. The handling of Phil Kessel was batbleep crazy.

    • Dan the Man

      Stauffer asked McGregor a similar question on Oilers Lunch yesterday and it didn’t sound like the interviews made a huge difference.

      i.e.If they had 2 guys rated around 19th, the interview could put one ahead of the other but if one guy was clearly better that’s who they would pick regardless of the interview.

    • Dwight K. Shrute

      Agreed about Hall. I really didnt care who they picked because I thought both would be great. However, when asked about his “dangerous” play and how he puts his body at risk, when Hall responded with “I don’t want to curl off at the halfboards and flip it into the middle, I want to take it to the net,” that is when I really wanted the Oil to take Hall.

      We had and still have too many guys that like to stop at the half boards instead of getting the puck toward the net and forcing the defence to make a play.

  • Jfry mentioned in the Boudreau thread last weekend that he has witnessed intern scouts in the stands with stopwatches out.

    It’s likely the scouts are in possession of the TOI we crave and probably know enough to know when the ice time is skewed. And it is easy enough for coaches to count shifts, a rough proxy, and know how the ice time ranges on his own team.

    For the people in the know, its not a priority as well they’re in the know. For people like parents maybe the league feels it’s better off they don’t know? Maybe coaches don’t want other coaches to have the info. Who knows.

    It is us here, lurking in the dim corners of the blogoworld that are kept in the dark.

    Someone needs to persuade each league TOI (etc) is a way to showcase their talent and to make fans out of stats junkies. I suspect someone with a good sales pitch and a cost-effective method of gathering, recording and reporting might convince them.

  • CurtisS

    There’s a couple of problems with RNH, aside from his pisspoor evenstrength totals. He only had 31 goals. That is low, and we all know, scoring is harder than passing.
    The other scary thing, like Seguin last year, he only had one good year.
    Couturier? No problem with either.
    Did I mention he is 6 foot stinking 4?

    • Lyxdeslic

      Only one good year???? He got WHL rookie of the year and was CHL rookie of the year runner-up to Puempel his first season. The following year he had a whopping 106 points (ranked 7th in the CHL for points this year behind five 20 year olds and an 18 year old). Considering he has only played 2 seasons id disagree completely and say that he hasn’t had a weak season yet…. unlike Couturier who had a 9 goal and 38 point rookie campaign and has never broken 100 points.

  • Poolanov

    Couple things; 1. The World Championships will go a long way in the Oilers organization putting the corner pieces of this puzzle together.
    2. We are going to ROCK not later but sooner!!!!!

  • Lowetide

    Do you really think experienced scouts don’t take a mental note of how much ice time a prospect is receiving when they view him multiple times?

    Just because the data isn’t available for Willis to enter into an Excel spreadsheet doesn’t mean it’s ignored.

    Keep grasping though.

  • John Chambers

    LT – I think you’re just getting frustrated, as am I, with a lack of compelling stats to separate the top 6 players available in this draft.

    Really, what’s to separate Strome from Nugent? They both led their respective teams in scoring, they both play on CHL teams that have few if any existing NHL draftees, and they’re both among the youngest of the top 6 (Strome is a full 8 months younger than Larsson).

    I suppose that’s why professional scouts get paid to do what they do. Otherwise a bunch of geeks like us could hang around the draft table and tell Tambi to pick some pimple-face because he was 70% in the faceoff circle between January and March.

    You know they used a Computer to design the ski hill at Nakiska? A Computer. Amazing.

  • Charlie Huddy

    “There’s a couple of problems with RNH, aside from his pisspoor evenstrength totals. He only had 31 goals. That is low, and we all know, scoring is harder than passing. The other scary thing, like Seguin last year, he only had one good year. Couturier? No problem with either. Did I mention he is 6 foot stinking 4?”

    Maybe his EV/PP ratio isn’t the greatest, but just looking at his goal totals, he only scored 35% of his goals on the power play (11 of 31). Also, 9 of those goals were game winners, and 2 of his 4 playoff goals were game winners, so the kid knows how to score when it counts the most.

    Couturier has also played an extra season than RNH, and RNH had more points in both his rookie and sophomore seasons than Couturier.

  • Slapshot

    I know this is completely random and off the charts of what people are talking about. But with the way Renney likes tough guys who can throw down, us fans dont like watching players like that only take up 2 mins of a game while getting 6 mins of minor penalties that end up hurting our team.

    I was compairing Shawn Thorton with Ben Ondrus. Thorton is a heavy weight that plays a regular shift and is extremely effective when he fights and when he plays. Thorton never got a real shot at a full time duties in the show till he was 29 years of age, 606 AHL games played.

    Ondrus is 28 now and has played 372 games in the AHL. Could Ondrus be an effective 4th line grinder who can throw down and protect the kids? His numbers in junior are better than Thortons but he also doesnt fight as much as Thorton.

    I think Ondrus maybe something the Oilers and us fans are looking for as a 4th line toughy and he is right under our noses.

    And yes I am terribly bored tonight with only one playoff game being played.