Quality of Competition is one of the few advanced statistical metrics that virtually nobody argues lacks value. Success is success, but there’s a difference between succeeding against the other team’s first line and their third line.
Until now, however, most Quality of Competition rankings have been based on plus/minus or one of the shot metrics, and have failed to differentiate between playing against the other team’s best forwards and their best defencemen. What happens if we tweak those numbers for the Edmonton Oilers?
Eric T. has been killing it at NHLNumbers, and he has the answer for us. On Thursday, he suggested a quality of competition metric based on total ice-time – with the idea being that rather than try to use some sort of statistical metric to rate players, we just trust that the coaches have a good idea of which guys are the most talented and play them accordingly. He proposed another change as well – rather than a single number for Quality of Competition, a chart which showed each player’s position against forwards and defencemen. In other words, if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was matched up against the Malhotra line in a Vancouver game, but saw Bieksa/Hamhuis as the defence pairing, he’d get a low number for the forwards he played against and a high number for the defencemen – better reflecting what situations he was playing in than a single number.
On Friday, Eric published charts for every team in the league. The following is the one he published for the Oilers.
One note on the chart before we dive into this data: the defenseman axis (on the left) has a difference of 2.4 minutes between top and bottom, while the difference on the forward axis is 4.5 minutes. In other words, the same size gap in both directions means almost twice as much on the forward chart as it does on the defenceman chart.
The guys high up the chart played against the opposition’s best defenders, and it’s not hard to see that NHL coaches saw things sensibly. Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall faced the toughest defenders, followed by Nugent-Hopkins, with Gagner, Hemsky, Smyth and Horcoff all seeing impressive opponents. Jones, Paajarvi, Belanger, are in the third tier, and the fourth-line guys could be comfortable in knowing that they’d be playing against the other team’s versions of Colten Teubert, Cam Barker and Theo Peckham virtually every game.
The toughest opposing forwards is a different story. Horcoff and Smyth lead the way in that department, followed by Hemsky and then with the kids, Gagner and Jones tightly grouped behind them. Paajarvi and Belanger are once again on the third tier, the fourth line guys rank lower, and Darcy Hordichuk sits in his own little world playing against the weakest sisters of the NHL.
How Does This Compare To Regular Quality of Competition?
The link to regular Quality of Competition for this same group is here, and we can see that basically the same information is conveyed. Six guys on the team have a number above zero – Horcoff, Hemsky and Smyth lead the way, with Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins following tightly behind. Jones and Gagner are next, followed by Paajarvi and Belanger, followed by the fourth line, followed by Hordichuk, alone at the bottom by a mile.
Regardless of what metric is used to rank players – time on ice, Corsi, plus/minus, even total points – over a large number of games it all boils down to basically the same thing. The guys who play the most typically have the most points, the best plus/minus, and the best Corsi ratings – all four metrics, over a large population and a large number of games rate player successes. There are minor differences using each system, but they’re all in the ballpark.
The thing I like about Eric’s proposed set-up is the differentiation between top defenders and top forwards. Most conversations about matchups typically focus on matching lines – but the defenders out there matter too.
What Does This Mean For The Oilers?
It means that despite the fact that Tom Renney worked to give Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins some advantages this past season – lots of starts in the offensive zone, ducking the opposition’s top forward line when possible – they still ended up playing the best defencemen on the other team. Not only that, but they produced.
It also shows why guys like Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky have value, despite being routinely run through the mud by fans. When Renney faced the other team, more often than not those were the guys he put out against the Sedins, Getzlafs and Iginlas of the world.
On the other hand, there’s no relief on this chart for Eric Belanger – he struggled despite seeing the opposition’s depth on most nights. The fourth line, similarly, got destroyed despite playing against terrible players. Also, for those wondering why Darcy Hordichuk played only four and a half minutes per game – this chart shows exactly how much trust Renney had in him.