A look at the US Olympic Squad for Sochi from Analytics perspective

So I’ve been in Helsinki this Autumn and as a result haven’t gotten to see much live NHL hockey.  (I’ve seen plenty of pee wee and bantam hockey as well as a couple of SM Liiga matches.)  We’re headed home just after the end of the year and one of the highlights once we get back to the states will be watching the Olympic hockey tournament.  Should be a blast.  To that end, I thought I would take a look at the candidates for the US Olympic team through the lens of some analytics.  Here we’re going to use three metrics: Average Corsi Relative, THoR and the NEW Truculence (TRUC) measure.  Yikes.  Too easy.  We’ll just use Average Corsi Rel and THoR.  To get Average Corsi Relative I took the Behind the Net’s 5v5 CorsiRel from each of the last three seasons and weighted those values by the number of games played.  CorsiRel has a long history and is well established.  ThoR is fairly new, and a bit more mathematical but has a good bit more reliability than CorsiRel.  See this LINK for a look at version 2.0 of the all events THoR  This is a more expansive model than our even strength THoR and has significantly higher year to year correlation or reliability while also accounting for player value accrued during special teams.  Using the same years of data, last three seasons, I applied this THoR.    

We focused on players whose names have been considered as possible participants from articles like this and this.  [Note that since this was first written a couple other articles have appeared: here, here and here.

Below, we’ll go position by position.  We’ll start with centers. 

CENTERS

Here’s the summary table for ten centers mentioned as possible centers for Team USA.

Name THoR Rank Corsi Rank
Paul Stastny 1 6
Joe Pavelski 2 1
Ryan Kesler 3 2
Craig Smith 4 8
Kyle Palmieri 5 9
Derek Stepan 7 3
Alex Galchenyuk 8 4
Trevor Lewis 9 10
David Backes 10 5
Nick Bjugstad 7

 

Plenty of folks think this is not a strength for the US.  They’re not as deep as Canada for sure but the top three are high quality.  Weighting the two metrics evenly, gives Pavelski, Kesler and Stastny with Stepan and Smith as fourth and fifth choices.   Corsi likes Stepan and Galchenyuk over Stastny while THoR likes Stastny with Smith as the fourth choice.  THoR does not have enough data on Nick Bjugstad to rank him but it seems unlikely that is going to be part of the final consideration here. 

WINGS

Here’s the summary table for wings.

Name THoR Rank Corsi Rank
Zach Parise 1 1
Max Pacioretty 2 2
Phil Kessel 3 8
Blake Wheeler 4 5
Dustin Brown 5 4
Patrick Kane 6 10
T. J. Oshie 7 13
Kyle Okposo 8 7
Brandon Saad 9 3
Bobby Ryan 10 6
Ryan Callahan 11 12
James Van Riemsdyk 12 9
Justin Abdelkader 13 11

Next up is wings.  There is pretty good agreement here in the rank of the players that are considered for this list between THoR and Corsi.   Saad and Kane are the biggest difference between the list and both would end up on my roster.  Parise, Pacioretty, Wheeler, Brown, Kessel, Saad, Okposo, Ryan, and Kane should go based upon this list assuming taking nine forwards.  I know that Pacioretty is a borderline player for many folks but both of these metric think highly of him.  Kane being as low as he is a bit of a surprise on the Corsi side but he still makes the roster.  Bennett has a strong future ahead of him and THoR has some strong inklings about him but there’s not enough data there to be conclusive.  

 

DEFENSEMEN

Next, we’ll turn to defensemen.  Here is the table for them with ranks for both metrics based on .  As with Bjugstad and Bennett, we don’t have enough data for THoR to be confident but we do have CorsiRel so it is included.  Neither player has done well enough on that metric to be considered.  

Name THoR Rank Corsi Rank
Dustin Byfuglien 1 1
Keith Yandle 2 2
Alec Martinez 3 3
Alex Goligoski 4 4
Cam Fowler 5 8
Nick Leddy 6 11
Kevin Shattenkirk 7 5
John Carlson 8 13
Justin Faulk 9 14
Ryan McDonagh 10 9
Jack Johnson 11 18
Erik Johnson 12 6
Paul Martin 13 12
Ryan Suter 14 10
Zach Bogosian 15 16
Jake Gardiner 16 7
Brooks Orpik 17 17
Seth Jones 15
Jacob Trouba –   –

There’s less agreement between the two measures here than there was for centers and wings though it is not too bad.  However, there is enough agreement that it would seem like some choices are obvious.  I’ve no doubt that Ryan Suter is going to Sochi despite where he is ranked by THoR and by Corsi.  And I hope, hope, hope that Dustin Byfuglien is going along with Yandle, Fowler, Shattenkirk, Leddy, and Erik JohnsonByfuglien has the added versatility of being able to play forward if needed.  I understand there is some concern about him on ‘the big ice’ but I think there’s enough analysis to suggest that he helps this team.  Anote about Martinez and Goligoski since they don’t seem to make most writers lists.  Goligoski seems on the periphery of consideration, while Martinez seems to be off the radar.  Goligoski has dropped his production somewhat this past year at least as far as CorsiRel is concerned but he still outranks most of this group.  I want them on my team.   Trouba and Jones don’t have enough time in the NHL to get a good bead on their performance from THoR’s perspective so we won’t consider them and their CorsiRel’s aren’t that impressive anyway.  An argument can be made for Suter on leadership along.  I get that but here our focus in analytics and what that would suggest for this team.  I know he is hurt — hate to kick someone when they are down — but please, oh, please in the name of Jim Craig and Mike Eruzione, don’t take Brooks Orpik.  Bad things happen when he is on the ice.  Paul Martin I could live with, Ryan McDonagh I could live with but not Orpik.

There are some righty/lefty issues here as the top of our list.  Yandle, Fowler, Goligoski,  Martinez and Leddy are all lefties.  Shattenkirk and Byfuglien are righties as is Erik Johnson.   If we want righty/lefty pairings then we need to drop Leddy for John Carlson.  In the NHL.com article linked above David Poile references a conversation with Brian Rafalski suggesting that quality players are more important than lefty/right pairings.  

GOALIES

 Quality analytics on goalies are few and far between.  Best results seem to be that best predictor of future performance is career save percentage.  Though that should be tempered by age which is another factor here.  Here’s a summary of the possibilities for the US in net in Sochi based on data through 15 December.

Name Career SV% Current SV% Age
Cory Schneider 0.926 0.917 27
Tim Thomas 0.921 0.909 39
Ben Bishop 0.920 0.933 27
Jimmy Howard 0.917 0.910 29
Ryan Miller 0.915 0.921 33
Jonathan Quick 0.914 0.905 28
Craig Anderson 0.914 0.898 32

Okay so Schneider is a no brainer at this point to my mind.  I think he has to be the number 1.  The sample size is large enough for the Career SV% to be very impressive.  After Schneider, the surest bet here is Miller and so I would take him.  Miller’s experience is also worth considering here, and then, probably, Jimmy Howard.  The combination of Howard being fourth on this list in career SV% with a large sample size and having the fourth best SV% at the moment is enough to bump Quick and Bishop off the list.  Tim Thomas’ age is too big a factor for me.  Old goalies don’t regress to the mean.  I can see a good argument for Ben Bishop especially given how he is playing as well as one for Jonathan Quick.  The groin injury that Quick has is also a concern enough for me to take Howard in his place.  

CHOICES

Okay so we’ve looked at the US roster from a statistical vantage point.  Using data from the last three NHL seasons, we approached the problem of player selection using two metrics: CorsiRel and THoR.  This version of THoR is the one that uses data from special teams as well as even strength.   Based upon this, I would take the following 23 players.  I have got 12 forward and Byfuglien and 7 defensemen and Byfuglien, and 3 goalies.  From the point of view of these analytics, . these are the selections.    

Centers (3) Pavelski, Kesler, Stastny
Wings (9) Parise, Pacioretty, Wheeler, Brown, Kessel, Saad, Okposo, Ryan, Kane
Byfuglien(1) Dustin
Defensemen (7) Yandle, Martinez, Goligoski, Shattenkirk, Fowler, Leddy, Erik Johnson
Goalies (3) Schneider, Miller, Howard

 (NOTE: An earlier version of this post had David Backes as a wing and T. J. Oshie as a center.)

 

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