Understanding The New Hockey Stats

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Just by the title of this post, some folks may have already tuned out. Probably the same group that would rather have their teeth pulled out with a pair of rusty pliers administered by Rosie O'Donnell as she stands on your crotch in high heels than look at stats. That's cool, to each their own.

But some others in the room may (a) want to learn more about what these new stats are and why they're relevant or (b) never heard of them before and want to get a quick 101 on the basics.

I'm no expert either, but thankfully now I don't have to be. SBN recently welcomed Gabriel Desjardins, the mind behind Behind The Net - to a new home here on our network. Gabe recently put together a list of frequently asked questions about hockey analytics that I highly recommend you go check out. These stats don't always show the whole picture, but they do offer interesting insights into aspects of the game we may not pick up based off the box score.

I'll roll with just one for now: zone starts. As Gabe states:

...there are NHL players who go over the boards only for offensive zone draws or when it's clear that the other team is penned in in their end, and conversely, there are players who take all the tough defensive zone faceoffs late in the game.  Coaches know who they want out on the ice in a given situation, and that determines the territorial advantage or disadvantage that a player starts out with before he racks up any statistics.

As you know, Vancouver just lost Sami Salo for a month. One concern is that Salo is a mainstay on the first PP line. But if you look at Vancouver's defensive zone starts look who's on top of the list: 'splody bones himself. Salo leads defensive zone starts whether the Canucks are winning or losing, so though some fans may find him unreliable, AV trusts him tremendously and with far more than his shot.

Interestingly the stats show that when Vancouver is winning, Kesler and Samuelsson are out there for the defensive zone faceoffs and, when they're losing, it's Raymond, Hordichuk (?), and Wellwood. Winning the faceoff in the defensive zone is arguably more important than who's on defense; check out Bird Watchers Anonymous who just took a look at this for the Thrashers. But Salo is common to each scenario. The next closest defenseman in defensive zone starts is his partner Willie Mitchell (obviously). The next closest behind those two is SOB.

So how comfortable is AV with increasing SOB's defensive zone starts - knowing full well his willingness to take minor penalties - if the game is on the line? Maybe so, maybe not. We also haven't seen enough of Aaron Rome to know where he'll fit in best yet either. Someone has to eat both Salo's special teams and defensive responsibilities and it's probably not a single player.

Just some food for thought. We're lucky to have Behind The Net here and I encourage you to go on a reading adventure...and since Vancouver still has a day before the next game, I know you have the time.

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