Real-Time Super Stats And Hockey Success

Is this a hit, or is Hossa just trying to squeeze through? (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The NHL publishes data for what it calls "Real-Time Super Stats." These stats include most of the subjective judgments like blocked shots, giveaways, missed shots, and hits. Some coaches have structured their game plan around dominating in these areas, and there are players that are sought after specifically for their ability to succeed in one of these categories.

The question I'm going to look into today is how these categories contribute to winning hockey games. I'll be using a simple correlation analysis that looks at multiple years of data. Join me after the jump.

I collected data from NHL.com for four of the real-time super stats: blocked shots, hits, giveaways, and takeaways. I then aggregated the team totals over the last five seasons to come up with a large sample. I also aggregated the total number of regular season points earned by each team over the last five years to serve as a proxy for winning. The table below presents those five year totals:

Hits

BS

GV

TK

Reg. Pts.

ANA

8207

3854

3368

2591

490

ATL

7088

5683

3870

3923

422

BOS

7902

5022

2659

2305

451

BUF

6703

5573

4426

2285

504

CAR

8690

5763

2903

2955

469

CBJ

8111

4956

2157

2371

398

CGY

8032

4607

4029

3040

481

CHI

7262

4712

2354

2438

440

COL

6113

6129

3426

3582

449

DAL

9425

5004

4305

3388

487

DET

7286

4142

4045

2905

566

EDM

6590

5972

5779

3080

401

FLA

7830

5366

3189

2492

426

LAK

8763

5235

4562

2079

408

MIN

6302

5071

3370

2473

459

MTL

8943

6391

4521

3601

468

NJD

7034

4879

3525

2762

516

NSH

6940

5015

3316

3251

495

NYI

8601

6372

3998

4151

389

NYR

9758

5752

3244

3173

473

OTT

9272

5694

4054

3257

489

PHI

7545

6010

4088

2812

439

PHX

8027

5302

2647

2267

417

PIT

8350

6048

3134

2173

465

SJS

8639

4974

4206

2639

544

STL

7607

5660

3333

2382

399

TBL

7370

5365

3459

3012

402

TOR

8756

5730

4386

2670

419

VAN

6610

4807

3096

2665

488

WSH

8090

5489

4537

3424

463

After collecting this data, I ran a correlation test between regular season points and each of the four individual real-time super stats. That gave me four "r" coefficients.

A quick stat refresher: an "r" coefficient measures the relationship between two variables. It can be between +1 and -1, where +1 indicates a perfectly positive relationship, -1 indicates a perfectly negative relationship, and 0 indicates no relationship at all. As a rule of thumb, an r between 0 and 0.09 indicates no correlation at all; an r between 0.1 and 0.3 indicates a small correlation; an r between 0.3 and 0.5 indicates a medium correlation; and an r between 0.5 and 1 indicates a large correlation. The same rules apply for negative numbers (between 0 and -0.09 means no correlation, and so on).

Here are the four "r" coefficients for the RTSS data:

Rtss_r_table_medium

Before I dive in, I want to talk about how rink bias affects these results. John Fischer over at In Lou We Trust did a marvelous job of looking at the RTSS stats at home and on the road for each team, and found that there were significant differences between the two totals. This would imply that the data reported by the NHL is skewed by the home scorer's definition of what constitutes a giveaway, hit, etc. However, I don't think the problem is that serious, as teams do in fact play very differently on the road, which would lead to significantly different totals between the two venues. And while there might still be a bias for some teams once you control for the differences in home and road play, it most likely is not enough to overcome the complete lack of a relationship in most of the variables. 

With that out of the way, the first conclusion is pretty simple: hits, giveaways, and takeaways have no relationship to winning. Coaches who lament that their team isn't being physical enough, turning the puck over too often, or not stealing the puck off the opponent's stick are missing the big picture. They might say this because it makes for a good story line in the media, or because it's convenient to be able to sum up your team's problems in one, short sentence. However, if your team is losing, they're doing something wrong (or just getting unlucky), but it has nothing to do with hits, giveaways, or takeaways. These statistics are, at best, a means to an end, and focusing on their improvement as the solution to your problems is analogous to treating the symptoms instead of curing the disease. 

The "r" coefficient for blocked shots was unique in that it demonstrated a strong relationship with regard to winning. The negative sign means that the more blocked shots a team was racking up, the less points they were earning in the standings. This makes intuitive sense as well, as a team that is blocking a ton of shots must be playing in their own end quite a bit. The opposing team thus has the time and space to fire a lot of pucks at the net, which means that you're likely losing the puck possession battle and a lot of games in the long run. These stats show that particular trend. 

I think the next logical step is to apply these findings to individual players. Players that excel in takeaways (Pavel Datsyuk) or hits (Brooks Orpik) aren't bad investments because they have a lot of other valuable tools in their skill set. However, going after players only because they're really good at blocking shots, laying out hits, or taking the puck away isn't a wise decision. These skills don't correlate with team success in the long run, and since that's the whole point of playing the game, a team's money could be better spent elsewhere. 

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