Fun with (hockey) statistics

(Originally written March 5, 2012 — part of my Great Upload of 2013)

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Steve Stamkos got his 50th goal of the season last night, in his 69th game — a phenomenal achievement obscured by this low-scoring era.  Putting one’s statistics cap on, one can do a few quick comparisons to see how this compares to hockey’s better-known goal-scoring records: Wayne Gretzky’s 50 goals in 39 games in ’81-’82, and Rocket Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games in ’44-’45.

Eyeballing the NHL stats, it looks like there are roughly 5.4 goals per game this season.  Gretzky scored his 50 goals before New Year Eve’s 1981, in a season in which the average game had 8.02 goals.  So goals were “only” 2/3 as difficult to score in that season.  This is how “relatively easy” goals were to come by that year — Dave Lumley, one of the Oilers’ goons, scored 32 goals that season doing part-time “protection duty” on Gretzky’s line.  Heck, the year before, Canucks’ enforcer Tiger Williams scored 35!  ;)

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Stamkos

In very broad terms, all other things being equal (which they’re not, but for the purposes of this email let’s assume they are!) one would expect that if Stamkos played this season thirty years ago, he’d’ve reached 50 goals in about:

69 games * (5.4 / 8.02) = 46 games

Which is impressive.  He’d’ve made it into hockey’s hallowed “50 in 50” club!

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The Rocket

Moving on to the Rocket, Richard did “50 in 50” in a season where there were an average 7.35 goals.  All other things being equal, Stamkos’ scoring rate this year suggests that if transported back to that season, he’d’ve hit his 50 goals in:

69 games * (5.4 / 7.35) = 51 games

Pretty darned close!  So, though Stamkos’ achievement looks modest compared to the inflated totals of earlier years, it’s truly history-worthy.

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The one place where today’s low-scoring era will advantage Stamkos — providing he can stay healthy, and play on half-decent teams — is that he’ll have a heck of a lot of game-winning goals by career’s end.  When there were 7 to 8 goals per game, you had maybe a 1/8 or 1/9 chance of scoring a game-winning goal.  (Back then, there were ties.)  If there are 5 to 6 goals per game, even with shootouts, there’s a much better chance that the goals you do score, wind up as game-winners.

Such scoring-era factors explain why, of Gretzky’s 894 career goals, only 91 were game-winners: he played most of his career in a “firewagon hockey” age.  Meanwhile, the recently-retired Sergei Federov, playing in today’s “Dead Puck” era, scored 93 game-winners, despite having about half of Gretzky’s career total (483).

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