Category Archives: statistics

Second fiddles (usurping first-fiddle status)

(Originally written April 29, 2012 — part of my Great Upload of 2013)

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Cory Schneider’s replacement of Roberto Luongo as Vancouver’s #1 goalie has been all the talk for the past week or so.  But so solely focused was I on a work deadline, that I didn’t even cobble my thoughts in the extraneous minutes of each day, as I normally do.  (Tea-drinking social caterpillar that I am, I don’t spend much time chatting or on coffee breaks.  ;)  )

So, now’s my chance!

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One really feels for Schneider, who put up astounding numbers (1.31 GAA! .960 save percentage!) but got two losses in the three games he appeared in.  It’s a bit like Dominik Hasek’s performance in ’93-’94 (1.61, .950) when the Devils beat his Sabres in seven, in the opening round.  Since Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur went three playoff rounds and only faced twice as many shots as Hasek, you can roughly guesstimate that Hasek was 50% busier than Brodeur each night — and still almost pulled it off.

Schneider’s rise to #1 status triggered a few items in the quirky relational database that is my brain, about understudies making it big.  Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem I Will Survive was actually the B-side of the record, until DJ’s decided it was better than the now-long-forgotten A-side (“Substitute”).  What’s a B-side?  A “throwaway” song which wasn’t good enough to be on the album, so got dumped on the back side of a vinyl record single.  ;)

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A case with more cultural impact was when Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers got eclipsed by their opening act… the Jackson Five (featuring a young Michael Jackson).  Perhaps despairing of ever making it in music, Vancouvers’ co-founder Thomas Chong drifted for awhile before embarking on a series of, ahem, counter-cultural movies with Cheech Marin…

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And on the business side, William Wrigley made baking soda.  His chewing gum started off as a freebie giveaway in baking soda tins, at least until demand for the gum exceeded demand for the baking soda, and he decided to focus on that instead.  (Funnily enough, the baking soda itself had started out as a freebie giveaway with soap, which was Wrigley’s original business before he’d switched to baking soda!  Who knows?  In an alternate universe, “Ivory” might be manufactured by the conglomerate of “Proctor, Gamble & Wrigley”.)

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Moving back to hockey, everyone’s familiar with the freewheeling, “firewagon hockey” the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers played in the 1980’s.  The all-offense all-the-time style was actually brought to North America by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1970’s, back when they were part of the World Hockey Association.  The Jets paired a couple Swedes (Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson) with the aging-but-still-great Bobby Hull, and built their team around the European game.  They won three WHA championships, including the last-ever one in 1979, against an Edmonton Oilers team featuring Wayne Gretzky, which coach / GM Glen Sather was savvily building around the same model.

In a twist, the WHA championship was called the Avco Cup, named after a division of Textron, a conglomerate whose carbon fiber materials division Ballard bought, eleven years ago.  So there’s actually a (very tenuous) Ballard link to all this!  Cool, eh?

[note: I was working for Ballard Power Systems, when I wrote this, primarily for work colleagues]

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).