By Colby Cosh - Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
It’s tough to score when the goalies fill up the entire net
There is one thing about the game of hockey that has not changed since before hockey was hockey. It is an axiom older than the six-a-side game, older than the division into three periods, older than even Lord Stanley’s cup. It is there in the official rules of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, created in 1886 to select a national champion: goals are to be “six feet wide and four feet high . . . unless otherwise agreed.” One hundred and twenty-seven years later, those are still the official dimensions of the goal wherever hockey is played, from Hamilton to Hong Kong.
But the goalies did not, alas, stay the same size in the meantime. Many of you can probably name the starting goaltenders for any postwar year of the Original Six NHL: in 1960, they were Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall, Harry Lumley, Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk and Lorne “Gump” Worsley. None of these men was above six feet, and the Gumper was five foot seven. By contrast, the first six goalies taken in the 2012 NHL entry draft average six foot three, and the league already features galoots like the Senators’ six-foot-seven Ben Bishop and Tampa Bay’s six-foot-six Anders Lindback. The Oilers have a six-foot-ﬁve starter, Devan Dubnyk, and just traded for a six-foot-seven AHL goalie, Niko Hovinen.
As anyone who has seen footage of a 1985 NHL game since 1985 will be aware, the equipment goalies wear has grown in tandem with the men who play the position. It is a shock to see the tiny and ill-protected goaltenders in old games that are, for some, fresher in the mind than 2009. Efforts to rein in egregious advantage-taking have been semi-successful, but the arms race is unrelenting. For a while, goalies were adopting taller leg pads, threatening to deny shooters the “five-hole” between the legs altogether. The league has adopted a maximum pad height in response, but it has to be adjusted for each player: taller guys do have taller legs. Unfortunately, that may just create an incentive to invest in taller legs. You think six foot six is tall? Just wait.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 9:28 AM - 0 Comments
Phil Birnbaum, who along with “Tom Tango” is probably one of Canada’s two great gifts to quantitative analysis in sports, has been studying the NHL over the past few weeks. It was only after a second or third reading of his series breaking down luck versus skill in the NHL standings that I was able to really grasp what he was saying. I’m a fluent speaker of basic stats-ese, but not a native. Phil is a pretty approachable explainer of things (including some of the things devised by Tango), so usually I don’t have to bash myself over the head too hard with his findings. But I didn’t see how interesting the message was until now.
Probably all hockey fans know instinctively that the introduction of the shootout has injected a fair amount of randomness into the year-end NHL standings. Birnbaum, looking at the shootout-era data, has now shown just how much. In the old NHL that still had ties, it took an average of 36 NHL games for a team’s actual talent to become as important to its standings position as sheer randomness. “Talent” is defined here as repeatable ability, ability relevant to prediction: after 36 games, your team’s distance in the standings from .500 would be about half luck and half “talent”, and that would be reflected in your guess as to how they would do in the next 36 games (assuming nothing else about the team had changed). Over a full season, we could be confident that there was little randomness left in the ordering of the teams in the league table.
But in the new post-ties NHL, Birnbaum notes, the standard deviation of standings points has shrunk from about .2 per game to .15. Continue…