Statistically Speaking – a look at advanced statistics

By Vince Comunale

Advanced statistics have become the rule and not the exception when it comes to today’s NHL. The website has even succumbed to the demand and now features advanced statistics as well. While pioneers such as the late Roger Neilson have been looking at advanced statistics since the 1970’s, statistics beyond shots, saves, goals, and plus/minus really had not been examined in-depth by mainstream media and fans alike until the past few years.

One of the most studied of the advanced statistics is the Corsi stat, which is calculated as follows: (Shots on Goal For + Missed Shots For + Blocked Shots Against) – (Shots on Goal Against + Missed Shots Against + Blocked Shots For).  What this stat is essentially measuring is puck possession. In layman’s terms, Corsi is offensive chances created minus offensive chances surrendered.

An example of an individual player’s Corsi would be as follows:

If Blake Wheeler is on the ice for 11 shots/attempted shots by his team, but he is also on the ice for 10 opposition shots/attempted shots, his Corsi on the night would be +1.

Another very popular statistic amongst NHL stat geeks is Fenwick, which is similar to Corsi, but does not take into account blocked shots.  Fenwick is calculated as follows:

Fenwick For (FF) = On Ice Shots For + On Ice Missed Shots For
Fenwick Against (FA) = On Ice Shots Against + On Ice Missed Shots Against
FF % = FF ÷ (FF + FA)

Using the formula above, let’s say that Evgeni Malkin was on the ice for 10 shots/attempted shots by his team, but two were blocked by players on the opposing team. Further, the opposing team had nine shots/attempted shots while Malkin was on the ice, but three were blocked.  Because Fenwick excludes blocked shots, Malkin’s Fenwick numbers would look like this:

Fenwick For (FF) = 8

Fenwick Against (FA) = 6

Malkin would be a +2 Fenwick (8 – 6 = 2) for the game.

The thought behind using these stats is that plus/minus, goals, and assists are not the most accurate measure of a player’s performance because over the course of a game there are more shots and shot attempts in a game than goals. Therefore, the theory is that the larger sample size of Corsi events is a more accurate reflection of performance than whether a player is on the ice for something like an unlucky bounce off a shin pad that leads to a goal.

To this point, for years many have argued that the plus/minus statistic can be very misleading.  Consider that over the course of his career, Alex Ovechkin has consistently been a minus player. In 2013-14 he finished the season at -35, but nobody questioned who Washington’s best player was that season. Also consider that a player like Ovechkin or Shea Weber, who averages over 20 minutes of icetime a game, is going to have a greater chance of being on the ice for a goal against than a fourth-line player who plays only five minutes a game.

Advanced statistics are not just limited to skaters, goaltenders are also benefitting from the deeper delve into the numbers. Goaltender coaches are using advanced statistics to determine how much rest goaltenders need between games. For example, if a goalie faces 35 shots, that may seem like an above average night of work. However, a deeper look at the numbers might show that the opposing team got 35 shots on net, but they attempted 60, which means that the netminder had to get into position and prepare as if 60 shots were coming towards him. That is 60 times of dropping down and getting back up, as opposed to 35, which is quite a difference.

This type of analysis is helping coaches determine if a goalie should realistically play two games in three nights or be given a day off of practice. The result, at least in theory, has been healthier goaltenders with less wear and tear on their bodies.

While you may not have to be a physicist to be an expert on advanced stats, they are definitely very different from the stats of yesteryear. However, the one stat has remained the most important since the NHL’s inception is wins. While advanced statistics don’t always tell the whole story, teams that study them just might be giving themselves the edge that indirectly leads to more wins.

Vince Comunale is a professional sports writer and occasional contributor to From the Point. He also covers the Penguins and National Hockey League for the Fischler Report and can be seen and heard in a variety of capacities in and around the Pittsburgh sports scene. Follow him on twitter by clicking his name above.