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Using microstats to analyze the Flyers’ forwards

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Some microstats have a macro effect...

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The use of microstats in hockey analysis has been a growing trend over the past few seasons, and thanks to CJ Turtoro’s study, we now have a direct link tying certain microstats to future results.

If you’re a long time reader of Broad Street Hockey you’re probably familiar with the term microstats and what the individual statistics mean, but if you’re not, here’s a very quick rundown of the main things that will be discussed in today’s piece:

Shot Contributions

  • Shots /60: a player’s individual shot attempts per 60 minutes
  • sA1 /60: the number of primary shot assists a player makes per 60 minutes
  • sA2 /60: the number of secondary shot assists a player makes per 60 minutes
  • sA3 /60: the numbers of tertiary shot assists a player makes per 60 minutes
  • Shot contributions /60: the total number of all contributions listed above per 60 minutes

Zone Entries

  • Possession entries /60: the number of zone entries where the attacking player maintains control of the puck per 60 minutes
  • Possession entry %: the percent of zone entries where the attacking player maintains control of the puck
  • Dump-in /60: the number of zone entries where the attacking player throws the puck into the zone with the intent to retrieve it soon after per 60 minutes; an uncontrolled entry
  • Dump-in %: the percent of zone entries where the attacking player throws the puck into the zone with the intent to retrieve it soon after

Zone Exits

  • Possession exits /60: the number of zone exits where the puck carrier maintains control of the puck per 60 minutes
  • Possession exit %: the percent of zone exits where the puck carrier maintains control of the puck per 60 minutes

Predictability

Turtoro found that Corsi is still a better predictor of future success for forwards, while transition stats may be the future of evaluating defensemen. That’s not to say Corsi is suddenly irrelevant for defenders, rather that there may be a better way to predict future success.

So wait, why are we talking about forwards then? In short, just because the data has not outperformed existing metrics does not make it insignificant. In fact, he found that shot contributions were especially relevant in predicting future success of Flyers skaters. Why specifically the Flyers and not the NHL in general? The way they play. Not every team plays the same way as the Flyers do, so not every team will see the exact same predictability in each stat.

For the Flyers, possession exits /60 and xGF% were found to be the most predictive of future GF% when compared to other microstats and on-ice metrics, and shot contributions /60 were the most predictive of future xGF%. Shot contributions were also shown to be a good predictor of future CF%, CF/60, and xGF/60.

Shot Contributions - Who Stands Out?

Claude Giroux. I know, I know, incredibly surprising. Giroux ranked first on the team and 57th among forwards league-wide in shot contributions with 29.88 sC/60. The 102-point scorer saw a slight increase to his total shot contributions thanks to his willingness to shoot the puck more than he had done during his ‘16-17 campaign, and was second on the Flyers to only Jakub Voracek in primary shot assists /60. His teammates, and linemates at times, Voracek (29.62) and Travis Konecny (27.78) join him at the top of the Flyers’ list, but number four is where things get really interesting. Enter Nolan Patrick.

Lone forward that didn’t fit on the page (15th) was Dale Weise
CJ’s Tableau

Patrick’s 25.26 sC/60 ranks fourth on the Flyers and puts him in the 66th percentile across the league, right there with the likes of Tyler Johnson and Filip Forsberg. For a player who had such a dreadful start to his rookie season due to lingering effects of off-season surgery and an early season injury that was likely a concussion - although it was never confirmed to be - it’s incredibly impressive to see him contribute to the team’s shots basically at the same rate that Sean Couturier did, despite struggling to positively impact the game through the first two and half months of the season. If that’s what he can do in his age-19 season while under those circumstances, I’m not sure if any of us are truly prepared for what Patrick is capable of after his first healthy off-season in three years.

Something that shot contributions also bring to light is the question of whether Taylor Leier was more of a passenger on the “Honey Bees” line, benefiting from his linemates in Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton, or if he had been a driving force behind the line’s terrific shot differentials. His beating out only Dale Weise in contributions certainly points towards the former being closer to the truth, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call him just a passenger on the line - that feels a bit harsh - he certainly wasn’t why the line was as successful as they were. Speaking of Laughton, it’s notable that he’s right there with Patrick and Couturier as well. We’re big proponents of Laughton getting another shot at third line center this season and this just gives us another reason to believe in him.

Transition Play

This is where Konecny and Voracek really shine. As the Flyers’ two best forwards at exits and their two best skaters overall at entries, these two are consistently getting the Flyers out of trouble in their own end and putting them on the attack. Keep in mind that Turtoro found that zone exits are more predictive of on-ice metrics than zone entries, with the reverse being true for predicting relative stats.

Zone entries are more repeatable than any of the other statistics discussed here, including shot metrics, and the Flyers have one of the best at it in Konecny. His 16.05 possession entries /60 put him in the 98th percentile in the league, and was good enough for 14th overall. He also led all Flyers skaters with a 69.3 carry-in % and was second to only Voracek in total carry-ins for the season. The ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone is an important skill for a forward to have, as carrying the puck into the zone directly leads to more shots being taken, and Konecny continuing to do so at such a high rate will directly lead to the Flyers scoring more goals, and winning more games.

CJ’s Tableau | Corey’s Patreon

Voracek is at his best when he’s entering the zone, averaging 13.81 possession entries /60, but it’s his ability to exit the defensive zone with control that sets him apart from any other Flyers’ forward. Last season he exited the zone with possession at a rate of 11.2 per 60 minutes, good enough for 36th in the league, and was one of four Flyers forwards to have a possession exit % above 50. Voracek also received more exit passes than any other Flyer, meaning that not only was he carrying the puck out of the zone himself at a high rate, he was making himself available for others to pass out of the zone to. It goes without saying that he had the most defensive touches on the team and that his impact in this area of the game in unmatched by any other Flyers forward. Well, except maybe Konecny.

While Voracek led the team in exits per 60, it was Konecny who had the best possession exit % on the Flyers at 56.8 and only failed to exit the zone an impressive 12.7 percent of the time. A surprising feat for a player who’s been demoted and healthy scratched in the past, on the basis of turnovers and not being “safe” enough with the puck. The reliable, veteran players like Valtteri Filppula (18.8%), Simmonds (18.2%), and Lehtera (16.8%) all failed to exit the zone and turned the puck over more than Konecny did last season. What I’m getting at here is that Konecny is a key cog in the Flyers’ neutral zone game and allowing him to make mistakes, which he rarely even does by comparison, is overwhelmingly worth it given all of the benefits that he gives you. There is no good reason for him to be getting benched at the end of games, and I’d even go as far as to argue that he should be relied on to get the team out of their own end in those late game situations. Exits and entries are what he does best.

Giroux, Matt Read (small sample size), and Wayne Simmonds round out the rest of the top-5 in exits per 60, but the most troubling position among the Flyers’ fifteen forwards is Patrick sitting all the way down at fourteenth, second from the bottom. Only Jori Lehtera exited the zone with possession less than Patrick, and only Weise had a higher fail percentage than Patrick. That’s clearly not great company to see him with. The good news is that he’ll probably improve in this area of the game, and he’s nowhere near as poor at zone entries. In fact, he’s one of the Flyers that dumped the puck into the zone the least last season per 60 minutes.

Leier, the opposite of Patrick, may have been the most “dump and chase” player in the league last season. His dump-in per 60 rate was beat by only Daniel Carr, whose sample size isn’t large enough anyway, and Leier’s dump-in % was the highest in the league. Maybe he’s being told to play that way as a fourth liner, or maybe he’s just not very good at carrying the puck into the zone. Either way it’s likely led to the Flyers’ losing possession of the puck in situations where they really shouldn’t have.

Conclusion

The point of microstats is not to replace on-ice metrics, rather enhance the way we evaluate players. They allow us to take a closer look and see if a player’s on-ice differentials were due to uncontrollable effects, at least uncontrollable to the players themselves, like linemates or the inherent randomness of the game. Looking at you, 2016-17 Dale Weise. Understanding the importance of each of these skills and how they translate to future success may prove to be a crucial element of any player evaluation.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when we will be taking a look at the team’s defensemen under the same microscope.

Data tracked by Corey Sznajder, visualizations courtesy of CJ Turtoro