Using Hockey’s Advanced Stats for Fun and Profit
In the beginning, there was Moneyball. Actually, advanced statistics were used to analyze sports long before Billy Beane showed up in Oakland, but the success he had with the Athletics – and the popularity of Michael Lewis’ book – paved the way for a new generation of handicappers and stat nerds to make money betting on sports.
Some sports have taken longer to adopt these methods. Hockey is one of the last major sports to climb on board, and that’s partly because of tradition, but mostly because hockey is more difficult to boil down to numbers. However, over the past decade, analysts have developed some very useful metrics that we can use to do a better job of handicapping hockey games. Let’s get to know some of these tools and how to use them.
If you’re a dedicated puckhead of a certain age, you might remember Jim Corsi, one of the goaltenders on the 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers – Wayne Gretzky’s first NHL team. Corsi finished up his career in Europe before becoming the goaltending coach of the Buffalo Sabres in 2001. He moved to the St. Louis Blues last year, but it was in Buffalo where Corsi developed the metric that bears his name.
Corsi (the stat) is a plus-minus metric that covers how many shots were directed at the two nets in even-strength situations. Not just shots on goal, but any puck fired at the net, even if it missed completely or was blocked before reaching the goaltender. Corsi can be used as a single-player or a team stat; as we go to press, the Chicago Blackhawks lead the league with a 55.2% Corsi, and the Sabres are last at 37.6% (per Hockey Reference).
Similar to Corsi, Fenwick (named after Battle of Alberta blogger Matt Fenwick) takes into account the plus-minus of shots directed at the net, but blocked shots aren’t part of the equation because of the specific skill involved in blocking. This time, the New York Islanders nudge ahead of the Blackhawks for first in Fenwick at 55.0%. Buffalo is still in last at 38.5%.
This is a simple and very handy tool that shows how often a team starts a play in the offensive zone, and how often it starts in its own end. It’s always better to be near the other team’s net and not yours. Once again, Chicago is on top at 55.2% oZS, with Buffalo bringing up the rear at 41.8%.
This might all seem obvious at first blush. The Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the NHL, and the Sabres are dead last. But you can use these advanced stats to help you identify undervalued and overvalued teams. For example, the Washington Capitals are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 28-16-6, but they’re above 51% in all three of these stats, helping them beat the NHL odds at 28-26 ATS. Now all we need is an advanced stat for Teeth Lost.