On the Road Again: A study of NHL rink variation

One of the important background dimensions to comparative baseball statistics is known as “park adjustments,” a set of corrective factors applied to account for the physical differences (e.g., outfield wall depth) between each park. Among American sports today, only Major League Baseball and NASCAR (and golf, I suppose) permit such structural variation between the competitive arenas themselves.

Professional hockey used to be in that group too. More than merely adjusting, adding, and subtracting lines on the ice to affect the flow of play, as the NHL continues to do (cf. the NBA three-point line), the rinks themselves used to be different sizes. League rules mandate a uniform rink size, but so-called “small rinks” persisted in the NHL as late as the 1980s and 1990s in Boston, Chicago, and Buffalo.

While hockey does not face the structural differences present in baseball, there still is a need to apply rink-by-rink statistical adjustments. That’s because the compiling of basic hockey statistics (e.g., shots, hits, turnovers) requires statisticians to make judgment calls to a more significant degree than in a discrete-event sport like baseball.

By way of limited background, the NHL collects basic gameplay statistics through a computer system known as the Real Time Scoring System (RTSS). A benefit of RTSS is that it aggregates and organizes data for analysis by teams, players, and fans. A vulnerability of RTSS is the subjectivity alluded to above that comes when human scorers track a fluid, dynamic sport like hockey.

While others have noted certain biases among the RTSS scorers at different rinks, a paper by Michael Schuckers and Brian Macdonald published earlier this month analyzes those discrepancies across a spread of core statistics and proposes a “Rink Effects” model that aims to do for subjective rink-to-rink differences in hockey scoring what park adjustments do for structural differences between baseball parks.    Continue reading


Hockeytown, Hockey home

joelouisoustideOn Saturday, January 18, 2014, the Detroit Red Wings beat the visiting Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout. It was the best hockey game I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched innumerable Red Wings games over the years, including playoff wins over rivals and Stanley Cup wins. I’ve seen them in person before too, watching them lose to their rivals in Denver, Nashville, and Chicago. (I even saw an intra-squad scrimmage.) This was my favorite game.

It was my first trip to Joe Louis Arena, the historic home of hockey in Detroit for only a little while longer, and everything went perfectly. We stayed in Greektown, where we enjoyed an authentic Greek lunch prior to the game. When we were ready to head to the arena, we took the accurately named People Mover and were there before we knew it.

Once inside, we had time to enjoy the statues of great Red Wings past on a full lap around before finding our great seats, where we watched the team warm up and tried to read all of the banners hanging from the rafters. The experience was extremely satisfying and fulfilling, as was the Little Caesar’s pizza, which is better there than it is anywhere else in the world.



Hockey games are subject to all kinds of random variation, so it was especially wonderful when the game itself matched and then elevated the tenor of the evening. After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings could not kill off successive minor penalties, and the Kings’ power-play goal gave them a 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later, however, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg tied the game with an even-strength goal. That sequence essentially repeated itself in the third period, when the Kings scored a power-play goal with just 2:15 to go in the game. Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall tied the score at two with just twenty-seven seconds to go in the game, sending it to overtime.    Continue reading


ALDLAND is in finals mode . . . NBA and NHL finals that is! Your favorite hosts are here to break down, or at least pay lip service to the championship rounds in both hockey and basketball. And that’s not all. Stay around after finals talk for a quick discussion on the upcoming Vanderbilt-Stanford series in the NCAA baseball tournament. It’s really the most fun you can have listening to a podcast.


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Hockey parlor games

Found this from FiveThirtyEight:

With the Stanley Cup finals set to start tonight, I thought this would be a fun game to play, especially for hockey fans whose teams are done for the season.

For me, the picking went pretty easy, probably because there are lots of good combinations here. I went with Ken Dryden ($2); Lidstrom, my favorite player, potentially overvalued but always undervalued while he played ($5); Chelios ($1); Mr. Hockey ($5); Super Mario ($4); and John Bucyk, never of whom I have heard ($1). (I originally had Shanahan at LW before realizing I needed two defensemen, hence Cheli and Mr. Bucyk.)

FiveThirtyEight offers a team “formed from an advanced stats point of view.” In this case, that mostly means referencing Goals Versus Threshold (“GVT”), a WAR-like statistic that seeks to present “the value of a player, in goals, above what a replacement player would have contributed.” Their picks:

  • Hasek ($4) – “A steal”
  • Orr ($5) – “the difference between his production at his peak … and that of the next-best defenseman is truly massive”
  • Larry Robinson ($2) – “a higher five-year peak [in terms of GVT] than . . . Lidstrom despite” costing less than half as much as Nick
  • Gretzky ($5) – his “production was such a radical outlier that he’ll be worth the price”
  • Jarri Kurri ($1) and Bucyk ($1) – “both Hall of Famers” and “building a top-heavy team with a few stars and a bunch of lesser players is not such a bad thing.

Post your team in the comments below, and cast your predictive vote for the outcome of this year’s Stanley Cup finals right here:

The Hockey is Back: ALDLAND goes live to Joe Louis Arena

Yes, hockey’s been back in season for a few months now. In fact, in terms of games played, the eighty-two-game season already is past the halfway point. With college football done, the NFL effectively over, the NBA continually unwatchable, and college basketball not quite fully warmed up, this is hockey’s time to shine.

It also is time for another ALDLAND field trip. The Detroit Red Wings are my favorite hockey team, and while I’ve been fortunate enough to see them play a handful of times– in Colorado, Nashville, Chicago, and a scrimmage in Grand Rapids— on the road, I’ve never seen them in their famous home, Joe Louis Arena. When I realized last spring that the Joe’s days were numbered, I knew I had to make it there for a game. Thankfully, that time has come.

On Saturday night, Detroit hosts the Los Angeles Kings, the former Western Conference foes’ second meeting in a week. The Red Wings beat the defending champs 3-1 in L.A. last Saturday, and they’ll try for a sweep of the season series this Saturday.

Both teams are sitting in the middle of their respective divisions, but the Kings (28-14-5) have a decidedly better record than the Red Wings (20-16-10). Los Angeles also has the advantage in goal with Jonathan Quick, while Detroit’s recently returned starter, Jimmy Howard, still is finding his legs in the crease.

In general, the Red Wings’ injury report is full of familiar names, making it hard to know how good this team, if healthy, could be. Until its frontline starters return, Detroit has been forced to offer essentially an extended, NHL-level audition to its young prospects. This obviously is not a long-term solution, but it does seem to have infused some new energy into their team as the young players try to make the most of their opportunities on the big stage.


I’ve been to Detroit for baseball games, some of which have been described on this site, but, as stated, never for a hockey game, so I have been soliciting suggestions elsewhere, and I will do the same here from anyone with prior Hockeytown experience. (I’m already planning to start my day with a generous bowl of Detroit Hockey Heroes cereal, but let me know about anything after that.) Please use the comment section below.

Thanks, and go Red Wings!

You can watch the game on your regional Fox Sports Detroit and West channels beginning at 7:00 Eastern, and we’ll have updates here and on twitter.


The NHL is back. Here’s the best thing you can read about it.


ALDLAND is disappointed that we couldn’t bring in our promised special guest for a podcast this week, but rest assured he or she will be on soon for all sorts of fun discussion.  What we do have for our loyal listener(s) is discussion of last week’s Super Bowl, as well as some choice stories from around the sports world.  There’s even some soccer thrown in, for our listeners across the pond.  So just listen already.  And tell your friends.  If you aren’t telling your friends then you are failing in your social obligations.


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The Good Old Hockey Game (via Grantland)

What I miss most about hockey are the different ways things look, and the different ways things sound. There is nothing in sports like walking out into an arena in which everything is dark except for the gleaming sheet of ice below. Nothing sounds quite like the hiss of the blades, and the different sounds of the different tiny detonations — a puck onto a stick, a puck onto the glass, a puck onto the boards, a body into the boards — that make up the action. They are all sharp and varied, like the argumentative calls of exotic crows. What I miss most about hockey are the many ways it is so different from everything else. Everything is so damned vivid. This is, of course, only part of the reason that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needs to be rendered naked, smeared with honey and jam, and dragged behind a Zamboni across an endless field of anthills.

Or something.

I am not even the greatest of hockey fans, but I know this one thing: Outside of NASCAR fans — who are outliers in so many ways, including, alas, which way many of them would have been rooting at Gettysburg — hockey fans have a more intimate relationship with their sport than do any other fans. Their devotion to the game as a game is more enduring than that of most football fans, and it is far less insufferable than that of most baseball fans, the latter of which, I believe, would be content if the games were contested on spreadsheets by columns of inhuman figures. (A large percentage of football fans also prefers to look on the games as columns of figures, most of which end, oddly enough, with “-10,” or “O/U 65.”) In certain parts of the country, like, say, the Boston area, in which I grew up and I live right now, hockey fans follow the collegiate and professional levels with equal fervor — as opposed to basketball fans with their endless, stupid arguments about whether or not the college game is superior to the NBA version — because, in both cases, you’re simply watching hockey, which is all that matters. … Read More

(via Grantland)

Looking ahead to the Stanley Cup finals

And they are. The simple story is that the Kings dominated on defense all year but couldn’t score, losing 2-1 games on their way to an eighth seed in the Western Conference. By adding scorer Jeff Carter late in the season, they finally had a complete (or complete-er) team that could compete on both sides of the ice. The simpler story is that LA is 14-2 in the playoffs and undefeated on the road.

As for New Jersey, they really came out of nowhere from my perspective. I don’t pay the Eastern Conference much mind until the Stanley Cup finals anyway, but the Devils really weren’t on my radar at any point this season, which, as far as the East was concerned, seemed to be all about the Rangers and Flyers, the woes of the Penguins, and the what-if-they-meet-the-NHL’s-own-Coyotes-in-the-finals Florida Panthers, for a series I would have relentlessly hashtagged #catsanddogs.


Brace yourselves, listeners.  ALDLAND’s latest podcast features a very special guest.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so fire up the podcast and find out for yourself who it is.


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