Blocked shots, hits, and fourth liners: Part 1

Image c/o Amy Irvin

For quite some time now I’ve wondered about the usefulness of blocked shots and hits from a hockey perspective. These two particular statistics would seem to quantify your “energy” and “effort” type of players/teams; something I think is as important in sports as it is in life. Nobody likes to be a part of a team (be it in sports or at work) in which everyone is coasting. I decided to write a two-part series in which I first take a look at the success of teams that excel in blocked shots and hits. That leads me into part two next week in which I take a deeper look into how teams are employing their fourth lines, the line that most typically houses your energy/effort type of players.

In hockey, like in life, I like to question what it is I think I know. I think having “effort” guys is important in the game. I think there’s something to be said for defenseman being nervous and fumbling the puck because there is an aggressive forechecker who he knows is going to hit him. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly and succinctly measure the impact that those players have in that regard. The best that I can think to do is to directly compare blocked shots and hits with team success in the standings.

I’ve always been curious as to whether or not blocked shots and hits directly translated to winning games (or at least appeared that way). In the case of blocked shots, I wonder where is the line between truly having a skill at blocking shots, and simply having more opportunity to do so? Is someone blocking more shots than most because they are particularly good at it, or do they simply have more chances to block shots because they/their team is frequently outplayed and outshot?

To hyperbolize the idea a bit, let’s say your average defenseman (that actually attempts to block shots and not simply avoid them) blocks 5% of all shots his team faces. Nicklas Grossmann, who is someone I genuinely tend to think has an aptitude and skill for blocking shots, blocks 7% of shots. If Grossmann were on a team that allowed very few shots, say 2200 in a full season (I’m using 2011-2012 as a guideline here), he would block 154 shots. Joe Schmo defenseman who isn’t particularly good at blocking shots is on a poor team that allows 2600 shots in a season, and he blocks 5% for 130. That’s not a particularly large disparity between someone who’s genuinely skilled at the task, and someone who just simply has more opportunity; a mere 0.29 blocked shots per game difference (over 82 games).

At the team perspective, are blocked shots a measure of effort and skill or simply being outplayed? When you add hits into the equation, does this percieved level of “effort” equate to wins at all?

I decided to take a look at the 2011-2012, 2013, and 2013-2014 seasons. For each season I wanted to see who were the best (and worst) teams in the league that season and how did they stack up with respect to blocked shots and hits? Conversely, I also wanted to see who were the best (and worst) teams in the league at blocking shots and hits and see where they stood in the league standings.

Full disclaimer: this is nothing more than looking for a correlation, and correlation does not imply causation.

http://xkcd.com/552/

For each chart you will find the team’s total hits, their rank with respect to hits, their total blocked shots, and their rank with respect to blocked shots. I also summed up each team’s rank for hits and blocked shots and then ranked teams based on that as well. (So for example, if a team was #1 in blocked shots, and #3 in hits, they would rank ahead of a team that ranks #3 and #2 (4 vs 5).) I also include the team’s rank in the standings so we can see if there is any obvious correlation with team success.

2013-2014

 

So what do we see here?

I wanted to look at a few things:

Where do the league’s best teams rank in blocked shots and hits?
Where do the league’s worst teams rank in blocked shots and hits?
Where do the league’s best shot blocking/hitting teams reside in the standings?
Where do the league’s worst shot blocking/hitting teams reside in the standings?

Average Bks+Hits for Top 10 in standings = 17.5
Average Bks+Hits for Bottom 10 in standings = 13.4
Average place in standings of Top 10 in Bks+Hits = 18.9
Average place in standings of Bottom 10 in Bks+Hits = 12.6

What does this seem to indicate?

On average, the 10 best teams in the league are worse than the 10 worst teams in the league with respect to blocking shots and hits.

The average place in the standings for the 10 best shot blocking/hitting teams is 18.9, versus 12.6 for the 10 worst shot blocking/hitting teams. If you wanted to take that really literally, you would argue it’s better to be near the bottom of the league in blocked shots/hits.

Let’s look at the other seasons.

2012-2013

 

Average Bks+Hits for Top 10 in standings = 13.3
Average Bks+Hits for Bottom 10 in standings = 18.4
Average place in standings of Top 10 in Bks+Hits = 14.8
Average place in standings of Bottom 10 in Bks+Hits = 18.3

In last year’s shortened season, there was a more positive correlation between winning and blocked shots/hits; albeit not by much. All of those numbers are right in the middle of the pack.

The Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks ranked 27th in the league in blocked shots + hits.

2011-2012

 

Average Bks+Hits for Top 10 in standings = 18.9
Average Bks+Hits for Bottom 10 in standings = 11.9
Average place in standings of Top 10 in Bks+Hits = 19.6
Average place in standings of Bottom 10 in Bks+Hits = 11.1

In 2011-2012, we are back to a negative correlation between winning and blocked shots/hits. The teams at the bottom of the list in blocked shots/hits were higher in the standings than the teams at the top of the list, on average.

The Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings ranked 19th in the league in blocked shots + hits.

So what does it all mean?

This admittedly small sample of numbers does seem to indicate that there is no correlation between winning and blocked shots and hits. In fact, the teams that blocked more shots and hit more tended to do worse than the teams that blocked shots and hit the least.

Next week, I want to dive into this topic a bit further and apply it to teams’ fourth lines. Do the league’s most successful teams employ “grinder” types more prone to providing blocked shots and hits, or more skilled players?