We have known for some time that the Canucks management and coaching staff pay attention to advanced statistics, though it’s generally thought that they have their own internal analysis rather than simply using what is publicly available through Vic Ferrari’s timeonice.com and Gabriel Desjardins’ behindthenet.ca.
While Mike Gillis and the rest of his team tend to keep mum on specifics, Gillis talked about the analytical revolution in baseball when he was first hired by the Canucks and about being an unconventional manager, and there have been numerous other hints that indicate that the management team uses some form of advanced statistics. Of course, Gillis has also said that applying sabermetrics to hockey just doesn’t work. How much of that is bluster and how much is true remains to be seen.
On Monday morning, however, we did get a tiny glimpse at one of the numbers that Alain Vigneault uses to judge his players. He was asked a question about Chris Higgins and he briefly talked about scoring chances. While we’ve heard Vigneault mention scoring chances before, he actually got specific in regards to Higgins. Start watching at the 2:46 mark.
I have so many follow-up questions! Why wasn’t I there?
For those who can’t watch the video (reading the blog at work/school?), here’s the pertinent quote:
Chris, in the last couple of games, when we analyse the game and do the scoring chances, he’s been a plus-5 in the last two. He hasn’t found the back of the net, but he’s been part of a lot of offensive scoring chances and they’ve been real responsible defensively, so I like the way that looks.
It’s not much to go on, but we have a number. When it comes to scoring chances, Chris Higgins has been “plus-5 in the last two.” Whether that means he has been plus-5 in each of the last two games or if he is plus-5 in total over the last two games is unknown. It does, however, raise the question of how the Canucks count scoring chances.
Our friends over at Canucks Army, Cam Charron and Thomas Drance, diligently record scoring chance data for every single Canucks game. It’s a thankless task that we at PITB will never, ever do, so we are very grateful for their dedication. Whoops, I guess it’s not a thankless task any more.
In any case, Vigneault’s numbers for Chris Higgins do not come even close to lining up with the scoring chance numbers at Canucks Army for the last two games against the Sabres and Blues. Cam tallied the scoring chances for both those games. Against the Sabres, Higgins was on the ice for 2 scoring chances for and 1 against at even-strength, as well as 1 scoring chance for the Canucks on the powerplay, putting him at a plus-2 total. Against the Blues, he wasn’t quite as good, being on the ice for 2 scoring chances for and 2 against, making him even on the night.
Canucks Army is part of a larger project with a number of other bloggers attempting to tally scoring chance numbers league-wide. While they don’t yet have coverage of every team, they do have a standard definition of a scoring chance:
A chance is counted any time a team directs a shot cleanly on-net from within home-plate. Shots on goal and misses are counted, but blocked shots are not (unless the player who blocks the shot is “acting like a goaltender”). Generally speaking, we are more generous with the boundaries of home-plate if there is dangerous puck movement immediately preceding the scoring chance, or if the scoring chance is screened. If you want to get a visual handle on home-plate, check this image.
The point of this definition is to have a solid, relatively objective idea of what a scoring chance entails, but it appears that the Canucks coaching staff have a different definition. Do they count blocked shots as scoring chances? Do they include opportunities that do not result in a shot at all? Are shots from further out than the “home-plate” used by Canucks Army? We asked Thomas (who also writes here, so he was easy to track down) what he thought might be behind the discrepancy. Here’s what we had to say:
“It’s not surprising that the Canucks in-house tracking would differ from ours. We tend to be pretty strict about shot location. In general, the Canucks spend a lot of their offensive zone-time setting up point shots with traffic in front of the net and looking for tips. Those are types of shots that we wouldn’t count as “scoring chances” but that I’d wager the Canucks would since they clearly look for exactly those sort of opportunities in the offensive end.”
With a broader criteria, Vigneault and his assistant coaches might wind up tracking a number that’s really more akin to shot differential. Thomas observes that the numbers line up with a different metric:
“I’d also note that Chris Higgins’ combined fenwick number in the past two games matches the +5 number cited by Alain Vigneault. That’s a further indication that, perhaps, the Canucks in-house chance tracking casts a somewhat wider net than we do at CanucksArmy.”
This too is possible. Perhaps the Canucks are simply more subjective with their tallying of scoring chances, going by a gut feeling of how “dangerous” an opportunity is.
Whatever the case, I’m officially curious.
Stick-tap to dedicated Bulie, Brosef Stalin, for giving us the heads-up on the video.Tags: Alain Vigneault, Chris Higgins, Statistics