Ovi for Hart, Part II: Because the Capitals Needed Him

Andre Ringuette

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette

Earlier I wrote about how the Hart Trophy was a poorly defined award of limited value. Now I’ll share why I think Alex Ovechkin absolutely must have it. I’m going to share some stats and rebut some excuses, but the whole thing boils down to this: the Capitals needed the best from Ovechkin, and he delivered it.

But first, I’m going to repeat what we talked about before. This is the most valuable player to his team, not just the best all-around player. If we’re talking best player? I’d say it’s Sidney Crosby. Hands down. But most valuable? And to his team? That’s a more interesting conversation. And now, baby, you’ve got a stew going.

I suppose there are a bunch of ways to measure how valuable a player is to his team, but the most obvious is how much of his team’s offense (sorry, goalies) comes from him. The chart below shows the percentage of total team goals each of our four big names has personally offered.

shares

Despite missing a quarter of the season, Crosby still has had his greasy Canadian fingers in nearly 40% of the Penguins’ league-leading goal tally. Alex Ovechkin isn’t far behind (37.2%), but he also scored more than one-fifth of Washington’s goals, slightly above where Long Island’s John Tavares placed. Jonathan Toews isn’t all that exceptional when it comes to carrying production water for Chicago.

(By the way, Steven Stamkos’s numbers last years were better than all these guys: He had points on 40% of Tampa’s goals and scored 25% of them personally, but no playoffs, no trophy.)

The point here is that a player’s raw numbers– goals and assists– should be considered in context of his team. Washington depends on Alex Ovechkin to produce, and he this year has done exactly that.

The most compelling argument against Ovechkin as “outstanding player” is all about how his slow start to the season doomed him. Those people are right. Alex Ovechkin had just 2 goals through the season’s first 10 games, and his team had just two wins in that same span. I think that’s enough to cost him any chance at league MVP, i.e. the Ted Lindsay– but it just underscores his case as the player most valuable to his team, i.e. the Hart.

This next graph shows how the Caps’ fate has been tied to Alex Ovechkin’s goal production… and how fantastically that has turned out for them.

ovi and wins

The Capitals didn’t win until Alex Ovechkin started scoring. The Capitals couldn’t hit .500 until Ovi cracked .6 goals per game. They’re on the same trajectory here– away from a lottery draft pick and headed towards the postseason. It should be noted that within 10 days after Adam Oates switched him to the right wing and reunited him with the uber-Swede, Nick Backstrom, Ovechkin jumped from 0.36 goals per game to 0.50 goals per game and climbing.

Consistency is a virtue– one that Ovechkin does not possess– but I don’t think it’s critical to the proposition of the Hart. The more important matter is how Alex Ovechkin’s goal scoring (and assisting!) has been critical to the Capitals’ success. The Capitals without a great Ovechkin are not a good hockey team. The Penguins without Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, are still terrifyingly good; they just move less merchandise. It’s your basic Michael Jordan on the Bulls versus Michael Jordan on the Space Jam team scenario– although in my metaphor the Swedish Bugs Bunny is really driving puck possession for MJ.

Another dig on Ovechkin is that his playing in the Southeast Division puts him on the NHL version of the bunny slope. The other four teams in his division rank mostly in the bottom third of teams in shots and goals against. None of them has a save percentage above 90.1%. The Southeast really does stink, and Alex Ovechkin is wafting the fumes. His point production against the SE more than doubles how he does against the Atlantic and Northeast divisions.

Still, I really doubt people are filing the same objections about the Northwest.

Finally, there’s the fancystat argument. Alex Ovechkin’s underlying numbers– particularly in puck possession– just aren’t as strong as his peers.

Fenwick %
Toews 60%
Crosby 57%
Tavares 53%
Ovechkin 49%

Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the group who sees more shot attempts go towards his team’s net than the other guy’s net when playing 5-on-5. We could try to explain that away, but it’s true. I just don’t think it matters. These advanced stats are helpful in estimating how a player may perform in the future independent of variance, but we have actual performance metrics for this season we could use instead. The fact that John Tavares likely won’t shoot 17% next year is immaterial to adjudicating how well he did this year.

Again, I don’t know who will win the Hart, and I think it’s foolish to try to guess how hundreds of pro hockey writers will vote, particularly given the criteria for Hart we’ve heard before. I do know that Alex Ovechkin has a damn good case to win. But so does Sergei Bobrovksy.

In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much. We’ve got the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard, and those guys don’t care about Southeast bias or ZoneStart-adjusted Fenwick Close on turf against left-handed pitchers. And the totality of NHL Awards adds up to exactly shrapnel compared to the real goal of a hockey season: the Stanley Cup.

p.s.

hart lt stanley2

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    good article me, that was way better than doing housework and going to bed on time

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    thanks me, now go to bed, you’re getting loopy

  • Dominic

    You make a great case. Our slow start outlines the reason he should, and shouldn’t win. Interesting point. Maybe a wash?

  • http://twitter.com/dylanwheatley83 dylan wheatley

    how did you know i had a stew going can you see into my apartment through my computer screen

  • Pingback: Ovi for Hart, Part I: The Hart Trophy is Kind of Stupid

  • http://twitter.com/annielockyer Annie Lockyer

    Excellent piece, no copyediting here, and I’m loving the new Pacific Daylight posting schedule. Who’s hours late to the party now, suckas?!

  • Ian

    “Greasy” Canadian fingers, eh? Will see who’s fingers are greasy when the Keystone pipeline dumps a fat load on America.

  • Ian

    “Greasy” Canadian fingers, eh? We’ll see who’s fingers are greasy when the Keystone Pipeline dumps a fat load on America.

  • Ian

    “Greasy” Canadian fingers, eh? We’ll see who’s fingers are greasy when the Keystone Pipeline dumps a fat load on Uncle Sam’s chest.

  • Ian

    “Greasy” Canadian fingers, eh? We’ll see who’s fingers are greasy when the Keystone Pipeline dumps a fat load on ole Uncle Sam’s emaciated chest.

  • Jo

    “Greasy Canadian fingers”, eh? We’ll see who’s fingers are greasy when
    the Keystone Pipeline dumps a fat load on ole Uncle Sam’s emaciated
    chest.

  • JenniferH

    Great article, Peter, but just a tiny typo–3 paragraphs below the graph is this: “and he this year he has done exactly that.” I’m thinking that 1st “he” doesn’t belong there.

  • http://twitter.com/ngreenberg Neil Greenberg

    “Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the group who sees more shot attempts go towards his team’s net than the other guy’s net when playing 5-on-5. We could try to explain that away, but it’s true. I just don’t think it matters.”

    In a vacuum, no, Ovechkin more than makes up in talent what he lacks in puck possession acumen. I’d take four Ovechkin shots vs six Ott shots any day of the week, puck possession be damned!

    However, if we are talking “most valuable to team,” then how much they drive possession matters — we can quibble on how much, but that’s not important here. What IS important when looking at who is “most valuable to their team” is how do their teammates do with and without them.

    Take NYI Tavares for example. His Fenwick is 53%. Those same linemates without him are at less than 46%. When the score is close (within a goal or tied) during even-strength it becomes 57% with vs 44% without. And that’s not the team mind you — those are the same linemates wighted for time on ice. Hard to buy the argument that doesn’t matter.

    Ovechkin is 49%/48% overall and 47%/47% when close.

    Again, we can debate on how much driving play matters, but it does matter, especially when looking at “most valuable to the team.”

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    But when considered retrospectively, that information is redundant to goals and assists (and goals against). Driving play matters in divining how good someone will be, but we have actual goal and point totals for this season.

    (I’m also baking in the idea that an unsustainable shooting percentage shouldn’t be penalized when figuring out who wins these awards.)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/ngreenberg Neil Greenberg

    “Driving play matters in divining how good someone will be, but we have actual goal and point totals for this season.”

    It also shows how good someone WAS in the current season. It isn’t just a forward looking stat. It is also a raw stat just like goals and assists. We can clearly see Player X did a good job of making his linemates better (example: plus-5 shots/60 with/without or 4% better).

    Will that likely continue into the future? Sure, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t or can’t use it as a “here and now” snapshot.

  • http://twitter.com/ngreenberg Neil Greenberg

    “But when considered retrospectively, that information is redundant to goals and assists (and goals against).”

    How so? Ovechkin probably increases his linemates Pts/60 but not their Fenwick%. Those are two different data points. One shows finishing ability, one shows an ability to tilt the ice. I don’t see them as redundant at all.

  • yv

    Good 2-part piece about Hart and Ovi. Hopefully, other writers also understand the difference in MVP definition and read these articles. However, if this association includes Milbury, PMg, Stock and a lot of likewise (there are so much citations of them every day that they might be honorary members of the association) than Ovi’s chances would be slim. This topic is now everywhere and it is amazing how much confusion about it when reading articles and comments to them.

    Regardless, if CBJs likely would be in the playoffs, it seems that Bob would be runaway Hart, especially because Columbus would be considered totally neutral between widely separated this season East and West.

    What is really scary about Ovi for the league is that if to drop first 10 games, which is very reasonable b/c of lockout, new coach, new offensive/defensive systems when Caps were in disadvantage and kindergarten pupils, Ovi’s goal production after that is 0.8 goals per game (28 goals in 35 games) and keep climbing. And when their line is on the ice you can see there desire to have scoring chances in every shift. So sky is a limit.

  • maveric101

    Sorry, but I think it makes more sense to rate players based on how much of a difference they actually made, rather than the difference they should have made.

  • blondinwrx

    winning hockey games is done with goal scoring and not puck possession stats. Is there a #fancystat out there that logs how much momentum ovie brings to his team with a big goal/big hit/beauty dangle? No? Thought so. (by the way, things like that ’tilt the ice”) This game, and how well players play, cannot be reduced to numbers based on shots. While it gives a good indication, it is far from the end all. Considering the amount of NHL teams (I assume all) that keep their OWN stats rather then use the leagues inaccurate numbers, we should all be weary of betting the bank on those. Neil, you told us months ago Washington was a bottom 5 team in the league based on those, and they probably still are – how’s that working for ya? The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding ain’t made with #fancystats

  • http://twitter.com/ngreenberg Neil Greenberg

    “winning hockey games is done with goal scoring and not puck possession stats.”

    I guess those goals just score themselves. No shot generation needed! Just add magic! Sticks of scoring +5! Huzzah!!

    “Neil, you told us months ago Washington was a bottom 5 team in
    the league based on those, and they probably still are – how’s that working for ya?”

    That’s a fact: they are not a good puck possession team. I guess the CAR and WPG swoon was a non-factor in where Caps are now?

  • Rhino40

    Peter:

    Love your selection of metaphors;
    “Greasy Canadian Fingers….”
    “Swedish Bugs Bunny…”
    Kudos for another fine product from our friends at RMNB

  • Rhino40

    And you’re right: The Hart Trophy is Stupid.

  • maveric101

    You seem like you’re just pissy because real-world production isn’t matching your precious, yet incomprehensive, statistics. I wouldn’t be surprised if you masturbate to spreadsheets.

  • http://twitter.com/ngreenberg Neil Greenberg

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if you masturbate to spreadsheets.”

    Nice forum RMNB runs here. I guess when you know you are in over your head the first thought is to launch childish attacks. I get it, If I was trying to win an argument I was intellectually ill equipped for I would probably do the same. But let’s move on and hope you can keep up. I won’t be surprised if you can’t.

    “but I think it makes more sense to rate players based on how much of a difference they actually made, rather than the difference they should have made.”

    OK, so how do you propose to do that? Are all points created equal? Is the fifth goal in a 4-0 game worth the same as a goal that makes it 2-1 with 30 seconds left? Tell me, how do you do what you propose?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    That comment was deleted. C’mon.

  • maveric101

    C’mon, that was a decent joke. Not to mention he has the “offending” sentence quoted in his comment, so are you gonna delete that too?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Yeah, it was kinda borderline. Sorry about that one. It’s kind of a gray area, and it’s not like we don’t have masturbation jokes in articles anyway.

  • maveric101

    I’m sorry if my joke offended you that much, but putting blame on RMNB is kinda lame.

    Anyway, if you’re going to try and win an argument by making claims about your intelligence, you better be pretty darn confident that you’re smarter than the other person. Because while you may know more about the intricacies of hockey, the odds that you’re more intelligent than me are extremely low. I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t need to give you a resume.

    > “Are all points created equal?”

    Are all shots created equal? All this comes down to an issue of practicality and fairness. Of course it’s impractical to consider the relative value of each goal or assist, but you just gotta do the best you can with what you have.

    The bottom line is that point production wins games. If one player’s line puts 2k pucks on net in a season but scores zero goals, did they really make much of a difference? Maybe they deserved to, but they didn’t. Tough luck. It’s not fair to award consolation goals just because someone deserved a few more lucky bounces.

    Possession stats might be a great indicator of potential, but that potential has to be realized in order to make a real difference. Perhaps Ovi is performing above his potential according to your stats, but you can’t fault him for that.

  • maveric101

    Eh, no worries. This is your place after all. Looking forward to more masturbation jokes.

  • HarmCity

    Definitely think Tavares, Bobrovsky, and Ovie should be the final 3 candidates in my opinion, but Ovie is on pace for practically another career year in an 82-game season. Unfortunately I think Sid is going to win it (not that I think that’s right).

    24 hours til puck drop.

  • ChuchutrainLA

    I love how every post on hockey performance turns into a discourse straight from my econometrics class in grad school. #PCGive #RunRegressions

  • blondinwrx

    I didn’t say it wasn’t a fact but riddle me this – why are they winning? Thanks for proving that they all have sticks of scoring, +6.

    C’mon meow, caps are in the playoffs because they beat WPG and CAR? They are winning because they woke the fuck up and traded in their ringette sticks.

    All puck possession stats show are what teams are throwing everything at the net. Hell a team could severely skew this stat by making a small change in their game plan. Caps have shown they can beat those teams. Why? Because they can finish, they are a finesse team that looks for openings and bang bang plays, their goalie doesn’t blow, and their D do a good job of clearing the front and allowing vision. Also, Schultz hasn’t touched the ice.

    I understand you come from baseball and see the matrix when you look at a hockey game, but Keanu Reeves never played ball. Puck possession stats aren’t going to tell me who will win the cup. Nor can they tell me who seeds where, what teams make what round, or even how long the puck was on Team A’s stick throughout the game (one would think this is important to a POSSESSION stat, no?). The beauty of intangibles. The beauty of hockey. The money isn’t in predicting, its in winning. Best way to win? Coach to your players and their behaviours, not numbers.

  • blondinwrx

    only because Neil barges in here and rains on everyones parade “UNSUSTAINABLE!!!!!!!!” CAPS ARE ACTUALLY BAD>>>>>>>>>>>WAIT FOR IT>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>oh.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    “All puck possession stats show are what teams are throwing everything at the net. Hell a team could severely skew this stat by making a small change in their game plan.”

    That’s not really true. Possession is won by shooting and rebounding, not just by putting weak-ass shots on net whenever they can.

    Finishing (aka “shot quality”) is crucial, but it’s not something we’ve seen players control. Most seem to have a natural personal average– and they fluctuate around there.

    Good puck possession teams are way more likely to win the Cup: