This piece was going to start with something about how fall is here and evoke images of pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice lattes but there’s a thread on the board about hockey practice jerseys that has double-digit comments so let’s get to the point; it’s almost hockey season. Also, you’re probably envisioning pumpkin pie or a pumpkin spice latte now anyway so mission: accomplished.
Twenty two days remain before the puck drops on the 2013-14 season, and even though it might seem like a good time to do a season preview* I’m not done writing about last year. There are two things that I could write about ad infinitum; applying advanced stats to college hockey and what went wrong during the 2012-13 season.This might as well be a Sports Illustrated expose because there just isn’t going to be a smoking gun that alerts us to the singular reason behind the 2012-13 collapse, but with advanced stats in the fold there are new ways to look at what happened.
I recently read about applying baseball’s quality start statistic to goaltenders (you can read more here and here). A lot of blame was heaped on Michigan’s trio of netminders last season, and while some of it may have been understandably levied I still believe that an unwarranted amount of criticism was given to the guys between the pipes and not enough was placed on those standing in front of them.
Quality starts are worth looking at because they are highly correlated with winning. At the NHL level, a team wins 77.5% of the games in which their goaltender recorded a quality start. There are, of course, some flaws to the statistics. First and foremost, there’s still not a good way to control for a poor defensive team. If a team gives up lots of breakaways and odd-man rushes then the goaltender’s save percentage is still likely to suffer. At the same time, quality starts are useful from a consistency standpoint. If a goalie fluctuates between shutting out teams and blowing up and allowing five goals then they typically won’t record as many quality starts as a goalie who consistently goes out and allows two or three goals per game.
A goaltender is awarded a quality start if they 1.) start a game and 2.) have a save percentage that is above the league average (or, in this case, above the DI average). In the context of a portion of a season we aren’t going to escape the problem of small sample size, but there are some nuances to what happened last year that we can glean from the stats available. As you can imagine save percentage and quality starts are closely linked. Steven Racine’s 89.9% save percent wasn’t exactly a revelation, but at the same time his improvement over the season did get Michigan within one game of another NCAA Tournament berth. This is where not just quality saves but the associated statistics become worth investigating and discussing.
A cheap win occurs when a goaltender records a save percent below the DI average but his team wins anyway. Conversely, a tough loss (or wasted quality start) is granted if a goaltender has a save percentage at or above the DI average but his team loses.
[QS= Quality Start, NQS= Non-Quality Start, CW= Cheap Win, WQS= Wasted Quality Start]
Steven Racine’s 2012-13 stats are featured in the table above. We’re going to look at his starts because he’s the only goalie on Michigan’s roster that started more than 15 games, and 15 starts was the cutoff for having one’s save percentage counted towards the DI national average. The DI national average turned out to be 90.2%, with 76 goaltenders being included in the calculation. As a quick aside, three of Adam Janecyk’s nine starts were quality starts and three of Jared Rutledge’s nine starts were quality starts. Having only 33.3% of your starts qualify as quality starts is just bad; the NHL standards at Hockey Prospectus state that a quality start percentage of 40% or below is considered very poor.
Racine fared better than his counterparts, with 12 QS out of his 22 starts. That means that 54.5% of Racine’s starts were quality starts, putting him relatively close to the 60% QS that Hockey Prospectus considers elite. While Racine’s QS numbers weren’t all obtained during the team’s nine game win streak that put them in the CCHA Championship game he definitely had a statistically better latter half of the season. Racine recorded five QS in his first twelve starts and seven QS is his last ten. Again, it’s hard to tell whether the shift from 41.6% of starts being QS to 70% of starts being QS is due to Racine settling in and adapting to the speed and angles of the college game or whether it’s because the team defense buckled down and started, like, defending but there’s no question that the increase in QS% was huge.
Five cheap wins in 22 starts means that 22.7% of the time Racine started in net he didn’t have a SV% that was at or above the DI average, with three of those cheap wins coming after the team’s nine game win streak started on February 22nd. That doesn’t surprise me that much, as you’d expect that a Michigan goalie is going to get some cheap wins when the offense is ranked seventh in the nation in goals per game.
Only two of Racine’s 22 starts were wasted quality starts, which is also indicative of having a good offense; in only 9% of his starts did Racine or the team perform well defensively only to watch the game slip away because they couldn’t put the puck in the net.
Tl;dr. What’s your point?
Michigan’s goaltending wasn’t as bad as it may have seemed, with 54.5% of Steven Racine’s starts being quality starts. The percent may seem low until you find out that having a 60% QS% is considered elite in the NHL. If Michigan can get their forwards to backcheck and forecheck and if the defense corps isn’t a punch of pylons or rovers then the 2013-14 season should go better than 2012-13.
While there are some obvious flaws to the QS stat, it should be interesting to track over multiple seasons. There will always be the huge caveat of shot quality being untrackable, but it’s definitely a better (and both more nuanced and interesting) stat than *shudder* wins.
*If you are looking for a season preview then perhaps ordering Hail to Hoops and Hockey would be a good idea. You get an actual preview from Brian, as well as an article by me about what went wrong last season. Wait, what do you mean there’s a theme to what I write?