Reviewing The Preview - Hockey Prospectus 2011-12

The 2011-12 season preview from the guys at Hockey Prospectus was made available in pdf form a few days ago. As their tagline suggests, the book is essential reading for anyone who reads and believes in the so called 'advanced statistics.' In exchange for information on the New York Rangers' scoring chances data and general information about the team, editor Timo Seppa was generous enough to provide me with a copy. With his permission, I'm going to review a few of the many, many tidbits of stats and information the book provides.

For those unfamiliar with their work, the player evaluations and projections are based on a system they developed named VUKOTA.  As they explain in their introduction:

VUKOTA, fundamentally, is an individual player projection system, not a team system, and thus it projects statistics that can be considered individual, such as goals, assists, save percentage, and GVT. It doesn’t attempt to project statistics such as plus-minus and goaltender wins that are more of a team than a player result.

Because of the aspects of hockey that exist in neither baseball nor basketball, such as variable ice time and special teams, VUKOTA relies more on interpolation and less on exact player comparables. For example, in order to project a player like Kris Letang, VUKOTA will utilize a large pool of historically comparable players—say, all defensemen who played the entire season between ages 23 and 24—and see how they fared the next season, then adjust Letang’ numbers depending on where he fits on that curve. Mathematically, it’s a combination of comparable player selection and multi-variable linear regression.

After the jump, we'll look at a couple of those projections.

For starters, as was also released today via ESPN Insider (subscription required), the VUKOTA system projects the Rangers as the 4th best team in the NHL, with a 98 point total that trails only the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and Chicago Blackhawks. That point total, only 5 points more than the 93 the Rangers achieved last year, may seem low for such a lofty league position, but they explain further:

...all 30 teams project between 81 points (Minnesota) and 107 points (Washington).... There is still a significant amount of luck involved even over the course of an entire season of hockey. Even if we are right that 81 points is the Wild’s "true talent", this just means that they will likely finish somewhere between 71 and 91 points.... Some team will end up at 70 points or below, as is the case almost every season, but this will be because they underachieved. Similarly, for some team the stars will align and they will obtain over 110 points. We can’t tell you who it will be, but we can tell you who it’s likely to be.

Perhaps my favorite section in the entire book comes with an essay from Timo that introduces a metric called 'Core Age.'  Here it is defined:

Core Age is simply the sum of each skater’s age times his value in Goals Versus Threshold divided by the sum of the GVTs of the team. Bingo, you get a weighted average age for each team—the age of their core players—that tosses out all of their strategically meaningless replacement-level players and counts each skater more, the better he is.

It's a simple metric, but very concisely shows the youth movement that has occurred under the John Tortorella regime:

Core Age League Rank
2008-09 27.5 12
2009-10 26.8 14
2010-11 25.8 7

The data is also charted against the skaters' GVT, creating a BCG-type matrix which shows that the Rangers are not only getting younger, but better at the same time, a strong recipe for sustained future success.

Finally, there's a lengthy preview of the Rangers' upcoming season, including projections and writes up for all of the Rangers' players. Examples of those are available on the download page, linked again here. The topics for the Rangers season include the acquisition of Brad Richards (naturally), the development of the youth, the workload of Henrik Lundqvist, and the witnessing of a new and improved John Tortorella.

The most notable standout for me in the player section is Derek Stepan. While I discussed why Stepan could take a step back this year, VUKOTA pegs him as the 3rd highest scorer on the team with almost 55 points, trailing only Richards and Marian Gaborik, and decimal points ahead of Brandon Dubinsky (although Dubinsky's PPG is projected higher). Here's Timo's take on him:

Stepan looks like the real deal: the right mix of puck skills, creativity, and hockey smarts to be an exceptional player. The only question is how the former Badger fares when he’s given more two-way responsibility.

Those are just some quick glances at what the book offers us as Rangers fans.  I strongly recommend the mere $10 minus a dime cost for anyone who wants to not only learn more about the Rangers, but all teams in the league, and the various statistical advancements that are improving by the day.  Get the pdf now, or if you prefer, keep checking back to their site, as the paperback version should be available in the coming days.