NCHC 2015-16 Returners: Defense

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This is part three in a series on returning 2015-16 NCHC talent. Earlier in the week, we created models to evaluate the relative on-ice performance of goaltenders and forwards. Today, let’s tackle the defenders. But before we do, we need to have a quick discussion about the analysis itself, because this category is always more subjective than the other two.

I picked an image of a talented NCHC defensive player (SCSU’s Ethan Prow) making an offensive move for a reason. Prow is a good two-way guy in a lot of ways, and I’ll show you why we think that in a minute. But when we’re evaluating defensive players in hockey, we tend to conflate their actual defending abilities with their offensive contributions.

Defensemen are the most difficult position to assess in hockey, at all levels. You can evaluate them in the same way you do forwards, but that only tells you who the most offensive-oriented guys are. Trying to determine the most defensive defensemen can be difficult, especially with the lack of data we have at the NCAA level. FOr so long, plus/minus was the standard, but the stats community has come to a consensus that +/- is unreliable and useless. At the NHL level, two-way blue line talent can be looked at through ice time, relative Corsi, player usage charts, etc., (see here, here and here) but we simply don’t have that kind of data in college yet. We’re stuck with shots, shot blocks, faceoffs, goals and assists.

We’ve tried to make do with what we have, knowing that we still need a better way. But in working with the extant data, we can do a pretty good job of evaluating who is helping the team score goals from an offensive perspective, and we might be able to infer some things about who is actually playing good preventative defense. We’ll return to this discussion at the end of the article, because there are a few more preferable indicators of good defense (and they’re not that hard to get at), but it would take some investment from the NCAA and the conferences.

For now, let’s play with the data we’ve got.

Top Losses

NCHC teams lose 18 defenseman in 15-16, whether through graduations or defections. No player will likely be as missed as Denver’s Joey LaLeggia, one of the top five point earners in the league. North Dakota’s Jordan Schmaltz leaves with a year of eligibility, and Nick Mattson graduates – both contributed 20+ points. Colorado College will miss sophomore Jaccob Slavin and senior Peter Stokykewich, who combined for 139 blocked shots last year. WMU’s Kenny Morrison leaves a year early after a relatively fruitful 2014-15, but he certainly could have contributed significantly in the upcoming season. SCSU’s losses of Andrew Proncho and Tim Daly will be felt, too – Daly led the league in blocked shots.

UNO, Miami and Duluth remain relatively unscathed, however, losing only four defensive players between them, and only two who played a full season.

Traditional Analysis

There are 48 returning defenders in the NCHC. As we did for the forwards, let’s look at the top d-men in a few of the more traditional ways – points, blocked shots, and blocks per game.

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NCHC 2015-16 Returners: Forwards

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We’re still a few weeks away from the 2015-16 NCHC season, and the photo above sums up how I feel. I can’t wait for some ol’ fashioned hashtag college hockey. But in the meantime, let’s continue our look at the talent that will be returning to the ice. A couple of days ago, we took a more advanced analytic approach to goaltending in the conference. Today, let’s consider the offensive production side of things – forwards.

Much like with the goalies, Taylor and I have utilized the new data available from College Hockey News to get away from the usual points-goals-assists assessment. With a more complete picture of the shot statistics available, we can get closer to understanding who’s really changing the game with their ice time, and who stands out as the most effective forwards in the league. It’s not a perfect analysis, but it’s better than what was possible less than even a year ago. Progress is good.

So we’ll get there, I promise. But first, let’s take a look at who is not returning this year, and which teams have holes to fill.

Top Losses

Looking only at guys who played in 50% or more of their team’s games, the NCHC loses 27 players. Most heavily hit is undoubtedly Miami, who loses three of the top four point earners in the conference – Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Riley Barber, who is leaving early. St. Cloud’s Jonny Brodzinski also leaves early for the pros, taking 21 goals and 7.9 shots per game (!) with him. North Dakota (Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan) and Western Michigan (Colton Hargrove and Justin Kovacs) both lose a 50-plus-point pair of offensive leaders. Rounding out the top ten, say goodbye to Denver’s Daniel Doremus and Duluth’s Justin Crandall.

Every team lost a few key pieces, however Colorado College and Omaha escape graduation relatively unscathed in the forward department. Most depleted? Arguably Miami, though I could see a case for North Dakota or Denver, too.

Traditional Analysis

Time to evaluate the returning forwards in the NCHC. For the sake of defining the discussion, and because the metrics we’re using are all based on shots, we’re only going to examine those players that took 50 or more shots last season. That will include pretty much everyone in each team’s top three lines, and it eliminates the regular scratches, cleanup lines, etc. This way, we’re more likely to compare apples-to-apples when we start looking at percentages and average performance.

Let’s first take a look at the returning talent in the traditional sense. We know the NCHC lost some big playmakers, but it wasn’t a total turnover. Some teams return a strong core of their point-producing players. Below, I list two metrics that are historically used to evaluate player contributions – points and goals scored.

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NCHC 2015-16 Returners: Goalies

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Oh my god it’s almost college hockey season again. After an exciting second season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, it’s time to gear up for Year Three. Once again, it appears to be a pretty wide-open year thanks to the excellent parity of the conference. So I’m sifting through the rubble of last season to find illustrative statistics on returning players. That way, we can start to get an idea of what to expect from each team this season.

This is part one of a three-part series on returning NCHC talent. We’ll start with goaltenders, arguably the most important position on the ice, with the most potential to change a game. Later, we’ll look at forwards, and then we’ll wrap up with blue liners. All of this should hopefully help inform some predictions for NCHC finishes in 2016.

As in years before, unfortunately, there aren’t as many data points recorded in NCAA hockey as there are in the pros, but last year, College Hockey News starting keeping track of various Corsi event. That’s much more than we’ve had before, and while it’s still not enough to do extensive, accurate analysis of player contributions, it can take us a step further in looking at players.

So in this series, we’ll try to take that one step further. But first, let’s start with the guys not coming back:

Losses

This might be the easiest analysis I do all year. Departed after last year are the two top netminders in the league and two of the top in the nation, as both led their club to the Frozen Four. Zane McIntyre has foregone his senior year at North Dakota after posting a .929% save percentage and 2.05 GAA. In Omaha, Ryan Massa graduated on top with a .939% save percentage and 1.96 GAA. Massa also had the best penalty kill save percentage in the NCHC at .891%. Both these players will be sorely missed by their respective schools.

Also not returning are UNO’s Brock Crossthwaite, Colorado College’s Chase Perry and Western Michigan’s Frank Slubowski. Considering they were all backups who played a combined 29 games with a combined save percentage of .891%, I won’t waste your time.

Returners

NCHC teams will have 12 returning goaltenders this year who saw significant playing time in 2014-15. Six of them could be considered returning starters. Below is a breakdown of each player’s performance in four situations – all icetime, even strength situations, penalty kill situations, and close-game (defined as play when it’s less than a 2-goal game).

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A peck of puny peppers

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For all the effort I put into planting seeds from multiple years and hybrids of peppers, I didn’t get much. I sort of feel like this Onion article right now.

It turned out to be a very poor summer indeed for porch gardening. My pepper plants produced very little compared to year’s past. In fact, none of the plants got much larger than they were in my last post, and the leaves and fruits were all very small and scraggly this year. I got maybe half a dozen jalapenos, and only a handful of Mexican and hybrid peppers, and none of them had any substantial heat.

I think that’s mostly due to the rainy summer. I didn’t realize this before doing a little research, but it turns out that wet conditions are actually fairly counterproductive. Three straight summer months of record rain was bad news for the containers on our porch, even when we tried to protect the plants from getting water logged. Considering we ended up growing more mushrooms than peppers, I’d say I didn’t do so well in that department.

For what it’s worth, my 2014 plants got a little bigger than the 2013 variety, though that may have simply been due to placement and better sunlight. In addition, the hybrid plant produced the largest peppers of the summer, and what appear to be viable seeds! We’ll find out next year, I guess.

The summer wasn’t a total loss though. The few tiny peppers that we did get were very crisp and delicious. Of course, we always have a backup plan, too. The rest of my starters were planted in my mother-in-law’s back yard, and those all turned out some decent peppers (with a bit of heat, too!). With those, we were able to try two new recipes. First, we made a jalapeno raspberry jam with some fresh raspberries we picked at Bellevue Berry Farm. Then there were these beauties:

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Why yes, those are macaroni-and-cheese-stuffed jalapenos (with turkey bacon). The recipe was inspired by a jalapeno popper recipe book my parents gave me last Christmas (many of the recipes, and the book can be found at jalapenomadness.com. Hopefully I can try a few more before the season is out. But for now, I’m closing the book on my 2015 pepper experiment. It’s been fun, but here’s hoping for a more fruitful summer (literally) next year.