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:
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.
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).
Note, I’ve made the executive decision to remove North Dakota’s Cam Johnson. Because he only played in two games and saw 13 shots, his low ice time throws off the analysis of the other players. These players are sorted by total save percentage:
|Team||Year||Player||GP||GAA||All SV%||ES SV%||PK SV%||CL SV%|
This is the traditional way of evaluating goaltending – goals against average, and save percentage. Thanks to the new data, we can also look at even strength, penalty kill and close situations. We get some good information here, and this is not a bad way of evaluating. However, we can take our analysis one step further.
My partner in crime Taylor ran 2014-15 player data through a regression model. What this does is allow us to construct a fictional Average NCHC Goaltender, who is a representation of all NCHC tenders’ play. We know the Average NCHC Goaltender would be expected to have a specific level of play against even strength shots, and a different specific level of play in penalty kill situations. Knowing this, we can compare each individual goaltender against the Average NCHC Goaltender by feeding their specific shots faced in each situation into the model. What comes out is the expected performance for that individual goaltender, and then we compare that with their actual performance, finally landing on a rating against all NCHC goaltenders (which for goalies is represented as a ratio of expected performance to real performance). A rating of 1.00 is equal to that of the Average NCHC Goaltender, whereas anything above that speaks to a better performance (thanks to either skill or luck), and anything lower means a netminder hasn’t been meeting expectations (again, because of either skill or luck).
For example, Ryan Massa faced 724 even-strength shots last season, as well as 128 shots on the penalty kill. Given those same shots, the Average NCHC Goaltender would have given up 71 goals. Massa, however, only gave up 54. He earned a rating of 1.32, which means he performed 32% better (gave up 32% fewer goals) than we would have expected given the shots he faced, making him the top performing goaltender in the league. Zane McIntyre earned a 1.15.
Also keep in mind that this looking at NCHC goaltending in a relative sense. That is, all these guys are fairly high performers in the NCAA, but we’re concerned with their value within the NCHC.
If we apply this model to all returning goaltenders, we get the following:
|Team||Year||Player||ES Shots||PK Shots||Exp. Goals||Actual Goals||Rating|
Considering this data, in which we no longer compare players to each other, but rather to the expectations of the Average NCHC Goaltender, we see a few very clear things. First, there are no true standout goaltenders returning – at least not on the level of McIntyre or Massa. Even the top goalie in this analysis only performed 6% better than the expectations of a 2014-15 NCHC goalie. Granted, when McIntyre and Massa are in your data set, everyone tends to look average. However, we can still see there’s a high level of parity among returning NCHC goaltenders. There’s also a clear delineation between last season’s starters and last season’s backups. The drop-off in rating between Duluth’s Kaskisuo and Duluth’s McNeely is wide.
Essentially, all the returning starters are statistically the same as the 14-15 Average NCHC Goaltender, and all the backups performed significantly under expectations. Given those assumptions, here’s the “top” three returners:
- Evan Cowley (Denver, Jr.) – Cowley wasn’t even starting for Denver at the end of last season, which speaks to the depth of Denver’s goaltending options. Nevertheless, having played in 20 games, Cowley is statistically the best returning goaltender in the NCHC. He holds the top save percentage overall as well as at even strength and on the penalty kill. His 2.16 GAA isn’t to shabby, either.
- Lukas Hafner (W. Michigan, Sr.) – Only three returners performed better than average last year, and Hafner is one of them, having performed 1% better than the average NCHC goaltender according to our analysis. His .928% even strength save percentage is strong, and his .869% penalty kill save percentage is, uh, better than average, but he just barely gets the edge, essentially tied with….
- Jay Williams (Miami, Sr.) – Williams had a league-best GAA of 2.04, but given the shots he had to take, he performed almost exactly how we would expect from an NCHC goaltender, with a rating of 1.01. Likely his GAA got some help from Miami’s strong defense and possession game. This analysis levels the effect of his team – given the shots he faced, Williams did juuuuust better than expect, but no more.
You could make a case Charlie Lindgren and Tanner Jaillet, too, given that there’s probably some small error in this model. I think what’s important is noting that there’s not a superior talent coming back in net this year, and that there’s a clear delineation between who should be starting and who should be backups.
Well, except in the case of Denver. I know Jaillet was getting starts toward the end of their season, and he carried them through to the NCAA Regional Final game where they lost to the eventual national champions. However, if I was Denver’s coaching staff looking at this analysis, I would take a second look at Cowley, who has displayed a slight margin of excellence of Jaillet. But don’t worry, Denver fans, you can’t really go wrong whichever goaltender gets the starts. Lucky you.
We obviously don’t have NCAA stats for incoming goalies or goalies who haven’t played yet, so they’ve been left out of this analysis. But let’s take a look at who’s coming in, and how they performed on their previous team. I’m including UND’s Johnson here:
These stats aren’t apples to apples because the players come from different leagues. In addition, a juniors GAA/SV% doesn’t necessarily translate to the NCAA level. But we can note a few things from this list:
- North Dakota, being one of the teams most in need of a solid starter, has three newcomers to pick from. One of these goaltenders will earn the top spot for UND, and my money is on Tomek, who is already drafted (Flyers), rare for a goalie.
- Meanwhile at UNO, two solid freshman will likely share net time with Kirk Thompson, as Dean Blais likes to shake things up. Either of these guys could prove more effective in net than the junior, who has some work to do in filling the shoes of the departing Ryan Massa. It’ll be an interesting race, and UNO’s season could hinge upon it.
- Colorado College is the other team in need of talent in net, and my guess is one of these guys will challenge Marble for the starting job. Though their junior numbers aren’t really blowing anyone away.
Despite some huge losses for a couple teams, this really isn’t a big year for turnover in net in the NCHC, and there seems to be no standout returning – just a lineup of solid workhorses. Denver, which always seems to have reliable goaltending, can pick from two of the top minders in the conference. Miami, St. Cloud, and Western Michigan are all also returning solid starters. North Dakota needs to fill the gap left by McIntyre, but they’re never want for talent, and they gain a drafted goalie in Matej Tomek.
It would appear the only true intrigue at net this year will be in Omaha and Colorado Springs. My guess is both teams take a committee approach, at least until after New Year’s. In addition, Western Michigan doesn’t appear to have much depth in net, so it’s imperative Lukas Hafner stay healthy.
That’s all for now. Next time we’ll use a similar model to take a look at returning forwards, and those who stand out as top performers might surprise you.