From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.


The Road Not Taken | Aug 2012

If shooters are really what we want to celebrate in hockey here, whether in the Rec leagues or the AIHL, each team need only take turns skating through some pylons and shooting at a goalie cutout. The pylons (defensemen) and the cutout (goalies) don't have to move and don't need recognition because they don't factor in the end result. We won't have to pay anyone else but shooters if the Australian game ever goes pro, because the rest don't score goals.

It's absurd, of course, but it's the stark view of what we inadvertently do when we lionize shooters in hockey at the expense of goalies and defensemen. The president of an AIHL club thinks defensemen play defense because they can't score. An AIHL club scores exactly half the goals it had done in its prior season, publicly blaming its defense, not its forwards. The GF is exactly half and the GA is better than the prior season, yet many people who should know better accept the reverse is true. It's a subterfuge for the obsequious. The club makes a scapegoat of defense to conceal the true sources of under-achievement.

If you are going to develop in this sport, you need to know its accounting system, at least enough so that you can sift out disinformation and misinformation that could otherwise seriously demotivate you, and perhaps even derail your development. Hockey accounting is not complex, unlike some other sport. Hockey teams win by scoring more goals than they allow, and these two factors are the only factors that affect winning in hockey. Goals for and against are what matter.

So what's the problem? Problems arise when we lose sight of the fact that goals are both scored (GF) and allowed (GA). Winning games has a nearly linear relationship to goal differential (GF - GA) as shown in the chart (above right). Goal differential by itself explains about 94% of winning, and the remainder seems to be just statistical noise — all other variables seem to simply drive GF or GA.

This means that goals saved and goals scored have the same kind of impact; individual performances are basically additive; and team performances can usually be decomposed statistically into individual contributions. Yes, as shocking as it seems, today's cutting-edge hockey sabermetrics can tell you how much a player contributes to offense and defense. This knowledge has great tactical and strategic value for coaches. Every athlete in every sport should see the 2011 movie Moneyball based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

But there is something else you might find even more surprising. Although goals saved and goals scored have the same kind of impact, they are not of equal "value". Value is all about return on investment. Variation analysis shows that goaltending is about 15% to 20% of hockey, and each of offense and defense are about 40% to 45% of the game. Goal prevention is therefore between 55% and 60% of the game of hockey (excluding the effect of the shootout) — it varies more between teams than goal scoring, and it is more VALUABLE. It is the process in hockey with a greater payback for excellence.

When we can view the game with this kind of intel, we appreciate it quite differently. Let's take penalties, for example. They have an obvious cost — the increased risk of allowing additional goals. But penalties also have the hidden cost of the loss of offense. Most penalties at the elite level (about 85%) do not result in a goal, but they do cost two minutes of offense. Many would blame the penalized player if the game winning goal was allowed during his penalty. Others might say the penalty killers blew it, because most penalties at the elite level end well. Or perhaps the goal was scored on a soft shot that was stoppable by the goaltender.

But the penalized player's role in this is only about 7% (20% of 33%) of a point (see note below). The PK team and goaltender need to be debited with the remainder, which can be separated with more information about the nature of the goal and the roles of positions on the penalty kill.

Does this add to your view of the game? We hope so. Take some time to explore the dynamic chart in 2011 NHL Player Contribution. It ranks every player in the 2011 NHL regular season in terms of their offensive and defensive contributions to team wins — a great graphic representation and demonstration of the points we have made. Hockey is a recipe for chaotic events. Most people struggle to accept this. They don't want to believe that their team's 3-2 upset over the league leaders was a consequence of a couple of good bounces. The preference is to believe that the win came from good execution, or the loss was someone's fault.

Luck doesn't trump skill, strategy and execution, but game outcomes are nonetheless uncertain, influenced by a myriad of factors including skill, strategy and execution. The game is after all played by humans at high speed in tight quarters on an imperfect, slippery surface with a disk made of rubber. We like it that way.

1. Something like 15% of a goal plus 85% of the difference between even handed and short handed scoring rates over two minutes of hockey. A regulation win is worth two points in the NHL, three in the AIHL.

2. Baseball fans may know sabermetrics started with Bill James but others have applied it to hockey. Thank-you to Alan Ryder whose work I have briefly outlined above, knowing I haven't done it justice.

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