There is an age-old adage in all sports which states “a team who makes the fewest mistakes in a game will likely win.” However, for all the advanced statistics available in sports management, there exists a surprisingly large void in this area. This appears to be especially true in professional hockey. We think this is due to either a flawed philosophy of how the construction of teams results in the winning and/or losing of games or a perceived difficulty in the meaningful quantification of the impact of errors on outcomes. The multiplicative effects of two negatives has a positive outcome in mathematics; we have also found this to be true in hockey.

As a result, we devised two metrics; we have termed the first one the Bracton Score “Bracton”, and the second the “Advanced Bracton Score.” The “Bracton” numerically calculates the positive or negative contribution of a player to his team vis a vis mistakes taken or generated via the penalty assessment process. The Bracton, can also be used when aggregating the ability of an entire team to generate more mistakes form its opponent than it commits. In formulating the “Bracton,” we used the following assumptions about hockey in general to deduce a numerical conclusion.

  1. If the only differentiator in a game pitting world class athletes against one another is the combination of skill, intelligence, and the desire to win, can these intangibles be measured?
  2. We believe that through an analysis of the process of taking and drawing penalties, we can partially arbiter these intangibles. How?
  3. We assume that players are most often only desperate enough to gain some extra-rule advantage when opposing players are either working for the puck, are demonstrating superior skill, or making intelligent decisions on or off the puck. Conversely, the players that consistently take minor penalties are the ones who are either slower, are being outplayed, are out of position, consistently playing outside the system of the coaching staff, or worse yet….playing injured. These situations only arise due to an asymmetry of skill, intelligence, desire, injury or a combination of all four.
  4. When a team either takes or draws a penalty, the difference between goals produced and goals allowed is far higher in both directions. Therefore, players who possess a positive “Bracton” allow for an additive contribution to the success or failure of a team.
  5. Players that generate penalties, even if they are normally not on the power play unit, maximize ice time for the assumedly most skilled star players who are on the power play unit. Conversely, and most significantly, players who take more penalties than they draw maximize ice time for opposing premier players. This is because 5×4/60 minutes is much higher than 5×5/60 minutes and of course saves goals by NOT taking penalties 4×5/60 minutes.
  6. The gap, in the aggregate, for a team over the course of a season is somewhat correlated and predictive to rank in the overall standings.
  7. We are working on uncovering whether players that tend to possess high Bracton scores also remain on NHL rosters for longer than those that do not.

We recognize that this seems obvious. However, if that were so apparent, we ask why has not a metric such as the “Bracton” been either advanced, widely reported, or become a mainstay in hockey for decades, not just in the dawning era of Moneyball in hockey?

While the “Bracton” is a powerful metric, if not somewhat a priori, we understand that it only provides a springboard to its more highly correlated predictive brethren; the Advanced Bracton (AB) Score. In this statistic, we have culled various data points related to retrospectively positive or negative outcomes within the play of hockey games, aggregated for a season (in this case 2014-2015). We have added these to the Bracton score to uncover an even more meaningful quantification of whether a hockey player impacts his team positively or negatively. Unlike the Bracton, these results are in no way obvious even though for season hockey enthusiasts and managements they may be intuitive. For example, for someone to say “I knew Pavel Datsyuk was a good player, but I didn’t really know how good relative to the rest of the league” the AB successfully measures ostensible intangibles that appear to relate to what we term “unscored goals at the margin (UGM).”

By mathematically deducing the contribution of a player toward UGM, we can assign an actual value (or in many cases a negative value) players have toward the overall team performance. With respect to Datsyuk, he scores among the league best AB at 6.93. To us, we believe that in addition to the goals and assists produced by Datsuyk, he was responsible for another 6.93 goals UGM for Detroit that neither he nor DET scored directly, but avoided by either limiting mistakes or being “in the right place at the right time with the right mindset,” to borrow a tenet of eastern religious thought. In this regard, to earn a 6.93, Datsyuk undoubtedly had his head in the game, played hard the majority of his shifts, and played within the system employed by Detroit. As such he is what the sports community terms a “character player.” A character player is not only someone who plays with heart, guts, pugnacity and truculence (to borrow another hockey idiom), but if he is someone who provides UGM, he is actually worth paying to play hockey.

In contrast to success stories like Datsyuk, we were QUITE surprised at just how many players in the NHL not only produced negative UGM but should not even be playing in the NHL at all. By virtue of their presence, negative Advanced Bracton players take away UGM and actually cost goals, wins, points in the standings and above all, strike the salary cap with detrimental returns on investment. Without naming names (yet), we found there to be about 170 athletes who should not be professional hockey players and about 50 who are perceived as stars, are paid as such, but actually do not help their respective teams win games! THIS IS THE VALUE OF THE ADVANCED BRACTON SCORE.

It is plain that there are some teams in the NHL that use a metric similar to the AB in constructing their teams. Chicago, the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay and possibly Minnesota and Washington are the most notable examples. Of the teams in the middle of the pack, we noted that even if they had several high UGM players, their success was muted if they had several in the lowest quintile (e.g., Detroit, Ottawa, Anaheim, Boston and LA). Finally, the worst teams in the league are literally LOADED with negative UGM Advanced Bracton players with few or no players to counteract them at the top (i.e., Toronto, Buffalo, Phoenix, New Jersey, San Jose and Philadelphia). How could general managements in these cities have so many guys with such low ABs? Do they not value character or have they not known how to measure it (until now)?

From a general management philosophical standpoint, we believe that teams who have adopted / will adopt the Advanced Bracton method of team construction will enjoy more playoff success and longevity than teams who do not as demonstrated in the 2014-2015 season.

We will be writing a plethora of articles based on the data we have compiled. Given the high correlation between the Advanced Bracton and winning hockey games, the offseason moves can be analyzed within this framework to determine which teams have or will improve for 2015-2016.


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