Stanley Cup 2010: Ruminations and Enumerations

After some general observations in Part One of this playoff recap, this time we'll focus a little more on the numbers posted by the new Stanley Cup champions.

The Hawks rolled through four series without ever facing an elimination game (although a miracle in Nashville sure helped). In the manner of a sabermetrician examining Opposition Batting Average, I had a look at the "boxcar" performance of the opposition's top centre in each series against the Hawks. The results are quite astonishing:

GP G A P +-
Jason Arnott 6 2 0 2 -3
Henrik Sedin 6 2 4 6 -4
Joe Thornton 4 0 1 1 -5
Mike Richards 6 1 1 2 -7

Add it all up and those big guns totaled 22 GP, 5-6-11, and a whopping -19 in those four series against Chicago. Quite a contrast to their regular season numbers (306 GP, 99-210-309, +50) and previous playoff results (34 GP, 10-30-40, +7). A point-per-game group whose production was halved against the Hawks, and a group of outscorers who fell into a wormhole to oblivion.

Whatever Joel Quenneville was doing to more-than-neutralize the opposition's top guns, it was working. Doubts were raised on this very site about the effectiveness of that strategy, as scoring-chance data were at times very much at odds with goals-actually-scored data. But whatever mojo Coach Q had going, it persisted right through four series and in fact grew stronger with each one - outscore the opposition's best player by a goal a game and I really like your chances.

The biggest part of the job was assigned to the five-man unit of Ladd-Bolland-Versteeg-Keith-Seabrook, who ranked 1-2-3-4-5 on the Hawks in all three of Behind the Net's Quality of Competition metrics. All but Keith (who cycled right through the line-up) were also near the bottom for Quality of Teammate. Moreover, the group was 2-3-4-5-6 on the club for toughest ZoneStart, with Bolland starting just 28.8% of his end zone faceoffs in the attacking zone. (Fourth liner John Madden became something of an own-zone-second-faceoff-guy specialist, posting an even more extreme OPCT of 26.6% in more limited minutes. Meanwhile every other forward on the team had an OPCT of at least 57% as Quenneville really leaned heavily on the four defensive forwards.)

Things were complicated in the Finals by the injury to Ladd, who missed the first three games before returning on a different line for the last three. The Bolland-Versteeg duo lined up first with Tomas Kopecky, then Dustin Byfuglien, and didn't really miss a beat.

On the boxcars Dave Bolland posted an impressive 22 GP, 8-8-16, +6 while assigned very, very tough minutes. 410 minutes in all, third among Hawks forwards. Own zone minutes many of them, against dangerous foes the likes of Sedin(s), Thornton, Richards. Moreover, Bolland was the Hawks' top penalty killing forward, posting the best GA/60 while scoring two shorties of his own. In the olden dayes of, say, 1 or 2 years ago, the advanced fan would have looked at all those numbers and gone, wow! Nowadays we have the additional nuanced information provided by scoring chances, which along with Corsi and PDO tell us that a significant portion of the success of this group came from "riding the percentages" and converting a much higher percentage of their own chances than the bad guys (which to me at least seems a very positive result). It even seemed to some that Bolland was getting "killed" at times, but somehow - by hook or by crook, by luck or by pluck - he kept coming out ahead on the scoresheet. As did the Hawks.

The trio of Kane-Toews-Byfuglien had a very different lot in life. They had the benefit of very cushy zone starts (a team-softest 78% and 76% for Buf and Kane) against second toughs, but had a much tougher time on the defensive side of the puck. Whether the top trio was allowing better quality of chances on the counter attack, or whether Niemi was alternately Ken Dryden or Dave Dryden depending on which line was in front of him, the top attacking trio of the Hawks had a poor Sv% ON and were lit up for more than their share. Among 15 Hawks forwards who saw action in the postseason, Toews (-1), Kane (-2) and Byfuglien (-4) finished up 12th, 13th, and 15th on the club in +/-.

One area where Toews was vastly superior to Bolland was in the faceoff dot. In the playoffs Toews won 150 more faceoffs than Bolland, and lost 13 fewer (Toews 277/460 = 60.2%; Bolland 127/323 = 39.3%). Now consider how many of those lost Bolland draws must have been own zone faceoffs...

Chicago even-strength points: Kane 16, Sharp 15, Hossa 14, Toews 13, Versteeg 12, Keith 12, Byfuglien 11, Bolland 10, (7 more between 5 and 8). Talk about balanced scoring spread throughout the line-up.

Meanwhile, back on the blue, the tale of the plus/minus tape also yielded ambiguous results. Campbell +11, Hjalmarsson +9, Seabrook +8, Sopel +7, Keith +2, Boynton +2, Hendry -4. Probably the only thing we can all agree on from that list is that Hendry was in over his head. Keith got a lot of the accolades and deservedly so, but the 2-3-4-5 guys on the blue all made solid contributions on the outscoring front. Campbell leading the NHL in +/- is a bit of a surprise, testimony to Quenneville's smart use of him: I note he's a solid 5th in that group in QualComp, but first with a bullet in (offensive) ZoneStarts at 70.6%. Same sort of thing that should have made Byfuglien and Kane plus players, in other words. Plus/minus aside, to my eye Campbell looked real good in the Visnovsky role. Meanwhile the trio of Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Sopel were rock solid. Hats off to Brent Sopel, a middling player who in theory is well past his best before date, but this was the best run of sustained hockey I've ever seen from this guy. Slow, but a battler in the Staios mould ... would give up shots, but very rarely uncontested shots. His steady play allowed the Blackhawks to survive the potentially crippling loss of deadline acquisition Kim Johnsson.

Sopel and Hjalmarsson were 1-2 in SH TOI and both posted superb SH+/- results of < -3 per 60. They were the rocks that every Stanley Cup champion has to have. Last year they were named Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, and next year they won't be named Taylor Chorney and Jason Strudwick. Sigh.

* * * 

That's all I got. Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks, 2010 Stanley Cup champions!

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