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The Gretzky Index

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A quantitative approach to filling out the Oilers’ all-time lineup

Sports Contributor Archive 2020 Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when a bunch of people were filling out their all-time lineups on twitter?

I vaguely do. So, I thought I’d get in touch with my early quarantine-days nostalgia, and do that myself. But, I’m not going to fill it out based on my opinion, because, who the hell am I? And who the hell cares about my opinions?

Instead, I’m going to make up a stat, out of the clear blue sky, and pretend that it’s the be-all end-all.

I call this stat the Gretzky Index, and it’s made up of two components:

Points Above Threshold: A stat that I created this season, and wrote about in this article, as a means of establishing a standard of production that is comparable across eras, as well as one that rewards maintaining a high level of play, throughout a long tenure, but against a threshold of average production, to avoid giving too much credit to guys whose main accomplishment is sticking around forever, rather than truly excelling. It was devised as a measure of setting a quantitative baseline for considering forwards’ Hall of Fame cases.

The formula is era adjusted points (via Hockey Reference), minus games played divided by two.

adj pts - (GP/2) = Points Above Threshold (PAT)

example 60 adjusted points (similar to scoring 60 points in 2019-20) in 70 games played:

60 - (70/2) = 60-35 = 25 PAT.

Points Shares per 82 Games: This is a rate stat that is derived by dividing Hockey Reference’s catch-all statistic Points Shares by games played. Then, of course, multiplying by 82, although that’s just done to make the figures look like full season Point Share values, the only thing we’re actually using in this calculation is the rate at which player accumulates Point Shares. Point Shares are used, rather than more sophisticated catch-all metrics, because they can be calculated for historical seasons, whereas most newer WAR-type stats aren’t available for seasons in the 80s and 90s.

The Gretzky Index: Wayne Gretzky is the all-time leader in basically everything. So, the Gretzky index is used to tell how close another player’s production was/is to what Gretzky’s was, by comparing the other player’s production in the two stats above to Gretzky’s. Gretzky has a score of 100 on the Gretzky index, everyone else’s score is lower, but higher is better. Theoretically, if someone were to outproduce Gretzky’s rates in the two stats above, they could achieve a score over 100.

I plan on writing a few articles in this series, and, for reasons that I’ll get into later, players’ Gretzky indices will change, depending on the a sample of data that we’re using for Gretzky, to determine how to make a 100 point score. In this article, I will be looking exclusively at stats that were compiled by players as an Oiler. So, all of the Gretzky stats will be from his 1979-1988 tenure as an Oiler, in the NHL.

The formula for the Gretzky Index is:

((player’s PAT/Gretzky’s PAT)*50) + ((player’s PS per Game/Gretzky’s PS per Game)*50)

Players with long, successful tenures in Edmonton should produce high PAT totals, while players with brilliant (though possibly short-lived) peaks in Edmonton, should have impressive PS per Game numbers.

Also, it’s worth noting, that although Point Shares can be used for comparing forwards to defenders, PAT is simply based on offensive production, so a good Gretzky Index score for a blueliner is lower than a good score for a forward.

Here are the Oilers’ top 15 Gretzky Index scores, in franchise history:

And, here’s what an all-time Oilers lineup would look like, if it was decided purely based on the Gretzky Index:

1C: Wayne Gretzky

1LW: Mark Messier

1RW: Jarri Kurri

2C: Connor McDavid

2LW: Taylor Hall

2RW: Glenn Anderson

3C: Leon Draisaitl

3LW: Ryan Smyth

3RW: Jordan Eberle

4C: Doug Weight

4LW: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

4RW: Ales Hemsky

Defensemen: Paul Coffey, Chris Pronger, Lubomir Visnovski, Roman Hamrlik, Janne Niinimaa, and Marc-Andre Bergeron

Not a bad lineup, especially up front. The Bergeron selection is the one that caught me off guard the most. For what it’s worth, he barely beat out Risto Siltanen and Ryan Whitney.

I put much less effort into goaltending, but here’s a list of the Oilers’ all-time leaders in Hockey Reference’s (Goals Against % -), which is a measure of goal rate allowed, versus what a league average goalie would be expected to allow against the same number of shots. 100 indicates league average play, and lower is better. A GA%- of 95, for example, indicates that a goalie has been 5% better than league average.

Based on this, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr are my goaltenders.

Next week, I’m going to use the Gretzky Index to pick the NHL’s all-time lineup.