Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guest Post from @BurntBoats

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from @burntboats on twitter and you should take the time to read it if you are a BU hockey fan or if you root for another college team and want to become depressed.

If you’ve been following @BurntBoats for any period of time you know by now that possession stats have proven to be a valuable tool when evaluating hockey teams (if you haven’t and you want to learn, tweet at me and I’ll send you links to things written by people smarter than me). Obviously Eichel is a generational talent and comparing what he did to the prior year’s team is beyond unfair, so I have been comparing this season’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines to the prior year’s entire roster on twitter all season, this is my final comparison:

BU 2013-14 possession [5v5 Corsi] (35 games): 44.8%

Now who were the key players from 2013-14 who weren’t on the lines 2-4 in 2014-15?

Half of Baillargeon (Mono)
Half of Ahti (split 14-15 on 1st and 2nd lines)
O’Regan (1st line all of 14-15)
Noonan (graduation)
Half of Rodrigues (split 14-15 on 1st and 2nd lines)
Grzelcyk is a wash as he missed almost half of 2013-14 with an injury and likely spent about half of his 2014-15 with the 1st line.

So this year’s 2nd-4th line lost 3.5 of the best players from last year’s team, they and a handful of role players were replaced by a rotation of four freshman forwards and four more freshman defensemen. This year’s group had the advantage of playing against easier opponents than last year, as this year’s 1st line took up the majority of other teams’ top unit’s ice time. They had the disadvantage of score effects from playing with a lead most of the time, instead of from behind.

All these factors work to somewhat counterbalance each other, my rough educated guess is their net effect on possession is slightly positive, but under 2%.  So if this year BU’s 2nd-4th lines were around 46% that would be equivalent to last year, if they were at 48% that would represent a substantial but reasonable improvement, anything over that would be quite the turnaround.

BU 2014-15 2nd-4th lines possession regular season (32 games): 50.8% (estimate)

6% better Corsi than last year, which to those unfamiliar with advanced stats might not sound that substantial, but it is massive. 6% separated the best team in the NHL from the 20th. So in the NHL 6% is the difference between being in the bottom 10, and being #1.

6% is likely the difference between finishing 9th in Hockey East (which BU did in 13-14) and around 4th (which I think a non-Eichel BU team would’ve done in 14-15)

So what explains this massive jump? To me, every returning BU player besides one, and every incoming freshman besides two met, exceeded, or blew away the reasonable expectations for them entering this season. They didn’t regress or stall, they developed as well as you could have expected or better.

Just a few examples of this, because listing every player on the roster would take way too long:

Ahti Oksanen: Say you assumed his transition to D is smooth, say you assumed he would get to play on a line with Eichel for half the year, and on a PP with him for the full year. With all that a given what is it reasonable to expect him to
produce? 12 goals? 15? 18? He put up 25 goals in 40 games, and 30 goals in 42 games if you count exhibitions (Maine does) no one could have expected him to take that huge leap. And arguably the craziest part of his 6th most goals in the nation is he did it on under 15% shooting. Suggesting he wasn’t even getting lucky with his shots. The kid just improved and produced (and shooooot it-ed).

Doyle Somerby: Comparing his defensive zone play this year to that as a freshman is not fair to him as a freshman. He looked like a completely different player from the start of the season, and not only did he maintain that growth throughout the year, but in the second half of the year he even added an offensive presence both in counterattacking rushes and generating offense while at the blue line. His improvement is hard to quantify in terms of stats, but I would argue it was the largest on the team.

Mike Moran and Chase Phelps: Completely different set of circumstances, one an overage walk on and the other an undrafted kid straight from high school, but the two of these athletes holding down 2/3rds of a solid 4th line, and doing so well enough to hold their spot in the lineup that had more than 12 forwards making a case to play is more than I expected based on what they were doing the year before. Both of them exceeding expectations was the difference between BU having the depth to weather Olsson and Baillargeon’s long absences, and not.

Evan Rodrigues: Going from 5 goals and 14 points to 21 goals (only 3 assisted by Eichel) and 61 points is the single greatest year-over-year statistical improvement in the history of the BU Hockey program. Need I say more?

Grzelcyk, Hohmann, Lane, Hickey, Fortunato, Olsson, all the way down the roster players saw this type of surpassing of expectations. If you want an example for a player not mentioned just tweet it at me.

Now is 50.8% possession great? No. It’s solid, above average, or good, but not great. This is showing a turnaround from last year, not that BU was the deepest team in the nation.

BU 2014-15 2nd-4th lines possession playoffs (8 games): 56.5%

Wait a second, BU’s 2nd-4th lines improved another 6% from regular season to the playoffs (despite facing better teams)? Ok, now that is just absurd. In short order this team went from a 45% possession team last year, to a 57% possession team this postseason. Again for those of you who don’t follow advanced stats, just know that kind of stuff doesn’t happen. That would’ve been the best team in the nation last year, and that’s not even counting Eichel.

There were numerous players who played better at the end of the season than they had during the rest of it which would be needed to fuel this increase (I already mentioned Somerby above), but the couple I most want to point out are:

AJ Greer: The youngest forward in college hockey last year was a rotational player during the season and sometimes looked like the youngest forward in college hockey (in between shifts when he was laying out grown men). During the postseason run that changed, and he nearly doubled his point total on the season during the playoffs, and controlled the play much more even when he wasn’t scoring points.

JJ Piccinich: Also looked like a freshman adjusting to the game at times during the regular season, but his one NCAA tournament game was almost certainly his best game of the year, he looked like a second Matt Lane (which is a high compliment for a freshman bottom 6 forward) out there for almost all of his shifts against UMD, which was possibly the best possession team in the nation entering the tournament. He then capped that off by creating a goal for the actual Matt Lane. Oh and if that wasn’t enough he has a reputation of adjusting to a new league in about 1 season, as he went from 15 points in his first USHL season to 58 in his second, despite playing fewer games.

Robbie Baillargeon: The thing with mono is for many people a portion of the fatigue associated with it lingers for weeks or months after one has otherwise returned to full health. I’m not a doctor, but the way Robbie played in the playoffs have me wondering if that is what he was going through in the month or so after he first returned. After returning from mono he scored 11 points in 11 games that were played after an off day, and only 1 point in 4 times playing in the second game of a back to back (including being a healthy scratch on the last two back to backs of the regular season, so maybe I wasn’t the only one to notice this). By the playoffs it appeared he may have returned to his normal levels as his line with Lane and Olsson carried the play in the playoffs in ways they had not done in regular season.

In case you hadn’t guessed those were the 3 players I highlighted earlier as the only guys on the roster who played frequently who did not reach or surpass expectations during the regular season. I think they made up for it.

One last player who raised his game a when things mattered most was Cason Hohmann, who put up 20 points in 31 regular season games (0.65 points per game) and 11 points in 10 tournament games (1.10ppg, almost double).

BU 2015-16

Many have pointed out how great the start to the turnaround at BU was; many others have opined that it was just Eichel  carrying the same team that was 9th in Hockey East the year before and should he turn pro BU would be in trouble, I think these numbers show that second group of people are misinformed.

When players don’t improve your program is in trouble. When some players improve it’s hard to tell if the coaching staff is setting players up to succeed and only some are taking advantage, or if the coaching staff isn’t able to figure out how to help all of the players. When across the board all players meet and beat their expectations you know the system is working, the coaches can tell what their players need to do to improve, and the players are working hard together to do it, and if that continues any school can be a national power in a matter of years. For a school already with a brand name like BU, they could easily be THE national power in that time. If the trajectory of this program doesn’t get you excited right now you either aren’t paying attention or are a fan of a different school.

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