With the advent of advanced statistics in sports over the past few decades, the way we consume sports has changed. Evaluating teams and players has become more and more mathematical and objective. The opinions you form from what you see on the field of play can be either validated or debunked by countless new age stats. That does not mean the “eye test” is now useless. Statistics are notoriously fickle especially when the sample size is small.
From just watching this year’s iteration of the Florida Panthers you would come to the conclusion that the team is terrible. Here is what the eye test has told me about this year’s Panthers: they struggle on offense but have shown the ability to manufacture goals without a big time scoring threat. Their offense is somewhere from slightly below average to bottom of the NHL although, with the man advantage the Panthers’ have been slightly above average. Defense is by far the team’s biggest issue. They have a tendency to fall behind early, their goaltenders have played poorly all season and their penalty kill is useless.
According to the standings, the Panthers are the worst team in the NHL. From what I have seen, the Panthers deserve that spot due to their poor defense and goaltending combined with an offensive lacking the fire-power to overcome their defensive deficiencies. The question I want to examine, is do the advanced stats back up these assumptions?
Through April 22nd the Panthers rank dead last in the NHL with a 962 PDO in 5 on 5 situations. This is the sum of the Panthers’ shooting percentage and save percentage in 5 on 5 situations. Over a full season it is expected that PDO will usually settle on the mean of 1000 so any number above would indicate that a team or player is benefiting from some luck and will probably regress while a number under 1000 usually points to bad luck.
I think PDO is a better measure of individual players than it is for teams because a team with a very low PDO is not necessarily unlucky, they may just have bad goalies or an offensive that cannot create good scoring chances and instead settles for low percentage shots. The Panthers save percentage in 5 on 5 situations is 90.39 good for 29th in the NHL. Their 5 on 5 shot percentage is 5.84 which ranks last in the NHL. These numbers tell us a couple of things. First the poor save percentage is a result of bad goaltending and poor defense, something we do not need stats to make us aware of. The low shooting percentage is probably due to a combination of bad luck and taking bad shots. Part of the Panthers offense involves taking shots from anywhere on the ice hoping for rebounds and tip-ins so it makes sense that Florida would have the lowest shooting percentage in the league. That being said, a 5.84 shooting percentage cannot be entirely attributed to taking low percentage shots, I think luck definitely plays a role.
Florida’s league low 962 PDO at first glance points to the conclusion that the Panthers have been incredibly unlucky this year but when you look closer it becomes clear that while there may have been some bad luck involved, Florida’s poor goaltending and low percentage shots also played a large role.
Face Off Zone %
The Florida Panthers led the NHL with the lowest percentage of face-offs in their defensive zone. Only 27.4% of their 5 on 5 face offs came in their defensive zone. The next four teams were New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Carolina. So does this mean anything? There are some elite teams and some not so elite teams in the top five so I would guess that this stat is not a huge indicator of success. Even so, taking less face-offs in your own end can only be a good thing right?
It is worth noting that Florida ranks 8th in offensive zone face-off percent 33.7% of their 5 on 5 face-offs coming in the offensive zone. This could be a result of their low save percentage and low shooting percentage meaning many of the Panthers’ shots are saved resulting in a lot of offensive zone face-offs while many of the opponent’s shots are goals resulting in less defensive zone face-offs.
The Panthers rank 19th in Corsi For/game at 52.5 (which is the total number of shots (on net, missed or blocked) the Panthers take per game) and rank 14th in Corsi Against/game with 54.6. The Panthers’ Corsi For % is 49.0 which ranks 18th in the league. This means the Panthers have taken 49% of the shots in their games this season while other teams have taken 51%. Corsi tells us a lot about possession and the Panthers seem to be a middle of the road team according to the Corsi numbers.
Advanced stats in hockey are definitely still in their beginning stages. Going through the Panthers stats made me realize that there is still a ways to go in perfecting these numbers. I think these numbers are more useful when looking at individual players because there are too many factors at play when they are used for entire teams.
The biggest conclusion I can take from these numbers is that the Panthers are an average team in terms of possession and producing shots and their poor record is mainly due to a combinations of bad luck, bad goaltending and bad shot selection.
So do the advanced stats back up the Panthers’ record? I would say for the most part, yes. The low PDO seems to be indicative of bad goaltending and poor shooting rather than indicative of bad luck. The face-off zone numbers are a bit weird but are understandable when you think about their shooting and save percentages.
Overall I am not convinced by what these stats have to offer. They certainly make you consider hockey from different perspectives but am I ready to convert to the Church of Corsi? I think no.