Kovalchuk and Advanced Stats

Mike Schmidt





There is a significant amount of disagreement regarding the value of certain statistical metrics in the game of hockey today. Some fans and analysts hold these metrics in very high esteem, using them as the basis for their arguments about teams and individual players. Others suggest stats like Corsi and Fenwick are less telling, are manipulated to help support flawed arguments and are generally overrated.


I've found many of the statistics to be helpful in evaluating individual players – especially in my fantasy leagues. When it comes to assigning value to skaters, I believe one statistic stands above the rest. That statistic is PDO.


This stat is simply the sum of shooting percentage plus save percentage. Advanced statistical research suggests shooting percentage and save percentage primarily driven by luck over the long term. Add them together and you have a stat that accurately reflects a player's luck while he's on the ice. Generally speaking, the stat is designed to regress toward 1.000. For a more in-depth explanation of PDO, check out this article from Arctic Ice Hockey.


Let's use this statistic to evaluate one of the game's most talented skaters and (mostly) reliable fantasy assets: New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk.


It has been a little more than two years since the Devils pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade to acquire Kovalchuk.  In September of 2010, the Devils made a significant long-term commitment to the then 27-year-old sniper, signing him to a 15-year, $100 million deal. The price to retain Kovalchuk was steep, but he was seen as one of the game's great offensive talents and a player whose track record suggested he could provide point-per-game production for at least a few more years.


The price of acquiring Kovalchuk's services in one-year fantasy leagues was also extremely high. Entering the 2010-11 campaign, Kovalchuk was coming off draft boards late in the first round or early in the second round. That came as a surprise to no one, considering Kovalchuk had been a point-per-game performer in four out of the previous five years and had scored 27 points in 27 games with the Devils during the previous season.


However, no one could have predicted what would happen next.


Kovalchuk's production dropped significantly in his first full season in New Jersey.  He scored just 31 goals and totaled 60 points, his fewest of each since his rookie campaign of 2001-12. To make matters worse, his plus-minus of -26 was the worst of his career. Simply stated, he was a massive