A lot of stats gurus are very high on the Blackhawks, and rightfully so. They’re a team that emphasizes possession heavily, and their defense is really good at suppressing shots. If you had to pick a team right now that’s the model of what a sabermetrics guru would design, would it be the Blackhawks, or would it be another team?
I would select whichever team was in the city where my interview was being published. :)
But seriously, yes, from top to bottom the Chicago Blackhawks are a great example of how a blind adherent to statistics would build a team. They’re an excellent and well-disciplined possession team with a roster full of players capable of taking on tough minutes. The only deviation is investing big money long-term in a goaltender who is not proven to be among the league’s elite.
There are a couple of players on the Blackhawks that I would like to focus on here, and one of them is Marian Hossa. When Hawks fans see him, they see a ton of goals and a willingness to backcheck aggressively. As a dispassionate observer, do you agree with that assessment, and what do the numbers tell you about his game?
Looking strictly at the numbers, a dispassionate statistician would currently describe Marian Hossa as an offensive-minded winger who remains strong (though non-physical) in his own end. He’s a highly consistent top-six scorer with a track record of success on the top power play unit and the second penalty kill. Best of all, his possession numbers are truly exceptional, even relative to his outstanding teammates.
What else? He’s well-disciplined, a proven post-season performer, and can even occasionally chip in on the shootout. The only real concern with Hossa is the inevitable decline that may soon affect the 35-year-old Slovakian.
Another player I’m interested to get your opinion on is Jonathan Toews. He won the Selke in 2013 as the league’s best defensive forward, but a lot of stats gurus tend to pick Patrice Bergeron or Anze Kopitar over Toews when it comes to defense. Do you think he’s overrated in that area?
Defensive play is notoriously difficult to achieve with analytics, which places Toews anywhere from great to elite, depending on an individual’s interpretation of the available data.
To me, Toews is an almost incomparably effective possession-based player, and easily one of the league’s top five faceoff men. That means his opponents simply don’t have the puck when he’s on the ice, and therefore don’t pose much of a threat. In fact, being such a strong scoring threat in his own right reduces opposition scoring that much more. Add it up, and Selke case can always be made for Toews. Does it even matter if a stronger one can sometimes be made for Bergeron?