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Vulgar Statistics: Stereotyping The NHL

04/25/11
by

Upon watching the likes of Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Colgate, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Union, Brown, RPI, and Quinnipiac I realized that on most nights I was watching two teams full of grinders attempting to play hockey.  I couldn’t, for the life of me, pick out a decent goal scorer currently in the NHL that had come out of the ECACHL, though I figured there had to be at least one.  Only recently did I realize…hey…I should actually go and figure that out.

But instead of only caring about NCAA colleges, I figured I might as well mark down where the other top guys came from, whether it was the OHL, WHL, QMJHL, or one of a half dozen leagues overseas.  Then I thought it would be fun to do this for a bunch of different statistical categories (besides just goals) to see if I could prove or disprove the old stereotypes, or maybe find a few new ones.

And here we are…

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Your best friend for this article.

This time I’m going to do something I don’t usually do.  Usually I keep the raw data as simply that, raw.  But today I am going to post the charts that I’m working off of which will encompass some three hundred different NHL players that are in the top fifty in the following seven categories; Goals Scored, PIM, Hits, Plus/Minus, Faceoff Percentage (minimum 300 faceoffs taken), Blocked Shots, and Giveaways.  Don’t worry, I do have a handy little summation of the data that will also be posted.

AND NOW, FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE…

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Holy words Phil won’t let me write!  That was probably completely unnecessary, but I figured a few people might enjoy scrolling through mountains upon mountains of data.  One of these days I will brush up on my HTML and bring my stuff to you in a form that you can copy-paste and play around with yourself.  (Or I’ll get around creating a repository for my spreadsheets online so that people can download them.  If anyone has a site in mind I can use for this, I’ll do it.)   Also, I checked through all the names pretty thoroughly which of course means I probably spelled something wrong.  Anyways, back to the topic at hand:

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Alright, just a little bit of background info.  The rough makeup of the NHL is 53% Canadian, 22% American, and 25% Other.  So far as I have been able to tell the makeup of Minor/Amateur Leagues among NHL players is roughly 58% Canadian Juniors, 26% NCAA, and 17% Other.  This is important because it lets us know if any of the above totals is unusually large or small.  Since I used increments of fifty you can simply double each total to get a percentage.  I’ll just run right down the list.

Goals:

Stereotype – European and Russian players make up a larger percentage of the top goal scorers because they play a more wide open game of hockey overseas.  Bonus stereotype – if you want goals in NCAA hockey, stay away from the ECAC and go to the WCHA.

Reality – Players who grew up playing hockey overseas do tend to make up a significant percentage of the top goal scorers, as do American players at the expense of their Canadian comrades.  While the ECAC isn’t the most barren league when it comes to producing goal scorers, the WCHA is definitely on top.

Thoughts – I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary here and didn’t really get it.  I totally forgot that Erik Cole is a Clarkson alum, and had no idea Matt Moulson was from Cornell, or that David Jones (Dartmouth) even existed.

PIM:

Stereotype – Canadian players commit the most penalties because they fight the most.  European players commit the most minor penalties because of all the nasty stick work that comes out of those leagues.

Reality – Canadians will kick your ass.  Originally, I was also going to track minor penalties, but giving that list a look through, there weren’t very many differences.  The assertion that Europeans commit more minor penalties is at the very least barely noticeable, and at the most complete bunk.  (However they may still tend to commit more stick infractions.)

Thoughts – The only foreign player that logged a ton of penalty time was the despicable Jarkko Ruutu, and even he saw time in North America at Michigan Tech.

Hits:

Stereotype – Them good old Canadian boys love to hit.  Those nasty Europeans and Russians don’t.

Reality – Them good old Canadian boys love to hit.  Those nasty Europeans and Russians don’t.

Thoughts – Not much of interest, this one is pretty cut and dry.

Plus/Minus

Stereotype – Them good old Canadian boys are more defensively responsible.

Reality – Them good old Canadian boys could learn a thing or two from their American and intercontinental teammates.

Thoughts – This one gets even more interesting when you look at the top ten and see only four players that came up through Canadian Junior Leagues, and one of them (Zdeno Chara) is European.

Faceoffs

Stereotype – Them good old Canadian boys are better at the little things that might escape others’ attention.

Reality – Or maybe those studious collegiate Americans are.

Thoughts – This stood out the most to me because as I was going through, I was downright shocked at how many colleges I was seeing.  I have no idea what accounts for this.  If someone has an explanation, I would love to hear it.

Blocked Shots

Stereotype – Them good old Canadian boys are more likely to do physical things like block shots.

Reality – Don Cherry would weep if he saw this.

Thoughts – Another shocker, this one for the sheer numbers from across the pond.  Who would have expected that of all the things that could be encouraged by foreign leagues, that blocking shots would be at the top of the list?

Giveaways

Stereotype – Europeans give the puck away a lot because they try all that fancy stuff.

Reality – It’s only barely true.  In actuality, giveaways don’t really discriminate.

Thoughts – Another one that surprised me.  I thought there would be non-North Americans all over the place because they grow up used to larger ice and more space, and then come to the NHL and have it suddenly taken away.

Final Thoughts:

Unfortunately I don’t have any exposure to European hockey, otherwise it would be nice to see if the visual evidence backs up the statistical evidence of what I’ve just thrown at you.  I definitely think that the different leagues on different continents are prone to different styles of play and I would imagine that has a significant influence on the players they pass on to the NHL, especially the ones that wind up near the top of various statistical categories.  All in all, things are pretty evenly distributed and most of our stereotypes are at best nowhere near as true as we think they are, and at worst completely nonexistent.

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