How can we directly define consistency?
The lovely people at Merriam Webster would define the word as “harmony of conduct or practice with profession”. However, we would be remiss to think consistency is so simply defined; especially in sports terms. As it relates to hockey, we as fans want our players to perform, on a nightly basis, in a manner consistent with their skill level. Better yet, we pray to the hockey gods for their potential.
Whether that means scoring a goal, executing a perfect breakout pass or simply throwing your body in front of a shot: if you have a role, we want to see you carry out those responsibilities consistently.
Personally, I’m a stats guy. We can look at advanced metrics like CORSI — the difference between the number of shots for and shots against while a player is on the ice — or its more complicated cousin Relative CORSI — your CORSI while on the ice subtracted from CORSI off the ice — but they simply don’t paint a clear enough picture of the game’s interactions, series of events, or literally, the action. Advanced statistics continue to evolve in this era, and they improve on a yearly basis, but the masses have yet to adopt these excellent points of reference.
By that same token, I can watch a game next to a crony and see almost the exact opposite of what they see (especially when that comrade roots for the opposition’s sweater).
What we do have as a tangible asset is an idea of consistency in terms of production. As armchair GMs of all 30 teams create their wish list of the remaining free agents, you better believe the smart ones are projecting production, and how those players relate to seasons past. The New Jersey Devils lost a 30 goal scorer in Zach Parise, How are they to replace that scoring? The same can be said of the Phoenix Coyotes after their loss of Ray Whitney, and likely imminent loss of Shane Doan. And the same can be repeated for the remaining teams.
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Fantasy football season is around the corner, signalling a great time of the year for both myself and soon-to-be frienemies. This season, we are modeling our draft after the popular show The League in an exodus to Atlantic City where, simply put, sin awaits. Typically when doing pre-draft prep, you want to find players who can both consistently stay on the field and produce. Mammoth performances in which a running back or wide receiver ’pops’ are fantastic, but many would rather have the safe bet and stay in the game for the long run. As human beings, risk aversion is well, human nature.
The same theorem can be applied to hockey. In fact, it already is if you play in head-to-head formats on ESPN, Yahoo! or any other reputable website. We want guys both capable to scoring in bunches, and every day. If a top-flight winger scores four goals in a game, owners can rejoice, but with the fleeting hope that the aforementioned skater can pot a goal or two the following week.
Is it really a fantastic feat if it essentially costs you production down the line?
Therefore, in yet another mid-summer experiment with numbers, I calculated the consistency of the top 50 goal scorers during the 2011-2012 season. Take a moment to view the table below, feel free to toggle through the various columns.
|Martin St. Louis||25||49||74||20||38||50|
The first three columns are rather straight forward: goals, assists, points. The next three are dedicated to games with at least a goal (GPWG), games with at least an assist (GPWA), and games with at least one point (GPWP). Again, feel free to toggle through and make some deductions of your own.
When viewing this table, a few things really stand out. For one, Steven Stamkos had a simply amazing season, and if his team even sniffed the playoffs he would have been a lock for the MVP. Registering at least a point in 60 of 82 games is a mammoth accomplishment– he essentially knocks in a point in three of every four games.
We all know Evgeni Malkin had a great year himself, but he does seem somewhat human when you consider Patrik Elias and Phil Kessel produced similarly on a nightly basis. Malkin’s shortcomings in this exercise can be explained by his superhuman ability to rack up the points in single games, but as we witnessed in the playoffs, goal scoring does not necessarily denote winning. We can also cut Malkin a bit of slack due to missing seven games with a knee injury.
Other somewhat interesting trends are Jason Pominville — a model of consistency and perfect choice for the Buffalo Sabres captaincy — producing at an even better rate than advertised while stars like Jamie Benn, Eric Staal, and Scott Hartnell were beneficiaries of above-average, single-night performances. Again, not to discount those feats, but they each went several stretches without a single point.
The two UFAs to make the top 5-0 were obviously Parise and Whitney. Whitney remains one of the more consistent playmakers in the entire league, even in the twilight of his career. Parise, by contrast, posted a very respectable line despite what might have been his most dominant of seasons. These two produced quite consistently, but the remainder of their class left us with less-than-desirable output, and failed to make the cut as top-50 players (weak UFA class, we know).
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In the last entry of useless summer musings we went over variance. As a refresher, we use the term variance as a descriptor for why an elite player steps up in certain scenarios, and not in others. Variance can make a player, who is otherwise a plug, knock in a few points simply because there was a bit of a jump in their step. Or maybe their confidence skyrocketed suddenly. We would never want to discount such a feat as a multi-point game, but chances are that task will be unequivocably difficult to repeat, and it significantly reduces their chances of scoring the next night.
The same can be said of producing on a nightly basis. As fans, we are typically apologists for our stars, stating that they still did the little things right even though they didn’t quite make the box score. We can clamor that they rang a post, or the puck just trickled over the blade of their stick, but the reality is this game of hockey, at the professional level, is as challenging as it is unpredictable making consistency an uncontrollable variable.
Every time your team’s star player knocks in a goal and two assists, understand that there will likely be a few games in a row said player throws up goose eggs. And by that same token, if your top line player is truly elite, he will likely break out following a few games without a goal or assist.
An additional factor to note is the decreased amount of scoring, and how it relates to consistency.
We only evaluated 50 players, which if all parts were equal, would have less than two representatives per team. But in hockey, nothing is necessarily equal and we have offense-heavy clubs like the San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins sporting three of their stars in the mix. And considering the median value of that 50 was only 69 points, a player posting a point in over 50 games is well above average.
The main point we can take away from this exercise is easy — most players paid to score do a pretty good job of it. Obviously players can have bad seasons and fall completely off the map, but of those who are both lauded and criticized, are relatively equal in relation to their peers.
In essence, the difference between a Matt Moulson and Alex Ovechkin could be infuriating to Washington Capitals fans that marvel at their superstar’s former potential, but he remains an elite forward in terms of consistency. Yes, in years past he scored 50+ goals, and he is paid like the best player in the league, but in the end he still gets the job done.
As we search for the crowning definition of consistency in this exercise, but we can now add a certain aire of disappointment to our internal thought process. Is consistency merely staving off disappointment? Or is it finding your zen with professionalism and aplomb?
The tricky physics of regression to the mean, which essentially makes hockey a law of averages, dictates that players aren’t always able to be consistent. That trickle over the blade or shanked shot– that’s regression showing its ugly head. Therefore, is it really possible to find consistency in such a tasking sport?