ESPN: Los Angeles Kings a Leader in Analytics

Dustin brown Kings Captain
Despite pedestrian traditional statistics, Dustin Brown leads all Kings forwards in iCorsi. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)

Without question, the Los Angeles Kings have been able to turn it on during the playoffs over the last three seasons — big time. There’s something about the roster, systems and other constructs that sets them apart in the postseason. I’ve written about this very issue in the recent past, as it’s held true for three years running: the Kings were built for the playoffs.

But what is it? There’s no simple answer, because winning a championship involves corralling an array of moving parts, not to mention having the bounces go the right way. However, there’s an X-factor Dean Lombardi and company embrace more than all but a handful of teams, one which may very well help put them over the top. According to a recent ESPN article entitled “The Great Analytics Rankings”, the Kings are one of the most prolific users of analytics in the NHL.

What are analytics?

Simply put, analytics are a myriad of advanced statistics designed to better determine how well players and teams perform on the ice outside of the traditional measurements of goals, assists, and +/-.

Most reading this piece will have either seen Moneyball or read the Michael Lewis book. Despite having one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, the Oakland A’s managed to compete against much bigger spenders in large part because they were an early proponent of Sabermetrics. After making what appeared to be bizarre roster decisions based on a reliance upon advanced statistics, Billy Beane was considered crazy by many, including his own manager. However, the A’s subsequent success laid the foundation for future utilization of analytics.

Major league baseball was the first sports league to begin utilizing non-traditional statistics in day-to-day franchise operations, and even there, it’s still not uniformly employed. The NHL is even further behind the curve. Per a Hockey News interview with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Kyle Dubas:

“Hockey is where baseball was more than two decades ago, where you had a few guys doing really good work and everyone trying to play catch up. In terms of which stats are most valuable – we’re still getting there. The team possession metrics have proven over the last number of years to pretty closely predict who the best teams are going to be in the long run.”

The NHL has recently added Corsi and Fenwick to its website.

Corsi and Fenwick

The two primary possession measurements utilized in advanced statistics are Corsi and Fenwick. The definitions of each metric are as follows:


Corsi is essentially a plus-minus statistic that measures shot attempts. A player receives a plus for any shot attempt (on net, missed, or blocked) that his team directs at the opponent’s net, and a minus for any shot attempt against his own net. A proxy for possession.


Fenwick follows the same concept as Corsi, but doesn’t include blocked shots. Fenwick is considered to have better predictive value for future goal differential than Corsi. The removal of blocked shots is also valuable since blocked shots are a proven skill worthy of being separated.

The Kings and analytics

Per the ESPN piece, Los Angeles is placed within the ‘believers’ category, ranked in the same camp as Boston, Buffalo, Columbus and Edmonton. Granted, none of the last three have managed much on-ice success in recent years. That being said, all three are in different stages of adaptation and as said earlier, it’s just one of many factors.

The Blackhawks were the only franchise categorized as ‘all-in’ with respect to analytics.

What did the article have to say about the Kings?

General manager Dean Lombardi isn’t afraid to utilize data to get an edge. That his Kings have been the NHL’s puck-possession powerhouse — the team has led the league during the past four seasons in Corsi for percentage at 55.7 percent — suggests as much.

“I’m all for it,” he said, with one caveat. “I’ve never made a decision on that alone.”

Lombardi is a mix of old school and new, but he’s exhaustive in his research to find ways to improve the team.

In addition to other pursuits, the Kings also have dabbled in injury analytics to figure out the mathematical likelihood of re-injury before investing in players long-term.

All in all, the defending Stanley Cup champions are right near the very top of the NHL in utilizing analytics.

The NHL franchises slow to adopt advanced statistics

Not every team has embraced the concept of making decisions based upon advanced statistics. The ESPN article considered Anaheim, the Rangers and Ottawa ‘skeptics’, with Colorado shuttled into the ‘unbelievers’ category.

Colorado’s ranking was made crystal clear:

Patrick Roy doesn't appear to be a believer in analytics. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Patrick Roy doesn’t appear to be a believer in analytics. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Avalanche haven’t tried to hide their decision to essentially ignore analytics — even when their decision-making is in line with advanced stats.

When coach Patrick Roy started pulling his goalie early, at a rate that suggested he was following analytics that promoted that kind of aggressive strategy, he quickly shot it down. “I never look at statistics,” he said. “Just go with the feelings.”

Despite their talented forwards, the Avalanche aren’t a good possession team (their 44.2 Corsi for percentage is better than only the lowly Sabres’ rate this season), and have made no moves to address it. If anything, their transactions have made it worse.

“They could be being coy,” said a Western Conference executive about Colorado’s anti-analytics stance. “But it doesn’t seem like they’re being coy.”

The future of analytics

Despite the disparate usage of advanced statistics throughout the league, Sabermetrics is here to stay. The success the Kings have had in assembling dominant puck possession teams and winning two out of the last three championships will only accelerate its usage going forward.

It may not be the panacea for success and will never replace talent, coaching or even good fortune, but the Kings are drawing an analytics road map for every other team to follow. On second thought, scratch the Avs. They seem to be too busy going with the feeling.

8 thoughts on “ESPN: Los Angeles Kings a Leader in Analytics”

  1. Well, Richards was more like the second to last piece, not the person who turned the franchise around. Also, Sutter is actually a big believer in the values behind the analytics. If you play a certain way, with certain kinds of players, it should lead to succcess, AND be reflected in high analytic values. He is one of the few couaches who doesn’t toss out the tired cliche of “we needed to work hardewr/give more effort” every time they lose. More often than not he says things like “We needed to play smarter/stop making turnovers/get more shots on net while having guys there for rebounds and deflections.” it’s been a pleasure watching him coach this team.

  2. Oh God, another blogger who has never played the game pushing the nerd stats as something useful. Sorry geeks, this isn’t baseball. Hockey isn’t played on percentages. It’s played on talent and smarts. There isn’t a formula out there that can calculate that.

    This is all you need to know about nerd stats. If a team has good nerd stats, but fails to win games, they are unlucky. If a team has bad nerd stats, but still wins games, they are lucky. Sorry, but that’s not how proven, irrefutable stats work. There is only one stat that matters; wins. It doesn’t matter what your corsi stat is, if you finish the playoffs with 16 wins, you are the Champions

    Despite what the basement dwellers think, puck possession is not a new thing in hockey. Just like every sport out there, the more you are on offence, the better your chances are at winning. The dead puck era in the NHL changed this, but everywhere else, having the puck more than your opponent is what every team wanted. You have heard of the cycle right?

    A GM can use whatever stats they choose to assemble their team. But when your team is going through a dry spell, or is against the ropes in a playoff series, there isn’t a coach out there who has, or will reference advanced stats to get his team turned around. The nerds can use the Kings as examples of how a team can be successful using these stats. But the reality is, the Kings turned around their franchise the day the traded for Mike Richards, and the day they hired Darryl Sutter. And neither of those two are advanced stats Gods. So the theory of LA being an example to prove your point is bogus

    • Actually, what I said was utilizing analytics (which most teams are now doing) was a factor, not *the* primary reason for the Kings’ success.

      Building a team with puck possession in mind does contribute to on-ice success, as the Kings and many other clubs have shown. However, the concepts are by no means perfectly correlated. Over-relying on stats wouldn’t be a good thing, but neither would ignoring them.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Hey earth to dick, it’s the nerds who pay the bills and sign your paychecks these days, or maybe you haven’t noticed the progression of man? Little thing called “evolution”

      Maybe you should try using your brain sometime too instead of being cemented into ideas that were “new” in the 70’s.

      Yeah Mike Richards is the reason behind the Kings success. It’s amazing you are not paid to write articles. Where can we read more about your ideas which you can’t quantify and thus have no way of backing up.

      Oh no, they can use advanced stats for baseball, but not for hockey. Yeah that makes perfectly logical sense. Did you use a computer to write that response? Or was it your talent and perseverance that enabled the words to be transmitted over the interwebs? If you don’t appreciate what “Nerds” bring to the table, throw away your computer, and your smart phone RIGHT NOW. Oh, and sell that car. While you’re at it, cancel the electric bill and the telephone. Apparently you want to go back to living in the stone age with people just like you.

  3. I don’t think the Kings are ranked “just behind” Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, and Edmonton. ESPN categorized the teams and then listed them alphabetically below each category.

  4. Another fascinating article, Walter. Thanks for sharing! Of course, as an older fan, I hate the idea of such analytics. Then again, what i don’t understand probably won’t hurt me? lol And those tears of joy at my team F-I-N-A-L-L-Y winning a championship (the Stanley Cup)…and then, twice…after so many years of frustration and choking, how stupid would I be to complain?

    • Thanks for reading, Robert. Although I do embrace analytics (mostly), I agree with everything you said.

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