Friday, 30 December 2011

Some Old Linkies

Years ago (nearly a decade ago, in fact) I used to write some articles at a site called HockeyZonePlus. Most of the articles I wrote there don't fit with the subject matter of this blog, but there is one that does:

The Quality of Hockey

And at my old site, we've have a couple more relevant links:

Player Comparisons

Greatest Teams of All Time

Hmm. When I started this post I would have sworn there would be more relevant links. Ah well.

Here's one final link, which discusses some theory relevant to the use of Point Allocation, since we've been talking about that recently:

Win-Things Theory

Review at your leisure. Especially the player comparisons one, and the win-things one. Or don't. Live your own life!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Positional Notation

A short one today.

As regular readers (I know you're out there; I can hear you yawning) will know, I'm fixin' to publish the result of the historical Point Allocation system in the relatively near future. In order to do that, I wanted an efficient means to indicate a player's position.

The typical system for modern players is simply G, D, C, LW and RW. Sometimes LW and RW are written as L and R instead. Of course, these are not the only positions we need to worry about when discussing historical stats. We also have the point, cover-point and rover. These could be written as P, CP and R respectively. But then, in order to use R for rover, we would not be able to use it for right wing, forcing us to use RW and LW for the wings.

Two-letter codes for the positions are undesirable, because they're not efficient. What if a player split time between cover-point and left wing? Should we write that LW/CP, using five characters to show something that we should be able to do in two? I don't think so.

That's why I settled on a (mostly) numerical code to show the positions.

CodePosition
G goaltender
1 point
2 cover-point
3 defence
4 rover
5 centre
6 left wing
7 right wing
8 wing
9 forward

So LW/CP can now be written 62. The goaltender position is different enough from any of the skaters that it need not conform to the system; in fact goaltender stats will be presented separately from skater stats so that position does not need to be included in the codes.

What are the 8 and 9 for? Well, often in game reports newspapers would list the goaltender, point, cover-point, rover, centre and two wings, but would not specify which side each player played. Code 8 is for that type of player. The 9 is for cases, mostly in the very early years of the game, when the four forwards would be listed only as forwards, not by individual position. Players such as that get a 9 in this system.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Note on Compiling Assists

In the last post, I briefly mentioned the idea of compiling assists for league-seasons which predate the concept of the assist. This is something of a controversial idea, inasmuch as there can be controversy in something as mundane as compiling historical hockey stats.

When compiling historical stats (which I've done an awful lot of over the years, with countless hours at microfilm machines and online, combing through 100-year-old newspapers), I always compile assists. I get them from the written game reports. Often a report will say something like "X scored on a pass from Y", or "X scored from centre after Y had carried the puck down the ice", or "Y shot, which was stopped neatly by the goalkeeper, but X followed up and put it in". In all of these cases I would assign an assist to player Y.

Now, there are some perfectly valid criticisms of doing this. Not every game was covered in the same level of detail, and indeed not every goal was. So you'll never be sure you captured every proto-assist. Moreover, the detail in the coverage often varied greatly from team to team and paper to paper, which results in some teams having a relatively high ratio of assists to goals, and others with almost none. So if you try to do something like adjusted points, and apply the same goal-to-assist ratio across the league, you end up with some players having a big advantage simply based on which team they played for.

These criticisms are valid, but only if you intend the use the stats as a historical record. That's not what I use the stats for. I want to draw meaning from the numbers, not just present the numbers as-is and let them speak for themselves, which they can't really do anyway. Stats are all about context, and that's the real impetus behind Point Allocation: to dig into the context in which numbers were compiled, and present them accordingly.

Point Allocation has a very large advantage over adjusted scoring in this regard, because offensive points are allocated on team basis, not on a league basis. As such, by adding unofficial assists to the official goal totals, all you're doing is rearranging the offensive points on a particular team amongst its players; a team is not going to suddenly have more offensive value because you add in assists. So even if your assist totals are incomplete, it's not a big deal. Remember, Point Allocation is only ever intended to be a rough estimate, but it we exclude some of the information we have (partial assist records, essentially), we needlessly reduce the accuracy of the estimate. We need to make sure the playmakers of yesteryear get their due, as much as we can.

Official records be damned. I want to know what the numbers mean.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Point Allocation on Offence

Previously we've talked about Marginal Goals, which form the basis of the historical Point Allocation system. We use Marginal Goals not only to establish a team's quality, but also to allocate this quality (in the form of points) between offence and defence. From there you merely have to allocate these offensive and defensive points to each player on the team, in a rational way, to estimate the value that each of said players contributed to the team achieving what it did.

I should say, at the outset, that Point Allocation will never by anything more than a rough estimate of a player's value, especially the further back you go in history. The surprises it uncovers will be few; those considered the best players of the day will largely be shown by the system to be great players. It's really more about trying to establish an equal footing to allow players from different eras to be compared to each other, and also to identify the value of the non-great players from any era. There are hundreds of players from history that were really good, solid players, with the level of talent that would allow a nice, long NHL career in today's world, but who are relatively unknown today because they were not among the very best players of their day. Part of the purpose of the system is to figure out approximately how good these players were.

Going back to the system, we can look at allocating offensive points, which is easier and more straight-forward than dealing with defence. Point Allocation gives offensive points to players based on their scoring point totals, as a proportion of the team's total scoring points. We don't worry about adjusting for the relative rate of assists per goal; rather we assume that the officials of the day basically knew the relative contributions of playmakers and goals-scorers at the time. There were many fewer assists awarded per goal in the pre-forward pass era, for example, and individual rushing was a more important factor in scoring goals at that time, so we figure that's alright.

We can have a look at the 1907 Montreal Wanderers again, one of the greatest teams of all time, to examine some of the details.

PlayerPosGPGAPtsPIMMIN
Russell, Ernie C 9 43 4 47 26 514
Johnson, Moose LW 10 15 5 20 42 558
Blachford, Cecil RW 7 14 3 17 5 415
Glass, Pud R 10 13 4 17 21 579
Patrick, Lester P/R 9 11 3 14 21 532
Marshall, Jack RW 3 6 0 6 0 180
Stuart, Hod CP 8 3 2 5 20 460
Kennedy, Rod P 3 0 1 1 2 178
Totals 10 105 22 127 124 610

Wow - this team had five Hall-of-Famers among its eight skaters (Russell, Johnson, Patrick, Marshall and Stuart), and another tending goal in Riley Hern. It was truly an all-star team that played together throughout the season.

(As an aside, you might realize that the assist totals above are completely unofficial. I compiled them by reading the game reports for all of the ECAHA games that season. I'll have a brief discussion of compiling assists like this in the next post.)

Based on the above, Ernie Russell, one of history's best pure scorers, would receive 47 out of 127 offensive points the Wanderers earned, or 37%. But it's not quite that simple. Some players produce points at such a low rate, compared to their positional norms, that they effectively costs their team goals. Remember that Point Allocation is built upon the concept of Marginal Goals, which has at its core the idea that there is a certain minimum level of performance that anyone good enough to get a sniff in a particular league will be able to contribute. This applies to individual offensive performance as well as at the team level.

For the Wanderers, this applies to only one player. Pud Glass was a hard-working, professional player and a very good defender. But in 1907 his offensive production left much to be desired, given that he played rover, which as a position scored just as much as centres league-wide. Among all centres and rovers, he places ahead of only the men from the sad-sack Montreal Shamrocks on a per-minute basis:

PlayerPosTeamGPPtsMINPts/60 MIN
Russell, Ernie C Mtl W 9 47 514 5.49
Bowie, Russell R Mtl V 10 47 587 4.80
Smith, Harry C Ott 9 25 484 3.10
Hale, Chandler C Mtl V 7 21 412 3.06
Jordan, Herb C Que 5 15 300 3.00
Sargent, Grover C Mtl A 9 22 538 2.45
Constantin, Charles R Que 7 16 409 2.35
Westwick, Rat R Ott 9 18 528 2.05
Smaill, Walter R Mtl A 10 18 578 1.87
Glass, Pud R Mtl W 10 17 579 1.76
Brennan, Johnny R Mtl S 5 7 285 1.47
McCarthy, Frank C Mtl S 5 4 225 1.07

The system figures if Glass can't outscore Charles Constantin, who played precisely one season of senior hockey, his offence should be knocked down a peg when deciding who contributed how much to his team's goal-scoring. So he's given 10.7 scoring points instead of 17 when allocating the team's offence. Rather than just adjust everyone's point totals to remove this "sub-marginal" level of offense, we just apply an adjustment to those below that level. Why this way and not the other? No particular reason. The effect is the same.

And don't worry. We know that Glass has a reputation for good defence, and he will earn his share of points that way, when we look at allocating defence. In fact, the system considers him the team's most valuable defensive forward. But more on that later.

Monday, 26 December 2011

What's With All the Wings?

In the NHL today, a full 10% of teams have wings making up part of their crest: the Blues, Flyers (unsurprising) and Red Wings (duh). You could argue the Jets do as well, but that's not really what I'm going for here. Notice that we have one team that dates back to 1932 (before that year the Red Wings were known as the Cougars, and then the Falcons), and two from the Great Expansion in 1967. None of the new-fangled teams have wings as part of their team identity, but in fact wings, as a part of hockey crests, go back a very long way.

The wings in Detroit's emblem are no coincidence, and actually hearken back to the first winged team in hockey: the Montreal AAA, also known as the Winged Wheelers, who we've discussed here often. Jim Norris played with the AAA in his younger days, so when he purchased the Detroit franchise he named them after his old team. The Winged Wheeler sweaters looked something like this:



But it wasn't just this team. It seems there are two things ubiquitous in hockey in the early years: teams named after Queen Victoria, and teams with wings in their crests. Here's another selection in black and white, including a lesser-known Ottawa club, an American team from the original IHL, and a senior side from my hometown:


And some more, with another team from my neck of the woods, and two from British Columbia, just to show the wings weren't restricted to the east:


There's a special subcategory that I wanted to touch on as well. A number of teams used the winged foot, referencing Hermes, the Greek god of messengers, as their symbol. Presumably it conveyed speed, as it remains a favourite of some runners even today. Two clubs that used the winged foot are the Montreal Shamrocks, of Canada' highest senior leagues, and the New York Athletic Club, also known as the Winged Footers, of the American Amateur Hockey League:


Some teams seem to have reasoned, however, that while speed is an excellent image to convey to your fans and your opponents, a winged foot has little to do with hockey. So why not a winged skate? It does make much more sense that way. Note that the skates in these crests, while appearing unfamiliar today, were state of the art at the time:



You may have guessed by now that I've turned into something of a hockey sweater nerd. It doesn't really have anything to do with the analysis of hockey history, but when you visit a free blog you often get what you pay for. I'll try to keep the sweater images to a minimum in future, unless you want more. Actually, on second thought I make no promises about the frequency of future badly-drawn hockey sweater facsimiles. Also, I don't need your approval. My blog, my rules, chum.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Jack Campbell Gets Them Out of Their Seats

Here at Hockey Historysis, we've already talked about 80s greats Tom Paton, James Stewart and Allan Cameron. These three were certainly big men in the first decade of organized hockey, but they were not the only eminent hockeyists of their time. The Montreal Victorias had a star cover-point of their own, by the name of Jack Campbell. He's the subject of today's post.

I'd like to post a picture of Campbell, but I haven't been able to find one. Since the Winged Wheelers managed most of the glory in this era, most of the images are of the Montreal AAA club. We'll have to suffice with my approximation of the sweater Campbell wore for the Vics. Note that the more familiar script 'V', as seen in the background image of this blog, did not come into use after Campbell retired in 1891.

Campbell and Allan Cameron were the preeminent stars of the game, at least so far as the fans were concerned. The cover-point position was well-suited for team captains, and also for players who excelled both offensively and defensively. Campbell was not as effective at stopping the opposition as Cameron, but had a clear advantage in terms of scoring goals.

In the 1888 Amateur Hockey Association of Canada season, which was the first time the league tried a series system (ie, every team plays every other team a certain number of times) rather than a challenge system, Jack Campbell had his most impressive performance. In his team's seven games, he scored eight goals, which tied him with two forwards for the highest total in the circuit. The other seven defensive players in the AHAC (which had four clubs at the time) scored a total of two goals (one by a point and one by a cover) in 45 games. He was clearly playing the position differently than other players at the time, and of all the puck-chasers to have the title "first rushing defenceman" bestowed upon them, I'd say Campbell has the strongest claim to the honour.

His rushing skills were legendary:
Campbell got it, and made a brilliant run, passing through the opposing forces and taking the puck to the lower end of the rink. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
One of those grand runs for which Campbell was famous was spoiled by a hard check from Hodgson. (Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb 1888)
Just before half time was called, Campbell got the puck behind his own goal and piloted it right down the rink through his opponents, and wound up his splendid run by sending the puck past the watchful eye of goal-keeper Paton amid prolonged cheering. (Montreal Herald, 6 Mar 1890)
The spectators were very often raised to a high pitch of enthusiasm through the dashing play of Campbell, who certainly played a magnificent game. (Montreal Herald, 20 Feb 1890)
He wasn't afraid to use his body:
A heavy check from Campbell and there was a scrimmage. (Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb 1888)
And he wasn't too shabby on the defensive end either:
The M.A.A.A. at this point had the best of the play for a short time, but owing to the magnificent play of Campbell they were kept at bay. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Campbell was an electrifying player, and a fan favourite. But it's easy to overstate his greatness, due to the attention his flashy play drew. He had a very short peak as a player, having only two seasons when he was really at the top of the game (1887-88) and two more seasons of pretty effective play (1889-90). Moreover, while his rushes were certain pleasing to those in the grandstands, they were not necessarily the most effective play: 
Campbell ran it nearly the entire length of the rink, but it went for nothing. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Campbell, who throughout played the best individual game, had a run the entire length of the rink, but it went for nothing... (Montreal Herald, 20 Feb 1890)
Campbell took charge of it and piloted it through several of his opponents, but his shot was wide. (Montreal Herald 18 Jan 1890)
Campbell's defensive game was seemingly more raw that Cameron's as well: 
Ashe got it and sent it back to Campbell, who, seemingly, did not expect it and before he realized where he was Hodgson swooped down upon it and with a splendid run wound up by scoring the first game for his side, thus equalizing matters amid wild excitement. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
I'm not trying to downplay his greatness, but it's a rare player whose game does not have flaws. Campbell was the best rusher of his generation, but perhaps he indulged in it too much, to the detriment of his team's defensive efforts. To compare him to a modern player, he was probably like Paul Coffey at his peak, while the more dependable Cameron was, maybe, Doug Harvey, more positional and better defensively, and still contributing to offence by setting up his forwards rather than going for the goal himself.

Both were great players, of course, and deserve to be remembered today. Jack Campbell: a player who really got the fans out of their seats.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Thoughts on Hockey's Origins

If you follow hockey history, you'll know that there's often been a lively debate about the "birthplace" of hockey. Several locales in Canada have laid their claims to this honour, amongst them Montreal, Kingston, Halifax and Windsor, Nova Scotia. These claims all have varying degrees of evidence supporting them (Windsor, for example, bases its claim on a passage in a work of fiction which is misrepresented as a "memoir"), but nothing has ever really been resolved. It always strikes me that part of the reason for the conflict is that people don't really define what they mean by "hockey" when they want to claim their home town as its birthplace.

Hockey can mean a number of things. Its original usage simply meant the activity of hitting a thing with a stick, and also referred to the stick with which you hit the thing. No ice need be involved, nor skates, nor teams. So finding a reference to "hockey" in the 17th century isn't enough to establish that hockey, as we know it today, was played then. You need more than that. That didn't stop the Fostys from making that mistake, of course. If you're going to quote a source talking about "hockey", you need to make sure they mean what you mean by the term. Otherwise any analysis is moot.

I have previously defined hockey (adding the qualifier "modern" for extra clarity) as follows:
Modern hockey is a competitive game that is played on an ice rink by two teams made up of an equal number of players wearing skates, who play using a codified set of rules, and use sticks to try to propel a puck though their opponents' goal.
I still don't know if that's a sufficient definition or not. By modern hockey, I want to mean the earliest formalized version of the game that we can trace back directly from the version of the game we know today. Some historians, when advocating for a particular birthplace of hockey, will argue that the current game we know, and the informal game mid-19th century folks played on their ponds and rivers, are the same thing.

I can't agree with that, since even today we have two separate words to describe these games: hockey and shinny. If informal games of hockey played on natural ice are the very same thing as the hockey played in the NHL, then why do we have a seperate term for the outdoor game? Any line you draw between "modern" hockey and "pre-modern" hockey will be at least somewhat arbitrary, but the delineation between modern, organized hockey and simple, informal hockey does seem appropriate. At the very least, it might help people to stop talking past each other when discussing the origins of the game.

The only thing that might approach general agreement among hockey historians is that the modern, organized version of hockey has its roots in Montreal, with the game played on March 3, 1875, organized by Halifax native James Creighton and played between two sides of nine men apiece, which a 2002 report by the Society for International Hockey Research calls "the earliest eyewitness account known ... of a specific game of hockey in a specific place at a specific time, and with a recorded score, between two identified teams." But I'm not sure that even this is sufficient to be recognized as "modern" hockey. The main differentiator between this game and earlier ones is that it was played indoors in the Victoria Skating Rink, rather than simply on a frozen lake, pond or river.

I've been of a mind lately that 1883 may be a better date for the beginnings of modern hockey, with the first Montreal Winter Carnival Tournament, which was arguably the first truly competitive hockey event. That is, I think "competitive" is a very important aspect of the definition of modern hockey, which is why informal games of shinny on frozen ponds should not be considered "modern" hockey.

Of course, just because something isn't modern, doesn't mean it's not important. I'm certainly not advocating that modern hockey is the only game we need concern ourselves with. I'm just trying to add a little perspective to the discussion, to help it along. You can't discuss the origins of hockey without first defining what you mean by hockey, and that crucial first step is often omitted entirely.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Harry Smith - "Only" a Goal-Scorer

Continuing on a theme of early 1900s hockey mercenaries, we now have the case of Harry Smith. Less known than his two Hall-of-Fame brothers Alf and Tommy, Harry (younger than Alf but older than Harry) was a hockey star in his own right.


Smith was perhaps the ultimate hockey nomad. After an amateur career covering four teams in four seasons, he joined his older brother Alf on the powerful Ottawa Senators for the 1905/06 season, and immediately led the best league in the world in goals scored with 31, despite missing two games of the schedule. He outscored immortals Russell Bowie and Frank McGee, and several other Hall-of-Famers. Harry scored 15 goals in five Stanley Cup matches that season, as Ottawa won their first two challenges against Queen's University and Smith's Falls, then lost to the equally mighty Montreal Wanderers.

Smith fell to fourth in ECAHA scoring in 1906/07, the only season that he, Alf and Tommy played on the same team in senior hockey. His wandering period began in 1907/08, when he went to Pittsburgh to play for the Bankers, leading the league with 44 goals, ahead of brother Tommy's 32 markers. His 1908/09 season was perhaps the ultimate hockey mercenary year: he played for the Bankers, Haileybury of the Temiskaming league, Toronto of the Ontario pro league and the Montreal Wanderers, who he was with when they won the Stanley Cup against Edmonton in 1906. Because different leagues played their schedules at slightly different times, Harry was able to lead the Temiskaming league (which featured many future NHA players) in goals, despite playing for several other teams.

He spent the 1909/10 season in the NHA, splitting time between Haileybury and Cobalt, tying Ernie Russell for second in league goals behind Newsy Lalonde. For Waterloo of the Ontario pro loop in 1910/11, Smith was fourth in goals, but second on a per-game basis. In 1911/12, he led the New Ontario Hockey League (named for the area called at the time New Ontario, not for the fact that it was the most recent hockey league in Ontario) with 32 goals in only 13 games. Back in the NHA for the 1912/13 season, he played for the Toronto Tecumsehs, then played three games for Ottawa in 1913/14 before wrapping up his pro career in the Maritime league the same year.

Smith had undeniable talent, though he was at times criticized for his lack of conditioning. But everywhere he went, he scored goals but the bucketload. Like his brothers, he was also prone to losing his temper, but his calling card was most certainly his goal-scoring. He is not fondly remembered, largely because of this. Just like today, players who "only" score goals are seen as playing selfishly, while defence-first muckers who can't score to save their lives are seen as hard-working, team-oriented players. This is silly, of course. Players who score goals contribute an awful lot to their team's success, because you need to score goals to win hockey games. You have to consider a player's defence as well, of course, to get a full picture of his contributions to his team's efforts. But players like Harry Smith, who are so exceptional at goal-getting, simply cannot be so bad defensively as to eliminate the value produced by his offence.

At some point I'll be using historical Point Allocation results to argue that Harry Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame with his brothers. He may have been "only" a goal-scorer, but he was one hell of a goal-scorer. Nothing else he did or didn't do can't take away from the fact that he was a historically gifted offensive player, and put it to good use, playing on several championship teams.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Horace Gaul - Hockey Mercenary

The period from about 1907 to 1912 is an interesting and tumultuous one for Canadian hockey. This was the time of the professional hockey boom, when new pro leagues rose and fell every season: the Manitoba Hockey League (the first openly pro league in Canada), the Ontario Professional Hockey League, the Saskatchewan Hockey League, the Alberta Professional Hockey league, the Eastern Ontario Professional Hockey League, the New Ontario Hockey League...not to mention the National Hockey Association (NHA). Until the situation settled down around 1912 with the NHA and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association as the two major leagues, on opposite ends of the country, the professional hockey situation in Canada was constantly in flux.

And of course, with all these leagues coming and going, there was a constant demand for professional players. Many of these men moved to where the work was, so to speak, essentially becoming hockey mercenaries, playing for a different team every year, and often several teams in the same season. Today we're having a quick look at one of these nomadic hockeyists: Horace Gaul.


Horace Gaul was born in December 1883 in Gaspe, Quebec, but the earliest records we have of his amateur hockey career have him in Ottawa for the 1904/05 and 1905/06 seasons. Getting into a couple of games with the mighty Ottawa Hockey Club, Gaul was on the Stanley Cup-winning 1905 edition of the team. His first recorded play outside of Ottawa was in 1906 with the Brooklyn club of the American Amateur Hockey League. After playing a single game there, he was suspended from the league since he did not meet the residency requirement. Such requirements were common among amateur leagues, in order to prevent ringers from being brought in. The fact that Gaul (and another player) were brought in by Brooklyn, coupled with the number of Canadian players who would make an appearance in the New York league, casts doubt on the "Amateur" in that league's name.

In 1906/07, Gaul (a right wing) played for Pittsburgh of the International Hockey League, another pro league. In 1907/08 he made appearances for Brockville of the Federal "Amateur" Hockey League, and was brought in as a ringer by Renfrew of the Upper Ottawa League, another ostensibly amateur circuit, for a couple of playoff games. In 1908/09 he was back in Pittsburgh, and then jumped that contract to play for Haileybury of the Temiskaming league. He stayed with this team as they joined Cobalt and Renfrew for the first season of NHA play in 1909/10.

After a couple of games for Ottawa in 1910/11, he was released and finished the season with Berlin of the Ontario pro league. He then spent a year with New Glasgow of the Martime pro league, before finishing his pro career in 1912/13 with the Toronto Tecumsehs of the NHA, the team that was the first to experiment (for a few games at least) with a regular rotation of forwards each game, Gaul among them.

This experience is far from unusual for the time period. There are a number of players whose career takes a similar path to this, with a new team every year. Art Throop, Steve Vair, Skene Ronan and others had varied and interesting careers of this sort. They're some of the most interesting careers of their time. And this era is one of the reasons historical Point Allocation is needed; there were so many different leagues that comparing player performances from one year to the next is very difficult without it.

Horace Gaul was never much of a scorer. He was never near the league lead in offence, even with the leagues he played in being very small and having only a few forwards on each team to compete with. He did score a team-leading 20 goals in 12 games for Haileybury in 1909/10, which was seventh in the NHA (but only just over half of Newsy Lalonde's league-leading total of 38), so he certainly wasn't hopeless with the puck. He was noted as being a clever and tricky stickhandler, but there must have been more than this to his game; otherwise he wouldn't have been in such demand every year.

Gaul's real talent was on defence. He was noted as being an excellent defensive player, a diligent checker. That's why there was always a team ready to insert him into the lineup. He was never a star, just a hard-working, professional player. He checked his way into a contract every season.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Modifying Marginal Goals

Last time, we looked at Marginal Goals analysis and how it can be applied to historical hockey stats as the first step toward using the Point Allocation system. We ended by looking at the relationship that Marginal Goals assumes between goal differential and wins, which is strictly linear:
This, of course, is not completely realistic. While the actual relationship between goals and wins is very similar to this along most of the normal range of team performance, it definitely gets squidgy at the extremes. Very good teams, such as the 1907 Montreal Wanderers, and very bad teams, such as the 1907 Montreal Shamrocks, will be significantly mis-estimated by Marginal Goals. Pythagorean Analysis does a much better job at reflecting the actual relationship between goals and wins at these extremes, which looks something like this:
You can see here the excellent Wanderers being overestimated by Marginal Goals, and the pathetic Shamrocks being underestimated. This is what happens with very good and very bad teams under Marginal Goals analysis.

There's a simple solution to this problem, of course. In developing the historical Point Allocation system, I haven't used this simple Marginal Goals analysis, but a modified version. The theory behind the modification is quite simple - after a certain point, each additional goal you score has less and less value. If you've already scored 10 goals in a game, scoring an eleventh isn't going to increase your chances of winning, since you've already essentially won. Similarly, if you've already allowed 10 goals, the eleventh can't make you lose the game any more than you already are.

So, instead of the basic Marginal Goals calculation discussed last time, we put some limits on it. Every goal scored in excess of 1.33 times the league average counts for only one-quarter of a goal, and every goal against in excess of 1.33 times the league average counts for only one-quarter of a goal against. This distorts the upper and lower ends of possible team performance in order to make Marginal Goals analysis better match the actual relationship between goals and wins.

Going back to our 1907 results:

TeamW-LGFGA
Montreal Wanderers 10-0 105 42
Ottawa Senators 7-3 76 54
Montreal Victorias 6-4 101 70
Montreal Winged Wheelers 3-7 58 83
Quebec Bulldogs 2-8 62 88
Montreal Shamrocks 2-8 52 117

We already know that basic Marginal Goals analysis results in the following, where MGF is the team's Marginal Goals For, MGS is the team's Marginal Goals Saved, and MG% is the resulting winning percentage:

TeamMGFMGSMG%
Montreal Wanderers 66.8 72.8 .913
Ottawa Senators 38.3 59.3 .645
Montreal Victorias 62.8 44.8 .704
Montreal Winged Wheelers 20.4 29.8 .334
Quebec Bulldogs 24.3 25.3 .329
Montreal Shamrocks 14.4 -4.2 .068

Modified Marginal Goals, on the other hand, produces this:

TeamMGFMGSMG%
Montreal Wanderers 64.3 72.8 .897
Ottawa Senators 38.3 59.3 .645
Montreal Victorias 62.8 44.8 .704
Montreal Winged Wheelers 20.4 29.8 .334
Quebec Bulldogs 24.3 25.3 .329
Montreal Shamrocks 14.4 8.5 .152

Notice how much closer the Shamrocks are now to their actual result of two wins for the season. Graphically, the results look like this:

The little kinks in the line at the extreme allow the linear "curve" to match the Pythagorean relationship much closer than basic Marginal Goals analysis. We're now able to use Marginal Goals, with all their advantages, without being fooled by extreme teams.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Marginal Goals in History

One of the projects I've been working on for some time now is an application of my old Point Allocation system to hockey leagues throughout history. Point Allocation, developed in 2002, was the first published attempt at a comprehensive player valuation system, so far as I can tell. It's similar in purpose to Tom Awad's Goals Versus Threshold system used at Hockey Prospectus, in that it attempts to place a value on each player's contributions on both offence and defence in a single measure, to see who contributes the most to their team's success.

The basis of Point Allocation, then as now, is Marginal Goals analysis. This is an idea adapted from Bill James' work in his book Win Shares. Marginal Goals represent what a historically bad team is able to produce in competition; no team scores zero goals or allows an infinite number of them. Marginal Goals are therefore what you can accomplish without really trying to ice a good team. Historically, Marginal Goals on offence are equal to about 0.5 of the league average, and Marginal Goals of defence are 1.5 of the league average.

Any goals a team scores in excess of 0.5 times the league average therefore contributes to winning games, and any goals a team saves below 1.5 times the league average does the same. By adding these together, and dividing by twice the league average in goals scored, we get quite an accurate reflection of a team's winning percentage. As an example, let's look at the 1907 Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA) season:

TeamW-LGFGA
Montreal Wanderers 10-0 105 42
Ottawa Senators 7-3 76 54
Montreal Victorias 6-4 101 70
Montreal Winged Wheelers 3-7 58 83
Quebec Bulldogs 2-8 62 88
Montreal Shamrocks 2-8 52 117

Using Marginal Goals analysis, we get the following results, where MGF is the team's Marginal Goals For, MGS is the team's Marginal Goals Saved, and MG% is the resulting winning percentage:

TeamMGFMGSMG%
Montreal Wanderers 66.8 72.8 .913
Ottawa Senators 38.3 59.3 .645
Montreal Victorias 62.8 44.8 .704
Montreal Winged Wheelers 20.4 29.8 .334
Quebec Bulldogs 24.3 25.3 .329
Montreal Shamrocks 14.4 -4.2 .068

Teams from this time in history will tend to have a wider variance between their actual winning percentage and their MG% than modern teams do, because of the low number of games they played. With only a 10-game season, there is less chance for the luck to even out. But even so, the MG% tracks the teams' actual wins very well, with only the lowly Montreal Shamrocks being off by more than a win. The Shamrocks, a historically terrible defensive team, were lucky to win the two matches that they did in 1907, one against each of the Winged Wheelers and Bulldogs, two other rather bad teams.

The great advantage of this systems, of course, as compared to the more conventional Pythagorean Analysis, is that Marginal Goals gives us a very easy way to not only quantify a team's success, but allocate said success between offence and defence. In 1907, for instance, the Montreal Victorias relied on offence for 58% of their success, while Ottawa was 61% defence. This is the first step in allocating points to individual players, which is the purpose of Point Allocation.

Graphically, the relationship that Marginal Goals Analysis assumes between goal differential and winning looks like this:

As goal differential increases, winning percentage increases in a linear fashion. Now, you may be aware that this relationship isn't entirely realistic. Next time, I'll address that.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Quality of Pre-Stanley Cup Hockey (Part 3)

This is the third and final post addressing the quality of pre-Stanley Cup hockey, demonstrating that the line between 1892 and 1893 is an arbitrary one and does not reflect a real difference in the quality of hockey. In this installment, we look at the idea that the lack of Hall-of-Famers from that era speaks to the quality of the players.

Hall of Fame

Some have argued that if the players from the pre-Stanley Cup era were so good, then at least a few of them would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The selection committee usually had first-hand knowledge of the players they inducted, and didn't deem any player from this time worthy of the honour.

This appeal to authority is flawed, since the Hall of Fame selection committee has made numerous selections, even its early years, which can be described as questionable at best. The first Hall of Fame induction was in 1945, 62 years after the first Montreal Winter Carnival tournament. The idea that the committee had first-hand knowledge of early players is unsupportable. The first selection committee was made up of the following men:

Red Dutton (born 1898)
Art Ross (born 1886)
Lester Patrick (born 1883)
Abbie Coo (born 1885)
Wes McKnight (born 1909)
Basil O'Meara (born 1892)
W. A Hewitt (Born 1875)

In addition, there were Frank Sargent and J.P. Fitzgerald, whose birth years I have been unable to determine. Clearly there is little evidence that the committee would have had first-hand knowledge of players active in 1890 - some weren't even born yet and several others were but a few years old at the time. There is no reason to think these men had any particular insight into the earliest players. The only one we know to be old enough, W.A. Hewitt, was a native of Toronto and began his newspaper career in 1895 at the Toronto News. Toronto was, of course, not involved in the highest level of hockey at this time. Notably, Hewitt transferred to Montreal to work at the Montreal Herald as sports editor in 1899, when Mike Grant was still active and Graham Drinkwater had only just retired. Coincidentally, these are chronologically the first two Hall of Fame players. Hewitt would have had no direct experience with Tom Paton, then, but plenty with Mike Grant. Is it any wonder that one is in, and the other isn't?

Conclusion

Since hockey in the 1880s era was so similar to the 1890s era, it is unfair to discount its players while not doing the same for men like Mike Grant, Graham Drinkwater, Alf Smith and Harvey Pulford as well. An argument can be made that the professional era brought a higher degree of competition; however the point of these posts is merely to establish that there is no substantive difference between hockey in 1890 and hockey in 1895. If the players from 1895 (Drinkwater, Grant, Havilland Routh, Bob McDougall) are worthy of consideration, then so are the players from 1890. There may be a discount necessary, but not moreso for 1890 than 1895.

In due time we will address which of the early era players should have been considered for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But we're still just getting started here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Quality of Pre-Stanley Cup Hockey (Part 2)

In the first post discussing the quality of pre-Stanley Cup hockey, we noted that it was not a gentlemanly game played in a friendly fashion by the upper crust, but a rough-and-tumble affair played by men of all stripes. This time we examine the idea that the Stanley Cup gave the players something to strive for, giving them incentive to play hard, and play longer, in an effort to win the ultimate prize.

Something to Play For

Some argue that before the Stanley Cup, teams did not have anything to play for. As such they treated the game more as a pastime than a competition.

This argument is false. The first Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) season was in 1887, and the association named a champion at the end of each season. Before the AHAC was formed, the Montreal Winter Carnival (which started in 1883) served to determine the champion team for the season. When the Carnival was cancelled in 1886, the teams decided to hold tournament amongst themselves to determine a champion.

Just because the Stanley Cup was not there did not mean there was no championship to be won. The Stanley Cup is viewed as the be-all and end-all in hockey by modern eyes, but that was simply not the case in its early years. It was highly prized, but other championships were important as well. In 1901, the Ottawa team, new champions of the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL, the direct descendant of the AHAC), declined to challenge Winnipeg for the Stanley Cup even though they would have had at least an even shot of taking it. They had just won a hard battle for the league championship, and decided that was enough for them; the Stanley Cup was not worth it that year.

If anything should be viewed as giving teams something to play for, it should be the Winter Carnival Tournament. It was that event that really sparked the growth of competition in Montreal, and led directly to the establishment of the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1883.

In the last post there was a game report excerpt about how the Quebec team never lost courage even in the face of unfavourable odds against them. This is not the description of a team out for a skate. Courage is not needed when undertaking a pastime. This is a team doing their utmost to win out against their opponents, trying even when it seemed the game had already been lost.

Player Turnover

Some argue that since few pre-Stanley Cup players continued to play in the post-Stanley Cup years, this demonstrates a significant increase in the quality of competition. Players who played before were allegedly now unable to compete.

This argument misses a very basic fact about hockey at the time: almost all players had very short careers, by modern standards. As players got into their late 20s, family and other responsibilities often came into play, meaning they had less time to devote to getting their shins whacked by sturdy pieces of wood. This trend continued into the early professional era. Here are some notable players from this era, and the age at which they played their last senior-level game:

Barlow, Billy: 26
Bowie, Russell: 27
Drinkwater, Graham: 24
Farrell, Art: 24
Grant, Mike: 28
Jordan, Herb: 26
McDougall, Bob: 22
McGee, Frank: 23
McKerrow, Clare: 22
Routh, Havilland: 25
Russel, Blair: 27
Scanlan, Fred: 25
Trihey, Harry: 23
Walsh, Marty: 27

With players retiring so early, it is unsurprising that few of them would be in the same league in X number of years, since they have so few years in their career to begin with. As such, even if few players who were playing in 1890 are still playing in 1895, this does not mean the quality of competition necessarily increased, because the same can be said for 1895 compared to 1900.

To demonstrate this, I examined several pairs of seasons. For each season, I noted which regular players (i.e., those playing at least half of their team's games) were still regular players five seasons later. I did this in two-year intervals. The results are below.

1888 to 1893: 7 players (Hodgson, McQuisten, McDonnell, Camerson, Stewart, Paton, Patton)
1890 to 1895: 5 players (Cameron, Brown, Watson, Davidson, Jones)
1892 to 1897: 4 players (Brown, Scott, Young, Watson)
1894 to 1899: 8 players (Kirby, Watson, Young, Brown, Elliott, Grant, Collins, Stocking)
1896 to 1901: 4 players (Stocking, Westwick, Cahill, Pulford)
1898 to 1903: 2 players (Westwick, Pulford)
1900 to 1905: 5 players (Bowie, Russel, Hogan, Boon, Pulford)

The average number of players is five, and there is no pattern here. Therefore the observed player turnover after the Stanley Cup came into play was merely the normal amount of player turnover for this era. This rate continued on after the Cup was introduced.

In the end, the idea that the Stanley Cup is the be-all and end-all of hockey is a modern one, and was not shared at the time it was introduced. It was certainly a big deal, even from the beginning, but did not produce any additional motivation for players to play the game. The players were already trying their best to be the best; they did not need another silver bowl to spur them on.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Quality of Pre-Stanley Cup Hockey (Part 1)

We've been discussing the pre-Stanley Cup era quite a bit lately here at Hockey Historysis. Some people view 1893 as more than just an arbitrary cutoff date, however, and argue that the introduction of the Stanley Cup is a real marker of a change in the quality of the hockey being played, in that it gave the players something to strive for. But in this post and its sequels, I'll show that hockey from the mid-1880s to 1892 was not substantially different than hockey immediately after the introduction of the Stanley Cup in 1893. The dividing line between 1892 and 1893 is as artificial and political as the line between 1917 and 1918. As such, players from the pre-Stanley Cup era should be considered to be on par with players post-1892, at least until the professional era.

In this post we'll address the idea that the very nature of the game was different before 1893.

The Nature of the Game

It has been argued that hockey before 1893 was a gentlemanly game, played more for its own sake than for the competition. It was played by affluent young men, members of posh clubs. This allegedly began to change when the Cup was introduced, which gave the teams something real to strive for, and increased their incentive to do anything it takes to win.

This argument stems from the misconception that hockey before the Stanley Cup was a game played between teams from gentleman's clubs. This is false; the clubs in question were athletic clubs (such as the famous Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, who sponsored the Montreal Hockey Club, who we've been talking so much about). Members of these clubs joined them to undertake sport, not to assemble in the drawing room for dry sherry.

Violence has been a part of the game of hockey since its earliest years of organized competition. The players on the ice were rarely gentlemen. The following excerpts are taken from Montreal Herald game reports from the 1890 Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) season, which of course predates the Stanley Cup by three years.
The game was rather rough at times and it is regrettable to say that one of the home players forgot himself so far as to strike one of the visitors. The visitors, to their credit be it said, even when fighting against odds, stuck to their work with a commendable spirit and never seemed to lose courage. (Montreal vs Quebec, 9 Jan 1890)
The Montreal teams gained a victory over their opponents, the Victorias, but the victory was not as clean a one as might be desired. There were three men on the winning side who resorted to very rough play. During certain stages of the game there was a good exposition of the game, but at other times there was a good deal of tripping, swiping, falls and wholesale dumping against the bank.
Campbell took charge of [the puck] and piloted it through several of his opponents, but his shot for goal was wide. Immediately after this Findlay and Kinghorn lost their temper and made an undesirable display of themselves on the ice to the disasprobation of the audience. This seemed to have the effect of making the remaining portion of the game rougher than it should have been. (Montreal vs Victorias, 17 Jan 1890)
During certain stages of the game there was a good deal of ill temper shown by members of both teams...The match was fast, exciting, and at times a trifle rougher than was necessary. (Montreal vs Dominions, 31 Jan 1890)
The match throughout was hard and fast and not of the easiest kind to describe. The puck was here, there and every where. It travelled fast and was not allowed to remain long in one place. There was a good deal of hacking and shinning, but this was not confined to one individual of one side, both taking a hand in it. The only regrettable feature of the match was the ill-feeling shown by Lee and McQuisten, who had a dispute and commenced to settle it with their fists. They both fell to the ice and had to be separated. They received a sharp reprimand from the referee. Later on Lee meet with an accident whereby he sustained a severe cut over the right eye. (Montreal vs Victorias, 4 Mar 1890)
In four of the seven match reports from this season, the writer felt the need to point out unnecessary violence in the game. The idea that hockey at this time was a group of gentleman playing a friendly game is simply false. Rough play was common, and as indicated in the above reports, fistfights happened occasionally as well. This only makes sense if the players were taking the competition very seriously, and were doing whatever they thought was needed for victory.

As to the alleged affluence of the players involved in the game at this time, this is certainly more difficult to determine that the above, since a hockey player's off-ice life was not often recorded for posterity. However in Paul Kitchen's Win, Tie or Wrangle we get some background on a number of Ottawa Hockey Club players, for instance:
Albert Morel, G, 1891-1894: The son of a cabinetmaker, Morel was a student when he first joined the hockey club, and later worked as a private secretary and a bookkeeper for a lumber company.
Weldy Young, CP, 1891-1899: The son of a fire superintendent, he worked as an engraver in a watchmaking business tun by him and his two brothers.
Chauncey Kirby, C, 1891-1899: The son of a city treasurer, worked as a clerk at the Quebec Bank.
Bert Russell, LW, 1893-1896: Worked as a draughtsman for the Geological Survey.
Although there may be a tendency toward white collar work, none of these descriptions seem to indicate a particularly affluent lifestyle. Indeed, the player best described as affluent from the early days of Ottawa hockey would be Frank McGee, who didn't play senior hockey until 1903, a decade after the first Stanley Cup championship. McGee came from one of Ottawa's most prominent families, growing up in the “magnificent home” of his father, who was the clerk of the Privy Council, the highest-ranking civil service office in Canada. He worked as a timekeeper for the railroad, but it is certainly fair to say he came from an affluent family. However, he played at a time when the game was supposed to be becoming more serious, due to the Stanley Cup.

Similarly, census records can give us some insight into what players did for a living at a time when they didn't receive a penny for playing hockey. The following players all played at the highest level, prior to the introduction of the Stanley Cup:

Barlow, Billy: clerk
Bignell, Herbert: insurance clerk
Clapperton, Alexander: dry goods clerk
Cafferty, Thomas: lithographer
Davidson, Robert: grocery clerk
Fairbairn, William: insurance clerk
Hodgson, Archie: whale stationer
James, George: hardware clerk
Kinghorn, James: mill clerk
Larmouth, F.M.: brokerage clerk
Lee, Sam: trunkmaker
Lesser, Joshua: agent
Low, George: bank clerk
McDonnell, John: photographer
Routh, Havilland: clerk
Shearer, Andy: lumber merchant
Warden, William: bank clerk

Again, there does seem to be a tendency toward white-collar jobs, but unless “grocery clerk” or “hardware clerk” implies “affluent” to you, then there's no reason to think these men were particularly well-off in society, members of restrictive upper-crust social clubs.

Hockey before the Stanley Cup was a rough game, played by men from a variety of social classes, just as it was after the Stanley Cup was introduced. There's no reason to consider hockey before 1893 in any different light than in the years 1893 to 1899 and beyond.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The AAA's Defence

Previously I've written a bit about the Big Three on defence for the Montreal Winged Wheelers of the 1880s and early 1890s, a defensively dominant team: goaltender Tom Paton, point James Stewart and cover-point Allan Cameron. We know that Paton excelled not only at stopping the puck but especially at clearing it after a save; we known that Cameron was noted both for his transition game and his aggressive defence; and we know that while Stewart was less celebrated than the other two, he was still known as a top defender. However, we also saw a quote which called Stewart out for leaving his position in front of the goal too much, for not playing as a point should.

But it doesn't make much sense that this team, with a point that played out of position so often, would be able to prevent goals as well as they did. The point was the second-most important defensive position on the ice, and if he abandoned his position so much, that would cost his team goals. Unless, of course, leaving his post actually helped his team keep the puck out of the net...

I believe that Stewart's aggressiveness, relative to how the point position was "supposed" to be played at the time, was in fact a tactical choice, and one that was very effective. Cameron was known to challenge opponents, instead of waiting for them to come to him, and I suggest that Stewart did the same to great effect. This is from a game report in the March 8, 1892 edition of the Montreal Gazette:
Paton had many stops to make, nevertheless, but they were of the free and easy order and he cleverly drove the puck out of his territory. Stewart and Cameron swooped around after the puck in admirable style.
So both Cameron and Stewart went after the enemy puck-carriers (something points especially were not really expected to do). They did not play passively, allowing the opponents time to enter the zone and set up a combination play. I believe this is one of the main reasons the Winged Wheelers were so good at preventing goals: Cameron and Stewart were able to play aggressively, stripping the puck from opponents before they could make a play. Not everyone could do this, of course; you'd need the instincts and ability to pull it off.

This style of play, done effectively, was especially beneficial in the era that Stewart and Cameron played in. Why? Because there was no forward passing. When making an offensive rush, you had to stay behind the puck carrier to be eligible to receive a pass. So rushes were akin to what you see in rugby, with a line of forwards skating ahead. This is why the point played behind the cover-point rather than side-by-side like modern blueliners do; opponents came in using individual rushes, because they were not allowed to pass the puck ahead.

I believe this is also what allowed Cameron and Stewart to be so effective by being aggressive. If you challenged an enemy puck carrier, you were not in as much danger of getting into a bad position as you would be in the modern game, because if the opponent passed the puck before you get to him, he could at best do it laterally, and it will often be behind him. As such, if you could read the play quickly enough (which Cameron and Stewart surely could), when the opponent passed the puck you were be able to adjust your trajectory to intercept that player instead, because he simply could not be behind you.

As such, I think Cameron and especially Stewart were simply ahead of their time, realizing the advantage on defence that playing aggressively could bring. While some other defences waiting for puck carriers to come to them, the Winged Wheelers focused on stopping the opponents advances as soon as they could. And this is one reason they were so very good at keeping the puck out of the net.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Eagle-Eye Cameron

To complete the Montreal AAA's defensive triumvirate, we have Allan "Eagle Eye" Cameron, the famous cover-point:


Of all the great Winged Wheelers, Cameron was the most celebrated player. He ability on offence, on defence and as a team leader were often noted in the game reports of the time:
McQuisten got it and tried to carry it past Cameron, who was a strong tower in himself, and sent it back again. (Montreal Gazette, 14 Jan 1888)
Kinghorn ran it well up, but Cameron came to the rescue and relieved the pressure. Kinghorn again got it, but his career was short as Cameron stopped him. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Cameron was feeding his forwards grandly. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Play had hardly commenced when the two cover point men [Cameron and the Vics' Jack Campbell] began the magnificent work that characterized their play all through the match. (Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb 1888)
Allan Cameron, of the M.A.A.A. team, had his eye closed in the fourth game, but pluckily went on for the fifth. (Montreal Herald, 4 Feb 1889)
Cameron, by a pretty shot, added another point for the M.A.A.A. team. (Montreal Herald, 18 Jan 1890)
The spectators were very often raised to a high pitch of enthusiasm through the dashing play of Campbell, who certainly played a magnificent game. Cameron, somehow or other, managed to get in his road and interrupt him when he appeared to be dangerous. (Montreal Herald, 20 Feb 1890)
Paton had many stops to make, nevertheless, but they were of the free and easy order and he cleverly drove the puck out of his territory. Stewart and Cameron swooped around after the puck in admirable style. (Montreal Gazette, 8 Mar 1892)
Cameron played a beautiful game and owing in great part to the lack of combination among his opponents, scarcely one of them ever got past him. If they did they were almost sure to be stopped by Paton. (Montreal Gazette, 30 Jan 1893)
At last the puck was raised up the rink by Watson, but Stewart and Cameron were hard men to pass. (Montreal Gazette, 11 Feb 1893)
The cover-point position was made for dynamic, all-around players. It involved not only being the first line of defence against the opponent's rushes, but also being an important part of the transition between defence and offence. Hugh Baird, a later Montreal AAA cover-point, described the position thusly in Art Farrell's Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game (1899):
The cover-point is a combination of a defence man and a forward, and is allowed, in virtue of the fact, more latitude with respect to leaving his position, than any man on the team, except the rover.
In his capacity of a defence player he should linger around his goals as long as the puck is near, and be very careful when he secures it in front of the poles. When the play is at the other end of the rink, the cover-point should advance to about the middle, so that when the puck is lifted down, he may return it without loss of time, in order to keep the game centered around his opponents' goals, and to save his forwards the trouble of skating up to him so that they may again ''get into play." It is by playing far up under these circumstances that a clever cover-point can shine to the advantage of his team. If he has a good opening he should shoot well for the goals, but if he has not, he should, as I have said, return the puck instantaneously.
When in this position, far from his goals, a cover-point is suddenly confronted by an opposing forward who rushes down the ice, he should skate towards his defence, watching that man and gradually closing in upon him.
I am an advocate of legitimate body-checking. and consider that the most successful way of stopping a man who approaches alone, is by blocking him, obstructing his course in any way that does not violate section 8. It requires less effort and is less dangerous to block an opponent than to "body" him.
By its very nature, the cover-point position lent itself to well-rounded players, with both offensive and defensive ability. And since he was generally in position to see more of the ice that the other skaters, the role of team captain also suited the position well. Judging by the game reports, Allan Cameron was very effective with the puck, but also without, and had a talent for "challenging" opposing puck carriers and removing the puck from their possession. Rather than simply obstructing the opponents' course, as Baird suggests above, it seems Cameron preferred to go after them aggressively, and was very effective at doing so. We'll discuss this tendency, how effective it could be given the rules of the time, and how it reflects the AAA's defence as a whole in a future post.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

James Stewart, Point

Having already looked at 19th Century Montreal AAA goaltender Tom Paton, we now move one position out to discuss their great point man, James Stewart. Stewart is a name that has basically lost to time, and the internet only knows that he played for the Winged Wheelers. First, let's attach a face to the name:


I don't know about you, but he reminds me of Rance Mulliniks, the unassuming Blue Jays third baseman who looked more like a schoolteacher than an athlete. You don't need to be a muscle-bound brute to be an effective hockey player, of course.

Ultimate Hockey recognizes Stewart as "Best Shot-Blocker" of the 19th Century, saying he "was Allan Cameron's defensive conscience and the first in modern terms, to act as a second goalie. He held the point position as like a rock on those celebrated Montreal AAA squads..." I'd say this is overly simplistic. For one thing, as we'll see when we look at Allan Cameron, that man did not need a defensive conscience (unlike, perhaps, their Montreal Vics contemporary Jack Campbell).

For another, if you read the game reports for the Winged Wheelers, it's rare to see Stewart singled out for his performance. Praise directed his way was almost always in conjunction with Cameron, for example in the January 14, 1888 edition of the Montreal Gazette which stated "...the Crystals tried to reduce the odds against them, but owing to the grand defence of Cameron and Stewart their efforts were unavailing." 

Indeed, in the February 16, 1888 edition of that paper, a writer admonished that "Stewart should not forget that his position is point, he has a disposition to get too far away from his place, he should keep further back to give the goalkeeper a little more assistance." In due time I'm going to make an argument that this comment has more to do with the defensive style of the mighty Winged Wheelers, than with a failing on Stewart's part, who played a very important defensive position for some exceptionally good defensive teams.

I'd also suggest that Stewart's relative lack of fanfare also has to do with the nature of the point position. Mike Grant, the Hall of Fame Vics cover-point, described the position's responsibilities in Arthur Farrell's Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game:

The point and cover-point should play as if they were one man in two positions. The position of the point should be determined by that of the cover-point. If the cover-point is on one side, the point should be on the other to such an extent only, though, that each may have an equally good view of the play, and that a forward who advances towards their goals will have two distinct men to pass, instead of two men, one directly and close, behind the other.

When two forwards approach their goals, the cover-point should devote his attention to the man who has the puck and block him as well as he may, and the point should advance slightly to meet the other, and, incidentally, to intercept any pass that may be attempted.

The position of the point man is essentially defensive. The distance between him and the goaler is determined by the proximity of the play. He should not stray too far from his place, because oftentimes he is practically a second goal-minder, able, through the practice that his position gives him, to stop almost equally well as the latter, but although he should remain close to his goal-keeper, he should never obstruct that man's view of the puck. Whenever it becomes necessary for the goaler to leave his place, it is the duty of the point man immediately to fill it, and remain there until the latter returns.

So according to Grant, a point man is basically a second cover-point and a second goaltender, without having a real identity of his own. Stewart played an "in-between" position, having characteristics of two other positions, but none all to its own. It is therefore no wonder that he would be less praised than his two better-known teammates; he was less of a defender than Cameron, and less of a goaltender than Paton. But perhaps he was their better on the whole. That's something we'll explore in the future, but I'm getting ahead of myself now. As ever, stay tuned for more on the 19th Century AAAs.

Do kids still say "stay tuned" these days?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tom Paton

Tom L. Paton (b.1854) was a goaltender for the Montreal Hockey Club (or AAA, or Winged Wheelers) from 1885 to 1893. He is easily the most successful goaltender of the pre-Stanley Cup era, and indeed for the 19th century. His team won the Montreal Winter Carnival championship in 1885 and 1887, and the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) in 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1893. With James Stewart and Allan Cameron playing in front of him on the defence, the Winger Wheelers were often an impenetrable defensive fortress.

The goaltender's task in the 1880s was clearly different in execution from that of the modern goalie, due to the fact that he was prohibited from falling to the ice to make saves. However, it is easy to overstate the degree of difference; olde tyme goalers used whatever body part was handy in order to stop the puck, just like today's netminders. Quebec Hockey Club goaltender Frank Stocking, who played senior hockey from 1892 to 1901, describes the goaltender's role in Art Farrell's 1899 book Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game as follows:

In stopping the puck, the feet, limbs, body and hands are all used according to the nature of the shot. The stick is used to clear the puck from the goals after stop has been made, but rarely to make the stop. Some goalers use the hands much more frequently than others and make splendid stops in this way. But this depends on the individual's handiness, those accustomed to play baseball and cricket, excelling. The most difficult shot to stop results from a quick pass in front of goals at the height of about one foot off the ice.

It should be noted that Stocking wrote this passage after the introduction of goalie pads, which were introduced by Winnipeg goaltender George Merritt in 1896, who used cricket pads to protect his shins. One surmises that, before these pads were in use, a goaltender would have been more likely to use his stick to make stops, to limit the numbers of shots against his shins. Although 1880s goaltenders did wear some shin protection, it was not nearly as full as the cricket pads would be.

Also note the reference to clearing the puck; though Tom Paton was clearly an effective goaltender in terms of stopping the puck, it seems his most noteworthy feature was his skill at clearing the puck once it was stopped. From a Montreal Gazette game report of January 14, 1888, for example, we have the following:


Brown by a rush took the puck well up where Lee made a gallant effort to score without success, as Paton was on the alerts and sent it down only to be returned to him to defend his charge which he did well.
 
McQuisten was the first man to show up prominently; he passed it to Brown who shot for goals, but as Paton was keeping a sharp lookout it was sent up again where another spell of open play occurred.

Lee sent in another sharp one to Paton, who sent it back.

He was not just a stickhandler, though, as this passage from the January 30, 1893 edition of the Gazette suggests:

At the start the puck was carried down to the Montreal end of the ice and shot after shot was made at the goal, but Paton stopped them with his hands, stick or feet. He seemed to be in every part of the goals at once, and every time the puck was shot in it was as speedily returned, and finally Cameron scooped it up to the other end of the rink.

So I see Paton very much as a 19th Century Martin Brodeur: a goaltender who is very proficient at stopping the puck, but who also contributes greatly to his side's efforts with his stick.

More on Paton, and Stewart and Cameron, in the coming days.

1926-27 on the Map

With the recent discussion about the NHL's realignment plans, I thought it would be fun to look at where professional hockey was many years ago. 1926-27 was the first season that the modern major-league/minor-league structure was put in place. In addition to the 10-team NHL, which resulted from the absorption of the rival Western Hockey League, there were four professional minor leagues:

The American Hockey Association arose from the Central Hockey League, which was a semi-professional league that itself arose from the western section of the United States Amateur Hockey Association (Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul), plus the Winnipeg Maroons. A team was added in Chicago, and the former Sault Ste. Marie club moved to Detroit for the 1926-27 season.

The Canadian-American Hockey League was essentially brand-spanking new for the 1926-27 season. It featured teams in Boston, Springfield, New Haven, Providence and Quebec City, and had the greatest overlap in territory with the NHL.

The Canadian Professional Hockey League was a result of the professionalization of a bunch of Ontario Hockey Association senior clubs: Hamilton, London, Niagara Falls, Stratford and Windsor.

The Prairie Hockey League arose from the remains of the Western Hockey League, and was geographically the most isolated of all the professional leagues (unless you count the California league, which was not affiliated to the rest of the leagues in any way). It included teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Here's a little map to summarize:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Triple-A's

If you're into hockey history in any way, you've probably heard of the Montreal AAA, alternately known as the Montreal Hockey Club, or the Winged Wheelers. They are perhaps best-known as being the very first recipients of the Stanley Cup, which they claimed by winning the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in 1893.

But the Winged Wheelers did more than win the first Stanley Cup and wear snazzy blue sweaters:


They were in fact a dominant team in most seasons from their first season in 1885 to 1892. Participating in the Montreal Winter Carnival tournaments and AHAC championships, they were generally the team to beat, and maintained that status with their exceptional defensive play, although their offence was nothing to sneeze at either. Here are their goals for and goals against results, compared to league average, for these seasons:

SeasonGF/AvgGA/Avg
1885 1.70 0.34
1886 1.14 1.64
1887 0.84 0.73
1888 1.29 0.36
1889 1.15 0.55
1890 1.26 0.57
1891 1.63 0.50
1892 0.54 1.29
Average 1.19 0.75

This team frequently allowed less than 60% of the league or tournament average in goals per game, sometimes getting ridiculously low. There was far less parity among teams at this time than there is in the modern NHL, of course, and we're dealing with small numbers of games. But the fact that the Montreal AAA were able to do this season after season says something.

We'll be looking in some detail at their trio of great defensive players during these years in upcoming days: goaler Tom Paton, who you have probably heard of, cover-point Allan Cameron, who you might have heard of, and point James Stewart, who you've probably not heard of. We'll be discussing these three standouts, the role each played on this great team, who may have contributed the most to the team's defensive prowess, and a little bit about why Montreal was such a force in goal prevention. Stay tuned.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Fine Art of Lifting

One of the barriers to entry, so to speak, of interest in early hockey is some of the terminology in use during the early years of the game's development. Some of these are the result in simple changes in terminology (such as "bully" for faceoff, or "game" for goal), but some instead have to do with changes in the strategy and tactics used on the ice. Plays and tactics no longer relevant to the modern game result in archaic terminology that is unfamiliar to current fans of the game. If you're reading a game report from the 1890s, for example, you'll probably come across some terms you've not seen before.

Some of these differences you might already be aware of, such as the names for the positions. Rather than two defencemen, there was a point and a cover-point, and there was a fourth forward called a rover. This is pretty simple stuff, and doesn't by itself shed much light on how the game was played.

One of the most important archaic term in this respect is probably the "lift". When you read about a game featuring the Montreal or Winnipeg Victorias (basically every city had a club with that moniker, as a tribute to the Queen), you'll see references to players, typically the defence, lifting the puck down the ice. The meaning of this phrase is fairly self-evident: it is quite literally a player using wrist action to flip the puck high up into the air, and down into the opponent's end. What is not immediately obvious is the tactical implications of this maneuver.

Lifting the puck was not simply a matter of clearing the puck out of your end, though it was certainly used for that purpose. More important, however, was the interaction of this tactic with the rules of the day, specifically the offside rule. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no forward passing allowed in hockey. Passes were often made laterally, as in rugby. You could pass the puck forward to an extent, as long as the recipient of the pass was not ahead of you when the pass was made. You could not simply pass the puck ahead to a waiting teammate to clear your end. If you weren't able to carry the puck out, you had to clear it in another manner. But if you simply shot the puck down the ice, it was an easy matter for the opponents to corral the puck and begin another attack.

Lifting the puck, however, provided several advantages. It took longer for the puck to travel down the ice, giving your side more time to regroup. More importantly, the hard rubber puck bounced when it hit the ice, making it more difficult for the opponents to predict where it would go and organize their counterattack. Indeed, sometimes the bounce was so unpredictable that a long lift could result in a goal being scored, if the rubber skipped past the goalkeeper. This unpredictability, in fact, allowed the lift to be used offensively as well as defensively. Think of an onside kick in American football - the opponents would often have difficulty in gaining possession of the puck, allowing a teammate to rush in and take the rubber away and begin an attack of his own.

This is why the lift was so important, tactically. In some sense it was a pseudo-forward pass in a game that did not allow forward passing. It was useful both for offence and defence, and the points and cover-points of the day were expected to be able to execute the maneuver well, both to fulfill their duties on defence and to move the play ahead to their forwards. Sometimes matches would have periods referred to as "lifting battles", where the teams exchanged lifts back and forth for a time. Although this does not sound exciting, and was certainly criticized as such at the time, it does illustrate that the play was seen as an effective one, if teams were willing to indulge in it with such aplomb.
Hostgator promo codes