Tuesday 29 July 2014

In-Depth Review: L'histoire du hockey au Québec, Part 4

This is the fourth part of my in-depth review of Donald Guay's 1990 book L'histoire du hockey au Québec: Origine et développement d'un phénomène culturel avant 1917 ("The History of Hockey in Quebec: The origin and development of a cultural phenomenon before 1917"). Please note that since the book is written in French, any time I quote from the book, I will provide both the original passage in bold italics, followed by my translation in regular italics.

Here I begin to address chapter three, which discusses the organization of hockey in Quebec. I'm not sure yet how many posts it will take to cover this chapter, but it will be a few since this is by far the longest chapter in the book, taking up over one-third of the total page count. But let's get started.

Guay begins by noting that one charactestic of the organization of sports is the tendecy for teams to join together to form leagues, made up of teams of approximately equal strength. This was and is generally done along the lines of age groups - juvenile, junior, intermediate and senior - though this is not always the case (for example, commercial leagues that are organized by employer or by profession.) The explosion in the number of hockey leagues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is an illustration of the enormous growth in popularity of hockey in Canada. The first hockey league was formed in 1886, and Guay notes that by 1917, 81 different hockey leagues had been mentioned in the Montreal press. This isn't to say that there were 81 hockey leagues in 1917, since many had come and gone by that point, but the fact is clear. The growth in the game in Canada was indeed remarkable.

Before the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) came into being in 1886, there was the Montreal Winter Carnival hockey tournament, the first of which was held in 1883. McGill won the Carnival Cup that winter over the Montreal Victorias and Quebec HC. This tournament was also played in 1884 and 1885, but the carnival was cancelled in 1886. Two things happened as a result of this cancellation, one which Guay makes note of and one which he omits. Guay does not mention that there was a winter carnival hockey tournament played in 1886, but it was in Burlington, Vermont as two Montreal teams travelled there to take on a local side. This was the first international hockey tournament, though admittedly it doesn't have much relevance to the development of hockey in Montreal.

Guay does discuss the 1886 Montreal city championships. With the carnival tournament cancelled, the clubs of the city decided to play a season-long series to determine the champion for the year. Each of the four clubs (AAA, Victorias, McGill, and the eventual champion Crystals) would play each other club twice over the winter. This illustrates that the clubs were not simply playing in the carnival tournaments for fun or sport; they specifically wanted to crown a champion. As such, even though in chapter one Guay suggests that sport is played with the goal of honourable victory, and that the stake can be something as simple as the satisfaction of winning, the hockey clubs of Montreal had already moved beyond that. Winning wasn't enough; they wanted recognition for their victories.

Indeed, it seems the creation of the AHAC was in part due to the desire for recognition. Guay quotes a Montreal Gazette sports writer, who in December 1886 suggested that the AHAC would provide "a higher standard of excellence, both as a game and in the eyes of the public." (p.75). As such it seems clear that the views of the public were relevant to sport, or at the very least to the organization of sport. This is not something that Guay addressed when addressing his proposed dichotomy of games versus sports with his six criteria in chapter one of the book, and indeed it illustrates the issue of making such a binary distinction.

Now, Guay's distinction was between game and sport, not between organized sport and non-organized sport or whatever you might call it, but the principle is the same. These are best viewed as continuums, where particular versions of an activity can lay at any point along the scale. The creation of a hockey league increased the organization in hockey, certainly, but one cannot say that it created organization in hockey, since there was some level of organization in hockey already. Drawing a line in the middle of the scale and declaring that everything to one side of the line is "organized hockey" (while the other side is not) is far too simplistic and limits understanding. This also applies to making such a distinction between game and sport.

Guay notes that the AHAC modelled their constitution on that of the Dominion Lacrosse Association, and points out the tendency for amateur athletic organizations to centralize authority rather than allow for democratic decision-making. This results in sweeping powers being given to a small group of executives. Sometimes even a single powerful individual could serve as judge, jury and executioner in amateur sport. Guay is absolutely correct to point out that this put the AHAC «en situation de conflit d'intérêt permanent...» ("in a permanent situation of conflict of interest.") (p. 76)

Ultimately it would be this tendency for centralized authority in amateur hockey which would spped along the later development of the professional version of the game, as the draconian rulings handed down by the Ontario Hockey Association in the late 1890s forced former amateur hockeyists to seek money for their efforts as they were forced out of the "pure" sport. Guay does not really address the fact that this centralized authority, and the issues that he rightly states it creates, would seem to disqualify amateur hockey from this time from his previous definition of "sport", since fair play would so often be left aside for petty politics and tyrannical decrees by executives.

It also seems professional hockey would thus be excluded from his definition of sport, since monetary concerns would seems overtake sportsmanship. Indeed the moral panic of anti-professionalism started early in hockey. Guay notes that a Gazette sports writer in 1888 suggested that the Montreal AAA and other clubs might be paying their players. Readers rebuffed him, but he said the future would bear him out. It's odd that the AAA would be the only team specifically mentioned by the writer; years later when eastern hockey became openly professional, the Winged Wheelers were one of two teams to withdraw from the league rather than become a pro side.

Guay begins to delve into the history of AHAC seasons. Strangely enough, when the AHAC began play in the winter of 1886/87, they did not use the series system that the Montreal teams had adopted for 1886. They played a challenge system in 1887, wherein the team currently holding the championship title could be challenged by another team, and the winner of that game would become the current title-holder, and on and on until the season came to a close, when the team holding the title at that time was declared the season's champion. A series system was played in 1888, but the league returned to a challenge format from 1889 to 1892, at least in part to make it easier for teams outside Montreal to participate. The Ottawa and Quebec clubs would have difficulty playing a series system due to the financial constraints of amateur hockey.

The results of the 1892 season illustrate the significant issue with the challenge system. Ottawa won nine straight matches during the season, but lost their final challenge match to the Montreal AAA, who had failed in three previous challenges that season. But there was no more time for hockey that winter, and as such, the AAA (with their record of one win and three losses) was declared champion over Ottawa (who had nine wins and one loss). The system had previously been called "supremely ridiculous" in 1890 (p.81), when the AAA had gone undefeated in nine matches, and it was recognized that if they had lost their last match, they would not have been champions. The absurdity of the system should be apparent to any modern hockey fan, and was realized by at least some fans at the time, but it was the system they used.

The thing is, and this is not from Guay but my own observation, that hockey today still effectively uses a challenge system to decide the season's champion. The concept of annual playoffs appended to the regular season is exactly the same as using a challenge system to decide a champion. The regular season, played as a series, is merely used to seed the playoffs, which is a challenge system. The league (for example, the NHL) decides which teams are allowed to challenge which other teams based on the results on the regular season, until it comes down to a winner-take all final series, after all other teams have been eliminated by losing four out of seven games, regardless of how many they had won before that time.

In theory, an NHL team could go 82-0 in the regular season and sweep the first three rounds of the playoffs to reach the championship final with a record of 94-0. Their opponent could be a team that was 41-41 during the season and won the first three rounds in seven games each, for a record of 53-50. And yet, if the latter team beats the former four games out of seven (raising their season record to 57-53), they will be declared champion over the team that won 97 out of 101 games that year. The possibility of this sort of result was recognized to be "supremely ridiculous" in 1890, and yet now it is so deeply ingrained in North American hockey that most fans would not understand any other way of doing it. Annual playoffs are taken for granted in North American sports, and I don't think many fans really stop to consider this potential absurdity.

When a series system was finally adopted on a permanent basis by the AHAC for the 1892/93 season, the move was hailed, as the fixed schedule of game would be much better for the fans, which again illustrates the importance the views of the public had in the development of organized hockey. Once again Guay mentions this but does not really give it due consideration, and how it affects his ideas about the criteria that are representative of sports.

Next time, we'll get into some of the trials and tribulations faced by amateur hockey in the late 20th century, many of which it ultimately brought on itself.

Friday 25 July 2014

Puckerings archive: Neutral Winning Percentage (27 Jul 2001)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site puckerings.com (later hockeythink.com). It is reproduced here for posterity; bear in mind this writing is over a decade old and I may not even agree with it myself anymore. This post was originally published on July 27, 2001 and was updated on April 9, 2002.

Neutral Winning Percentage
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

This essay describes a method for evaluating goaltenders which is, in theory, free from bias created by the team the goalie plays for and the teams he faces. It developed from an idea proposed by Marc Foster, president of the Hockey Research Association. This idea was to adapt Michael Wolverton's support-neutral pitcher records for used in hockey.

Support-neutral records remove the effect of team offence from a pitcher’s won-lost record, thereby producing a result that more fairly evaluates a pitcher’s performance. Foster proposed to adapt this method to calculate offence-neutral records for goaltenders, as follows.

Each goaltender’s season is broken down by the number of times which he allows zero goals in a game, one goal in a game, two goals, and so on. The records for all teams in the league are then broken down based on the number of goals they allowed in each game. We then use these league numbers to compute an expected record for the goaltender, based on the number of times he allowed each number of goals against.

For instance, the breakdown by goals against for the 2000/01 NHL season is as follows:

 GA  #  W  W%  L  L%  T  T%
 0  186  172  .92  0  .00  14  .08
 1  406  316  .78  28  .07  62  .15
 2  595  340  .57  141  .24  114  .19
 3  520  171  .33  275  .53  74  .14
 4  365  58  .16  275  .75  32  .09
 5  228  16  .07  206  .90  6  .03
 6  111  5  .05  104  .94  2  .01
 7+  49  0  .00  49  .00  0  .00
 2460  1078  1078  304

So, if a goalie allows 2 goals in a game, we expect him to win 57% of the time, lose 24% of the time, and tie 19%. We therefore give him credit for 0.57 wins, 0.24 losses, and 0.19 ties for each game in which he allows 2 goals. We multiply the number of games in which he allows each number of goals by the appropriate factors for wins, losses and ties. Adding the results gives us a won-lost-tied record. We then convert the record into a winning percentage, so we can compare goaltenders directly.

This winning percentage is offence-neutral. The number of goals the goaltender’s team scores has no effect upon the percentage. The bias resulting from playing for a high- or low-scoring team is eliminated.

Foster’s idea, as presented above, is a good first step. But we can go further and remove even more team-related bias from a goaltender’s record. This is, in fact, the point of this exercise: to remove all team effects from a goalie’s record, so we can evaluate the goalie based solely upon his efforts.

We have already eliminated the distortion caused by team offence. Two types of distortion remain: distortion from team defence, and distortion from opponent’s offence. Fortunately, both of these can be compensated for.

Distortion from team defence

In the essay entitled “Goaltender Perseverance: a Useless Stat”, I demonstrate that the number of shots a goalie faces is a function of his team. Thus, a goaltender who faces a large number of shots is being unfairly penalized for playing for his particular team. This distortion must be removed to effectively compare goaltenders.

To control for this distortion, we should not evaluate a goalie based on the actual number of goals he allows, but on the number of goals he would allow when facing an average number of shots. In this was, we remove the bias resulting from facing a high or low number of shots.

Unfortunately, some distortion will remain. Team defence affects not only the number of shots faced, but the quality of shots faced. However, this distortion cannot be removed because we cannot determine the effect it has on a goalie’s save percentage. Still, this distortion is present in all methods currently used for evaluating goaltenders (including save percentage), so even if it is present in Neutral Winning Percentage, this method is still an improvement.

Distortion from opponent's offence

The idea here is basically the same as Keith Woolner’s Pitcher’s Quality of Opposition. If a goalie faces teams who are more better shooters (that is, have higher scoring percentages), he will give more goals, even when his shots against are normalized.

A goaltender’s adjusted goals against in a game (based on average shots) should therefore be further adjusted, depending on the shooting percentage of the team faced. When facing a team with an above-average shooting percentage, the goals against would be adjusted downward, reflecting the greater challenge faced. Conversely, a low-shooting-percentage team produces an upward adjustment.

Application of the method

For each game, the goaltender’s actual save percentage for that game is applied to an adjusted number of shots to produce an adjusted number of goals against. This goals against figure is rounded to the nearest whole number, since it is impossible to allow 2.3 goals in a game (for example).

The adjusted shots against is calculated thusly:

LgShotsPerGame x (LgShootPct/OppShootPct)


LgShotsPerGame is the total shots in the league divided by the total games played in the league
LgShootPct is the total goals in the league divided by the total shots in the league
OppShootPct is the opponent’s goals divided by the opponent’s shots

Each level of adjusted goals against (0,1,2...) is compiled for each goaltender, and the record is then computed as described earlier.

One further thing needs discussion: what to do when a goalie does not play a full game. In such a case, the same process is used, but instead of receiving credit for a full game, the goalie receives credit for whatever portion of the opponent's shots he faced. For instance, if a goaltender faces half the shots in a game, the resulting wins, losses and ties for that game are each multiplied by one-half.

2000/01 NHL results

I computed the Neutral Winning Percentage (NWP) for all goalies for the 2000/01 NHL season. Complete results follow. For discussion purposes, here are the leaders and trailers in NWP (minimum 30 ‘decisions’):

 Leaders  Trailers
 1.  Manny Fernandez  .611  1.  Dan Cloutier  .430
 2.  Mike Dunham  .610  2.  J.S.Aubin  .437
 3.  Dominik Hasek  .604  3.  Mike Vernon  .449
 4.  Yevgeny Nabokov  .599  4.  Trevor Kidd  .451
 5.  Sean Burke  .594  5.  Guy Hebert  .452
 6.  Roman Cechmanek  .593  Mike Richter  .452
 Roberto Luongo  .593  7.  Bob Essensa  .456
 8.  Manny Legace  .566  8.  Marc Denis  .456
 9.  Ron Tugnutt  .556  9.  Jocelyn Thibault  .472
 10.  Patrick Lalime  .554  10.  Damian Rhodes  .482
 Patrick Roy  .554

So, even though Fernandez and Dunham were marginally better, Hasek was a good choice as Vezina winner. It remains to be seen whether the young goalies, such as Fernandez, Dunham, Nabokov, Luongo and Legace, will be able to maintain their high levels of performance. Players like Vernon and Richter seem to be surviving on reputation alone.

One of the great advantages of this method is that numbers from one year to the next are directly comparable. Since NWP is based on the averages for that season, we need make no further adjustments to compare different seasons. A .600 NWP is just as impressive in 2000/01 as it is in 1990/91 or 1980/81.

2000/01 NHL Neutral Winning Percentages
 Goalie  Team(s)  Dec  NWP  Goalie  Team(s)  Dec  NWP
 Aebischer  Col  23.0  .489  Kochan  TB  5.1  .422
 Aubin  Pgh  34.2  .437  Kolzig  Wsh  70.8  .545
 Belfour  Dal  60.9  .541  LaBarbera  NYR  0.1  1.000
 Bierk  Min  1.0  .100  Lalime  Ott  59.7  .554
 Billington  Wsh  10.9  .583  Larocque  Chi  2.5  .240
 Biron  Buf  15.3  .529  Legace  Det  35.0  .566
 Boucher  Phi  24.8  .355  Luongo  Fla  43.4  .593
 Brathwaite  Cgy  44.5  .528  Maracle  Atl  12.5  .448
 Brodeur  NJ  69.8  .527  Mason  Nsh  0.9  .389
 Burke  Phx  59.8  .594  McLean  NYR  20.3  .451
 Cechmanek  Phi  56.4  .593  McLennan  Min  36.4  .533
 Cloutier  TB-Van  31.5  .430  Moss  Car  9.2  .250
 Dafoe  Bos  41.4  .545  Nabokov  SJ  60.9  .599
 Denis  Clb  30.2  .465  Naumenko  Ana  1.2  .083
 Dipietro  NYI  18.2  .390  Noronen  Buf  1.9  .395
 Dunham  Nsh  46.5  .610  Osgood  Det  46.9  .504
 Esche  Phx  22.2  .471  Ouellet  Phi  1.3  .538
 Essensa  Van  34.0  .456  Parent  Pgh  5.3  .509
 Fankhouser  Atl  4.3  .535  Passmore  LA-Chi  17.6  .497
 Fernandez  Min  40.5  .611  Potvin  Van-LA  57.3  .496
 Fichaud  Mtl  1.0  .550  Raycroft  Bos  10.8  .454
 Fiset  LA  5.3  .377  Rhodes  Atl  34.0  .482
 Flaherty  NYI-TB  18.5  .389  Richter  NYR  43.8  .452
 Fountain  Ott  0.9  .389  Roussel  Ana-Edm  16.6  .434
 Gage  Edm  4.4  .307  Roy  Col  58.9  .554
 Garon  Mtl  9.2  .505  Salo  Edm  71.7  .507
 Giguere  Ana  33.5  .534  Scott  LA  0.4  .000
 Grahame  Bos  7.9  .418  Shields  SJ  18.6  .548
 Gustafson  Min  4.0  .463  Skudra  Bos  18.5  .384
 Hackett  Mtl  16.3  .387  Snow  Pgh  33.5  .525
 Hasek  Buf  64.2  .604  Tallas  Chi  10.5  .405
 Healy  Tor  14.3  .339  Terreri  NJ-NYI  14.7  .422
 Hebert  Ana-NYR  49.8  .452  Theodore  Mtl  54.9  .530
 Hedberg  Pgh  9.1  .560  Thibault  Chi  63.4  .472
 Hirsch  Wsh  0.3  1.000  Tugnutt  Clb  51.8  .556
 Hnilicka  Atl  31.0  .495  Turco  Dal  21.1  .609
 Holmqvist  NYR  2.0  .300  Turek  StL  53.1  .505
 Hurme  Ott  21.3  .491  Vanbiesbrouck  NYI-NJ  43.4  .486
 Irbe  Car  72.7  .545  Vernon  Cgy  37.1  .449
 Johnson  StL  28.0  .546  Vokoun  Nsh  34.6  .542
 Joseph  Tor  67.6  .538  Weekes  TB  55.5  .509
 Khabibulin  TB  2.0  .525  Whitmore  Bos  3.6  .139
 Kidd  Fla  38.7  .451  Yeremeyev  NYR  3.6  .208
 Kiprusoff  SJ  2.6  .558

Friday 18 July 2014

Puckerings archive: Goaltender Perseverence (30 Mar 2001)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site puckerings.com (later hockeythink.com). It is reproduced here for posterity; bear in mind this writing is over a decade old and I may not even agree with it myself anymore. This post was originally published on March 30, 2001 and was last updated on April 11, 2002.

Goaltender Perseverance: a meaningless stat
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

This essay examines Chapter 8 of Klein and Reif's Hockey Compendium, which is all about goaltending. This chapter makes up pages 131 to 159, and fully 22 of these pages (76%) is taken up by the discussion of a Klein and Reif (KR) statistical creation, Goaltender Perseverance.
Unfortunately, all of these 22 pages are wasted. Goaltender Perseverance is a meaningless and useless concept. But don't take my word for it; read on and you'll discover why.

KR begin their discussion with the appropriate point that traditional goaltending statistics (that is, Goals-Against Average and Won-Lost-Tied records) are deceptive a best:

"The statistical method hockey has used since the very beginning of the game for determining who is a good goalie and who is a bad one is all wrong. Goals-against averages, they're called, and as we all know, you figure out a goalie's GAA by taking the number of goals he allows and dividing it by the number of full games he plays. This is patently ridiculous…" (p.134)

This statement is true; GAA is of very limited meaning for evaluating goalies. However, KR have a problem with it because it evaluates goalies based on something that is more a measure of team defence (goals against), rather than the individual goalie's performance. This is rather ironic, because Goaltender Perseverance also evaluates goalies based upon something that is more a reflection of team defence (shots faced), rather than individual goalie performance. I will demonstrate this, but first, we will examine KR's rationale.

KR move on to Save Percentage, which is a much better number for evaluating goalies. Unfortunately, the NHL has officially tracked this figure since 1982-83, even though it had been invented decades earlier.

But KR are not content with Save Percentage as it is. Their reasoning is as follows:

"The more shots you face, the less likely the chance that you have time to get set for each shot, to be in position for each shot, to see each shot." (p.137)

That is, if you face a larger number of shots per game, your save percentage will be lower, on average. This is simply a statement KR make, and it forms the entire basis for their Perseverance index. They make no attempt whatsoever to prove that the statement is true. They present no evidence that the fiftieth shot in a game is more likely to produce a goal than the fifth shot. In fact, their claim is entirely false.

To disprove their claim, I will use only the data KR themselves had: the official NHL shots figures for 1982-83 to 1986-87, and the 1981-82 numbers they compiled themselves. Their argument is that as a goalie's shots per game increases, his save percentage decreases. This is easy to test. I took the shots per game and save percentage figures for these six years, using the top tier of goalies as identified by KR (that is, those playing 1600 or more minutes in a season). I then calculated the correlation coefficients between shots per game and save percentage. If KR's premise is correct, then a higher number of shots per game should produce a lower save percentage. Thus, the correlation coefficient should be a significant negative one (say -0.40 at a minimum). The results are as follows:

 Year  Correlation
 1981-82  0.17
 1982-83  -0.32
 1983-84  0.15
 1984-85  0.14
 1985-86  0.25
 1986-87  0.08

In none of the years is there any sort of strong negative relationship. Which is to say, the number of shots you face does not have a negative effect on your save percentage. Five of the six years have a slight positive relationship, meaning that as shots increase, save percentage increases. I have a theory as to why this might be, but have not yet tested it; the positive relationship is quite small at any rate. In summary, KR's premise is entirely false.

There is further evidence that the Perseverance Index is a meaningless concept. As an index, it is designed to rank players, but the actual number itself has no meaning. There is nothing inherently wrong with indexes. However, an index must be based upon solid premises and logical reasoning. Perseverance is not; it is a meaningless, arbitrary mishmash of numbers. Here is the formula (p.138):

Perseverance = (6 x (Saves/Shots x 100) + Shots per 60 minutes)/.6

Why 6? Why .6?

"It [the formula] is based on our perceptions, and in that sense it is subjective to some degree." (p.138)

This last statement is not true. The formula is entirely subjective. It was admittedly arrived at by trial and error, with the end result affecting the formulation until a result that "looked right" was found. Arriving at any metric, even an index, by trial and error opens the door for personal biases to enter after examining the results, but this is beside the point.

The entire point of Perseverance is to reward goalers for facing a lot of shots (or, conversely, penalizing them for facing few shots). This makes the rating meaningless, because the number of shots faced by a goalie is beyond his control; it is a function of his team.

To prove this, I again used only the data KR had access to. In this case, I could not use 1981-82, because the splits for traded goalies are not provided by KR. I calculated the correlation coefficients between teams' starting goalies and backups for each year. If there is a high degree of correlation (0.60 or more), then there is evidence that shots faced per game are a function of team. The results:

 Year  Correlation
 1982-83  0.77
 1983-84  0.67
 1984-85  0.89
 1985-86  0.71
 1986-87  0.70

Each and every year, there is strong evidence that shots are a function of team; meaning that the number of shots a goalie faces depends on which team he plays for. Thus, KR are actually evaluating goaltenders partly based on which team they play for. Talk about patently ridiculous!
KR spend 22 pages gushing over their creation, which (1) is based on a false premise, and (2) evaluates players based on something that is beyond their control. In short, Perseverance is useless and meaningless. This is a noble cause, trying to find new ways to evaluate goalies. However, this failed attempt shows that more work needs to be done.

If you have further interest in the subject of evaluating goaltenders, there are other method available besides save percentage; for example, Neutral Winning Percentage and the Point Allocation system.

Klein, J. and K.-E. Reif. The Klein and Reif Hockey Compendium. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

In-Depth Review: L'histoire du hockey au Québec, Part 3

Welcome to part three of my in-depth review of Donald Guay's 1990 book L'histoire du hockey au Québec: Origine et développement d'un phénomène culturel avant 1917 ("The History of Hockey in Quebec: The origin and development of a cultural phenomenon before 1917"). Please note that since the book is written in French, any time I quote from the book, I will provide both the original passage in bold italics, followed by my translation in regular italics.

In chapter one, Guay defined a sport but did not define hockey. In chapter two we finally get to some characteristics of the sport of ice hockey that can be used to differentiate it from other games and sports. Guay discusses five such characteristics, including their origins and evolution over time: the number of players, the puck, the goals, the sticks and the rink.

The first thing I notice is that one of the most basic defining characteristics of hockey is not included here: the skates. I think you'll agree that, even if a game is played on ice, it would not be considered ice hockey by our current understanding if skates are not used. Let's see what Guay has to say about the characteristics he does identify.

Number of Players

Guay points out that in the earliest recorded Montreal hockey matches, the norm was nine players per side, shrinking to seven by the early 1880s. This is fewer players than other similar sports, such as the eleven used as bandy, and as such the author suggests that this is a differentiating characteristic of ice hockey. It is, however, unwise to use something so specific to define a sport. Bandy has eleven players per side, and early hockey had nine per side. If, in a bandy match, two players on each side are sent off with penalties, does this now mean they're playing hockey, since they now have nine per side, and nine per side is characteristic of hockey?

Moreover, there is a version of bandy called rink bandy that was developed in the 1960s in Sweden, that is played in hockey rinks with six players per side. How are we to differentiate between ice hockey and rink bandy, if the lower number of players is supposed to be a defining characteristic of ice hockey? This illustrates that when defining what a game is, referring to specific rules is a bad idea, since rules change over time and can lead to overlaps such as this.

Guay goes on to discuss how the number of players in ice hockey was gradually reduced, first to seven and then to six in the early 1910s when the rover was eliminated in eastern hockey, a move which the western leagues were slower to adopt. Guay discusses the rover a bit, and notes that sports writer Andy O'Brien claimed that players at this position were not subject to any rules, and were allowed to go anywhere on the ice at any time. That is, the strict offside rules of the time did not apply to the rover. This is simply hogwash. The position was called a rover not because of the rules, but because of the roles forwards played on offence. Art Farrell, in Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game (1899), explained that while the centre played the middle of the ice and the wings their own sides, the rover was supposed to go wherever he was most needed to support the other forwards.

To Guay's credit, he does not suggest that O'Brien's claim is accurate, stating that he was unable to corroborate it. Of course, he could have simply referred to the rules from this time, and he would have found it was complete bollocks. Indeed, the fact that he needed to try to corroborate this suggests that Guay is not very familiar with the game as it was played at this time. There is nothing mysterious about the rover, it was simply another forward.

The Puck

Guay begins here by noting that in the 1870s, hockey was played with a rubber ball like that used in bandy, shinty, hurling and field hockey. For the first Montreal match on March 3, 1875, however, a circular piece of wood was used, in order to protect the spectators. Guay states that this was specified to be an exception, however, and that until 1885 matches of ice hockey played outside, at least, used a ball and not a puck.

We can go through the newspaper game summaries from 1875 to 1884 to see if this lines up with history. In these years, I can find reports for ten different matches that refer to the object of play by one name or another.

March 3, 1875: Montreal Gazette (03 Mar 1875) refers to a "flat circular piece of wood"; Montreal Gazette (04 Mar 1875) refers to a "block of wood"; Montreal Daily Witness (04 Mar 1875) refers to a "flat piece of board."

March 15, 1875: Montreal Gazette (17 Mar 1875) refers to a "little circle of wood."

February 5, 1876: Montreal Gazette (07 Feb 1876) refers to a "puck." This is the first recorded instance of "puck" used in this manner. It may be derived from the same term used in hurling, where "to puck" the ball means to strike the ball.

February 1, 1877: Montreal Daily Witness (02 Feb 1877) refers to a "hockey block" and a "wooden block." This is consistent with matches to this date, and it's clear that the were still using a wooden puck to play hockey. However, the report also refers to the puck as "the ball" in one instance. This suggests that sometimes the term ball was still used to refer to the puck, even though it was not a ball in the sense of a spherical object. This will become more certain later on.

February 26, 1877: Montreal Gazette (27 Feb 1877) refers to a "ball" nine times. However, given the February 1, 1877 reference we cannot be sure that this actually means a spherical ball and not a puck.

March 6, 1879: Montreal Gazette (07 Mar 1879) refers to a "ball." See comments above.

February 16, 1882: Quebec Morning Chronicle (17 Feb 1882) refers to a "puck" twice.

January 27, 1883: This was the final match of the 1883 Montreal Winter Carnival, and was played at the Victoria rink, and not the St. Lawrence River as the previous games in the tournament. Quebec Morning Chronicle (29 Jan 1883) refers to a "puck" six times, a "ball" five times and a "rubber" three times. This makes it quite clear that the term "ball" was sometimes used to mean the puck. Montreal Gazette (29 Jan 1883) refers to a "rubber" twice, a "ball" twice and a "bully" twice.

February 5, 1884: Montreal Gazette (06 Feb 1884) refers to a "ball."

February 7, 1884: Montreal Gazette (08 Feb 1884) refers to a "rubber." This match, and the match above, were part of the 1884 Winter Carnival. The matches in this year's carnival were all played at the McGill rink, which was an outdoor rink, not covered like the Victoria or Crystal rinks.

Taken all together, it seems clear that the puck used on March 3, 1875 was not an exception in the sense of being a one-time thing, but in the sense of a persistent change from the previous norm. It seems to be a change that stuck. Some confusion can arise given that it also seems that the term "ball" was used sometimes even when the object was flat and circular, like the puck we know. Apparently "ball" could have the generic meaning of the thing that you play the game with, and did not necessarily mean a sphere. So perhaps Guay read the February 5, 1884 report and saw the word "ball", and figured this meant that this outdoor game was played using a rubber sphere. Given the information above, we cannot make this assumption, and indeed it seems likely the object was pucklike in nature.

Of course, it is possible that the converse was the case; that the term "puck" became the generic term, even was the object was actually a sphere. However it's very unlikely that such a new term would become the widely-accepted generic term for such an object in such a short period of time. We have evidence that ball was the generic term. In a game report in the Montreal Daily Herald of 08 Feb 1887 made reference to a puck four times, and a ball once. We know, according to AHAC rules written before that season, that a flat, disklike puck is the object that would be used in the match. As such it seems clear that puck was a specific term meaning a flat disc used for hockey, while ball could be used to mean any object of play in similar games.

Although Guay appears to be incorrect about the use of pucks and balls in early Montreal hockey, he is correct when he says this:

«Cette modification, si elle semble banale à première vue, apporte un élément essentiel qui va distinguer davantage le hockey des autres jeux et sports alors pratiqués, tels que le shinty, le bandy, le hurling ou le hockey sur gazon qui se pratique tous avec une balle, mais de différents grosseurs. Il devient possible de manier, de contrôler la rondelle qui glisse sur la glace, ce qui permet aux jouers de se déplacer rapidement avec la rondelle et de mieux maîtriser des «combinaisons», c'est-à-dire le jeu d'ensemble. Le technique de base est le «stick handling» ou maniement du bâton qui permet de développer de nombreuses techniques qui demeurent très difficiles, sinon impossible avec une balle» (p.54)

"This change, seemingly trivial at first glance, brought an essential element which would further distinguish hockey from other games and sports played at the time, such as shinty, bandy, hurling or field hockey which are played with balls of various sizes. It made it possible to handle, to control the puck while it glides along the ice, which permits the players to move rapidly with the puck and to better use "combinations", that is, passing plays. The basic technique is stick handling, which allows the development of techniques which would be very difficult if not impossible with a ball."

I reached this very same conclusion in On His Own Side of the Puck. The change to a puck was originally done only to protect spectators, but it had great unintended consequences. The greater "science" that it allowed in ice hockey is surely one of the reasons that the popularity of the sport increased so dramatically in Canada in such a short period of time.

The Goals

This section is uncontroversial, with Guay providing a fine summary of the evolution of the goal posts, and later goal nets, used in ice hockey. One item of note is that Guay asserts that the posts were eight feet apart in 1875, which is based on a reference in the report for the March 3, 1875 game in Montreal. However, the report only stated that the goals were "about" eight feet apart, and it's not clear if the writer was referring to the goals used in the hockey match, or to lacrosse goals, which the game was being compared to at the time. So ultimately, until the 1886 rules specified how far apart the goals were to be, we don't know for certain how far apart they were.

The Stick

Guay briefly discusses early sticks, noting that the shape of the blade is different from sticks for other sports such as field hockey, bandy and shinty. Pretty straightforward stuff.

The Rink

Finally, Guay notes that ice hockey is played on a smaller surface than other similar sports. Hockey's standard is about 200 by 85 feet, while bandy used about 300 feet by 150 feet. But once again, even though hockey used a smaller surface, using this as a defining characteristic of hockey is problematic. How long and wide does the playing surface have to be before hockey becomes bandy? If the rink is 250 feet long, is this characteristic of hockey or bandy? If a game, using hockey equipment and rules, is played on a bandy-sized surface, is it no longer hockey? If bandy is played in a hockey rink, is it no longer bandy? This is why specific dimensions should be avoided is trying to define what hockey is, and how it is different from similar sports such as bandy.

After all this, Guay suggests that it is because ice hockey had written rules that the sport overtook traditional British games such as field hockey, bandy, shinty and hurling. I'm really not sure what to make of this statement, since ice hockey took its first written rules from the written rules of English field hockey's written rules, and the author knows this. Bandy also had published rules before ice hockey came into being. As such, Guay does a fairly poor job in defining what hockey is and how it is different from similar sports. He discusses some of the characteristics that hockey has, but does not really define what hockey is. Notably, he leaves skates out of the equation entirely, even when comparing it to sports that are not played on ice and do not use skates, though all that is really needed is the puck to differentiate it from similar sports, to which the author does give proper credit.

Friday 11 July 2014

Puckerings archive: Player Comparisons (21 Mar 2001)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site puckerings.com (later hockeythink.com). It is reproduced here for posterity; bear in mind this writing is over a decade old and I may not even agree with it myself anymore. This post was originally published on March 21, 2001 and was updated on November 12, 2002.

Player Comparisons
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

Note: This essay is based on my April 28, 2000 posting on the "hockhist" mailing list on Yahoogroups.

The fact is, it’s difficult to look at a pre-modern player’s numbers, even when adjusted, and tell what kind of a player he was. Most of us have never seen many of these players play. Translating numbers into a vivid image of the player’s style in your mind is a difficult task. On the other hand, we have seen most modern players actually play, either live, or on television. We have an idea about players’ styles, beyond their simple numbers.

This leads to a possibility: perhaps we can better understand an old-time player if we can compare him to some modern player. This can help us form an image of the player’s style in our minds, by associating it with the style of a player we know. While there can never be a perfect comparison, of course, this can be a useful exercise when examining the record of older players.

Just this exercise has been done in two recent publications: the first edition of Total Hockey (TH) in 1998, and 1999’s Ultimate Hockey. The purpose of this essay is to examine the player comparisons done in these two books and comment on their validity, and then present some comparisons of my own that I feel are valid.

First, I will go over the comparisons (called “Statistical Twins”) made in Total Hockey. All references to statistics are Adjusted Scoring statistics, from the second edition of Total Hockey. Here are the comparisons:

Mario Lemieux - Jean Beliveau
Physically very similar, both were imposing and capable of dominant play. Beliveau is certainly the better leader. Their career numbers are fairly similar, 544-654-1198 for Lemieux and 615-722-1337 for Beliveau. However, Beliveau played nearly twice as many games as Lemieux. Lemieux’s best seasons are 73, 68 and 60 goals, and 154, 144 and 131 points. Beliveau’s best are 66 and 55 goals (no other season over 50), and 115, 102 and 100 points. Clearly, Lemieux’s numbers are far superior. Physically, this is a good match, but statistically, it is marginal at best.

Bobby Orr - Fred Taylor - Paul Coffey
First of all, Taylor does not belong in this group. True, he was a defenceman at the beginning of his career. However, he was a forward (rover) for the majority of his career, including his best years. He tends to be lumped in with defencemen, but how many blueliners lead their league in goals three times and points five times? So he’s out. Orr and Coffey are often compared, simply because Orr is the best offensive defenceman of all time, and Coffey is probably second. But Orr has a significant edge in the numbers. Orr’s best years are 40, 37, 37 and 36 goals, and 123, 119, 107 and 107 points. Coffey’s best are 38, 32, 30 and 25 goals, and 99, 91, 90 and 87 points. And to say Coffey is anywhere near Orr defensively is ridiculous. Bobby Orr is probably the greatest hockey player (let alone defenceman) of all time. To compare anyone to him is just silly.

Steve Yzerman - Max Bentley
Yzerman’s numbers are significantly better than Bentley’s, and is really a different kind of player. This match is no good. A much better comparison for Max Bentley is Denis Savard, as will be discussed later.

Paul Kariya - Doug Bentley
Kariya is really too early in his career to make a good comparison, and his numbers are quite a bit better than Bentley’s. True, their styles are fairly similar, but Kariya is clearly superior offensively. This is not a good match.

Raymond Bourque - Dit Clapper
When Clapper started playing defence half way through his long career (one good reason to dismiss this comparison), his numbers began looking distinctly like a defenceman’s. Bourque is far better offensively, so much so that they are not really comparable as players.

Brad Park - Earl Seibert
This is not a completely terrible match, though Park is so far ahead offensively that it makes the comparison a little shaky.

Chris Chelios - Art Coulter
See the comments for Park - Seibert. Though their styles are similar, statistically there is no comparison.

Al MacInnis/Doug Wilson - Flash Hollett
First of all, other than one huge season, Wilson didn’t score enough to be grouped with these other two. MacInnis - Hollett, though, is a decent match. MacInnis is a better playmaker, and a better player overall. But their both being from Nova Scotia makes it a likable comparison. This is not a great match, but it’s better than most in TH.

Brett Hull - Bill Cook
Though Cook was a more physical player, this is a fairly good match overall. Hull has the edge on raw scoring, recording seasons of 80, 64, 62 and 53 goals, while Cook had 62, 60, 58 and 52. But because Hull is not at all a physical player, this is a difficult comparison to endorse.

Brendan Shanahan/Keith Tkachuk - Charlie Conacher
Tkachuk is too rough a player to compare to the Blonde Bomber, as is Shanahan to some extent. But in terms of goal-scoring, they do have some similarity. Conacher had seasons of 64, 60, 58 and 56 goals; Tkachuk had 55, 49, 47 and 42; and Shanahan had 49, 49, 48 and 43. Clearly, Conacher was a more dominant scorer than the other two, and that, coupled with the high penalty totals of the others, make this match a bad one.

Adam Oates - Joe Primeau
These two are playmakers extraordinaire. Both have low penalty totals. And though Primeau had a shorter career and wasn’t the goal-scorer that Oates could be at times, this is a pretty good match. Primeau has the edge in assists, with seasons of 99, 84, 68 and 50, while Oates had 69, 67, 62 and 61.

Doug Gilmour - Syl Apps - Ted Kennedy
These three are all excellent checkers, with at least modest offensive talent and a lot of grit. Apps had very low penalty totals, especially compared to Gilmour, and made 5 All-Star Teams. Kennedy was not as offensively gifted, and made 3 All-Star Teams. Gilmour has the best offense of the three, but never made an All-Star Team. Overall, Kennedy played more like Gilmour, but Apps scored more like Gilmour. These are fair matches. Gilmour had seasons of 93, 90 and 82 points; Apps had 82, 81 and 70 points; Kennedy had 76, 71 and 66 points.

Marcel Dionne - Cy Denneny
Dionne was more of a playmaker than Denneny, and had a longer career. Both were smallish (Dionne more so) and put up some big numbers. Denneny had seasons of 122, 112, 92 and 83 points, while Dionne had 107, 103, 101 and 97. This is a fair comparison, but it’s not great.

Jari Kurri - Frank Nighbor
Though Kurri is definitely underrated defensively, he is not in the same league as Nighbor in this regard. Both won the Lady Byng award, and both put up some big numbers, tailing off later in their careers. But Nighbor won the Hart and was clearly the better player overall. This is only a decent match.

Mark Messier - Maurice Richard - Newsy Lalonde
TH cites “leadership” as the tie binding Messier and Richard. Both are feisty and physical, but there the similarity ends. Messier was foremost a playmaker, while Richard is the ultimate goal-scorer. Comparing them is quite silly. Lalonde is much more like Richard, and both could be very rough players. However, Lalonde scored goals through great skill, and Richard scored through sheer force of will. These are not good comparisons at all.

Phil Esposito - Nels Stewart
Esposito relied more on his teammates to pick up his garbage goals, inflating his totals somewhat. Stewart was a dirtier player, but like Espo, was a dominating scorer. Esposito had seasons of 76, 67 and 66 goals, while Old Poison had 62, 61 and 56. This is a decent match overall.

Bobby Hull - Howie Morenz
Now here is a good match. Morenz was a better playmaker, while Hull was more consistent and had a longer career. But in terms of style, the match is excellent. Both were the most electrifying, exciting things on the ice during their times. Both skated like lighting, and were renowned for their end-to-end rushes. Both had hard, accurate shots, and a talent for scoring. This is a very good comparison indeed.

Wayne Gretzky - Frank Boucher/Bill Cowley/Elmer Lach/Stan Mikita
Cowley and Lach simply don’t put up the numbers like the others do. Mikita is a completely different type of player, not being the playmaker the others are. Boucher actually comes close to Gretzky’s numbers in terms of assists, which is somewhat surprising. Gretzky had seasons of 111, 94, 93 and 89 while Boucher had 110, 87, 83 and 80. However, Boucher was nowhere near the goal-scorer Gretzky was in his prime. Boucher is certainly the closest match, but the comparison is only fair due to the great disparity on goals. It’s not really fair to compare anyone to Lemieux, Orr, Taylor, or Gretzky. It just doesn’t work.

I will make only comments on the Ultimate Hockey comparisons at the end of this essay, because there are so many of them. Of all the comparisons from TH and UH, there are a few I really like. I feel these are matches of players who are truly similar:

Bobby Hull - Howie Morenz (TH)
Sprague Cleghorn - Chris Chelios (UH - see below)
Max Bentley - Denis Savard (UH - see below)
Jacques Plante - Patrick Roy (UH - see below)

Now for the good stuff. Following are some comparisons I have come up with myself, and feel are very good.

Benedict was a dominant goaler. In 18 major-league seasons, he led the league in average nine times and wins eight times. More importantly, he changed the way goal was played. When his career began, goalies were prohibited from falling to the ice to make a save. Benedict broke this rule so often that it was finally revoked. Like Benedict, Hasek is renowned for flopping around on the ice, doing anything to make a save. He too has changed the way goal is played, in that before, when a goalie was completely taken by a deke, he would simply give up. Now, many goalies do as Hasek does, doing anything to get some part of their body in the way, often while lying on the ice, and often making the save.

Burch was a forward renowned for his skating and stickhandling skills. He put up some good numbers, but never quite enough to match his enormous talent. He had seasons of 39, 35, and 34 goals, and 76, 70 and 65 points. Cournoyer is quite similar, though he had an edge in raw speed, and Burch was a better passer. The Roadrunner had seasons of 47, 46 and 39 goals, and 85, 78 and 69 points. All things considered, these two are quite comparable.

Cameron is the best offensive defenceman of his time. Known for putting a curve in his shot, he always racked up piles of goals. He also led the NHL in assists twice, in 1917-18 and 1921-22. And although his skills were immense, he was a troublesome player, leading him to be moved around; he played in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Saskatoon. He had NHL seasons of 25, 23 and 22 goals, and 81, 65 and 58 points. Al MacInnis is the best offensive defenceman of his time. He is known for his powerful slapshot, a shot which Cameron predates. MacInnis is probably better than Cameron defensively, and hasn’t been nearly as troublesome. His best seasons are 26, 26 and 24 goals, and 83, 69 and 68 points.

Chapman was a centre with good passing skills who, other than two seasons in which he paced the circuit in helpers, was always a second-tier talent, not quite among the league’s elite. His best seasons were of 60, 54 and 44 assists, and 75, 73 and 56 points. He was also a gentlemanly player, with low penalty totals. Janney also has good playmaking skills, but has never led the league in assists. His best seasons are 57, 53 and 50 assists, and 77, 74 and 68 points, and he has always had few penalties.

Conacher was truly “The Big Train”. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, he was very big for his day. He was a physical defenceman with significant offensive skills. He was truly a force on the blue line. Standing 6’6” and weighing in at 220, Pronger is certainly the modern player most deserving of the name “Big Train”. He is a dominant physical force on defence, and has offensive talent to boot.

Cook was a great right wing, one of the best of all time. He was a consistent, prolific scorer, having NHL seasons of 62, 60, 58 and 52 goals, and 114, 98, 98 and 98 points. He led the NHL in goals three times, and the WCHL twice. He was a big, physical player, who was imposing in more ways than one. LeClair, a left wing, is also an imposing scorer. He’s had seasons of 60, 53, 51 and 50 goals, and 96, 95, 95 and 88 points, but has never led the league. LeClair has never been quite as dominating as Cook, but they are still very well-matched.

Crawford had a long pro career, beginning in the Saskatoon Pro League in 1910 and ending in 1930 in the AHA, a period covering 20 seasons. During this time, he was a tough-checking forward with considerable scoring talent who never shied away from the rough stuff. He was never an elite player, but was a character player. All this can also be said about Hunter, who played 19 NHL seasons, and was a hard-playing, moderate-scoring character player.

Keeling was a shooter through-and-through. His goals always exceeded his assists by a good margin. He was a very consistent scorer, having 20 or more goals in 9 of his 12 NHL seasons. His best season saw him count 37 times. Martin was also a very consistent goal-scorer in his 11 NHL seasons, which included a 50-goal effort. He scored 30 or more goals in 7 seasons. Keeling’s numbers are somewhat lower, but he was stuck on the second line for most of his career, behind the powerful force of the Cook-Boucher-Cook line.

Lowrey is not well-known at all, but he was a quick, smallish forward with excellent (and underrated) playmaking ability, who was also able to pop in a few goals. Never among the elite scorers, he was much like Andrew Cassels is now. Cassels’ skills are very underappreciated, much like Lowrey’s. These two are perfect second-line centres.

McVeigh was a smallish (5’6”) forward with great speed, earning him the nickname “Rabbit”. He lived by his skating, putting up seasons of 26, 21 and 20 goals, and 53, 53 and 52 points. His playmaking talent was also considerable. Courtnall was also a consummate speedster. He had seasons of 30, 26 and 25 goals, and 65, 62 and 60 points. Courtnall may have somewhat better numbers, but in terms of style, they are remarkably similar.

Pavelich was a hard-working, second-line-type winger who always chipped in with his share of goals. He was an integral part of the Red Wings machine of the 1950’s. Flatley was never part of any machine, having the misfortune of playing most of his career for the Islanders in the late 1980’s. But he was also a hard-working winger with consistent offensive contributions.

Reise was a well-travelled defenceman with some good offensive skills, and was quite consistent. Between 1920 and 1930, he played in Hamilton, Saskatoon, and New York with both the Americans and Rangers. He had NHL seasons of 67, 58 and 43 points. And though he was a solid defender, he wasn’t a rough customer. Brown played in Quebec, St.Louis, Vancouver, Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and Washington between 1985 and 1998. He was a very consistent offensive performer, and was also a solid defenceman. He had seasons of 58, 54 and 51 points.

Roach was a small, quick forward who had a fairly short career covering 8 NHL seasons. He put up some fairly good numbers, punctuated by one outstanding career year in 1922-23 for Hamilton (29-38-68). He also had low penalty totals. Chouinard also played 8 full NHL seasons in which he put up some good numbers. He too had one outstanding career year, in 1978-79 for Atlanta (43-41-84), and took very few penalties. Though Chouinard had somewhat better numbers, these two are very comparable.

Thompson was a very consistent, high-scoring forward who is terribly underappreciated. In 13 NHL seasons, he had 7 years of between 62 and 77 points, and between 24 and 36 goals. Never among the league’s elite, he did lead his team in scoring a few times. Federko was also a very consistent, high-scoring forward. In his 13 full NHL seasons, he had 9 years of between 62 and 78 points, and 7 years of between 24 and 33 goals. He, too, was never among the league’s elite, though he did lead his team in scoring at times. Paul Thompson for the Hall of Fame, anyone?

Wilson was a brute; a rough, very physical player. He led his league in penalties three times, and was often the perpetrator of come violent acts. He made up for this with some good, consistent offence from his right wing position. He moved around, playing for six major pro clubs. Williams played for five teams in the NHL, leading the league in penalties three times. His offensive skill is underrated, and fairly consistent; it is usually forgotten under a barrage of his fists. This is another good comparison.

For the comparisons in UH, I will only make brief comments on each because there are so many. Here they are:

Sprague Cleghorn - Chris Chelios: Very good match, both rough with good offence.

Tommy Dunderdale - Dale Hawerchuk: Pretty good.

Jack Laviolette - Scott Niedermayer: Despite Laviolette often playing the wing, this is pretty good in terms of style.

Joe Malone - Jaromir Jagr: Not good.

Harry Mummery - Ed Jovanovski: Now that Jovanovski has matured, not bad. But Mummery doesn't really have the offence.

Didier Pitre - Peter Bondra: Not good.

Goldie Prodgers - Trevor Linden: Prodgers was often a defenceman, and was a better scorer, too. Not good.

Gord Roberts - Keith Tkachuk: Pretty good.

Tommy Smith - Teemu Selanne: A decent comparison.

Fred Taylor - Paul Coffey: Bad. See comments above discussing TH comparisons.

Frank Boucher - Wayne Gretzky: Not terrible, see comments discussing TH comparisons.

Punch Broadbent - Brendan Shanahan: Decent, but Broadbent was very inconsistent.

Babe Dye - Brett Hull: Not bad.

Frank Finnigan - Mike Peca: Pretty good.

Jake Forbes - Mike Richter: Richter much more consistent, but a decent match.

Dick Irvin - Joe Nieuwendyk: Pretty good.

Duke Keats - Keith Primeau: While both very physical, Primeau is not nearly the force offensively. Not good.

Mickey MacKay - Alexander Mogilny: Mogilny’s painful inconsistency makes this a poor comparison.

Howie Morenz - Pavel Bure: Bure is another good match for Morenz.

Reg Noble - Rick Tocchet: Noble played defence for a large part of his career, but otherwise a fair match.

Ken Randall - Kevin Stevens: Randall mostly a blueliner, and Stevens had better numbers (due to his linemates, mostly).

John Ross Roach - Mike Vernon: Roach was consistently one of the worst goalies in the NHL, though he was good enough to stay; Vernon is probably better.

Marty Barry - John LeClair: Good match, but Barry’s numbers aren’t up to LeClair’s.

Busher Jackson - Sergei Fedorov: Jackson can’t match Fedorov’s speed or shot.

Mush March - Sami Kapanen: Quite good, but Kapanen is early in his career.

Baldy Northcott - Shayne Corson: Northcott a better scorer, Corson a longer career, but still a good match; very similar styles.

Joe Primeau - Adam Oates: Good, see the comments about the TH comparisons.

Babe Siebert - Bobby Holik: No good; for one thing, Siebert was often a defenceman, and was much rougher.

Hooley Smith - Jeremy Roenick: Smith a better playmaker, Roenick a better goal-getter; not great, but not terrible.

Nels Stewart - Cam Neely: Neely was not nearly the force Stewart was. Not good.

Sid Abel - Saku Koivu: Koivu is early in his career, but will probably never match Abel’s goal-scoring. Only a fair match.

Bobby Bauer - Robert Reichel: Reichel is a pretty good match for the overrated Bauer.

Max Bentley - Denis Savard: Now here is a great match! Savard could easily be called the "Dipsy-Doodle Dandy from Pointe Gatineau”.

Butch Bouchard - Scott Stevens: A good match, even if Stevens has superior numbers.

Frank Brimsek - Grant Fuhr: The overrated Brimsek is not a good match for the much-overrated Fuhr.

Neil Colville - Ron Francis: No good at all.

Roy Conacher - Brian Bellows: Quite good.

Jack Crawford - Larry Murphy: Murphy was much better on offence, and worse on defence. Not good.

Bill Durnan - Ed Belfour: Pretty good, though Durnan would never claim he was screened on a breakaway.

Bryan Hextall - Wendel Clark: Fair, but Clark was a much rougher player.

Nick Metz - Mike Keane: Good, but Metz scored quite a bit more.

Babe Pratt - Kevin Hatcher: Not bad.

Chuck Rayner - Ron Hextall: Not bad, but scoring goals shouldn't be a tie binding goalies.

Milt Schmidt - Mark Messier: Schmidt doesn’t have nearly the numbers of the Moose.

Andy Bathgate - Steve Yzerman: Not bad, though Stevie Y has a big edge on offence.

Jean Beliveau - Mario Lemieux: See comments about TH comparisons.

Leo Boivin - Lyle Odelein: Boivin not the fighter Lyle was at times, but a fairly good comparison.

Bill Gadsby - Chris Pronger: A fairly good match, both are (or will be) frequent all-stars.

Bernie Geoffrion - Al MacInnis: Other than being known for their slapshots, there is absolutely nothing in common here.

Doug Harvey - Ray Bourque: A decent match.

Gordie Howe - Eric Lindros: An insult to Mr. Hockey.

Tom Johnson - Adam Foote: Good; two unassuming, tough, quality defencemen.

Red Kelly - Brian Leetch: Kelly was a center quite a bit, making this comparison mostly invalid.

Ted Kennedy - Doug Gilmour: Pretty good, see comments about TH comparisons.

Edgar Laprade - Craig Janney: Janney’s playmaking is superior; not good.

Tony Leswick - Martin Lapointe: Both are hard-working wingers; a good comparison.

Ted Lindsay - Mark Recchi: Not good, as Recchi is anything but Terrible.

Ed Litzenberger - Dave Andreychuk: Litzenberger’s prime is too short to compare him to the consistent Andreychuk.

Fleming Mackell - Theo Fleury: Mackell’s too tall (a towering 5’7”), and is clearly inferior offensively.

Gus Mortson - Ulf Samuelsson: Good match. Highly penalized, good defence.

Jacques Plante - Patrick Roy: A very good match. Both are the elite goalies of their time. Plante invented wandering from the crease, and Roy tried his hardest to emulate, but often turns it into an adventure/nightmare.

Terry Sawchuk - Dominik Hasek: No good. Sawchuk is very overrated.

Tod Sloan - Owen Nolan: Both inconsistent, with some big years. Not bad.

Sid Smith - Luc Robitaille: Robitaille is one of the greatest left wings of all time. Smith is...not.

Jim Thomson - Craig Ludwig: Thomson’s offence is too good (!).

Ralph Backstrom - Alexei Yashin: No good.

Alex Delvecchio - Mike Modano: It’s unlikely Modano will play 24 years, but they are similar; good defence and very good offence.

John Ferguson - Bob Probert: This is quite a good match, though Ferguson is a “policeman” in the pre-70’s tradition, while Probert is definitely a “goon” in the modern sense.

Glenn Hall - Martin Brodeur: A decent match.

Dave Keon - Guy Carbonneau: Good.

Jacques Laperriere - Eric Desjardins: A decent match, both very good, and very underrated.

Frank Mahovlich - Mats Sundin: Both known as Leafs, both never quite living up to their talent.
Stan Mikita - Peter Forsberg: A good match; both are complete players.

Bob Pulford - Rod Brind’Amour: Two tight-checking forwards with significant skills; a decent comparison.

Henri Richard - Paul Kariya: No good.

Eddie Shack - Claude Lemieux: A decent comparison; though Lemieux is significantly better on offence, both are feisty, entertaining players.

J.C.Tremblay - Phil Housley: A good match, though it took Tremblay several years to blossom offensively.

Making comparisons in this way is not an exact science. And it is not to be taken too literally. It is only an aid, to help in the understanding of players who played long before many of us were alive. At the very least, it’s an interesting exercise; a reason to look at the records of older players.
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