Friday 31 October 2014

Puckerings archive: Factors Affecting NHL Attendance (29 Oct 2002)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site (later 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 October 29, 2002.

Factors Affecting NHL Attendance
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

This paper builds upon the work of Wiedecke, who examined factors affecting NHL attendance using a multiple linear regression model. A summary of this work follows.

Data from the 1997/98 NHL season were used, giving 26 data observations. The dependent variable used was the percentage of capacity (called "Attendance Capacity"). That is, if a team averaged 15,000 fans in an arena with a capacity of 15,500, the team had an Attendance Capacity of 97% (15,000 divided by 15,500). The independent variables used were standings points, goals scored, and penalty minutes (which are all self-explanatory), and location (explained below).

Location for each team was assigned a value of 1, 2 or 3 based upon the team's geographic location. A value of 1 was assigned to the northernmost teams (Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver). A value of 2 was assigned to Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. A value of 3 was assigned to the southernmost teams (Anaheim, Carolina, Dallas, Florida, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Tampa Bay, and Washington.

(1) by incorporating a larger data set;
(2) by redefining the dependent variable; and
(3) by introducing a new indepdendent variable.

Rather than using only the 1997/98 season, I will use data from 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01 and 2001/02, giving 193 data observations.

I will use average attendance as the dependent variable, rather than percentage of capacity. By using the percentage, a team which fills 14,800 of 15,000 seats (98.7%) is considered superior to a team which fills 19,700 of 20,000 seats (98.5%). This does not reflect reality well, as the second team draws a full 33% more fans.

The independent variable added is Novelty. A value of 5 is assigned to a team in its first year in the league (after either an expansion or franchise relocation), and this is reduced by one for each subsequent year in the league until it reaches 0. The purpose is to determine if new teams get an attendance boost simply by being new, as if often postulated. The four independent variables used by Wiedecke are also used.

Variable Correlations
A variable correlation analysis is performed to examine the data for possible cross-correlation effects. Only one pair of variables, goals and standings points, has a significant correlation (positive 0.64). Therefore if both goals and points are found to be significant, care must be taken in their interpretation due to cross-correlation. Other pairs with less-significant correlations are attendance and points (positive 0.39), attendance and location (negative 0.31), and location and novelty (positive 0.30).

The following table indicates the coefficients of correlation for all variables used: attendance (ATT), points in standings (PTS), goals scored (GF), penalty minutes (PIM), location (LOC) and novelty (NOV).

 ATT  -  .39  .25  -.04  -.31  -.17
 PTS  .39  -  .64  -.28  -.17  -.19
 GF  .25  .64  -  .10  -.22  -.17
 PIM  -.04  -.28  .10  -  .04  -.01
 LOC  -.31  -.17  -.22  .04  -  .30
 NOV  -.17  -.19  -.17  -.01  .30  -

Results of the Model

The results of the multiple linear regression model are as follows.
 Constant (y-intercept)  13,326
 Standard error of estimate  2,071
 R-squared  0.223
 Variable  Coefficient  St. error  t-stat
 PTS  61.08  13.56  4.50
 GF  -6.90  7.16  -0.96
 PIM  0.80  0.61  1.31
 LOC  -778.93  211.43  -3.68
 NOV  -47.92  119.85  -0.40

Discussion of Results
The t-statistics of GF, PIM and NOV indicate there is little evidence that they affect attendance in any significant way. On the other hand, there is very strong evidence that PTS and LOC significantly affect attendance. These findings agree with Wiedecke.

Overall, the model is not extremely useful; the R-squared figure indicates only 22.3% of the variability in attendance is explained by the model. This may indicate there are other independent variables that should be considered.
The correlation between the two significant independent variables (PTS and LOC) is -0.17, indicating there is no significant cross-correlation effect.


According to the model, having a good team is the most significant factor affecting attendance. Ceteris paribus, each additional standings point increases attendance by 61 fans per game. A 90-point team therefore has a 610-fan advantage in average attendance over an 80-point team.

The location coefficient indicates that the further south a team is, the worse its attendance is. All else being equal, a team in the southern US averages 1,558 fans less per game than a team in Canada. This is significant because the NHL's recent strategy has been to put as many teams in the southern US as possible, either through expansion or franchise relocations (including moving teams from Canada to the southern US). The results of this model suggest that this strategy is seriously flawed. In this case, analysis agrees with common sense: why are markets where there are hockey fans ignored in favour of markets where there are no hockey fans? At least the most recent expansion was more logical, and didn't put any more teams in the Sun Belt.


Wiedecke, Jennifer. 1999. Factors Affecting Attendance in the National Hockey League: A Multiple Regression Model. Master's thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Friday 24 October 2014

Puckerings archive: Win-Things Theory (18 Oct 2002)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site (later 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 October 18, 2002.

Theory: Win-Things
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

The most common perspective put forward on win theory can be summarized as follows:

Before a game begins, each participating team has a 50% chance to win (a .500 expected winning percentage), ceteris paribus. As the game progresses, and as each team does things that affect their chances of winning or chances of losing, the expected winning percentage of each team changes. For instance, if a team scores a goal after 5 minutes of play, their percentage may change to .550, and the opponent's would therefore be .450, since the percentages necessarily sum to one.

At the crux of this theory lie two ideas: (1) before a game begins, a team's winning percentage is .500, and (2) a team does two types of things that affect its chances of winning: good things (which we'll call "win-things") and bad things (which we'll call "loss-things".)

As a team, you have no significant control over what your opponents do. Therefore, at least from an analytical perspective, you can assume they will do an average number of things to win. At the beginning of a game, you have not yet done anything to win, and have no guarantee that you will do so. Therefore, your expected winning percentage before a game is not .500, but .000.

Teams try to win games, they do not try to lose them. Therefore a loss-thing is merely a failed attempt at a win-thing. Just as darkness is merely the absence of light, loss-things are merely the absence of win-things. Therefore win-things are what matters, and this is why I refer to this theory as Win-Things Theory.
The idea that you cannot control your opponent's actions is carried throughout the thoery. For instance, in the traditional theory, scoring a goal is a very good thing (i.e., it has a high Win-Things value). Under Win-Things Theory, whether or not a shots actually produces a goal is irrelevant to the shooting side. The Win-Things were produced by the shot itself, with a higher-quality shot producing more Win-Things. Conversely, the opponent's Win-Things on the play depend on whether or not the shot is stopped. Stopping the shot produces Win-Things about equal to the Win-Things resulting for the other side by taking the shot. Not stopping the shot produces no Win-Things (it does not produce Loss-Things).

It should be noted that the .000 beginning expected winning percentage applies only to one-team analysis. In two-team analysis, where the actions of both teams are considered, the expected percentage would depend on the Win-Things each team has accumulated. But generally speaking, one-team analysis is more useful in analyzing what contributes to winning, by assuming opponents to be average in all regards.

Traditional theory focusses much attention on expected winning percentage. Win-Things Theory does not. The point is not to get your expected winning percentage up; the point is to accumulate more Win-Things than your opponents. Since you cannot control how many Win-Things your opponents accumulate, the best way to ensure this is to accumulate as many Win-Things as possible.

This theory supports Bill James' Win Shares system for baseball, which I have adapted into the Point Allocation method for hockey. Win Shares has been criticized for not considering "Loss Shares". Using this new theory, Loss Shares are irrelevant, and the criticism is therefore invalid. Opportunity should still be considered, but fortunately in hockey games are timed, while in baseball the opportunities vary greatly from game-to-game, based on a multitude of factors.

Friday 17 October 2014

Puckerings archive: Shots and Save Percentage (18 Oct 2002)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site (later 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 October 18, 2002.

Theory: Shots and Save Percentage
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

In my investigation into the validity of Goaltender Perseverence, I looked into the relationship between the number of shots a goaltender faces per game and his save percentage. I found that, as the number of shots per game increases, save percentage does not decrease, on average, as the fundamental assumption of Perseverence argues. In fact, there is some evidence of a positive relationship; that is, as shots increase, save percentage increases.

This evidence was met with an "it doesn't make sense" reaction from those I presented it to. Well, common sense is often dead wrong. To explain this phenomenon, I present the following theory.

For simplicity, I will discuss only two types of shots: easy and tough (referring to the goaltender's perspective). There are in actuality many varying degrees of toughness of shots, but these two will suffice for our purposes.

Easy shots are largely discretionary. They are shots that result from situations where a player could choose to shoot, or choose another play. They are of lower quality than tough shots, because they are usually taken from a greater distance than tough shots, or less favourable circumstances.

Since easy shots are discretionary, there must be a reason that teams do not simply shoot every time, in order to maximize their goals scored. The reason could be twofold: you give up the opportunity to make a pass, which could result in a higher-quality shot, and the shot is more likely to produce a turnover, allowing a possible scoring chance for the opposition. Therefore, it is not always wise to take the shot rather than another play.
Save percentages on tough shots are low, and save percentages on easy shots are high. And since easy shots are primarily responsible for variation in shots faced by a goaltender (since the number of tough shots faced is relatively consistent), save percentage will increase as shots faced increases.

For example, let's say that the average tough shots faced per game is 5, and the save percentage on such shots is .800. This is the same for every goaltender. Any difference in shots faced is due to easy shots, which we'll say have a save percentage of .900.

A goaltender facing 25 shots will therefore face 20 easy shots (25 less 5). Goals against on tough shots is 1.0 (5 less .800 times 5), on easy shots 2.0 (20 less .900 times 20). 3 goals against on 25 shots is an .880 save percentage.

A goaltender facing 35 shots will have the same 1.0 goals against on tough shots, but will have 3.0 on easy shots (30 less .900 times 30). 4 goals against on 35 shots is an .886 save percentage. The goaltender facing more shots on average has a higher save percentage.

That is my theory of how save percentage can increase as shots increase. Unfortunately, this theory cannot be tested using information that is currently available. The NHL does track certain shot data (type, location) for shots that produce a goal, but not for shots that do not produce a goal. If this information were recorded for all shots, it could be used to test this theory.

Friday 10 October 2014

Puckerings archive: The Cost of a Penalty (18 Oct 2002)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site (later 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 October 18, 2002.

Theory: the Cost of a Penalty
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

The value of odd-man play is often debated. In the mass media, much ado is made about the power-play (and, to a lesser extent, penalty-killing), calling it a key to success. Others, such as Klein and Reif, downplay its importance, noting that even-strength play is better for predicting success. 

This essay takes a conceptual approach to this problem. What, in theory, is the importance of odd-man situations? To examine this question, I will examine a theoretical team, one which is average in all respects.

This team plays in three types of situations: even-strength (ES), power-play (PP) and short-handed (SH). Examining each of these situations reveals the answer we are looking for.

Even-strength: The team is completely average. Therefore, they will score exactly as many ES goals (ESGF) as they allow (ESGA). Thus, their expected net goal differential per minute of ES time (ESMIN) is calculated as follows:


Which, for reasons discussed above, is zero. 

Power-play: On the PP, a team scores about three times as often as at ES, while goals against are cut in half. PP time (PPMIN) produces a net goal differential as follows, using 1998/99 figures:

= ( 1533 - 220 ) / 16326 ... minutes figure is estimated
= 0.08

Short-handed: Since PP time for one team is SH time for another, SH situations produce the converse of PP, or -0.08 goals per minute.

Taking this all together, as average team will have a winning record if they can obtain more PP opportunities then they give. That's badly phrased, since a team with a winning record cannot be average, but you know what I mean. This is most easily accomplished by taking as few penalties as possible, since you have rather limited control over your opponent's actions.

From this perspective, odd-man situations are extremely important, as they decide games. The team taking fewer non-coincident penalties should win, on average.

If this perspective is valid, then we should be able to predict success based upon PP opportunities for and against. I tested the coefficient of correlation between net PP opportunities and standings points for a selection of recent seasons:

 1990/91  0.11
 1991/92  0.26
 1994/95  0.02
 1995/96  -0.02
 1998/99  0.63
 1999/00  0.23
 average  0.21

The correlations provide, on average, some support for the theory. They are generally positive, but not that strong (aside from 1998/99, which is very strong). But remember, we are not considering the quality of the teams, unless you consider taking few penalties to be a quality (which you should.) So there is some evidence that this theory is valid.

Friday 3 October 2014

Puckerings archive: Greatest Teams of All Time (09 Oct 2002)

What follows is a post from my old hockey analysis site (later 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 October 9, 2002.

The Greatest Teams of All Time
Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002

The most thorough discussion of teams possibly deserving nomination as the greatest of all time is in Klein and Reif's Hockey Compendium. They base their conclusion that the 1929/30 Bruins are the greatest of all time on the team's .875 winning percentage, which is the highest of any team playing the minimum number of games.

There are, of course, two problems with basing the analysis solely on winning percentage. For one, an artificial games limit has to be introduced, to keep those 8-0-0 Montreal Victorias of 1898 and 10-0-0 Montreal Wanderers of 1907 from dominating the list. If we could avoid artificial restrictions like these, we could improve the analysis substantially. As it stands, these teams have no chance of being considered, no matter how great they may have been.

In addition, using winning percentage alone ignores the league context. That is, how good are the other teams in the league? Are there a few weak sisters to beat up on, or is parity the order of the day? Obviously, the greater the parity in the league as a whole, the more difficult it is to run up a high winning percentage. You don't get those cheap points; you have to fight for each win.
Therefore the analysis should be based on the degree by which a team dominates the competition, and the range of quality of said competition. One method to do this is explained below, by way of example. 

Let's examine the top two teams by Klein and Reif's analysis. The Boston Bruins of 1929/30 played in a league where the standard deviation of winning percentage was .188, which is fairly high for the era. Boston's winning percentage of .875 is .375 higher than the average (which is .500), or 1.99 standard deviations above the mean (.375 divided by .188). This is called a z-score, and this is what I will base my analysis on. It encompasses both how far above the competition a team was, and how much variation in quality there was between teams. Boston's Winning Percentage Z-Score (WPZS) is therefore 1.99, which is very impressive, but as we'll see, not the best of all time.

The 1943/44 Montreal Canadiens, rated #2 by Klein and Reif, had an .830 winning percentage in a league that a had a standard deviation of winning percentage of .215 (high due to the disparity in talent caused by the war). There was less parity in this league-year than in 1929/30. Montreal's WPZS is 1.53, which while quite high is nowhere near the best of all time.

This means that, relatively speaking, Montreal had a greater benefit of weaker teams to play against than Boston did. By analyzing teams in this way, we consider both the quality of the league and we remove the need for any arbitrary restrictions. Below is the list of the top 48 teams of all time (all those with a WPZS of 1.50 or greater), from among the NHL and its predecessors, as well as the PCHA and WCHL/WHL, and the WHA. 

The surprises start at the very top. The greatest team of all time, by this analysis, is the 1995/96 Detroit Red Wings. Their .799 winning percentage had them #7 on Klein and Reif's list. But the standard deviation that year was a mere .116, quite low for the era. Other than Detroit, the best winning percentage was .634. 19 of the 26 teams were between .400 and .600. Parity was the rule, yet Detroit was able to completely dominate the league. Their 2.58 WPZS is far and away the best of all time.

The next two spots come from two teams from the same season. The epic battle between Calgary and Montreal in 1988/89 is revealed to be of truly historic proportions. Other than these two teams, no team had a winning percentage of greater than .575, or less than .381. The parity this year was amazing; the standard deviation was only .100. Calgary's percentage was .731; Montreal's was .719. While both teams miss Klein and Reif's top 20, they're #2 and #3 here. Never has there been two teams which stood futher above the rest of the league.

Spot #4 is the 1976/77 Canadiens. Montreal's 1970's dynasty also makes appearances at #9, #16, #19, and #26. That's a hell of a decade, and it's no surprise that it shows up here.

Two more recent Red Wings sides take the 5 and 7 spots, with the Dallas South Stars outstanding 1998/99 campaign sandwiched in between. The great Bruins of 1929/30, ranked #1 by Klein and Reif, finally appear at #8.

If I were to ask you which Flyers teams was the best in their history, I doubt you would answer "the 1979/80 edition, of course!" But here they are in a tie for 9th with the best the Oilers have to offer, the 1985/86 team. Another 1980's Flyers squad (1984/85) appears at #22, well above the their best of the 1970's (1973/74), which comes in at a tie for #40. 80's Oilers teams also appear at #18, #36, #42, and #45. Not quite the 1970's Canadiens, but not bad.

The highest-ranked team of the pre-NHL era turns out to be the 1912/13 Quebec Bulldogs. In a league where the five other teams had records ranging from 10-10-0 to 7-13-0, Quebec went 16-4-0 to dominate the field.

The Houston Aeros were the WHA's greatest team, no surprise, claiming spots 13, 34, and 38. No other WHA club appears on the list.

Montreal's other great dynasty shows up a few times as well. 1958/59 is #18, 1955/56 is #25, 1957/58 is #28, and 1959/60 is #46. This is probably less impressive than the 1980's Oilers, but more than the Islanders teams which show up at #14, #23, and #42.

The Bruins of the early 70's don't show as well as you might expect, because they played in an expansion era. They appear "only" at #16, #24 and #32. The original Senators also appear thrice, at #25, #34 and #40, the last two from their pre-NHL days.

Finally we have the two perfect clubs mentioned before. Because these teams played in eras notable for their lack of parity, their 1.000 winning percentages are knocked down quite a bit on this list. The 1898 Victorias stand in a tie at #36, while the Wanderers show at #38. These teams (as well as the 1910/11 Senators at #40) were completely blocked out of Klein and Reif's list due to the artificial games restriction. Here, they get a fair shot.

The complete list follows:

 Rank  Team  Year  League  WPct  WPZS
 1.  Detroit Red Wings  1995/96  NHL  .799  2.58
 2.  Calgary Flames  1988/89  NHL  .731  2.31
 3.  Montreal Canadiens  1988/89  NHL  .719  2.19
 4.  Montreal Canadiens  1976/77  NHL  .825  2.18
 5.  Detroit Red Wings  1994/95  NHL  .729  2.08
 6.  Dallas Stars  1998/99  NHL  .695  2.05
 7.  Detroit Red Wings  2001/02  NHL  .707  2.02
 8.  Boston Bruins  1929/30  NHL  .875  1.99
 9.  Montreal Canadiens  1977/78  NHL  .806  1.97
 9.  Philadelphia Flyers  1979/80  NHL  .725  1.97
 9.  Edmonton Oilers  1985/86  NHL  .744  1.97
 12.  Quebec Bulldogs  1912/13  NHA  .800  1.94
 13.  Houston Aeros  1976/77  WHA  .663  1.93
 14.  New York Islanders  1981/82  NHL  .738  1.92
 15.  Boston Bruins  1938/39  NHL  .771  1.86
 16.  Boston Bruins  1970/71  NHL  .776  1.85
 17.  Montreal Canadiens  1972/73  NHL  .769  1.81
 18.  Montreal Canadiens  1958/59  NHL  .650  1.79
 18.  Edmonton Oilers  1983/84  NHL  .744  1.79
 20.  Montreal Canadiens  1975/76  NHL  .794  1.78
 21.  Colorado Avalanche  2000/01  NHL  .720  1.77
 22.  Philadelphia Flyers  1984/85  NHL  .706  1.73
 23.  New York Islanders  1978/79  NHL  .725  1.72
 24.  Boston Bruins  1971/72  NHL  .763  1.70
 25.  Ottawa Senators  1926/27  NHL  .727  1.69
 25.  Montreal Canadiens  1955/56  NHL  .714  1.69
 27.  Montreal Canadiens  1978/79  NHL  .719  1.67
 28.  Montreal Canadiens  1957/58  NHL  .686  1.65
 28.  Buffalo Sabres  1979/80  NHL  .688  1.65
 30.  St.Louis Blues  1999/2000  NHL  .695  1.62
 31.  Quebec Nordiques  1994/95  NHL  .677  1.61
 32.  Montreal Canadiens  1915/16  NHA  .688  1.58
 32.  Boston Bruins  1973/74  NHL  .724  1.58
 34.  Ottawa Senators  1916/17  NHA  .750  1.57
 34.  Houston Aeros  1974/75  WHA  .679  1.57
 36.  Montreal Victorias  1897/98  AHAC  1.000  1.56
 36.  Edmonton Oilers  1981/82  NHL  .694  1.56
 38.  Montreal Wanderers  1906/07  ECAHA  1.000  1.55
 38.  Houston Aeros  1973/74  WHA  .647  1.55
 40.  Ottawa Senators  1910/11  NHA  .812  1.54
 40.  Philadelphia Flyers  1973/74  NHL  .718  1.54
 42.  Montreal Canadiens  1943/44  NHL  .830  1.53
 42.  Edmonton Oilers  1984/85  NHL  .613  1.53
 42.  New York Islanders  1980/81  NHL  .688  1.53
 45.  Edmonton Oilers  1984/85  NHL  .681  1.52
 46.  Montreal Canadiens  1944/45  NHL  .800  1.50
 46.  Montreal Canadiens  1959/60  NHL  .657  1.50
 46.  Montreal Canadiens  1968/69  NHL  .678  1.50

For those interested in this sort of thing, here is the distribution of the top 48 seasons of all time: Montreal Canadiens 14; Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, 5; Detroit Red Wings, Houston Aeros, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators (first edition) and Philadelphia Flyers, 3; Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche 2; Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Montreal Victorias, Montreal Wanderers, Quebec Bulldogs, St.Louis Blues 1. Notably, half of the Original Six teams (Rangers, Chicago, and Toronto) fail to take a single spot, while the Habs have 29% of the top 48 to themselves.
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