Last year during the offseason, I decided to dive into whether or not the New Jersey Devils were a lucky or unlucky team. Rob Vollman, in his work Hockey Abstract, proposed a formula for determining a team's luck during a season, and I thought it would be a neat idea to use that formula on our favorite team. Regardless if you believe in it or not, the data does have its uses, and so I want to do the exact same thing again. We know that New Jersey was a bad team last year, but did they also have bad luck to go along with it?
How to Track Luck Using Statistics
In his chapter on luck, Vollman writes that there are 5 major, measurable areas in hockey where luck can have a definitive impact. These are:
- Shooting and Save Percentages (PDO)
- Special Teams (STI)
- Injuries (CHIP)
- Post-Regulation Record
- One-Goal Game Record
Of course, before diving into it, it should be noted that not all of these stats are purely based on luck and luck alone. A team's save percentage may be boosted by a great goalie, and another team may have a great STI because they have an excellent power play or a shutdown penalty kill. However, there is also some part of each of these that has luck involved in them, making them useful for this study. Even a bad special teams unit will score a power play goal now and again thanks to a bounce, and a great goalie will have some bounces go against him.
The Devils and Luck
Now, let's look at how the Devils stacked up this past season. The first stat is PDO, which is a combination of a team's shooting and save percentages. Added up, a team with neutral luck will have a PDO of 1000, while higher numbers indicate more luck and lower numbers indicate a lack of luck (to get 1000, you would have a save percentage of .900 and a 10.0% shooting percentage. 900 + 100 = 1000).
For the Devils, at all situations they had a PDO of 100.49, good for 10th in the league. If you narrow the data to just 5 on 5 action, however, the Devils are now at a PDO of 100.65, which was good for 8th in the league. The reason it is so high is because of the amazing .935 save percentage. The team's shooting percentage of 7.20, however, was not so good, keeping the PDO down to a more luck-neutral area. Overall, a PDO ranked 8th in the league is decently lucky, but it is not incredibly so.
The second stat we will look at is the Special Teams Index, or STI. Since hockey is generally not played on a power play or penalty kill, these respective percentages can be influenced by luck given the small quantity. To calculate STI, simply add up a team's power play and penalty kill percentages. 100 is the luck neutral number. For the Devils, they had a power play percentage of 19.3%, good for 8th in the league, and a penalty kill percentage of 80.6%, good for 21st in the league. Added together, that gives the team a STI of 99.9, pretty much exactly at luck neutral. A quality power play and a poor penalty kill pretty much cancelled each other out.
Next we need to look at the CHIP stat, or the Cap Hit of Injured Players. While some will point to players being injury prone or to teams having better conditioning as to why injuries occur, in the end luck is a major driving force behind them. The CHIP stat works better than to simply tally up the total numbers of games players lose to injury, as some players are more important to teams and have bigger impacts when injured. The best place to find out information about CHIP is usually at the Springing Malik Blog. At this point, he only has the data up through the first 60 games of the season. I will use that information for now, and I can always update this article later if the complete season stats chance much.
For the Devils, they had a total CHIP of $8,962,000 through 60 games. This was good for 4th unluckiest in the league, behind only Anaheim, Philadelphia and Columbus. They had 260 man games lost to injury, with Ryane Clowe providing the highest CHIP on the team. This is pretty unlucky. The Devils had 10 players with a CHIP of at least $250,000 through 60 games, which was tied for most in the league. Clearly, injuries affected the team in a big way last season.
The fourth statistic to look at is the team's post-regulation record. There have been articles out there that have shown the luck factor that goes into shootouts, and with the small sample size of overtime action, there will be some luck there as well. New Jersey was 6-14 in overtime and shootouts combined, which is a .429 record. That is not good and is pretty unlucky. Granted they had that record because they were not a good team and could not finish games, but if the team had neutral luck in post-regulation games, their record in these contests should have been closer to .500.
Finally we have to look at the team's record in one-goal games that ended in regulation. Like with the post-regulation record, winning or losing one-goal games can sometimes be attributed to luck. That one extra goal that gets a team a win or a loss could be off of a real unlucky bounce or something similar. Again, it is not completely luck-based, but there can be some luck attributed to them. The Devils played in 14 one-goal games this past season, and went 5-9 in them. That is not particularly great, and it could add to a layer of unluckiness.
So Was New Jersey Lucky or Unlucky?
To break it down again quickly, here is how the Devils performed in all 5 luck categories:
- PDO of 100.65 is a little lucky, but pretty neutral.
- STI of 99.9 is extremely luck neutral.
- CHIP of $8,962,000 is very unlucky, and that was only through 60 games played.
- Post-regulation record of 6-14 is quite unlucky.
- One-goal regulation record of 5-9 is pretty unlucky.
So at first glance, it seems that the Devils were more unlucky than they were lucky. To compare New Jersey's luck to the rest of the league, Vollman has a luck calculator on his website that is very convenient and easy to use. On it, he has the Devils as the 10th unluckiest team this past season. The team's PDO was the only positive, and it helped keep them from getting higher on that list. The unluckiest team this past season, according to the calculator, was Edmonton, with Carolina coming in close second.
Of course, again it should be noted that these statistics are not entirely based on luck. A bad team will have a bad one-goal record and bad post-regulation record in part because they simply are not a good team. The Devils were not a good team. But it is still interesting to look at the information and gather from it what you will. At least I think so.
Now that you have read up on the Devils' luck this past season, what do you think? Do you agree with the statistics that prove the Devils were unlucky? Or do you think that luck cannot really be quantified? Is there any other way to determine how lucky or unlucky a team was? Or should we not discuss luck at all, but instead only talk about a team's skill and performance? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.