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December 24, 2010
Howe and Why
2010 Golden Elbow Awards, Part One

by Robert Vollman

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2010 was a fantastic year for statistical hockey analysts. Just a few short years ago, I could count on a single hand the number of sites containing even the most basic objective examinations of the sport, and now in 2010 we have dozens of sites, many of which have multiple writers dedicated exclusively to this field, producing more content per month than we would previously have expected in an entire year. We also broke into mainstream headlines on multiple occasions, and saw the first book since 2001’s Hockey Compendium with significant puckmetric content (and coming within inches of one with even more).

Given our tremendous accomplishments as a community, we felt it would be fun to reflect on our amazing year with some awards to recognize the articles that most significantly advanced knowledge in this field. Despite receiving over 50 submissions from a wide variety of analysts from a diverse selection of sites, we’re bound to have missed some, so please accept our apologies in advance. Speaking of which, I’d like to thank Alan Ryder, Gabe Desjardins, Ben Wendorf, Tom Awad, Corey Pronman, Kent Wilson and Phil Myrland for helping me identify, review and assess the submissions, but in the case of any serious omissions, please direct your venom solely to he who made the final decisions: me.

One final word before we begin—we focused purely on articles of a statistical bent, and those that we felt had the greatest positive impact in promoting objective analysis, and presenting valuable new insights about the sport. Every site was eligible, but we generally tried to avoid professional writers, and we also tried to promote work other than our own. And remember that we present these articles not in a serious way of endorsing one perspective over another, but rather in a light-hearted spirit of fun, celebration and encouragement.

The Inaugural 2010 Golden Elbow Awards

2010 was an interesting year, with popular themes including shot quality and the role of luck, but surprisingly, very little on the topic of defensive contributions. There were controversies with Corsi, some downright brilliant analysis of the Montreal Canadiens, and of course more excellent work devoted to one of the darlings of the hockey sabermetric community, goaltending.

In Part One, we’ll start with some key theme-based pieces, leading up to this year’s best hockey analysis articles coming up in Part Two.

Part One

Best Skater Analysis
Best Goalie Analysis
Best Goaltending Analysis
Best Team Review
Best League Review
Best Historical Analysis

Without further ado, let’s dive in, and hand out the very first Golden Elbow Award.

Best Skater Analysis

The Golden Elbow for the Best Skater Analysis is awarded to the best article devoted to a single, active skater. The winner will be the one felt to have provided the most insight into an individual player, and best demonstrating how modern analysis is applied.

2010 Winner: The Decline of Jarome Iginla, by Kent Wilson

In his thoughtful, thorough and insightful analysis of how Jarome Iginla’s performance has declined, Kent demonstrates like no one else how a controversial question can be broken down and answered in an abundantly clear and objective fashion. Iginla’s performance is dissected based on the quality of his opponents, compared with peers like Datsyuk and Thornton, subjected to both Corsi and with-you/without-you analysis, ultimately serving as a great example of quality player analysis. Note: If this topic interests you, be sure to also check out Hayley’s take on Jarome Iginla and the Better Linemates Myth.

Runner-Up: In How Ilya Kovalchuk Scored Goals: 2007’Present,the writer known as “Dr(d)evil” showed how you can leverage NHL Game Video for the advanced breakdown of goals by score, period, and situation, and also by position and type. There is a great deal of potential in this approach, and this incredibly detailed research provides not only a great deal of insight into this one player, but by extension, a system that can be used to learn more about any other.

Best Goalie Analysis

Similarly to the above, the Golden Elbow for the Best Goalie Analysis is awarded to the best analysis of an active goalie.

2010 Winner: Five Good Reasons Carey Price is Still in Montreal by Chris Boyle

Without question, one of the most popular topics in this category was Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, but one of the most extensive analyses of a single player, and obviously with the most incredible predictive value, was Chris’s early season piece on Montreal’s star netminder. It’s too bad this wasn’t available when we predicted Montreal to finish in the league’s basement!

Runner-Up:

Given the great deal of interest in goalies, it’s no surprise that we had a huge volume of great work from which to choose, including one of my favorite pieces, What if Jay Feaster Had Pulled the Trigger on a Tomas Vokoun Deal. In this article, which serves as an example of just how awesome the book would have been had it made it to the press, Jonathan Willis present an alternate history where Jay Feaster—one of the NHL’s figures most at odds with objective statistical analysis—had actually signed Tomas Vokoun years ago.

Note: For those interested in more, Gabe Desjardins had a great piece on What is Evgeni Nabokov Worth in Russia, while yours truly recently applied a new approach to make a Case for Kipper.

Best Goaltending Analysis

Unlike the award for Best Goalie Analysis, the Golden Elbow for Best Goaltending Analysis is awarded to the article that focuses on goaltending in general. The purpose of this category is to promote new insights in how we rate netminders, and advancements in our understanding of how to measure both the quality and impact of goaltending.

2010 Winner: How Much Skill is There in Goaltending? by Tom Awad

Despite the popularity of the category, Tom’s analysis of save percentages in various situations was “absolutely 2010’s best research in goaltending” (to paraphrase one of the judges). In keeping with 2010’s apparent theme of how much of what we observe is luck, Tom breaks down save percentage and determines how much of it was skill, shot quality, and luck.

Runner-Up:

We should name this category “Brodeur is a Fraud” in honor of the man who has advanced our understanding of goaltending more than anyone else, Philip Myrland. Perhaps his most insightful work in 2010 included his One Stat Argument in favor of Save Percentage, and his intriguing research on the likelihood of a team winning based on the amount of Goalie Support he receives.

Best Team Preview

The Golden Elbow for the Best Team Preview is awarded to the article that provides the most enduring insight into one particular NHL team, using an approach that can be reapplied in the future.

2010 Winner: San Jose Sharks or Columbus Blue Jackets by Gabriel Desjardins

Take your pick! Both analyses were absolutely dripping and oozing with enough information to immediately make you more of an expert on either squad than any mainstream journalist. In keeping with the annual luck-based theme, my personal preference is for the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom I never realized were actually a lot better than generally perceived.

Runner-Up:

I’m not too proud to admit that even my careful analysis of the Vancouver Canucks in Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 was bested by Jonathan Willis’ incredible work in The Vancouver Canucks: Engine and Anchor. His exceptionally detailed review of Vancouver’s forwards, which looks at even-strength scoring, zone starts, quality of competition and teammates, uncovers the gap between the top six and bottom six forwards, and is a timeless approach that can be applied to other situations.

Despite my reluctance to over-promote our own work, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Timo Seppa was on Philadelphia’s bandwagon when it was as empty as Mike Ricci’s social calendar. Check out Brian Boucher’Bad, or Bad Luck, which was in essence the third of a three-part series covering the team (here are links to the first and second).

Best League Review

Like the above, the Golden Elbow for Best League Review is assigned to the best overall account of the previous NHL season.

2010 Winner: 2010 NHL Review by Alan Ryder

Even if there were more entrants, none of them could hope to match the insight of Alan’s regularly delivered package. Leveraging Player Contributions—the most comprehensive single evaluation statistic—page after page is jam-packed with illumination, upon which I personally rely to constantly improve my own understanding of the NHL. Perhaps in the future, we’ll just name this the Alan Ryder Award so someone else has a shot.

Best Historical Analysis

Just for fun, one final category we wanted to include was for the Best Historical Analysis, which is meant for any article that best corrects or clarifies our knowledge of the past.

2010 Winner: If There’s a Goal That Everyone Remembers by Pat McLean

As a hockey stat nerd, it was just too much fun to read Vic Ferrari’s post on Shot Location and Shots at Goal in 1972 about the data recorded by Ron Andrews as far back as the 1972 Summit Series. Pat “Black Dog” Mclean can accept the award on behalf of Vic, and all of those involved in studying the 1972 Summit Series, reviewing every minute of the series to record advanced data, including Corsi and scoring chances, and blowing away misperceptions. Here’s a link to Ellen’s reminiscent write-up on What Everyone Remembers.

Runner-Up:

Speaking of the Summit Series, in Ken Dryden’s Backups, Phil Myrland examines the way a team’s defense can impact goaltending by looking at how a goaltender’s save percentages change when going from one team to any other. His approach has been enthusiastically met with requests for more of the same, and has already been applied to other goalies (including my analysis of Kiprusoff). Phil also produced another piece Questioning Ed Giacomin and his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

Note: Not to over-promote our own work, but Iain Fyffe completed the oldest league equivalency to date in Hobey and the Hall, and we’ve received great feedback on Chris Chelios: Hockey’s Greatest American-Born Player. Also, hot off the presses, Ben Wendorf just published a great analysis on The Tretiak Legend.

Coming Up in Part Two…

Once again, thanks to everyone who helped identify their favorite and most insightful articles of the year. It was a lot of fun looking back and being reminded of all this fantastic analysis. Fortunately, the best is yet to come, because coming up in Part Two we get right down to some of the most brilliant work of the year. See you then!

Part Two

Best Controversy
Best Analysis Analysis
Best Prediction
Best Gabe Desjardins
Best New Innovation
Best New Insight

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Howe and Why (12/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Howe and Why (12/23)
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Premium Article Howe and Why (12/29)
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Shots On Goal (12/25)

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