The Best Forward in the NHL Is....

NHL Awards are dumb - in large part because most of them are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.  The addition of many "bloggers" to the PHWA has improved the quality of the membership's decision-making, but those newer, more open-minded members, are still outnumbered by the many, terrible writers who have a vote.

We all know that Patrick Kane is going to run away with the MVP award this season.  But Regular Readers of this Blog (hi Nick Rashtag!) know that I've been trying to find ways to show the world that Patrick Kane hasn't had as great a season as people think.   I've looked at Kane's season compared to his previous ones.  I've looked at Kane's season compared to the other top scoring forwards this season, not once, but twice.  TL;DR: Aside from actual points (which matter tremendously of course), he's really not outperforming the other top scorers by much, if at all. 

So if Kane didn't have the best NHL season this year, who did?  Well, Erik Karlsson.  But I'm not smart enough to compare forwards and defensemen, so I looked again at the top 20 scoring forwards.  [Alphabetically: Backstrom, Benn, Bergeron, Crosby, Gadreau, Giroux, Hall, Jagr, Kane, Kopitar, Kucherov, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Panarin, Pavelski, Seguin, Tarasenko, Tavares, Thornton, and Wheeler].

I picked a range of puck possession metrics, and ranked each of the top 20 scoring forwards in each category. No. 1 in the category was given 20 points, No. 2 was given 19 points, all the way down to 1 point for 20th place.

I looked at mostly offensive categories - basically the same categories I had looked at in my previous Kane posts.  Here are the metrics I looked at:

Corsi-based:  CF60, CF%, CSh%, iCF60, iCSH%, Rel.CF60, and Rel.CF%

Shots-on-Goal-based:  SF60, SF%, iSF60, iSh%, Rel.SF60, and Rel.SF%

Expected-Goals-based: xGF60, xGF%, GF60, ixG60, Rel.GF60, Rel.GF%, Rel.xGF60, and Rel.xGF%.

I like these categories because they include a range of "team" results, individual results, and relative results.  I also added individual penalty differential, because there's a value to drawing penalties.  Remember though - this isn't just a #fancystats look - this is a #fancystats look at the top 20 points scoring forwards. In other words, these guys excelled at putting points on the board, and I'm just using these metrics to choose between them.  

I did not look at PP/PK data, which, admittedly, would make a difference in these results.  Hey, if you don't like my system, feel free to do your own rankings.

Like before, I used's 5v5, score, venue and zone adjusted data.

So, who was the Best Forward in the NHL this season?  

NOT SO (JESPER) FAST.  First, we look at who ranked well in the Corsi categories.  

Not much surprise here...Bergeron...Crosby...Thornton...guys who are typically strong possession drivers.  Hey, look at Patrick Kane all the way down there in 14th.

Next, the Shots-on-Goal categories:

Looks pretty similar, which I guess makes sense.  Someone might say "well you're really rewarding the same thing twice", which also makes sense, so later, I'll take a different look that only focuses on Corsi.

Next up, the Expected Goals categories:

Hey there, Jumbo Joe!  Some other interesting names here - Slightly Less Jumbo Joe Pavelski, Blake Wheeler, and Taylor Hall.  Kane, not surprisingly, is not near the top 10. I say "not surprisingly" because Expected Goals don't take into account a shooter's talent, and if you looked at my previous posts, I noted my belief that Kane's shooting metrics have inflated his production this year.

Finally, the other category - individual penalties differential:

I was surprised to see Jagr and Bergeron at the bottom of the list, honestly.  



Joe Pavelski was the Best Forward in the NHL this season.  


Blake Wheeler - BLAKE WHEELER - was the 2nd Best Forward in the NHL this season.  MVP Patrick Kane? Not even in the conversation.  [PS feel free to link to this post when the Oilers trade Taylor Hall for a bag of milk].  

Not what I expected.  I assumed Thornton or Crosby would end up at the top.

Ok, you may still be annoyed that I used both Corsi and Shots-on-Goal categories, and maybe you didn't like the penalty differential category (which seem to hurt Bergeron and Thornton in my rankings).

Using only the Corsi categories and the Expected Goals categories...nothing really changed! Thornton switched places with Bergeron, basically.  So, BY ANY MEASURE YOU CHOOSE* (*from my measures) - Joe Pavelski was the Best Forward in the NHL this season. Don't @ me.

A few thoughts:

- This probably penalizes passers - since it looks at individual CF60/SF60 metrics. Thornton and Backstrom are never going to rank as high in those as Ovechkin or Tarasenko, for example.  But they do rank well in the individual shooting percentages, which may balance that out a little (yeah shot quality!).  It would be fun to add some Passing Project data here, but there's just not enough data from all these teams yet.

- The relative stats likely reward good players on bad teams - Bergeron, Wheeler, and Hall were routinely near the top of these categories. But other players on bad teams - Gadreau, Tavares - had low relative rankings, and other players on good teams - Tarasenko, Thornton, Ovechkin - often outperformed their good teams.  So maybe it all evens out in the end, and we're all going to die and return to mud.

Now, let's all agree to never speak of Patrick Kane again.

Again I'm right in my analysis.