The Blackhawks have played 44 games in 2011-12, just over half of the schedule. That’s enough time to recognize how dominant Marian Hossa is with the puck, how much Niklas Hjalmarsson sacrifices his body in front of his own net and how clutch Jonathan Toews is at the faceoff dot. Goals, assists, hits and blocked shots — these are all numbers that can help measure a player’s success, but a look beyond the NHL scoresheet reveals additional ways to evaluate how certain players have contributed to the Blackhawks so far this season.
Jonathan Toews has 43 points in 44 games (22G, 21A) and is scoring at the highest pace of his career, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to Puck Prospectus, over his first four seasons in the league Toews’ Goals Versus Threshold — the value of a player above replacement level, measured in goals —is 68.4, fifth best among skaters in that time period, and trailing only Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Daniel Sedin (VAN), Sidney Crosby (PIT) and Henrik Sedin (VAN) in total GVT.
The secret to his consistency? Creating puck possession. Although there isn’t a time-based metric to measure possession exactly, Toews excels in all of the real-time statistics that contribute to high possession.
Exhibit 1: Toews is often lauded for his tenacious backchecking and positional awareness in all three zones, an observation that is supported by his takeaway numbers. He has been credited with 59 takeaways, tied for second in the league with Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly and one behind current leader Pavel Datsyuk.
Exhibit 2: Toews has led the league in faceoff win percentage since early in the season. He currently sports a 61.4 percent success rate at the dot, two percent higher than the next challenger, Washington’s Jeff Halpern. On the power play, Toews has won an incredible 66.7 percent of his draws, giving his unit an immediate advantage in puck possession two times out of three. As a bonus, Toews also leads the team in creating man advantage opportunities, drawing 1.7 penalties per 60 minutes.
Exhibit 3: The closest approximation to a possession stat in hockey is Corsi, which adds up all shots directed at an opponent’s net at even strength when a player is on the ice (includes shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots). Toews’ Relative Corsi is currently a team-best 12.8, meaning the team sends an average of nearly 13 more shots toward the opponent’s net when he’s on the ice compared to when he’s off the ice.
Marian Hossa may be playing in his 13th NHL season, but the former first round draft pick is as productive as ever, currently leading the Blackhawks with 46 points (17G, 29A) in 43 appearances. He's logging just over a point per game, his best scoring rate since 2006-07, when he hit 100 with the Atlanta Thrashers. Per Puck Prospectus, his 12.4 total GVT as of Jan. 10 paces the team and ranks second in the league, trailing the Flyers’ Claude Giroux by a mere 0.1.
Like Toews, Hossa’s awareness in all three zones is a hallmark of his game, and he is currently tied for fourth in the league, stripping his opponents of the puck 49 times (Patrick Kane is also in the top 10 with 41 takeaways).
Not all players can be as consistent as Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa, but a few Blackhawks are making significant breakthroughs this season. Among them is Viktor Stalberg, who just potted his first ever career hat trick against the Blue Jackets on Jan. 10. Stalberg finished the 2010-11 season with 24 points (12G, 12A) in 77 games, but has already surpassed that total in his sophomore campaign, reaching 26 points (13G, 13A) in 41 appearances.
The most basic explanation for Stalberg’s improvement on offense this season is that he’s benefiting from more ice time and taking more shots. Last season, he averaged 1.75 shots in 10:41 per game. In 2011-12, Stalberg’s ice time is up by over two minutes per game, and he is getting more looks at goal, logging an average of 2.3 shots per game.
The advanced metrics show better possession from Stalberg as well, as he currently ranks third on the team with a 12.3 relative Corsi (he posted a 11.0 last year). ESPN.com’s production statistic measures how much ice time each player needs to record a point, and Stalberg has trimmed that number down from 34:19 per point in 2010-11 to 20:49 so far this season.
On the back end, one Blackhawks blueliner has felt as much impact as he has made. Niklas Hjalmarsson has been credited with 107 blocked shots so far in 2011-12, ranking him third in the league behind Montreal’s Josh Gorges and Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart.
After eliminating penalty kill bias and adjusting for total volume of shots, Hjalmarsson still comes out at the top of the league, blocking 13.66 percent of all even-strength shots he sees, second best in the NHL behind Minnesota’s Greg Zanon.