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Behind The Numbers

Metrics at the NHL Trade Deadline

Most important numbers when evaluating players, offers

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The NHL Trade Deadline is one of the most exciting times of the season, because it's fun to speculate about the impact rumored and actual transactions will have on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Historically, only statistics such as goals, assists, and plus/minus were available to analyze the various trade possibilities in an objective fashion, but some modern twists can shed some new insights. Here are five metrics that will be useful to study individual players leading up to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 29. 

Even-Strength Points per 60 Minutes 

Points always have been the best way to judge a player's offensive talents, but they can be affected by opportunity. Those who get additional ice time are at a big advantage, especially when it's on the power play, or alongside particularly talented linemates. That's why it's best to consider only even-strength points when comparing two players, and on a per-minute basis instead of in absolute terms. 

For example, Jiri Hudler is fourth on the Calgary Flames with 32 points in 48 games, which is outside the NHL's top 100 in scoring, and behind other possible trade possibilities like Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins, who has 45 points in 57 games, and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks, who has 36 points in 55 games. 

Video: ANA@CGY: Hudler gives the Flames their third lead

However, when considering only even-strength scoring, and calculating each player's scoring on a per-minute basis, Hudler's 2.21 points per 60 minutes is second on the Flames, 20th in the NHL, and ahead of both Eriksson and Marleau, who have 1.99 and 1.22 even-strength points per 60 minutes, respectively. 

A player's numbers can fluctuate up or down because of a particularly hot and cold season, so it is helpful to study them over longer periods of time. In this regard, Hudler's high scoring totals can be confirmed, as his 2.22 points per 60 minutes over the past three seasons combined ranks 21st in the League. 

One final trick is to set aside secondary assists, and consider only primary assists. In this case, Hudler has 42 even-strength primary assists over the past three seasons combined, tied with Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings for 14th in the League. 

Even-Strength Save Percentage 

Despite all the new goaltending metrics like quality starts and how goalies perform in shots taken exclusive within the home plate area, there still is no substitute for save percentage, which has been available since 1983-84. 

If there's one new adjustment to make to save percentage, it's to account for the higher-scoring nature of power plays, just as we do for players. The easiest way to handle the fact some goalies have to kill more penalties than others is to set aside such data, and compare goalies based on even-strength save percentage only. 

Video: TOR@CHI: Reimer robs Panarin with the pad

From this perspective, one potential trade deadline steal is pending UFA James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There may be nothing impressive about his traditional statistics this season, which include an 11-11-6 record, a 2.45 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and no shutouts. However, his .937 save percentage at even strength is ninth in the NHL this season, and his .925 over his six-season career is tied with Ben Bishop for 12th among those with at least 200 games played over that time span. 

Shot Attempts 

The standard goal-based plus/minus has been in use since the 1967-68 season, but the newer way to measure how well teams perform with a given player on the ice is to use shot attempts (SAT). Unlike goals, shot attempts are not impacted by goaltender quality, and the much higher volume of data reduces the impact a few lucky bounces can have on a player's numbers. 

Whether using goals or shot attempts, the main issue with plus/minus is players on good teams are going to have much better results than those on bad teams. Because teams shopping players at the trade deadline likely are among the League's weaker teams, most of their players will score poorly by these metrics. That's why the version of this statistic measured relative to a player's teammates is the most useful. 

Video: NYR@PHI: Yandle ties game with 13 seconds remaining

Among notable players rumored to be available, New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle is the best, ranking eighth in the NHL with a 7.2 Relative SAT. Specifically, the Rangers are responsible for 52.8 percent of all shot attempts when he's on the ice, and 45.6 percent when he's not. That information is a lot more telling than his traditional plus/minus of plus-9, tied with Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle for eighth on the team. 

Zone Start Percentage 

In fairness, Yandle is used primarily in the offensive zone, which naturally leads to gaining an edge in shot attempts. Of the 603 faceoffs for which Yandle has lined up outside the neutral zone at even strength, 416 took place in the offensive zone, or 69.0 percent. That's the sixth highest offensive zone start percentage in the League, and will artificially boost all of his statistics. 

That's why the Bruins' Eriksson is a better example of an available player with strong shot-based statistics. Eriksson starts almost exactly the same number of shifts in both zones, but Boston takes 53.2 percent of attempted shots when he's on the ice, and 47.1 percent when he is not, for the 23rd best margin in the League. 

Blocked Shots 

Despite the subjective nature of real-time scoring statistics (RTSS) like hits, takeaways, giveaways and blocked shots, there still are some insights to be gained from them. In terms of individual player evaluations, blocked shots have the greatest value, because it's the only one for which opportunity can be taken into account. 

Consider pending unrestricted free agent Kris Russell of the Calgary Flames, who has blocked 174 shots this season, second to Francois Beauchemin of the Colorado Avalanche, who has blocked 182. Russell may have blocked a lot of shots in absolute terms, but he has had a lot more opportunity than virtually any other player in the League. At even strength, the Flames have allowed 1,008 shot attempts with Russell on the ice, which ranks eighth in the NHL. 

Teams who are shopping defensemen at the trade deadline normally are among the teams that have allowed the most shots, so it's important to consider opportunity when studying the numbers. In this case, Russell is the best shot-blocking defenseman on the market, but not by as wide a margin as first appeared.

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