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Analyzing Bob McKenzie's coaches poll

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How do coaches perceive the players in their conferences and does it align with what the underlying numbers say?

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Bob McKenzie did an All Star Break survey of 20 NHL head coaches (10 in each conference) to see who the coaches saw as the best player, goalie, defenceman, coach, and team in each conference. The results are interesting because they show the differences between the public perceptions of a player and how in-conference coaches view the players. Because the poll is done anonymously, no conclusions can be drawn about who voted for who.

Quality of Teammate (QoT) has a bigger impact on possession than Quality of Competition (QoC) and Zone Starts (ZS), but QoT is not used in the analysis.

Breaking Down the Eastern Conference Results

Defencemen

Ryan McDonagh is the only player who does not have a positive Corsi percentage. Corsi is the counting of all shooting events on the ice while the player is there. He does have the hardest zone starts of P.K. Subban, Kris Letang, Victor Hedman, and McDonagh. Hedman is the player that is in the bottom right corner. Subban and Letang are hanging out on the top, getting a moderate zone push against top competition and breaking above even possession wise. On the other hand, McDonagh is struggling with possession on the New York Rangers.

The players relative stats to their teams tell a similar story to the chart above. While Letang has a relative Corsi (number of events relative to their teams without them on the ice) is +6.49, Subban is next at +5.5, Hedman is next at +1.56, and McDonagh is last at -4.13 relCorsi. The coaches see McDonagh as the best defenceman, but of the four they voted for, he is the worst. The two with the lowest votes, Letang and Subban, have the biggest impact on their team when they are on the ice and therefore are probably better defenders than McDonagh and Hedman are this year. McDonagh has traditionally been a positive possession player, so there may be something up with him this year.

Edit: When looking into McDonagh a bit further, he is partnered with Dan Girardi, who is horrid possession wise this year. His drop of in CorsiFor away from Girardi has to do with the fact that he is no longer playing with Anton Stralman, but instead with Dan Boyle or Kevin Klein.

Why the disconnect between the actual top defenders and the ones who the coaches rank as the best? My best educated guess is the failings of the eye test matching the numbers. McDonagh and Hedman spend more time defending than Subban and Letang. This leads to the assumption that the two former defencemen are better than the latter two defencemen. They are not better defenders, but they are in the position that they have to defend more frequently than their counterparts so eyes think that they are simply better at that job.

Top Player

The coaches are playing the percentages here. The actual top forward is up for debate, but Rick Nash is riding a percentage fuelled goal scoring year. He is shooting at 17.3% this season, compared to his roughly 10% average in his lower scoring years. Nash is good, but probably should not be considered the best forward in the East based on percentages.

In terms of relative possession, Patrice Bergeron is an eye popping +10.8, Pavel Datsyuk is +6.94, John Tavares is +1.94, Jakub Voracek is +10.71, Evgeni Malkin is +5.8, Sidney Crosby is +2.63, and Nash comes in at -0.15. Obviously this is not the best way to decide who is the best forward, but a top player should be able to break above even while scoring, so the coaches fall victim to the eye test again when it comes to Nash.

Goalies

If anyone had said a goalie other than Carey Price, I would have told you they are insane. Instead, I will remind that Price should win the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Vezina Trophy.

Coaches

Aside from the inclusion of Michel Therrien, there are no weird choices here so no complaints. Person who voted for Therrien, please watch the game.

Breaking Down the Western Conference Results

Defencemen

Again, there is a defenceman who is highly rated but struggles with the possession aspect of hockey. Shea Weber has been living off of his time along side Ryan Suter. Mind you, Suter has been doing the same. Sam Page of ESPN broke down Weber's struggles without Suter a few weeks ago and he has used the eye test to point out some reasons for Weber's struggles. Aside from Mark Giordano being underrated by coaches, but not criminally underrated, the coaches in the West do a better job picking out the top players on defence.

The relative Corsi stats for defenders selected by the coaches are Giordano at +6.17, Drew Doughty at +3.55, Shea Weber at -5.25, and Kevin Shattenkirk at +4.65. While Doughty was voted the top defender, Giordano and Shattenkirk have a more positive impact for their teams when they are on the ice. Weber on the other hand is not what he used to be for the Nashville Predators, but he still has his reputation that he will love off of for some time.

Top Player

In the West Ryan Getzlaf is considered superior to the rest of the conference. Getzlaf is scoring at a high rate without an unusually high shooting percentage as it is 2.5% lower than previous years. The Western coaches considered a defenceman for the "Best Player" award, but going by the numbers Giordano probably deserves to be the defenceman on this list instead of Doughty, but does not have the team or name recognition that Doughty has.

Speaking of Doughty; he is an interesting case of a player being given the benefit of doubt for everything based on the team he plays for. Doughty is a very good player, but it is not a crime that he has not won the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Doughty is good, even elite, but he is one of many extremely talented defencemen. He may be overhyped based on team achievements instead of underrated because of the team he plays on.

Goalies

Pekka Rinne. No arguments here, he is a really good goalie. Hopefully he heals up soon, but not so soon that the Winnipeg Jets cannot catch the Nashville Predators in the standings first.

Coaches

Peter Laviolette was in top spot followed by the Winnipeg Jets Paul Maurice. These two are the most obvious choices as they have had a major impact on how their teams play. The other coaches to get votes are Bob Hartley and Ken Hitchcock, both good choices for different reasons. The Calgary Flames are bad, but Hartley has managed to get a lot out of them. The St. Louis Blues are a good team who is still just ticking along. One name that is missing that should be there is Darryl Sutter. He may be one of the best coaches in the NHL and is not recognized at all for his talents.

Conclusion

Using fancy stats to break down the coaches votes, it is obvious that there is a gap in eyes and what is happening on the ice. This is probably due to how the game is thought about in regards defence in particular. Having the puck is not only an offensive skill, but a defensive skill as well. Players like Subban, Letang, and Giordano should be valued for their offensive skill because it allows them to defend less. Elite defenders also know how to defend, but what make them elite is that they do not need to defend as often as some of their compatriots.

The lack of consensus from top player in the East is probably a symptom of no one standing out in any way. The lack of defencemen voted in the East probably is tied to the way defencemen are precieved by coaches in general. Doughty may be included in the Western Conference vote simply because he has the Canada hype machine behind him, even though superior defencemen to him play in Canadian markets for inferior teams.

This poll is not scientific, but it is an interesting measure to see how players are perceived by the coaches in the NHL. The fact that none of the top four defencemen in the East were in the All Star Game is interesting. The fact that no Chicago Blackhawks received votes is another interesting note. Again, this is not scientific, but the quirks are interesting to see.

All charts from War-on-Ice. All relative Corsi data from Natural Stat Trick.