It was another busy week in the NHL, as the league unveiled a new stat, two players hit the 1,000-game mark and the Blue Jackets retired a number for the first time in the team’s 22-year history. Plus, the IIHF took a stance on Russia’s participation in future ice hockey tournaments.
1. NHL Launches Faceoff Probability Stat
If you love “fancy stats” — or wish even MORE information was blasted at us during games — then you will welcome the NHL’s new “Faceoff Probability” Stat. Last Tuesday, the NHL unveiled the new stat, powered by Amazon Web Services, which uses machine learning (ML) to compute the likelihood of a player winning a faceoff. The information is shared in real time during TV broadcasts. The stat was used by SportsNet last week and will be used by ESPN and TNT starting later this month.
According to the press release on NHL.com:
The NHL and AWS built the ML model for this new stat using the NHL’s Puck and Player Tracking data, along with data from hundreds of thousands of face-offs from over 10 years of historical NHL Hockey Information and Tracking System (HITS) stats. This data source was significantly varied and complex, incorporating such information as a player’s home and away face-off statistics; head-to-head matchup history; player characteristics such as height, weight, and handedness; and game context such as the face-off location, game score, and face-off time. This combination of historical success rates, player matchup characteristics, and game context brings together HITS and puck and player tracking data to provide a complete perspective for a face-off’s dynamics.
When I first heard about this new stat, it felt like another piece of unnecessary information foisted upon us during a game.
On the other hand, my fantasy hockey league gives a “point” in the standings if my players win more faceoffs than my opponents’ players.
So, I can see how this stat is useful. I do like to know how many faceoffs a player has won in a game or in a season. But predicting that Sidney Crosby has a 55% likelihood of beating Connor McDavid in their next faceoff against each other IF the game is in Pittsburgh AND the Penguins are wearing their third jerseys…kind of takes the fun out of everything a little more, doesn’t it? I know, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but what happened to just watching and enjoying hockey without overthinking every single aspect of it?
2. Blue Jackets Retire Nash’s Number
Rick Nash became the first former Columbus Blue Jackets player to have his jersey retired when the Jackets raised number 61 to the rafters on Saturday evening. The hour-long ceremony took place before the Jackets’ game against the Bruins. Coincidentally, Nash finished his NHL career with Boston before concussions forced him to retire.
Nash spent nine years in Columbus and is the team’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points, and games played in the regular season. He was a member of the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2003, played in six All-Star Games, and won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 (shared with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla) for leading the league in goals.
In addition to retiring number 61 forever, the Blue Jackets gifted Nash a new golf cart and a blue blazer — a literal “blue jacket” — with photos of his career printed on the inside lining. Kind of a tacky gift.
(Insert joke about non-traditional hockey market here.)
You can watch his retirement ceremony in the video above. Note that some of the audio is muted because the Blue Jackets played music during the ceremony that couldn’t be played on YouTube for copyright reasons.
3. Simmonds, Giordano Play 1,000th Game
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds and Seattle Kraken defenseman Mark Giordano both played the 1,000th games of their careers on Saturday. One thousand games is a remarkable accomplishment, but it is even more so for these two.
Simmonds, 33, is just the fifth Black player to appear in 1,000 NHL games. He didn’t play major junior hockey until 18, wasn’t drafted by an NHL team until 19, and made his NHL debut at 20. Since then, he’s played for six different teams over the past 14 years.
Giordano, 38, is just the 18th undrafted player to reach the 1,000-game milestone. He didn’t make his NHL debut until 22, and also left to play in Russia for the 2007-08 season when he and the Calgary Flames couldn’t agree on a contract. Since returning to the NHL, Giordano has been an NHL regular and was captain of the Flames for eight seasons. He is currently the Kraken’s team captain.
Congratulations to both players on reaching quadruple digits in games played.
4. IIHF Bans Russia & Belarus
Just a few days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, the International Ice Hockey Federation banned both Russia and its military ally Belarus from international competitions “until further notice.” This applies to all categories (e.g., men’s and women’s tournaments), as well as age groups.
Russia and Belarus will be barred from IIHF-sanctioned tournaments for the time being, and the 2023 World Junior Championships will no longer be hosted in Russia. USA Hockey and Hockey Canada echoed support for the IIHF’s decision. Additionally, Hockey Canada will not allow Russia or Belarus from participating in any non-IIHF tournaments held in Canada.
5. Robertson Nets Back-to-Back Hatties
Dallas Stars left wing Jason Robertson, who is currently in his second full season in the NHL, scored the first two hat tricks of his career in two consecutive games over the weekend.
Robertson scored his first career NHL hat trick in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets — including the overtime winner on a breakaway.
Two nights later, Robertson netted another hatty in the Stars 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild. His third goal that game, an empty netter, was slightly less dramatic than his third goal two nights ago.
Robertson, 22, is the first player to net hat tricks in consecutive games since Alex Ovechkin did so in January 2020. He is also the first NHLer under the age of 23 to accomplish this feat since Filip Forsberg in February 2017.
The Arcadia, CA native is quickly becoming one of the United States best young stars, joining the likes of Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield. Robertson placed second in Calder Trophy voting as rookie of the year last season, when he scored 45 points in 51 games. This year, he has 54 points (29G, 25A) in 47 games and is on pace for a 94-point season.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■