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Agent offers 'Moneyball'-style formula for elite NHL teams

May 31, 2010, 2:00 PM EDT

What defines an “elite” team? Let’s get the generic questions out of the way. Do you need wave after wave of high-end offensive talent? Perhaps the biggest component is a defensive system that can smother your opposition’s attack into submission. Or maybe it’s all about having a goalie who can stand tall when your team needs some big saves?

Well, if you ask hockey agent Rich Winter, there’s a precise equation for what makes an elite NHL team since the lockout. The Montreal Gazette shares the interesting, “Moneyball”-like formula Winter concocted with help from some number crunchers. As the story states, Winter considers a team that produces a 100-point season “elite.”

Winter, with help from mathematical advisers, has determined exactly how many points a contending team needs from its top-six forward group and top-four defencemen, and the save percentage required from a goalie to become a 100-point team.

For example, if all thresholds are met from the defence and goalies, a team that gets at least 143 goals from its top six forwards will record 100 points. According to Winter, that number has stayed true every year since the lockout. He has calculations like that for every position.

“I will make arguments to teams that they need a little more up front, that they need X, Y or Z and the models prove it out,” he said. “It’s a model we’ve developed using a little bit of Moneyball in hockey.”

That’s some intriguing stuff, but it’s natural to be skeptical about what an agent might say since there’s plenty of incentive to highlight promising stats while ignoring other, weaker areas. Still, in a sport that can sometimes be a little archaic when it comes to looking at numbers, it’s refreshing to see the game’s movers and shakers embracing statistical analysis. Overall,  I agree with Tyler Dellow’s observations.

Personally, if I ran a hockey team and Ritch Winter told me he’d developed a model that showed I just needed a little bit more of X, Y or Z and that he happened to represent X, Y or Z, I’d be pretty skeptical. At the same time, this is the sort of modelling that teams should be doing because, done properly, it lets them break down their team and understand where they’re deficient. This lets them target their spending a bit better, avoiding moves that cost a lot and add little value because of where the team’s strengths already lie.

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