Friday, July 30, 2010

Who are the CBJ's clutch scorers?

It's getting time to start formulating thoughts and ideas for the season preview, and - time permitting - this blog will have a couple different perspectives on the team that could prove useful in how we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets and its roster.

To start work on this project, I built upon some database-oriented work that I've been doing in my "spare" time (basically, when the Dark Blue Toddler is sleeping). I've had a few lingering questions about the roster and, after learning a little more about Microsoft Access, think I now know enough about the program to start using it for CBJ purposes.

It shouldn't be surprising that captain Rick Nash is Columbus'
premier clutch goal scorer, but who are the rest? (Photo from
My interests revolve around team scoring. It's clear as day that the Blue Jackets need to boost their scoring - they scored 216 goals last season, meaning that only five teams in the entire National Hockey League (Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Boston and Florida) were less prolific. By comparison, the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals scored 318 times. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks scored 271 times. The average number of goals for a playoff-qualifying team in 2009-2010 was a hair under 243 goals. So if the Jackets are going to win, it's because they're going to put lots of pucks in the back of the net. (Yes, the Jackets need to tighten up their defense, too, but I maintain that 2009-2010's poor CBJ defense was more a function of injuries than lack of talent.)

All scorers aren't equal, though, and that's where my research lies. First, I catalogued every single goal scored by the Blue Jackets last season. Every goal was identified by date, opponent, home/away, game number, win/loss (and score), period scored, order of CBJ scoring by game (1st goal, 2nd goal, last goal, etc.), names of goal scorers and assists, empty net, shootout, power play, short-handed and penalty shot. It was a bit tedious in getting all the data organized, but it's gold to me now.

Perhaps most intriguing to me, however, was the inclusion of a unique characteristic for each goal: The score differential when the goal was scored. Why is this important? In my opinion, a goal is more important when the game is on the line. The goal scorer is the type of person you want on the ice when it's crunch time.

So I started playing with this data and think it's time to start sharing some insights as a personal "training camp" to get ready for the season previews.

We'll start with the clutch goal scorers. I define them as players who scored the last CBJ goal of the game (regulation or overtime) when (A) the game is tied (for the win), or (B) when the CBJ are behind by one (to get to overtime). It's a tight criteria, to be sure, but such a strict system of grading separates wheat from chaff really fast.  In reviewing the data, the Columbus Blue Jackets' clutch scorers last season were:
  • Rick Nash (1 game winner, 3 for overtime) - 4 games
  • R.J. Umberger (2 winners, 1 for overtime) - 3 games
  • Kris Russell (1 winner, 1 for overtime) - 2 games
  • Kristian Huselius (winner), Rusty Klesla (winner), Freddy Modin (winner), Anton Stralman (overtime), Raffi Torres (overtime) & Fedor Tyutin (overtime) - 1 game each
Kris Russell is the Blue Jackets' "young gun" - the guy you
want with the puck in clutch situations (Photo from The Jacketsblog)
A couple surprises here: First, the Jackets weren't winners in a lot of close games - only 6 in an 82-game season suggests that the team as a whole couldn't finish the close ones and certainly contributed to their overall collapse last year. Second, Kris Russell (23) and Anton Stralman (24) were the only youngsters on the team to make it to this board. I've been working on a theory that, with few exceptions, it takes veterans to score the crunch-time goals, and this info seems to play that out. The fact that Modin and Torres are now gone only exacerbates the problem.

So those are the game-winners and goals that sent losing efforts into overtime.  What about the other form of clutch goal scorer - the one who scores the CBJ's last goal of the game in the third period when the score is tied to take a one-goal lead or tie the game, only to see the team lose in regulation?  In my mind, these scorers are just as clutch as they put the team in position to win.  They are (1 game each): Grant Clitsome, Kris Russell, Antoine Vermette and Jake Voracek.  This grouping pokes a hole in my "It takes veterans to win the close games" premise (You go, Kris!), but the fact that this happened only four times in 82 games probably says more about how the Jackets just weren't in too many dogfights last year.

One last thing on this post: Where is Derick Brassard's name?  At all?  At $3.2 million per year, don't you think that he should be scoring a money goal or two?

More stat-crunching to follow...hope you enjoy these windows into the team's roster!


  1. Brass HAS to improve this year. The kids are no longer kids. Jake has shown definite signs of life. No more excuses for these guys.

  2. Great analysis and post, thanks for the effort! Looking forward to reading more results. Any way you can tell which defenceman gave up the most "game-losing" goals?

  3. In theory, I could compile opposition scoring and cross-reference it against the plus-minus indicators to see which pairing gave up the game-losers.

    I've only compiled CBJ scoring, though, and have plenty to mine before I look at the defense...and hopefully we'll be up to the start of the season by then so I don't have to endure another day-plus of data entry!

    Thanks for the props, btw!

  4. Good article. Keep in mind that Brass was being bounced around by Hitch most of the season, and that Hitch did not trust the youngsters, for the most part, in the situations you describe.

    Interesting stuff, and I maintain an Access database that I keep up as well. Very handy!

  5. Thanks, Jeff...while I can see blaming Ken Hitchcock for the youngsters' poor performance on this indicator, I also recall that Claude Noel coached the Blue Jackets for 24 games and appeared to be committed to playing the young skill players in pretty tough circumstances. Therefore, I still think that Brassard et al share at least a little of the responsibility for their own production. Kris Russell apparently did...

  6. Nice info DBJ. Not many "clutch" goals to talk about. As far as Brass, maybe a full season with the same line-mates might help. It will be only his second "full " season, so I'm still willing to cut some slack there. I'm also not the one signing the checks, so we'll see what happens. My bigger concern was Nash's absence or lack of "compete" at this time of the game. I still say he needs to be a STRONGER example to team-mates.

  7. It is well established that there is no such thing as clutch performance. The only thing that happens is some people regress.

    As for your theory, veterans are in general more likely to be good than younger players because they've already made it in the NHL; many young players will not be around for as long.

    Also, your statistics are based on ridiculously small and complex samples. It is more of a statement of things than happened than a way to make a statement of quality about any of the players.

  8. @Anonymous:

    Ummm..."It is well established that there is no such thing as clutch performance"? You're serious?

    Sure, it's a small sampling, but it's a sampling taken from an entire season's worth of scoring (216 goals) - not a sample size that would satisfy a professional survey firm, but surely enough about which to discuss the results. And while it surely is a statement about things that happened - if they didn't score goals, scoring wouldn't happen and we wouldn't be talking about it - I daresay that the fact that Rick Nash's quality as a player had some small factor in his "clutch" performance. And the CBJ have around 7 million reasons every year to agree with that assessment.

  9. I am absolutely is well established (by people judging things by using "facts" and not their "gut") in baseball which is a far better example than hockey where many goals are scored by some partially random confluence of events. A simple google search will lead you to as many references as you have time to read.

    rick nash scored more so-called "clutch" goals because he dominates hockey...not because he has a clutch button. what about all the other times he didn't score goals? I bet he took more shots than anyone else in "clutch" times of the game; I suspect you could just as easily make the case that he is a choker. And neither of those statements would be true probably.

  10. Well, its 30 days after the post, and I am finally catching up. I totally disagree with Anon. in using baseball as a comparison. There is no time clock in baseball. So while there are pressure situations in baseball, they never face up to pressure of the dwindling clock. I trust Anon. is plenty of a hockey fan to appreciate the frenetic pace of the last minute of a close game. You just don't see that in baseball.


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