At the end of the NHL trade deadline day, I made a guest appearance on the Puck Pursuit podcast where we wrapped up the day’s deals, while heavily discussing the impact of Mark Stone in Vegas.
A bold, shrewd move, Vegas laid their cornerstone. Picking up any valuable asset at the trade deadline is a fairly expensive acquisition, but the Golden Knights had reasons to make this move. Vegas had been actively seeking to add Stone in a failed pitch last summer to the Ottawa Senators. The ‘Sens’ weren’t ready to deal Stone, yet.
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Adding the former Senators stalwart clearly improves Vegas by more than the offensive ability, a high-caliber player of his quality isn’t acquired in such a fashion for a playoff run. It was an opportunity general manager George McPhee jumped on to make his team competitive for a long time, with a deal coming in the last hour of the deadline. Stone clearly becomes the franchise cornerstone, adding to such great players like Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, Jonathan Marchessault and netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
The biggest add of the NHL trade deadline, without clarity over competitive offers had intentions of signing long term, or if that was the preference of the player. As a rental, his value was quite different than as a long-term asset. We can gauge his value and provide a glimpse into his potential impact.
But to do that, we will have to introduce GAR – Goals Above Replacement.
Goals Above Replacement
Goals above replacement is a single level metric that encompasses different metrics in a different weighting to provide one contextually inclusive statistic. Essentially, this is a consolidated evaluation metric, comparing a player’s ability to affect goals above a replacement level player. Replacement level are the nightly healthy scratches, waiver eligible and minor league call-ups. The higher the ‘GAR’ the greater degree of difficulty to replace what that player brings to the lineup.
GAR is also variation of ‘WAR’ – wins above replacement, made famous via baseball use and part of the infiltration of consolidated metrics that seemingly began with expected goal models and are now being integrated via GAR and WAR. If you were following the analytics community – or even fringes of the hockey Twitterverse, you were privy to the WAR wars. A heated topic for sure.
The trade deadline may seem a little late in the season to introduce concepts, but the timing is actually relevant. I’ve never written about this concept yet in this Hockey Analytics space and I think it’s simplicity as a metric has a value among different players all tied together by being deadline transactions.
I was skeptical of single metrics during their infancy, but I’ve become a convert with analytics improvements by some intelligent hobbyists/analysts taking more concepts into consideration and really expanding on hockey ideas. I’ve also warmed more into the single metrics with some on-ice evolution of player skills.
First line players have fairly distinct skills, but the lines between second and third line players have veered closer together in terms of skill sets. Most middle-six players are interchangeable and temporarily movable up and down the lineup. I like to use Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri as example, where he is slotted into the third line center role, but can move up to the second line if required and even move to the wing, with some versatility to accommodate.
A case can even be made for using single level metrics for the construct of fourth lines with the downturn in spectacle fighting. With skills improving, skilled elements at a reasonable cost within a cap becomes vital, especially when teams facing a cap crunch. The Chicago Blackhawks after winning Championships had to cut ties with valuable players. Saving in cap hit at the bottom end requires something to differentiate player’s ability and value.
While I still would like a comprehensive analysis, using these single level metrics has distinct benefits. Let’s apply this to the trade deadline acquisitions for a practical example.
Using data from Evolving-Hockey, with the NHL trade deadline as the cut-off (February 25), we can isolate the players and see their GAR and WAR metrics. The chart below outlines the traded players and sorted by GAR. By this metric, Mark Stone led the entire group with 20. The site also breaks down the GAR into situations, even strength, power play and shorthanded. Also included is the WAR – wins above replacement – value. Goals lead to wins, and wins are what we’re all here for!
Stone eclipsed the field by a large margin at even strength (15.5), with some of the notables in this list highlighted. The San Jose Sharks picked up Gustav Nyquist’s 7.1 even strength GAR, and another notable is former Senator, Ryan Dzingel.
Poor, Dallas. Poor, Zuccarello. Broken arm in the first game after the acquisition; the rotten luck here for the Stars. I questioned this pick up for Dallas in the first place. Filling in a hole with some scoring talent may be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt, but I don’t expect the Stars to have extended playoff success. The transaction seemed to be to solidify at least a playoff berth, at best a one round win. And then he got hurt. I think Colorado countered this move by getting Derek Brassard from the Florida Panthers.
Another interesting name on this list is Nick Jensen. Considering he came from the Detroit Red Wings, he showed very well among traded players. Sitting third in GAR, the shorthanded metric really speaks volumes. The Washington Capitals had concerns about their penalty killing this season and the acquisition of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen can have a very positive effect while shorthanded.
On the less positive side, the newest Predators winger, Wayne Simmonds was a negative GAR (-1.8) – on a pretty unexciting overall Philadelphia club, while ex-Nashville winger Kevin Fiala fared worse (-2.3), jettisoned to the Wild.
More than just past metrics and in depth statistical analysis goes into making the decision to pull the trigger on deadline deals. Players can get slotted into better positions and really take advantage of better overall circumstances.
A last note on the trade deadline. Teams can actually still make trades, but the players acquired after the deadline would not be playoff eligible. Can some team outside of the playoff race try to lay groundwork and make a trade for the future before the end of the season?
I ask myself this question every season, the day after the trade deadline. There’s yet to be a team to make a move like this yet.