The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Are Crosby and Ovechkin Top 150 players in the NHL? Not according to THoR.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pop Quiz. How would you describe Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals’ winger Alex Ovechkin?

A: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are two of the best players in the NHL.

B: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are not one of the 150 best players in the NHL.

According to Statistical Sports Consulting’s 2013-14 Total Hockey Ratings (THoR) rankings, which was presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, the answer is B. Here is the methodology used by creators Michael Schuckers and Jim Curro:

THoR is a two-way player rating that accounts for the all of the on-ice action events when a players is on the ice as well as their linemates, their opponents and where their shift starts.  Each event is assessed a value according to the chance that it leads to a goal.  THoR uses a statistical model to determine the value of each player’s contribution to the overall outcomes that occur while they are on the ice.

There are two Washington Capitals among the top 10 skaters in this year’s iteration, but probably not the ones you would think:

Looking for Sidney Crosby? He ranked 162 out of 250, just three spots behind Ben Smith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Season GP Golas Assists Points Shots TOI ATOI 2013-14 Awards
S Crosby 80 36 68 104 259 1758 21:58 Art Ross, Hart finalist, Ted Lindsay Finalist
B Smith 75 14 12 26 90 955 12:44

Looking for Ovechkin?

Of note is that Ovechkin (not in the Top 250) compensates somewhat for his really poor even strength play with PP play that makes him a replacement level player for this year though.

Wait, what? The original paper that introduced THoR to the Sloan Conference has no definition of what a replacement player is, however, according to Fangraphs, it is player “who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc.” Alex Ovechkin was rookie of the year in 2005-06, has been the league’s highest goal scorer four times, led the league in points once and has been voted the most valuable player and most outstanding player a total of six times. Those types of players don’t exactly grow on trees.

Also conspicuously absent in the Top 250 is Tyler Kennedy, who the original THoR paper had as a top player for 2010-12 because he “averaged 39 points over the last two seasons while playing against above average competition and with below average teammates.”

I get why having a “catch-all” statistic is beneficial, but when you have two of the league’s best players not ranked among the top 150, it is time to go back to the drawing board.