Sunday, July 12, 2009

2002 Wings vs. 2001 Devils

This topic came up in one of the comment threads a while back and I promised a post on it, so here it is.

According to one particular brand of mythology, Dominik Hasek played on a ridiculously stacked Detroit team in 2002, and his Cup win was entirely because of his fantastic teammates. In contrast Martin Brodeur, some say, played a huge role in all of his Cup wins and never had the same level of excellent team support.

I think that the best team that either Hasek or Brodeur ever played for was probably the 2001 New Jersey Devils. If you include the goalies in the analysis it's pretty close, but comparing only the 18 skaters on the 2001 Devils with the 18 skaters on the 2002 Wings I think the Devils were better. That may seem blasphemous because the Devils didn't have 10 future Hall of Famers, but here are the statistics:

'01 Devils: 48-19-12-3, 111 pts
'02 Wings: 51-17-10-4, 116 pts

Goal Differential:
'01 Devils: 3.60 G/G, 2.38 GA/G, +1.22 G/G
'02 Wings: 3.06 G/G, 2.28 GA/G, +0.78 G/G

'01 Devils: 31.6 S/G, 24.7 SA/G, +6.9 Diff, outshot opp 60 times
'02 Wings: 31.0 S/G, 26.3 SA/G, +4.7 Diff, outshot opp 50 times

5 on 5 Play:
'01 Devils: 152 GF, 127 GA, +25
'02 Wings: 149 GF, 121 GA, +28

Special Teams:
'01 Devils: PP: 22.9% (1st), PK: 84.6% (12th)
'02 Wings: PP: 20.3% (2nd), PK: 86.0% (7th)

Penalty Kill:
'01 Devils: 1.0 SA per PP, .861 PK SV%*
'02 Wings: 1.3 SA per PP, .889 PK SV%

*-Had to estimate shots faced by Brodeur's backups since they got traded midseason and combines stats for players with multiple teams.

'01 Devils: .905 save %, 2.32 GAA
'02 Wings: .914 save %, 2.22 GAA

Those very impressive New Jersey statistics seem to indicate that the Devils' skaters were remarkably effective. They were a better offensive team than Detroit, they were better at outshooting their opponents, they had a better power play and it looks like the only reason they didn't have a better penalty kill as well was because Detroit got more saves from their goalies.

There is an argument to be made that the weakest part of that New Jersey team was the goalie, given that save percentage was just about the only thing that wasn't well above average. Not that the goalie himself was weak, just that everything around him was better.

If the numbers indicate that New Jersey was better at most areas of the game, why did Detroit have a better record? It is mainly because they were either "unclutch" or unlucky in close games. The Devils were 12-10-3 in one-goal games, compared to the Red Wings' record of 20-6-4. In games decided by 2 goals or more, which tends to be a better measure of a team's strength than their record in one-goal games, the Devils were a fantastic 36-9, compared to 31-11 for the Red Wings.

In the playoffs, both teams were dominant in the early rounds against lower seeds. The successes of both teams came down to a series against the Colorado Avalanche, one of which was a Cup Final and one of which was the de facto Cup Final (no offence to the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes). Both series went 7, with New Jersey losing 3-1 and Detroit walking away with a 7-0 blowout.

That gives us a strong common opponent to measure both teams against. The NHL tracked the amount of time the puck spent in each zone back then, and those numbers show that both teams were dominant in terms of controlling puck possession, even against a powerful opponent like Colorado:

Detroit: 40% off. zone, 35% def. zone, 25% neut. zone
New Jersey: 41% off. zone, 33% def. zone, 26% neut. zone

Detroit spent 9% of the time on the power play and 11% on the penalty kill. New Jersey spent 11% of the time with the extra man and 14% on the PK. The Devils didn't have to go against Forsberg, but the Wings didn't have to go against Bourque. All things considered the Devils probably had a slight relative edge in territory although Detroit did a better job of getting shots to the net, outshooting Colorado 223-168 in their series compared to Devils' margin of 178-146.

The reason Colorado beat New Jersey and lost to Detroit was simply percentages. New Jersey scored on just 6.2% of their shots while the '01 Avs scored on 13.0% of theirs, enough to make up the shot gap. The '02 Avs held the edge in percentages right up until Patrick Roy got lit up in game 7, which turned it around so that overall Detroit shot 9.9% and Colorado just 7.7%.

If you were a goalie trying to win the Stanley Cup, would you rather have the '01 Devils or the '02 Wings in front of you? Detroit did better than New Jersey did in their respective series against Colorado, but if I was going into a postseason without knowing what teams I was going to face I'd pick the Devils because I think they were the stronger team.


Anonymous said...

Very good analysis and I agree with it completely. I think it would also be worthwhile for you to compare the '07 Ducks and the '01 Devils. I am so sick of the popular opinion that the '07 Ducks were an absolute titan and Giggy just coasted to a Cup. The '07 Ducks were a very good team, but far from the most elite team even in the past five years to win a Cup. Giggy carried them through many games in the '07 run, particularly in the Detroit series where Anaheim was absurdly outshot in a few games.

Once again, there is a direct analogy between Giggy and Hasek. Both goalies, the best in the world in their prime, singlehandedly almost won the Cup on two very mediocre (and that is being charitable) teams, and each goalie, a few years later, won the Cup the first chance they had on a really good (but not absolutely great) team, despite being a bit past their prime.

Bruce said...

Detroit: 40% off. zone, 35% def. zone, 25% neut. zone
New Jersey: 41% off. zone, 33% def. zone, 26% neut. zone

... and later ...

If you were a goalie trying to win the Stanley Cup, would you rather have the '01 Devils or the '02 Wings in front of you?

CG: Loved that zone time stat and can't for the life of me understand why the NHL dropped it. However, please don't assume that zone time numbers are all about the teams "in front of" the goalies. As always, the goalies themselves were part of those teams, and made their own impact on the position of the puck.

The difference between the above cited cases is the puck spent 2% less time in the Devils' zone and 1% more in each of the neutral and offensive zones. Seems reasonable to me that such a difference could be attributed to the (highly-renowned) soft skills of one of the goalies. At first blush it seems conservative if anything. Bordeur was a whiz at getting the puck moving in the right direction, especially in the pre-Brodeur Rule era. Dom Hasek, not so much.

Btw, I'd also be interested to see how the 2002 Red Wings stack up against the 2003 Devils. Or the 2000 Devils. Or the 1995 Devils. It's interesting how frequently you trot out the one Finals series that Brodeur lost (to a 118-point, President's Trophy winning team, I might add), whereas his great performances the three times they won always seem to get lost in the mists of time.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I don't think the '07 Ducks were the best recent team to win the Cup, as I'd rate the '08 Red Wings slightly ahead of them. But Anaheim's probably #2. The Ducks in the playoffs that year were dominating. The only team that even tested them was Detroit. There might have been a couple of games where Detroit heavily outshot them, but overall the shots were just 179-171, and when you can hold Detroit even in terms of shots you have to be a terrific team. Hasek actually had a better save percentage than Giguere did in that series, even though Anaheim won.

I don't see any analogy between Hasek and Giguere. They are not even remotely comparable. One is the greatest goalie to ever play the game, and the other is a very solid netminder. Giguere was never the best in the world at any point in time, to even suggest that it is comical. He's only finished in the top 5 in save percentage once in his entire career. If I had to compare Giguere to somebody, I'd compare him to Vanbiesbrouck because both of them were solid goalies for a long time and had one shining playoff run. He's just not as good as you apparently think he is.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Bruce: I also love the zone-time stat. I have a few things on the to-do list involving it, including comparing different goalies to see if there appears to be an effect. And yes, I do expect that the best goalies would probably affect the numbers by a percentage point or two.

The 2002 Red Wings were better than the 1995 Devils or 2003 Devils. The 2000 Devils were close, but not quite as good as the 2001 version.

I'm not trying to take shots at Brodeur in this post. If you don't want to believe that, fine, that comes with the territory of choosing the blog title that I happened to choose.

I'm trying to raise a legitimate question about which team is better, since the huge majority of hockey fans will tell you the 2002 Red Wings were, and I think they're wrong. This post is about Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora and Brian Rafalski and Bobby Holik and John Madden and the other Devils who get overlooked by the simplistic Brodeur/Stevens/Niedermayer narrative. That was a terrific hockey team, and not because just because they were great defensively. As the numbers show they dominated games.

It also addresses a personal pet peeve of evaluating hockey teams based on which team has the bigger names, rather than which team has the better performance. As an Edmonton fan you should be familiar with that - it's the logic that has made a whole lot of media-types project a division title and Stanley Cup for the Calgary Flames pretty much every season in recent memory.

Triumph said...

yeah it's worth noting that a lot of those hall of famers were pretty brutal - luc robitaille was a shell of himself in the 2002 playoffs.

the 2001 devils were the best devils team i will see in my lifetime, and it was pretty much brodeur's poor play that lost them the stanley cup. it is strange to me that he has escaped rebuke for this - but then again, he's become a much better goalie since then.

JLikens said...

Good post.

The Devils regular season numbers were somewhat inflated by playing in the East -- the East went 131-166-43 against the West that year.

Still, New Jersey's numbers (namely GD) remain the more impressive of the two even if one controls for the fact that they had an easier schedule.

About a year ago, I assigned to each team for all post-expansion seasons an adjusted winning percentage. It's essentially pythagorean winning percentage adjusted for schedule difficulty. The 2000-01 Devils were the 34th best post expansion team; the 2001-02 Wings 60th.

Also, as you mentioned, if you discount the effect of goaltending, the gap likely widens slightly.

Anonymous said...

"Hasek actually had a better save percentage than Giguere did in that series, even though Anaheim won."

This is largely because of Game 3, when both Giguere and Bryzgalov had a meltdown. Actually, as I recall Giggy gave an interview in which he attributed his bad showing that game to being very distraught over his son's eye condition.

"Giguere was never the best in the world at any point in time, to even suggest that it is comical."

Surely he was in 2002-2003 (if for no other reason than Hasek did not play that year). Marty Turco had a better save percentage that year, true, but much of that was attributable to playing on the best lockdown D team in the NHL that season.

Bruce said...

the 2001 devils were the best devils team i will see in my lifetime, and it was pretty much brodeur's poor play that lost them the stanley cup.

Triumph: The Devils lost four games in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, in which they scored a Total of 2 goals. That's somehow Brodeur's fauilt? There's a rule that doesn't allow the goalie to cross the centre red line ...

The rest of the team couldn't score when it mattered most ... shut out in Game 6 and 1 late goal in Game 7. Maybe they weren't so great after all.

overpass said...

Good post. I was arguing for the Devils in the earlier comment thread and agree that they were probably better than the Wings.

The Devils' A-Line of Elias, Arnott, and Sykora was ridiculously good that year, probably playing a bit over their heads. Alexander Mogilny also had incredible rate stats.

The top 7 players in EV points/60 in 2000-01 were:

1. Mario Lemieux, 3.63
2. Jaromir Jagr, 3.47
3. Patrik Elias, 3.46
4. Petr Sykora, 3.40
5. Jason Arnott, 3.40

6. Pavol Demitra, 3.36
7. Alexander Mogilny, 3.07

And here are the PP/60 numbers for the top players with at least 200 PP minutes (Mogilny had just over 200).

1. Alexander Mogilny, 8.66
2. Joe Sakic, 7.03
3. Adam Oates, 7.01
4. Patrik Elias, 6.96
5. Zigmund Palffy, 6.95
6. Mario Lemieux, 6.88
12. Petr Sykora, 6.47
22. Brian Rafalski, 5.46
26. Jason Arnott, 5.39

Their counting stats didn't quite match up to their rate stats, as they didn't play as many minutes as most first lines. However, when a team has a first line that's as efficient at scoring as they were, and a player like Mogilny who can absolutely kill on the second line, it makes it a lot easier to score almost 300 goals.

Anonymous said...

"Triumph: The Devils lost four games in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, in which they scored a Total of 2 goals. That's somehow Brodeur's fauilt? There's a rule that doesn't allow the goalie to cross the centre red line ...

The rest of the team couldn't score when it mattered most ... shut out in Game 6 and 1 late goal in Game 7. Maybe they weren't so great after all."

St. Patrick was simply a better goalie than Brodeur. There's nothing really else to add to that.

Bruce said...

Anonymous: In that series, he certainly was. One of the highest points of Roy's incredible career.

To which I refer to the old saw, "The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass every day." True of Marty Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods ... don't matter how great you are, nobody is unbeatable.

Triumph said...


had the devils won the stanley cup in game 7, they would have taken the most games in history to win one (25). the toronto series should have never lasted seven games, the carolina series never should have lasted six. my memories of these games is hazy, admittedly, but almost every devils fan points to the completely weak goal that brodeur allowed to adam foote in game 6 that put the avs up 1-0. hockey-reference lacks the box score to these games, and who knows what we could glean from that anyway.

certainly there's enough blame to go around - alexander mogilny's only scoring 5 goals in the playoffs a major culprit, for instance. but just saying 'oh well the team didn't score in the games brodeur lost' misses the wider picture, i think.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Yeah, if there was a blame Brodeur moment it was probably game 6 and Foote's goal. To be fair, I think the shot was probably tipped by a defenceman, but if there are goals that deflate a team I think that one certainly qualifies - the Devils were storming Roy's crease and the Avalanche silence the home crowd by scoring first on a long shot by a stay-at-home defenceman. Check out the Youtube of game 6 highlights here (the frustration of the Devils fan at 3:21 is pretty funny).

I've made the argument that Brodeur cost his team the series before, but I think Bruce does have a point. Based on the way the games went it was more a case of Roy stealing it than Brodeur blowing it. I'm pretty sure Brodeur could have changed a couple of those games if he held the fort a little longer, especially the ones where the ice was really tilted against the Avalanche, but whatever. In three out of the four rounds in those playoffs the Devils didn't really have the percentages on their side. That's either because Irbe, Joseph and Roy were great or because the shooters went cold, it's hard to say, but even great teams struggle when the bounces don't go their way.

Anyway, we've analyzed the goaltending ad nauseum, if anyone wants to continue the discussion I'd rather talk about the team. One part of that Devils team that I think was amazing was their third line - not sure if it was usually Madden/Holik/Brylin or Madden/Holik/McKay, but either way that line combined for 61 goals, and Holik was a +19. If they were playing against the other team's best, that's pretty impressive. The Devils' three balanced lines of excellent two-way forwards was what really set them apart, I think, although having two Hall of Famers and 4 solid defensive defencemen on the blue line didn't hurt either.

overpass said...

Thinking about it a bit more, while I agree that the single-season
'01 Devils have a good case to be better than the '02 Wings, how much weight should we put on the fact that the Wings were a stronger team in the surrounding years?

The Devils were the defending Cup champion, so they obviously weren't a fluke, but their record in 2001 was substantially better than it was in the previous year and the following year. Their goals scored in 2001 stand out even more, as they scored 90 fewer goals the following year while losing only Mogilny.

In comparison, the Wings had at least 110 points in all of 2001, 2002, and 2003.

None of the Wings had career years or years that were unexpectedly good or stood out from their surrounding years, with the possible exception of Chelios. For the Devils, Elias, Sykora, Arnott all scored at a far higher rate than they had before or since - basically they turned into Mario and Jagr for a year. Gomez and Madden also had unusually good scoring years, and really nobody came in below a reasonable expectation based on surrounding years.

What I'm getting at is that it seems likely that the 2001 Devils had a lot of things go right for them that year in the regular season, and may have been a very good team that was playing a bit over their heads. The 2002 Red Wings, in comparison, were a group of great players that produced exactly as one would expect - basically they were the sum of their parts, and that sum was 116 points and a Stanley Cup.

Triumph said...

agreed, overpass, although there are mitigating circumstances - the devils canned a coach who has been noted for his ineffectiveness (and has yet to get another NHL job) in ftorek in 2000 when the team simply refused to score. in 2002, the arnott line was abysmal on the road, totally failing to fight through checks, and lamoriello decided that arnott's head had gotten too big and sent him packing, then the team accused sykora of faking an injury and sent him out, for a return that really fizzled. i do find it very interesting that sykora, arnott, and elias, but especially the former two, were so much less than the sum of their parts.

it's also worth noting that i can recall at least three huge blowout wins in the 2001 season for the devils - 8 goals against tampa, 8 against atlanta, 9 against pittsburgh. i know it is popular now in all sports to call blowout wins a measure of a team's efficacy - teams that lack them are not as strong as teams that have them. regardless, i have to imagine there's some good fortune in those wins as well - catching a team at their worst.

i don't think the devils were quite 'playing over their heads' - they were an excellent team with tremendous skill, and i think that's an unfair assessment. i think, like the 2009 wings as compared to the 2008 team, the devils of 2001 were much more injured than that in 2000 - arnott and niedermayer had both sustained concussions during the playoffs - and that it's just really, really hard to win two stanley cups in a row.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I wouldn't say the Devils were playing over their heads so much as scoring over their heads. They were always a team that dominated the territorial game and outshot the other team, but in 2001 they really shot the lights out, especially the A-line.

Here is a breakdown of the percentages, compared to a 5-year average for each franchise with the 2 years before and after (numbers are shots for/against ratio, shooting percentage, save percentage, and goal differential):

2001 NJD: 1.28, 11.4%, .905, +100
2002 DET: 1.18, 9.9%, .914, +64

NJD 99-03: 1.30, 9.4%, .907, +54
DET 00-04: 1.18, 10.3%, .912, +63

That really shows how the 2002 Red Wings weren't as special as some people portray them. An outstanding team, absolutely, but basically right on average for the 5 year period.

JLikens said...

The Devils teams during the timeframe specified by CG were all pretty similar in terms of shot differential -- almost eerily so.

From 1998-99 until 2002-03, I calculate: 539, 616, 566, 545, 668.

The difference between the 01 squad and the others is one of shooting percentage. Whereas the 01 team shot 11.3%, the others were all in the 8-9% range (that's discounting empty netters, too).

So perhaps there's something to the argument that the 01 team was an anomaly.

Personally, I think that the 01 Devils were probably somewhat lucky in terms of shooting percentage and that the other teams were somewhat unlucky. If true, then the true difference in team strength between the Devils teams of that period are exaggerated by the corresponding differences in goal differential.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Just realized that Martin Brodeur finished 5th in Hart Trophy voting in 2001, one spot ahead of Patrik Elias. Yikes. I guess a lot of sportswriters didn't watch New Jersey games that year.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget problems surrounding Brodeur's personal life.

Also, as mentioned above the Avalanche were the better team. Forsberg and Sakic were better than Elias and Mogilny. Also the Devils had just one the Stanley Cup the previous season. Look how tough this Detroit team had in winning back to back. It's a lot of games to play in two seasons. As Bruce said even the best fall, Federer vs. Nadal, Tiger Woods missing the British Open Cut. For whatever reason, it shouldn't diminish their other achievements. But season to season, the Devils faced more adversity.

Detroit also underachieved that season with Hasek in net. They almost toyed with teams. They were almost 15 points better than any other team in the league and also faced a weak Carolina in the finals.

And I wouldn't call the sportswriters out for not watching Devils because I have a feeling you weren't sitting home and watching Devil games but rather looking up stats. And Brodeur finished 3rd in Vezina voting with 7 first place votes. I guess the GM's weren't watching hockey either.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

"Forsberg and Sakic were better than Elias and Mogilny."

Sure. If hockey was a 2-on-2 showdown, then that fact would be relevant. Instead, the games were the New Jersey Devils vs. the Colorado Avalanche, and as the numbers above demonstrate the Devils had the better underlying numbers and the edge in play when they met head to head (albeit without Forsberg).

"And I wouldn't call the sportswriters out for not watching Devils because I have a feeling you weren't sitting home and watching Devil games but rather looking up stats. And Brodeur finished 3rd in Vezina voting with 7 first place votes. I guess the GM's weren't watching hockey either."

The sportswriters were "looking up stats", that's the problem. As their voting shows, the stat they were looking up was wins. Same with the GMs. Many GMs don't watch much hockey outside of their own teams.

If they were watching the games, they would have seen a team that led the league in goals scored, finished 2nd in shots against, and finished 2nd in fewest power plays against. Those are the three main ways you can help out your goalie, and the Devils were excellent at all three.

A lot of voters simply gave Brodeur credit for his teammates' success because of the general perception of New Jersey as a trapping team, despite his average save percentage.