Individual Stars Don't Necessarily Win You A Stanley Cup, Says New Research From Chicago Booth

Data offer insights on hockey statistics and suggest that teams may not be getting best players for the money

Jun 11, 2013, 07:46 ET from University of Chicago Booth School of Business

CHICAGO, June 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- As the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins prepare to do battle in the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday, new research from two University of Chicago Booth School of Business professors indicates that National Hockey League teams depend more on group performance than individual stars, and that some teams may not be getting the best players for their money.

Chicago Booth colleagues Robert B. Gramacy, an assistant professor of econometrics and statistics, and Matt Taddy, associate professor of econometrics and statistics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, along with Shane T. Jensen of the Wharton School, developed an alternative way to look at and rate NHL players.

NHL teams currently assign a plus-minus value to players, counting the goals scored while players are on the ice and comparing them with goals given up. This, the researchers argue, flatters some players' statistics, while undervaluing others. A player could theoretically score lots of goals but still have a negative plus-minus value if the opposition scored more.

To correct this imbalance, the researchers created what they call a regularized logistic regression model. They applied this new measure to data from four NHL seasons, 2007-11, and found that far fewer players stood out from their teams' average performances.

"A better measure of performance would be the partial effect of each player, having controlled for the contributions of teammates, opponents and possibly other variables," they write in their paper, "Estimating Player Contribution in Hockey with Regularized Logistic Regression," published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

Hockey fans may find some of the researchers' results surprising.

For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby is considered by many to be the best player in the NHL. But using the more precise measure shows that he made a much smaller contribution to goals than his plus-minus rating suggests. And by the authors' estimates, some other players stuck out as undervalued. The Detroit Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk was actually the league's best player, by the new metric.

Stanley Cup fans on both sides may view their teams' captains as standout players. But the research suggests that even beloved Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara have numbers that get a boost from their strong teams. "Jonathan Toews' and Zdeno Chara's effects show similar behavior, the latter having no player-team effect," the authors note. "As [Crosby, Toews and Chara] captain their respective (consistently competitive) teams, we should perhaps not be surprised that team success is so tightly coupled to player success in these cases."

In other words, the researchers say, factoring in a team's performance often negates the positive numbers of individual players.

To read more about this research go to  For more information, contact Ethan Grove at 773-834-5161 or

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SOURCE University of Chicago Booth School of Business