This is an article that I have wanted to write for a long time and I think that right now is a really good time to write it. Advanced/non-traditional statistics in hockey are becoming more widely used in analysis and I see some of these stats being misunderstood or misinterpreted, and I want to see if I can give my opinion on what these stats measure and why these numbers are effective.
This article will be discussing Fenwick. For those who are unfamiliar with this stat, Fenwick is a stat that measures the amount of targeted shots(shots on goal plus shots that miss the net) that a team has in a game. Fenwick has value in hockey analytics because it is a good measurement of offensive zone possession. The thinking here is that you can only score goals if you shoot the puck and you can only shoot the puck if you possess the puck, and as an extension, if you have the puck the other team can’t score, shoot, or possess the puck.
Fenwick is a way to assess whether or not your team won the possession battle and whether or not your team is in a position to score goals consistently. I am going to use the Maple Leafs very briefly, to frame my argument here. Toronto has the second worst Fenwick For %(the percentage of Fenwick events that a team is responsible) in the NHL at 41.8% (the average FF% is 50). The Leafs were successful earlier in the season because of two “lucky” factors (I threw lucky in quotes because it’s dependent on skill but is also largely random from year to year and hard to project over a long period of time). The first factor is the great goaltending tandem of Reimer and Bernier. Collectively they boast the fifth best save percentage in the NHL. I will argue that the Leafs have gotten the best goaltending in the league this year. I say this because Toronto consistently gets outshot and out chanced in the majority of their games. A goalie like Rask from Boston may have better numbers, but he is the beneficiary of playing for an elite team that doesn’t give up many great chances. The second aspect being their unusually high shooting % sitting at 5th in the league. Sh% as a team statistic tends to revert back to the league average over time. Individually the stat is much more independent, as a players shot selection and tendencies can tend to dictate their goals. Randy Carlyle, the Leafs head coach, works a system in which the team only attempts to take high quality shots. His philosophy, is that 5 good shots are better than 10 average shots. The Leafs problem this year has been that recently they haven’t been able to get the opportunities to create high quality scoring chances.
I use this example of the Leafs because I see Fenwick misused quite often on different internet mediums(blogs, message boards, comment sections of various publications). Quite often I will hear someone say, “Our team has to shoot more. Our Fenwick sucks and we gotta get it up if we want to win.” Fenwick is a reflective stat. This is to mean that Fenwick uses shots as an indirect indicator of possession, not as a direct indicator of possession. Sure shooting the puck more will raise your Fenwick, but it won’t mean that your team has possessed the puck anymore that it used to, it is just shooting the puck at higher rate than it used to. It will probably lead to more low quality shots and less sustained possession. Fenwick only has value when its understood that shots are merely a way to measure quality offensive zone possession time. Fenwick is a stat that only has predictive value if its measurement is legitimate in relation to the way that the team is actually playing. If it doesn’t mirror the team who it measures then it is probably artificial and as a result not reliable.
I want to end this article by saying that when used in the intended way, Fenwick is a great way to predict team performance, as well as to compare teams between each other. Teams who get more shots generally control the play and therefore prevent shots.
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