Revisiting the perceived value of blocked shots

[Editor’s Note: clib542 has returned with a follow up guest post!]

Back in November, you may remember a postabout the value of blocking shots. After 17 games the numbers
suggested there was little difference between blocking a shot, and shots
attempted on net. Well, now the Flames are at the halfway point of the season,
and the numbers have not only changed, but have shifted in such a direction to further make me
question the value of blocking shots. 

Before you read anything else

I want to make it clear this time. I am
not arguing that blocking shots is bad, or players should stop blocking shots.
This is about the culture of blocking shots. 

Coach Bob Hartley has said multiple times he expects players to drop down in front of shots, and if you
get hurt; well, too bad, it is part of the game. As mentioned in the last post,
blocking shots seemed to be more of a defensive strategy than a last effort to
prevent the shot getting on goal. 

This post is not about a certain player or
group of players who block more shots than others, or their value to the team.
There is a skill to blocking shots, but it can also be accidental, as a shot
can deflect off a players *insert body part here*. 

Overvaluing aspects of the game

Hockey is more than using two buttons – to
pass and shoot – on your old NES while playing Blades of Steel. Every player in
the league has their own set of skills they bring to the game. I think it is
safe to assume that most fans could rank players from top to bottom on the team
based on such skill, and this is why it can be frustrating when a coach’s
lineup does not match your rankings. 

It has been argued it takes certain types
of players to win games (for some reason, the type is different in the
playoffs). I think a lot of it has been made up by the media for easy
narratives, or by agents trying to get more money or even one last contract for
their client.

Gone are the days when teams needed an
enforcer in the lineup. How many players with well below average skills,
relative to the rest of the team, had a career in the NHL because of their
fists? Big, immobile, “shut down” defensemen were key during the clutch and
grab era of the league, yet when skill took over, they were left behind.
Faceoff specialists always seem to be traded at the deadline, but they are always
depth moves, rather than acquiring a top-six forward.

Leading the league in blocking shots is not
something to write on a resume. Does it take grit, heart, etc to lay down in
front of a 100 mph shot? Sure, but when was the last time you heard at a draft that a team was looking for a shot blocker? 
Have the Flames been worse off this year
because Lance Bouma has missed so much time due to injury? Do they miss his one shot block per game? Is that the reason
they have four fewer points than they did a year ago? 

Matt Stajan has already blocked three more shots
than he did all of last year. There will always be another player who will take
on that roll, because of their perceived value, earning those players another
contract. 

Facing the stats

When we first looked at the numbers, there
was little difference when it came to what happened after a shot. The Flames
were allowing another shot 35.6% of the time after blocking a shot, and 33.9%
of the time after not blocking a shot (shot on goal, or missed shot). The
numbers have shifted quite significantly in the last 25 games.
 

So, to review the four outcomes after a shot attempt:

  1. Allowed another shot (shot on goal, missed shot, or another blocked shot)
  2. Stoppage in play (by goalie or puck out of play)
  3. Possession not changed (event happened in defensive zone)
  4. Possession changed (event happened in neutral/offensive zone)

After a blocked shot After allowing a shot
1. Another shot 37.2% 30.5%
2. Stoppage in play 20.3% 31.8%
3. Possession not changed 17.7% 17.3%
4. Possession changed 24.7% 20.4%

There is now nearly a 7% difference between
blocking a shot and not blocking the shot when it comes to allowing another
shot. Is it really worth putting one’s body in front of a shot when: 

  1. Laying
    down on the ice to block a shot puts the player out of position, and,
  2. The team
    is more likely not to allow another shot if the first shot isn’t blocked in the
    first place?

The other two outcomes when there is change after allowing a shot are when possession is either changed or not changed. I didn’t get into this last
time, and I am going to hold off again here, as there might be a trend
starting. I really want to see where the numbers are going as it might be in
part with Ramo getting the majority of the starts lately, but it could also
have to do with the Flames being better at retrieving the puck after the shot.
I will update this later on in the season.

One topic which was brought up in November
was shots vs goals. You know “100% of the shots you block, saves 100% of goals,” or something like that. I went back and reviewed all the goals allowed this
year. Using video, I determined if there was an attempt at blocking the shot
before the puck went in; if so, I would determine it to be a failed block
attempt. Using the official game sheets, I looked at the last event before the
goal was scored. There are so many different possibilities, so I focused on if
there was a shot before, a blocked shot, or the shot went directly in.

Goals scored
After allowing a shot 41
After blocking a shot 17
Failed blocked shot 34

If you combine the goals allowed after
blocking a shot and failing to block the shot, you get 51. That’s 10 more goals
allowed than when the opposing team maintains possession after the original
shot and scores, such as a goal off the rebound. 

Analysis

The numbers would suggest the Flames are
better off when allowing the original shot to get through rather than attempting to
block it. In a game where it is important to have the puck and not be chasing
it all the time, perhaps Hartley should be looking into a better defensive
scheme than to block as many shots as possible.

There have been countless times
this year on odd man rushes when instead of trying to take away the pass,
the defenseman has tried to block the shot (most recently Giordano vs the
Sharks, and Backlund vs the Oilers). There have been players 30-40 feet away from the original shot
attempting to block the puck after it has passed their teammates’ failed
attempt, as well as players dropping almost in the blue paint trying to stop
the puck from getting to the goalie. 

Most goalies are going to be able to make
the save on shots they can see. Take, for example, how bad the penalty
kill has been this year while leaving a player unguarded in order to stand right in front
of the goalie. Clear a path, let the goalie make the save. 

If the team wants to
limit the amount of shots on goal, then find a new defensive strategy. When a
player goes down to block a shot, the shot has already been taken. 

  • BurningSensation

    Unlike yourself, I’d be happy to argue that shot blocking has become ridiculous.

    When I started watching hockey Craig Ludwig was the league’s pre-eminent shot-blocker. He taped extra padding to his shin guards, and made a career out of being the one guy who’d voluntarily lie down in front of a MacInnis slapper. Everybody else was much more sane in avoiding the duty.

    Nowadays you have bulletproof kevlar on everyone and a cultish coaching mentality that everybody should be Craig Ludwig for the good of the team.

    The result is that teams now block as many shots as they let through, and entire penalty kills involve a rotation of bodies lying in front of shooters (thanks Tortorella!).

    The answer is to restrict blocking shots to players who remain on both feet. Dropping down on one knee, or lying in front of a shooter should be a penalty.

    Because as admirable as it is to see Russell diving in front of shooters, it isn’t hockey.

    • clib542

      It has been mentioned before. I think it was Elliotte Friedman who had it in his 30 Thoughts. Not sure banning blocking shots is the way to go, although I’m not against it. I could see an increase of goals being scored off deflections from sticks, similar to Brent Burns last night.

      Prevent the shot or allow the goalie to make the save.

      • BurningSensation

        For me the idea goes back to the lockout, when someone interviewed former Hab Guy Carnonneau about why offense was dying and he put the blame squarely on the cult of shot-blocking.

  • DestroDertell

    Blocking shots and playing good defense are not mutually exclusive.

    Last year, Tanev ranked 11th in the league in blocked shots yet he has been a positive possession player his whole career. That’s because, while he’s definitely not afraid to get hit by a puck, he’s also capable of suppressing zone entries, keep himself in position to cover his man and make good transitional passes to exit his zone. On the other hand, guys like Russell (or Girardi or MacDonald or Stuart) known for blocking ton of shots are extremely poor at doing all of the skills mentioned above beside shot-blocking.

    Blocking shots should be a last resort, not something your whole defensive strategy should be based on and it sures as hell shouldn’t be the reason you give someone +2.5M AAV.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I agree that trying to block a shot by falling or kneeling down takes players out of position and is probably worse than allowing the goalie a clear sight line.

    I am also in the camp that thinks that if you lead the league in blocked shots, you are a bad defenseman who can’t get the puck out of the D zone.

    The only thing that jumps out at me in the article, and I’m no mathematician or statistician by any stretch of the imagination, is that if you block 1 shot and 37% of the time the team gets another shot, then that is kind of like 0+0.37 = 0.37, but if you allow a shot and 30% of the time the team gets another shot the 1+0.30 = 1.30. I understand that you’re talking about shots taken and not shots on net, but it seems like this might need further data and analysis.

    It’s a start though, and I like that a lot. Again, I’m no math/stats guy, so maybe I’m out to lunch.

    • clib542

      Here are some raw numbers for you

      There has been 1594 shots attempted (not including goals) against the Flames.

      485 times the next event was another shot against

      509 times there was a whistle.

      Flames have blocked 717 shots.

      265 times the next even was another shot against

      148 times there was a whistle.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    So if 0 shots were blocked, total shot attempts would be 1594+717=2311?

    Does the 1594 include the 485? Or is the total number of unblocked shot attempts = 2079?

    • clib542

      Sorry… the 1594 are unblocked attempts.. on goal and missed.. the 485 are included in the 1594 unless the second shot was also blocked (which happens a lot).

  • BitGeek

    If the stats show that blocking shots is rather a waste of time, then why would you want your players doing this and risk injury. What is the cost of losing a player to injury? How many goals/games does this cost your team? Imagine Sam or Johnny going down for several games with a shot block injury….

    • clib542

      Exactly. Hartley says that injuries are part of the game, and if you get injured blocking a shot, it is no different than getting a concussion, or tearing a muscle.

      You can see Giordano going down to block a lot more shots this year, he’s setting the example for the rest of the team because he’s the captain. I’m sure Gio would be better off staying on his feet to play defence.

  • Parallex

    I’ve always thought that shot blocking was highly overrated. In fact I’ve sometimes wondered if it, in general, sometimes does more harm then good. I mean let’s consider the following…

    A: Most blocked shots do not originate from a high danger part of the ice right? Don’t most of them (I’ll admit this is purely anecdotal) originate from the point and not from the hashmarks in? So we’re talking shots that are more likely to be saved.

    B: The failed blocked shot. If you try (and fail) to block a shot all you’ve done is obstruct your own goalies view of the puck.

    C: Not all blocked shots are blocked shots on net. Surely some of them would have been missed shots.

    D: Having a piece of galvanized rubber fired at your body at high velocity ain’t good for your health. So man-games lost due to injury (and reduced performance due to playing through pain) has to weighted in.

    None of this is to say “Don’t do it” but is to say “be smarter about when you do it”.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      “D: Having a piece of “galvanized” rubber fired at your body at high velocity ain’t good for your health. So man-games lost due to injury (and reduced performance due to playing through pain) has to weighted in.”

      You mean Vulcanized,and growing up our goalies would tell us off for getting in the way all the time if we tried blocking a shot. The only time you tried to block a shot was if the D-man was taking a shot and you were hoping it would bounce off your shin pad for a breakaway.

  • Canrock 78

    So the flames new defensive system is going to be, when the other team gets the puck we are going to let them shoot because it might hurt. Then if it does not go in our net, we are going to take it the other way and hope they don’t get in the way when we shot.
    If they do block the shot we are going to tell the refs that’s not fair, they could have been hurt with that shot you better give them a penalty.

    Obviously I’m being sarcastic. Teams that don’t have as much skill need to use other tools to compete. Just look north and see how your suggested system has worked over the last few years. High skill low compete.

    • piscera.infada

      You’ve missed the point. We constantly hear about the Flames talent on the defensive side of the puck, including some of the forwards. As DestroDertell eludes to above, shot blocking should be more of a “last resort” than a “means of defending”. By all means, block the shot, but the primary job of everyone in the defensive zone should be good positioning and puck retrieval, as opposed to collapsing and getting in shooting lanes. That’s how you establish and keep possession.

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Um… what?? That’s not what’s said at all. The point of the article is that it’s better to try and prevent the shot all-together. Tie up the stick, take the man. Don’t drop to the ice like a cheap hoo… erm, maybe I shouldn’t use that comparison, little too inappropriate. If you prevent the shot from happening, it’s not going to go in. If you aren’t screening your goalie while trying to block the shot, Calgary maybe doesn’t lose 2-1 against Edmonton.

      • Canrock 78

        I wasn’t refering to the artical as much as some of the comments. You do not see Russell lay down to block very often he blocks shots the right way. The other question I have is were the hell is everyone else on the ice when Russell is the last guy back blocking the shot.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    I think shot blocking has value, but if you watch TJ Brodie, both STEALING THE PUCK and PASS-BLOCKING are even better. And then if you can move it out of your zone and pass to a teammate, you are a great player like him.

    • clib542

      Here are LA’s numbers compared to Calgary’s as of January 19 2016.

      After allowing a shot

      CGY – LA

      Allow Shot 30.2% – 28.6%

      Stoppage 31.8% – 33.3%

      Change Pos 21.0% – 19.7%

      No Change Pos 17.0% – 18.4%

      After blocking a shot

      CGY – LA

      Allow Shot 36.7% – 31.3%

      Stoppage 20.6% – 24.0%

      Change Pos 24.9% – 26.2%

      No Change Pos 17.9% – 18.4%

      Similar trends, but the biggest difference is LA is better at allowing another shot, for the most part by getting a whistle (quality of goalie). After blocking a shot, LA is better at puck retrieval, in again now allowing another shot, but also moving the puck out of the zone.

  • Crazy Flames

    Does the ability to get in front of the puck and block a shot make a person a good hockey player? No not really. Should blocking shots be the first line of defense (or in the Flames case, used as their defensive system)? Absolutely not. There are many arguments to why players should not block shots, and there are plenty of highlights you see where blocking a shot leads to a goal against and or a goal for. There really isn’t a correct answer. I agree the flames definitely go overboard on trying to block shots, just as clib542 has shown with the hard data, and as such it has probably cost them some games.

    But to break shot blocking down even further, I see it as skill. Anyone can block a shot, but there is a skill to blocking pucks effectively and causing all sorts of frustration to the opposing team. I remember a game early in the season Flames vs Canucks and I remember being extremely frustrated watching Tanev get in the way of the passing and shooting lanes. Is Tanev a player I would like on my team? Probably not. Could serve a purpose on the 3rd paring depending on depth.

    Look at the top shot blocking defensemen in the NHL. Do I need to look at fancy stats, shot blocking ability, or anything else to determine if I would want them on my team? No I could tell you right away there are only a few on the list that I would absolutely want – Josi, Gio, Martinez, and Spurgeon are all players I would not be disappointed to see wearing a Flames jersey.

    Do those 4 guys do something special when they block shots? I have no clue, never paid that close of attention to what happens after those 4 block a shot. Based on their stats and CF% I might assume when they block a shot fewer goals are scored.

    Top 10 Shot Blockers in the NHL

    1. Francois Beauchemin (G 5 A 17 BLK 143 ESCF% 43.3)

    2. Kris Russell (G 2 A 10 BLK 138 ESCF% 44.0)

    3. Karl Alzner (G 3 A 11 BLK 118 ESCF% 47.7)

    4. Roman Josi (G 10 A 22 BLK 117 ESCF% 50.4)

    5. Calvin de Haan (G 1 A 6 BLK 113 ESCF% 51.7)

    6. Mark Giordano (G 10 A 16 BLK 107 ESCF% 50.8)

    7. Chris Tanev (G 2 A 7 BLK 103 ESCF% 48.3)

    8. Jared Spurgeon (G 6 A 13 BLK 102 ESCF% 51.9)

    9. Alec Martinez (G 5 A 11 BLK 102 ESCF% 53.2)

    10. Josh Gorges (G 1 A 6 BLK 98 ESCF% 45.7)

    CF% numbers are even strength and I got the info at War-On-Ice: http://war-on-ice.com/playerseason.html?woiid=josixro90

    • Kevin R

      Phenomenal post I must say. What it does say is that shot blocking is a skill & it may be a skill that requires a conscious effort to be sure it’s done right & to not get injured doing it. So one can maybe conclude that the more shots you block definitely impacts the players ability at possessing the puck. But that may not be such a bad thing. I am sick & tired of Flames fans trashing Russell & calling him hot garbage & wanting to trade him for a bag of pucks. Obviously, this shot blocking skill does have value to other coaches & managers, not just Hartley & BT. If we lose Russell, we better get a good return. Otherwise, move heaven & earth to get rid of either Wideman or Smid & then you have your money to resign Russell. That is what Tre is probably working on & letting other GM’s know we are still trying to find a way to keeping him. From a psychological point of view, that won’t hurt trying to pump his value you either.

      • clib542

        You must have missed the point of this post. It’s not about a single player. I’ve got the breakdown of each defenceman on how they do in each of the 4 categories. Compared to the other defence, Russell has a better percentage of blocked shots resulting in shots than the others do. It does take skill to block a shot, Russell is skilled at blocking shots. Russell also allows more shots against than any other defenceman too. This is a problem. He cant block them all.

        Now on the potential on resigning Russell. Right now there is too much money tied up to the bottom 4 defence. I would think Russell is wanting a raise of some sort. I can safely assume he wont make more than Brodie. If Wideman, Engelland or Smid get moved, that money could go to Russell, but again it all depends on how much money he is looking for. The salary cap will determine if they keep him or not, and not whether they should keep him.

  • Crazy Flames

    When it comes to shot blocking the Flames are middle of the pack with 505 on the season. Much better teams such as Dallas (630) and Chicago (629) are leading the league in shot blocks. There are teams higher in the standings (then Calgary) with way less shot blocks Florida (375), Boston (453), and Detroit (455).

    The data in this article seems to suggest that Calgary doesn’t do a great job blocking shots and suppressing goals. I would suggest this is highly correlated to the current system that the Flames have in place (defensively it is not existent – Look for the stretch pass).

    This same analysis done on a team such as Dallas, Chicago, LA, Florida, Boston will probably show differing results. I would also argue that Dallas, Chicago, LA, and Boston may all have better coaches, and stronger rosters to work with then Calgary at this moment.

    At the end of the day it comes down to Calgary needs to get better in a lot of areas (coaching, system, player usage, better players, scoring goals, blocking shots, making passes, goaltending, etc. etc.) – basically their hole game needs to improve if they want to compete against the Kings for the Cup.

    • clib542

      Where are you getting your numbers from? Flames have 611 blocked shots at even strength alone. Colorado is the only one with more at ES.

      In all situations again, only Colorado has more blocked shots than Calgary.

  • ClayBort

    Goalie here. Get the eff out of the way. The goaltender has a much better chance controlling or corralling the rebound or getting a stoppage in play. He’s paid to do it so let him do it. The anarchy after a blocked shot is much more difficult to control, and it evidently does a worse job suppressing the next shot.