April 6, 2017

Sports Data: NHL’s Evolution, Luck’s Stats, WNBA Attendance Drops

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By Staff

Hockey, like any sport, is a game of innovation, and few advancements have provided such a lasting impact as the curved stick blade and the butterfly style of goaltending.

In the 1960s, two popular stars on the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, supposedly discovered they could shoot a hockey puck harder and with more control using a stick with a curved blade.

According to the Toronto Star, Mikita made the discovery after his flat stick partially broke during practice. He showed Hull how easy it was to get the puck off the ice, and, although the two were probably not the first NHL players to use the curved stick, they popularized the design.

When Mikita and Hull began using curved sticks, the average NHL game saw around three goals scored during it. Less than two decades later, however, the league averaged almost four goals per game, an increase of one goal.

Many of the offensive statistical leaders in NHL history, like Wayne Gretzky, Mario LeMieux and Mark Messier, played during this era.

The curved stick did more than just enable players to score, though. Seemingly simple facets of today’s game, like saucer passes, snap shots and clearing the defensive zone by chipping it high off the glass, would not have been possible without the controlled ability to lift the puck provided by the curved stick.

As physics has told us, however, for every action there is an opposite reaction, and for hockey this arrived in the shape of a feisty French-Canadian goaltender by the name of Patrick Roy during the 1985-1986 season.

Instead of simply kicking at pucks, Roy dropped to his knees and used his flexibility and quickness to kick his legs out and cover the bottom part of the net more effectively than any goalie before or, arguably, since.

While it may seem contradictory to cover the lower part of the net in the age of the curved stick blade, when Roy broke into the NHL he said he looked at the stats and saw something like three-quarters of all goals scored at the time were low, off rebounds or loose pucks in front of the net, according to the New York Times.

The butterfly style allowed Roy to first control rebounds off of shots better, but also position himself in such a way that reduced angles and made it harder for second-chance shots to beat him, no matter how quickly the shooter could lift the puck.

Although Roy was not the first goalie to drop to his knees in such a style, his popularity in Quebec and successful career in the NHL (during which he won two Stanley Cups each with the Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche, as well as two Conn Smythe trophies as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs) soon prompted scores of young goalies to adopt the butterfly style.

This countered the increasing goal totals produced by the curved stick blade, and by the end of Roy’s career in 2003, the average goals scored in the NHL was below pre-curved stick levels.

Few, if any, goaltenders in today’s game reach higher levels without adopting at least a hybrid butterfly style.

Roy also happened to be one of the most — colorful — characters in NHL history, as this video from TSN reminds us.

And yes, that was Gretzky, the Great One himself, that Roy faked out at the blue line at Madison Square Garden in moment No. 10. — Zach Klonskinski

By the Numbers: Andrew Luck

Quarterback Andrew Luck has been with the Indianapolis Colts for five seasons, bringing his team to the playoffs three times. Luck signed a six-year contract with the Colts that locks him in through 2021. This chart displays his rushing and passing yards during his time with the team. — Connor DeMill

WNBA Attendance Drops

The WNBA marks its 20th anniversary this year, but the league’s attendance numbers don’t beg for celebration.

Since its inception, average attendance has dwindled, but that’s only one numerical marker of the typically subordinate position of women’s basketball in the United States: The highest-paid WNBA player currently earns around one-fifth of the salary of the lowest-paid NBA player, and the NBA draws millions in viewerships that hardly compare to the WNBA’s six-digit television audiences. — Cassidy McDonald

Patrick Kane’s Surge in Stats

The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the NHL Central Division and home ice in the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup playoff. Over the past 10 years, they have been Stanley Cup champions three times.

One big reason: Patrick Kane has consistently been one of the best players on the Blackhawks. Yet over these 10 years, his number of goals has yet to succeed his number of assists. — Claire Radler

Where Were Indiana’s Current MLB Players Born?

April 2 marked Opening Day of the 2017 MLB season. Of the 750 players on active rosters, 25 come from Indiana while three more were recently cut. Where are they from? This map has the details. — Joe DiSipio

How Archie Miller’s Winning Percentage Compared to Tom Crean’s

With Indiana firing head men’s basketball coach Tom Crean after nine seasons with the Hoosiers, it is clear that a new voice is needed to guide the team in a new direction. His 166-135 record at Indiana is not necessarily a bad tally, but a historic program accustomed to winning expects more than four NCAA Tournament appearances in that span.

As Archie Miller arrives from Dayton to take the reins, will he be able to lead Indiana back to its winning ways? His history at Dayton says he can, and fans in Bloomington will look forward to next season when a new face is leading the Hoosiers onto the court at Assembly Hall next winter. — Juan Jose Rodriguez

Crean’s Run Ends in Bloomington

As the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began on March 16, Indiana University announced that it had fired head basketball coach Tom Crean.

Indiana hired Crean in 2008, and he compiled a 301–166 record in nine seasons. In the 2016-17 season, Indiana went 18-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round of the NIT Tournament to Georgia Tech.

This chart breaks down Crean’s rise and fall as Indiana’s basketball coach. — Kevin Culligan

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