Russian hockey has been declining for years, it’s time to adjust how we view the prospects
Recently, I unveiled a new metric called NHLz, one that I built to help better measure the quality of respective NHL feeder leagues.
The way NHLz works is that it uses scoring, as measured by era adjusted points per game in each hockey league, to estimate the strength of 100 different leagues around the world relative to the NHL. It does so by looking at every single player who has changed leagues over its sample and looking at how their performance has shifted vis a vis their bottom line.
The general idea is that if a player sees his results improve after moving from League A to League B, then we can intuit that League A was the more challenging environment. Of course, any individual may be able to buck this trend, but with a sample of thousands of players, the averages give us a pretty good indication of what's what.
This model also accounts for a player's position, the underlying scoring distribution of each league, and the age of the player making the switch, all to ensure that we're accounting for the most important variables without seeing the results shifted by exogenous forces.
In the end, NHLz spits out an estimate for each league, which represents how much we expect players standardized scoring rate to increase if they entered that league from the NHL. This means smaller NHLz values represent stronger leagues, because we don't expect their scoring rate to increase as much as someone enters that setting.
These values can be estimated over large samples like most other public league quality estimates, or on a year-to-year basis to help estimate changes in league quality over time. While it is a new metric, early signs suggest it should help us predict prospect outcomes, meaning the measure is picking up on valuable information in prospect analysis
This will not only help us observe trends across these leagues over larger samples, but also get a feel for league quality on a year-to-year basis.
There are a number of important implications of NHLz which I went through in that introductory article – one of which I wanted to expand upon in this article. I shared a chart showing which leagues have seen the largest relative declines in 2023 relative to their overall league quality estimates.
I'm sure you've got a good sense of where this is headed. For scouts and draft analysts, there are three noteworthy leagues in Russia: The KHL, VHL, and MHL. For those unfamiliar, the KHL is Russia's highest level of professional competition, often thought of as the best hockey league outside of the NHL. The VHL is Russia's second-tier professional league, with many of these teams bearing a KHL affiliation. Finally, there's the MHL, which you can think of as Russia's version of major junior hockey – think the OHL or USHL, but with professional affiliates.
Notice a trend? All three of Russia’s most important hockey leagues appear to be in the steepest decline among those accounted for in this sample – even Russia's U18 league. Each of them shows up among the leagues that have had the most significant drop-off in quality. So today I want to dig into this trend, and what it might mean from a macro lens.
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