Picture a hockey player at their absolute best. That sweet stretch somewhere between an unpolished apprenticeship and the first signs of betrayal of one’s physical gifts. Prime. Pinnacle. Heyday. The peak of their powers. Regardless the descriptor, this is a revealing point in both a career and a Hall of Fame case. Yet, it’s a point that has never been formally measured. Meet High Noon!
While the PPS system is designed to be the primary starting point in assessing HHOF worthiness, identifying a player’s year-to-year place in the league’s hierarchy adds meaningful context. When a player retires, it’s normal to reflect on the height of their career. In some cases, this is obvious – Terry Sawchuk, Bobby Orr, or Mario Lemieux stood far above their peers at their best. The height of their career was being the #1 player at their position. For those outside the league’s inner circle, perhaps this was a short-lived time in their position’s top 10, 30, or 100. But no matter a player’s ceiling, knowing their rank within the NHL can speak volumes about the shape of their career.
Pioneering baseball statistician Bill James created the “Keltner List,” a series of 15 questions deployed on baseball HOF candidate Ken Keltner. While not meant to definitively label a HOFer, the list served to ask yes-or-no questions to frame the decision for players under consideration. The list’s first three questions are:
- Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?
- Was he the best player on his team?
- Was he the best player in baseball at his position?
The questions were meant by James to be subjective and provoke thought. Yet, question #3 jumped out. It seemed both quantifiable and applicable to hockey within the scope of the Adjusted Hockey project. It could be answered objectively. Most importantly, it could be a valuable tool to assist with HHOF conversations. If a player was never among the top players at their position, it becomes more difficult to see a path to the Hall.
With this in mind, High Noon was born.
Originally coined “Apex,” the measure needed more flair. When it comes to flair, look no further than my favourite band, Hamilton, Ontario’s Arkells. While their third studio album, High Noon, was named both for its political undertones and a 1950’s Western movie, the title nonetheless fit the new stat seamlessly. Merriam-Webster defines high noon as “the most advanced, flourishing, or creative stage or period.” This was the data point I was looking to identify within a hockey career. Naming it after a dynamic, socially conscious rock band was an easy choice.
Now, the day, week, or month at one’s best cannot be indisputably pinpointed. So, our approach is best deployed using a rolling average, that is, a smoothed average covering a particular window of time. Rolling averages eliminate short-term fluctuations and noise. A red-hot month of play or even a full season on a scorching power play should not instantly place someone among the NHL’s best. Unlike a single-season trophy or award, we want the sample size to be sufficient to encompass a longer body of work.
So, how does High Noon work?
- A player’s highest positional ranking over any 3-season stretch of their career
- Positions = forwards, defencemen, or goaltenders
- Calculated at the end of each season using a player’s Adjusted Point Share Pace (AdPS+) over the three previous seasons
- Skaters must play in 50% of the adjusted schedule in a 3-season cycle to qualify (goalies: 45%)
- Players cannot qualify until the end of their third NHL season at the earliest
- Lost lockout season (2004-05) has no impact on career continuity
- Players may have seasonal gaps if they do not meet games requirements1
You may notice some similarities to the world rankings used in professional golf (two-year rolling average) and tennis (one-year rolling average). However, rankings in those sports award points based on tournament results and roll weekly. High Noon rolls annually, given there is no fixed event schedule like golf or tennis.
Consider High Noon’s hierarchy to be the world rankings of hockey, systematically deployed to players over three-season stretches. A player’s High Noon is their highest place in these positional rankings.
Let’s take High Noon for a spin to bring the concept to life. We’ll demonstrate with respected goaltender, Curtis Joseph, still sitting outside the HHOF’s walls. His High Noon card is below, summarizing the place “Cujo” held among NHL goalies in his career.
So, what can High Noon reveal about Curtis Joseph?
- Cujo was the best goalie in the NHL two times.
- At the end of his ’92-93 and ’93-94 seasons in St. Louis, his High Noon is #1.
- Cujo was a top-6 goalie in the NHL five times.
- Keep in mind, this does not mean he had five great seasons, but rather he impressively maintained three-year runs of elite play on five occasions.
- Cujo was a top-20 goalie in the NHL 13 times.
- Since a goalie needs to get in 45% of the adjusted schedule over the prior three seasons, he was both earning a starter’s share and highly durable for a long time. Joseph’s 13 appearances in the top 20 are tied for 11th all-time among goalies.
As a spoiler, the PPS system loves Joseph. His PPS score of 338 comfortably exceeds the standard. By PPS, Cujo is a qualified HHOFer, the 9th-most HHOF-worthy goaltender since expansion, a glaring HHOF omission. Perhaps you prefer your HHOFers to be among the very best at their peak? High Noon tell us Cujo was that too — the #1 goalie in the NHL over multiple three-season stretches. In fact, his early-30s renaissance in Toronto featured a return to the #4 spot among goalies at the turn of the millennium.
While he is occasionally brought up as a potential candidate in the media, the HHOF Selection Committee’s secret balloting leaves us to guess if he has been seriously considered. The stigma of not winning a Stanley Cup or a Vezina Trophy understates Joseph’s sterling career. But our new tool, High Noon, reveals the towering heights Cujo reached within the sport.
In Cujo’s case, we’ve shown how High Noon can positively change the perception of a career. Of course, it can have the opposite effect on a player ranked below public opinion. For these reasons, a player’s High Noon is included on their PPS player card.
High Noon can provide supporting information as part of a HHOF case. Maybe you’ll use it to break ties with players that PPS rates similarly (i.e., does Patrick Marleau or Phil Kessel have a better High Noon? Answer: Kessel, #10 vs. #12), or to add insight to those on the HHOF borderline (i.e., how many times was Ryan Getzlaf a top-15 forward? Answer: 2 times).
Look for future exciting High Noon-based blog series that explore:
- The chain of the title of NHL’s #1 player by position throughout history
- The greatest runs of consistently elite play in NHL history
- The players with the best High Noons not yet elected to the HHOF
- HHOF choices that never ranked near the top at their position
We can also dig deeper into a highlighted player via their High Noon card. These cards provide a valuable visual of a player’s year-to-year career arc.
1 While a player is not ranked in a season they play <10 adjusted games, they do not lose continuity of past play for up to three seasons — examples: World War II (Apps), semi-retirement (Lemieux), league switch (Jagr), major injury (Kucherov) — so long as they qualify over their own last three seasons.