PPS in Action

Picture two NHL star players, separated by less than 0.1 under PPS. Nels Stewart, a forward born in 1902 in Montreal, was the one-time holder of the career goals crown, retiring shortly after WWII began. Tuukka Rask, a goaltender born in 1987 in Finland, played his final game in 2022, retiring fourth all-time in career save percentage. Stewart was born the year before the Wright brothers’ first gas-powered flight of 12 seconds. Rask, meanwhile, exits an NHL where the fastest players can do a lap of the rink in nearly 12 seconds. We’re not exactly talking about contemporary rivals with the same job description.

While the PPS system scores every NHL player, its greatest utility is analyzing players of the same position and vintage. "Tuukka Rask" by Dinur is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With Stewart and Rask’s wildly different profiles in mind, how will we best deploy PPS?

Our initial vision was to be able to seamlessly compare every NHL player from A to Z, or in our case, from Aaron Broten to Ziggy Palffy. That remains unchanged. While we’ve made every effort to measure each player’s contributions equitably, like any data point, PPS is most expressive in refined groups. Early in the Adjusted Hockey project, we established the concept of NHL eras – four distinct historical periods spanning approximately a quarter century each through 2019-20. We further categorized players by position (forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders) via our leaderboards when introducing the factors that form the PPS system.

As we start to analyze players by their PPS scores, we’ll regularly separate them into a dozen groups using these two key filters – era and position. Going forward, each player will have one of twelve PPS labels, being a first digit of F (forward), D (defenceman), or G (goaltender), followed by their era (i.e., one through four). For example, Stewart is F1, while Rask is G4. Easy enough. As Era 5 commenced in 2020-21, it creates three new additional era/position combinations. For now, these players won’t be regularly cited, their careers only a season or two deep.

With the approach to classification established, let’s illustrate some of the ways we can compare players using Jarome Iginla‘s familiar card below. Our new additions to Iginla’s card are flagged via the red borders. Now that we have his total PPS of 29.4 in our pocket, how does Iginla rank historically?

Starting under “Forward Rank” above:

  • All-Time (#32): we are now able to place Iginla’s career among every forward to ever suit up in an NHL game. The PPS system rates Iginla in elite company, having the 32nd-best career in history by a forward.
  • Era (#18): within his designated Era 4 (i.e., the Modern Era, 1993-2020), Iginla places 18th among forwards. This may seem low at first glance for the #32 forward of all time, but over 50% of all forwards are labelled F4 given the growth of the number of NHL teams and players.

You’ll notice there is no attempt to place Iginla in a pool inclusive of defencemen or goaltenders. When developing the model, it became clear that attempts to blend all of the positions together was not sensible. Much like with position players versus pitchers in baseball, the distinct ways that forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders inherently contribute value to a hockey team limit their comparability. So, while we may take the odd sideways glance to other positions, filtering by position will be the norm when deploying PPS.

Moving down on Iginla’s player card, you’ll see “Era Forward Comps.” This section of the card highlights two similar Era 4 forwards to Iginla under PPS. By identifying the contemporary forward directly above and below, we gain insight on comparable players. Surprises here are common, the system’s purpose being to objectively rank, as opposed to mirroring mainstream sentiment or career stat totals. Underrated players may be found among peers regarded as out of their league historically. Overrated players may be placed among contemporaries the system views more in their wheelhouse. That’s both the point and the fun of the system – identifying what our eyeballs or the history books may have gotten wrong.

Let’s check in with the two comparable players on Iginla’s card. First, we’ll summarize their PPS value in the table below, followed by a deeper dive at PPS in action.

PlayerAdYrsCareerPacePeakTimelinePlayoffInt’lAwardPPS Total
Marian Hossa16.
Jarome Iginla19.39.87.610.4-
Pavel Bure8.96.310.511.3-
AdYrs = Adjusted Seasons
  • Marian Hossa (#17): Hossa is a true contemporary of Iginla, their careers overlapping almost identically. Remarkably, they are in a virtual tie via PPS, a second decimal point needed to distinguish their bodies of work. Yet, they arrive at their totals differently. Iginla picks up an additional 0.8 on Hossa via career value, yet gives back 0.7 on pace, his efficiency waning in the extra three adjusted seasons his good health permits. Iginla’s peak and award bonus values, however, lap Hossa’s by a total of 1.4, his best years considered greater than Hossa’s under both measures. Iginla also tops by Hossa by 0.5 in international value. Despite the deficit, Hossa’s contributions to three Stanley Cup wins in Chicago level the score, edging the Cup-less Iginla by 2.0 via playoff bonus. In the end, their careers are virtually equal.
  • Pavel Bure (#19): Bure’s short and brilliant run, meanwhile, is a stark contrast to Iginla’s. The Russian Rocket’s career is less than half of Iginla’s in length, having accrued only 8.9 AdYrs. Bure’s 82-game adjusted pace of 52/40/92 is sensational, his career limited to just 107 games beyond his back-to-back Richard Trophy wins with the Panthers. So, how does PPS connect these two unique careers?
  • Career? Iginla +3.5
  • Pace? Bure +2.9
  • Peak? Bure +0.9
  • Timeline? Iginla +0.2
  • Playoff bonus? Tied
  • International bonus? Iginla +0.5
  • Award bonus? Iginla +0.4

Their pre-bonus values are nearly identical (Bure 27.3, Iginla 27.2). Despite the gap in career length, the system is designed to neither markedly reward or penalize players for respectably playing out their 30s. What Iginla gains with a longer, productive career is offset given Bure’s efficiency and peak are among the best ever. Iginla’s sterling international résumé, coupled with his strong showing via Hart Trophy voting are what breaks his tie with Bure.

Lastly, we note that each player has 99% listed under “Era %” to the right of their PPS total score. This figure provides perspective as to where the player ranks by percentile under PPS within their era and position. Among the approximately 2,400 Era 4 forwards (F4), Hossa, Iginla, and Bure are in the upper 1%. By being ranked 17th through 19th, only rounding (i.e., 99.3% rounds to 99%) keeps their percentile below 100% through 2020-21. The listed percentile will help contextualize the career of any player, not just the best of the all-time best.

Era % will also be a key resource for the future topic of Hall of Fame analysis. The main takeaways:

  1. Hall of Fame consideration differs across positions and eras. Goaltenders, for example, are historically underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, only 29 elected primarily for their NHL play. The Hall of Fame is also considerably less inclusive today – the previous player pools were much smaller, yet produced comparable numbers of inductees by era. By identifying Era %, we gain insight on Hall of Fame exclusivity by position and time.
  2. Potential Hall of Fame candidates in modern times start in the 98th percentile. Playing a single NHL game is a rare feat. Percentiles are a reminder of how incredible an established player is relative to all NHL talent. A career dismissed as not approaching Hall of Fame consideration may still be in the 97th percentile of contemporary careers!

We’ve identified how PPS ranks any player by position, both within their era and all-time, and how it can be used to highlight comparable players. We will save the famously spicy Gretzky vs. Lemieux, Crosby vs. Ovechkin, Hasek vs. Roy, and Beliveau vs. Richard debates for future blog posts and discussion. But for now, let’s take the system on its first test drive!

We can see via their career statistics that both their adjusted totals and pace are much closer than the record book will tell us. Yet, PPS still has Dad ahead 13.4 to 11.3. The reason? Mike’s goal scoring has more value than Nick’s playmaking. This is true both over the course of their careers and within their peak seven seasons (for Mike, his first seven years in the league; for Nick, his age-24 to age-30 seasons). Through 2020-21, Mike is the 477th-best forward in history and Nick is 610th. Dad sits in the 91st percentile of his era’s forwards, while Son #1 sits at 86%. A truly remarkable feat for two members of the same household. Plus, we can’t forget about younger brother Marcus, quietly eclipsing the 20-goal mark at the time of this writing during the 2021-22 season.

While proper context brings their careers closer together, Mike still has a slight edge in bragging rights at the dinner table 🙂

Dealt by Quebec in 1992 for $15 million (equivalent to more than $30 million in 2022 dollars), two first round draft picks, and six players including Forsberg, Lindros entered the NHL unlike anyone before or since. While the trade tree of this transaction can take you down an incredible rabbit hole, we want to focus only on Lindros vs. Forsberg. Their eerily similar careers included significant hype as early first round draft picks, being part of the above-noted swap before playing a single game with their drafted teams, early notoriety on the pre-NHL Olympic stage, and eventually a Hart Trophy and best-on best Olympic gold each. Their hard-nosed styles resulted in playing less than 10 seasons of adjusted NHL games a piece, each sitting out an entire year due to serious injury in their 20s. While both careers ended in calls to the Hall of Fame, Lindros had to wait for his seventh cycle of eligibility; Forsberg entered on the first try.

So, how does PPS rate these two interesting and dynamic careers?

Few appreciate the utter dominance of young Lindros. His peak value of 13.8 is the seventh-best in history among forwards. Despite playing the last half of his short career as a shadow of himself after multiple severe concussions, Lindros’ career adjusted pace line is 42/56/98.

Forsberg’s on-ice performance is equally impressive. While his peak is 21st-best among forwards, it is still 1.9 short of Lindros’ peak. Forsberg makes up most of the difference through his playoff career, earning two Stanley Cups on the Avalanche, twice leading the NHL in playoff points in non-Cup seasons. While his adjusted pace is 11 AdG+ short of Lindros, his stunning 108 AdPTS+ trails only Lemieux and Gretzky among retired players!

It is intriguing how the careers of Lindros and Forsberg were viewed both during and after their time on the ice. Lindros, criticized as calculated and difficult in curating his career destinations, was seen as a bully on the ice that paid the price for his physical play before concussions were taken seriously. He was made to wait on a Hall of Fame call, his career lasting “only” 760 NHL games. Forsberg, meanwhile, was perpetually celebrated as a warrior whose career was tragically cut short, accomplishing so much in “only” 708 NHL games. You get the idea. The PPS methodology is designed to take the bogus narratives out of play, highlighting only the on-ice accomplishments. The truth? These are two historically great players that both deserve to be celebrated, the system considering each among the 20 greatest forwards ever.

Final score under PPS: Lindros 33.2, Forsberg 32.6.

From the beginning, we’ve acknowledged there is no single correct answer for how to measure a career. Perhaps you favour career value, or are dismissive of timeline adjustments, or put little stock in playoff or international results. Perhaps you feel each career has an intangible element that you want to add or subtract. These are all justifiable approaches. This methodology does its best to weigh the various factors that make up a career from exhaustive research, trial and error, and inevitably, some judgment.

As we close the book on the Pidutti Point Share System section of the site, we’ll present below a tidy summary of the methodology. This graphic, along with details of the approach, can also be found under the Glossary as a refresher whenever needed.

Next, we’ll fill the blank space of the player cards for the High Noon section, adding an exciting original measure to our arsenal. High Noon will answer the question of where a player stood among their peers at any point in their career, a valuable consideration in evaluating performance and supporting Hall of Fame analysis.

Era Names, Era development concepts, Adjusted GP, Adjusted Yrs, Adjusted PS, Adjusted Pace data, NHL Award Shares, PPS System and Player Card from Adjusted Hockey;
All other data from Hockey-Reference.com.