Bieksa Unintentionally Explains the Impact of PDO

Bieksa hasn’t changed his game, he’s just enjoying the bounces.
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Kevin Bieksa took a fair bit of heat among Canucks fans when he got off to a slow start this season. Bieksa’s performance through early November was panned like it was the summer of 2010, and fans rushed to criticize his porous defensive play, and his inability to make smart, safe decisions with the puck. The idea that Bieksa was a "contract year" player began to take hold, and  criticism really accelerated following the debacle against the Minnesota Wild in early November. This was the game when Bieksa was seen "swimming" on Latendresse’s game-winning goal (a maneuver that provided the former Hab roughly forty-five minutes to walk in and pick his spot on Cory Schneider). Bieksa just wasn’t the same guy, it was said, and his -9 number spoke to his "awful" play. The only silver lining: at least no one suggested Bieksa be traded for Nikita Filatov

While Bieksa was struggling, some pointed out that his solid underlying numbers, high chance-differential and his league-low PDO all indicated that Bieksa was in fact performing rather well, and that his frigid +/- number was an unsustainable blip. Here’s what Cam "Nostradamus" Charron said about Bieksa’s first month:

Kevin Bieksa will turn it around. Well, he won’t, necessarily, but his percentages are unsustainably low, so he could play the exact same way towards the end of the season, and his +/- number will slowly begin to improve.

So, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read this Kevin Bieksa quote from a really good Gordon Macintyre story about the recent run in point production among Canucks blueliners:

That’s just the way it goes. For me, nothing’s changed. If you look at the film from the beginning of the year, I’m playing the exact same way. Sometimes you step on the ice and you get a plus, sometimes you step on the ice and get a minus, and the same with points and goals.

How good is that? 

So, if you’re one of the many who dropped David Booth from your fantasy team prior to this week, or lambasted Bieksa in a series of tweets about his overall suckitude, next time, heed the call. Go to behindthenet and check the guy’s PDO number before inventing reasons for his lack of success.

Prior to the game against the Blackhawks on November 6th, Bieksa’s on-ice shooting percentage (score tied) was hovering at roughly 5%, and his on ice save percentage was an absurdly low .848%. He was basically last in the league in terms of PDO!

In those circumstances, it’s virtually impossible to be a "plus" player. Since November 6th, however, fortune has smiled on Bieksa in the form of a (still low) 6.5% on-ice shooting percentage, and he’s enjoyed the luxury of a .978 on-ice save percentage to boot. While his PDO is still well below 100, he now sits at a more "acceptable" minus two, and if he continues to dominate even-strength events when the score is tied, that +/- number will climb substantially between now and early April.

Hockey is a game of luck to a large extent, but luck goes both ways and over a large enough sample the bounces even out. That’s the basic idea behind PDO, one of hockey’s simplest and most important advanced stats. PDO is the sum of a skater’s on ice save-percentage and on-ice shooting percentage. Skaters who are below 100, will progress towards the mean, while players who are above 100 will likely come back to earth. It’s a useful number to familiarize yourself with, especially early on in the season, and especially if you’re a fantasy owner. Simply put: it’s quite likely that your perception about a particular player’s performance are unduly coloured by that skater’s impoverished (or extremely fortunate) run of puck-luck.