The 10-Pound Bag Theory For Hockey

You’ve heard it before. Life is what you get out of it.

What they meant to say is life is what you put into it. Want to have a great marriage? If you do not do more than sit on the couch and complain, your marriage shows it. Want the best, fastest car on the road but only have $10,000? If that’s all you can put into your want, you get something less than your desires.

In this light, I offer the 10-Pound Bag Theory, but I do so in terms of my favorite pastime, Hockey.

Understanding this theory requires three things: receiving the message; understanding it; and putting it to work for the betterment of your favorite Hockey team.

Receiving The Message

To receive this theory, you have to do what I was taught early in my military career – suspend your disbelief.

Let’s look at it this way. One GM and team raises the Stanley Cup each year. That team, after more than 100 games played and fighting through illness and all kinds of injury, had what it takes to finish as the best. Twenty-nine others, didn’t.

If your team was one of the 29 (let’s call them the G29’ers) at season’s end, they have to do something apart from the previous season because what they tried just did not work. And taking the exact same team forward from the previous year to the next is most likely to produce the same or worse effect unless 29 others fail to get it right worse than they do. Casting aside your disbelief that tells you the right way is the way it ‘has always been done’ is the first step in going in the right direction as a winner.

The 10-Pound Bag Theory principle is simple:

                A 10-Pound bag holds exactly 10 pounds…

You can put nine pounds in it and not get from it the full utility it was intended for. You can put in 10 pounds which may slosh around a bit from time to time as it’s carried, but in so doing you maximize its functionality for your efforts. And try to put in more than 10 pounds and you get an overflowing, or bag-breaking mess to clean up.

How does this relate to Hockey? Hockey outcomes are all about the effort a team puts into their game to produce at least one more goal than their opponent for a win. Lose a game? It is highly likely either the team did not, or could not, mount enough effort to win for one of two reasons: they did not have the requisite players to produce the proper effort (a 9-Pound Bag); or, less likely but sometimes present, they could not meld the egos of their top players into a cohesive team (more than a 10-Pound Bag).

When you hear a GM say ‘…All we need to be competitive is a Number 1 Centerman…’ the 10-Pound Bag Theory says they are wrong because one man is not the sum total of a team’s effort.

Then what is the proper effort for a team? It has to do with looking at a team in a different way.

Understanding The Theory

Pretend for a moment all of the Centermen on your team are tied together with an imaginary rope. At the end of the rope they pull the weight of a box filled with the effort it takes them to assist in your team’s production of a win. And as they skate back to the bench each time, their individual output is measured against that effort box and a new level of effort requirement is dynamically determined. If your top scoring Center cannot or does not give his best effort that night, the coach engages in some adjustment on that rope by reining in No. 1 and giving more opportunity to another Center or Centers to take up some of the slack and produce the overall Centers’ required effort to assist in achieving victory.

The same also goes for every other position where they must similarly produce their requisite effort to assist in securing a team ‘W.’ And while each position has its assisting rope and effort to pull, there is also a team collective rope that binds all of the Centers, Wingers, Defensemen and Goaltenders’ efforts together to produce that win. This is so when the Centermen, for instance, cannot pull their weight of the effort, Wingers, Defensemen or the Goalie take up some of that team slack and produce a Win.

When a coach is fortunate, he begins games with only 10 pounds in his 10-pound bag instead of a somewhat lacking nine pounds of capability or 11 pounds of strife between an overabundance of talent all clamoring for ice time. The nine – and more–than–10–pound bags  of effort just do not produce a Championship effort.

Those who ascribe credit to the 10-Pound Bag Theory (your ‘10-Pounders’) understand it is equilibrium that is being sought. Looking at it this way requires a different viewpoint than the norm. For example, after understanding the team needs to give 10-pounds worth of effort, a 10-Pounder knows on a big hand-wave level that the amount of required effort in a season is firstly what it takes to outlast at least four other opponents through 82 regular season games, followed by the effort required to beat another four teams at least 16 times in the playoffs.

Wait a minute. Four other teams in the regular season? You don’t know what you are talking about.…

Remember a 10-Pounder seeks balance, believing it takes exactly just so much input to get the required output. That is why there are only four teams to beat in the regular season – a team’s Division rivals. The 2012 Vancouver Canucks are an exceptionally good, schizophrenic illustration here.

As the only team from the Northwest Division to advance to the Playoffs, the Canucks could have lost five more games anywhere in the schedule and still landed in the post-season as long as those losses did not all become wins for either Calgary, Colorado or Minnesota. Five losses would have also given them the lowest point total of the Western Conference playoff teams, but still set them end at the number three seed.

So did Vancouver put out too much effort in the regular season, thereby not retaining enough reserves for the grind of the playoffs? The 10-Pound Bag Theory says that is entirely likely in light of a 111-point regular season coupled with their disappointing 1st Round performance in the playoffs. The Canucks had the largest goal differential in the Western Conference. That Conference also scored the fewest goals during the season, meaning the cost of effort per goal was the highest ‘out West.’ Vancouver got those goals off of the third highest Shots On Goal (SOG) per game and Goals Per SOG in the West, too. A 10-Pounder could say the Canucks’ goal scoring effort was a .096, or not quite one goal for every 10 SOG’s. And in comparing that total to how they played against the Los Angeles Kings in the regular season, they were a .059, or about one goal in every 15 SOG’s. Come playoff time, the Canucks then went out in five games against the Kings with only a .047 over more SOG per game than their regular season average. There was not enough in the tank, not enough slack that could be handed to others to take up, to push the Canucks up over the top despite their regular season showing.

A 10-Pounder also believes the correct amount of scoring effort to win is not a 6 – 1 performance. If you scored goal #5 in a 3 – 2 win, or an OT or SO winner, you can put that one behind you while it goes up in the W column. If you do that night in and night out for a majority of your games, you have met the mail. It likewise does not matter if you finished 1st or 8th in your Conference. The 2012 Los Angeles Kings proved what many have said for quite a while now – just get in the Playoffs and anything can happen.

You can put out too much team effort? Come on! Doesn’t a team have to play as hard as they can and win as much as they can because they never know if it is enough to make it into the post-season in the first place? Yes and no.

It is important to readily acknowledge that the coach and team do not know exactly how much effort is required game in and game out to produce each individual win just as they do not know how much effort is required for the season as a whole to attain a Playoff seed.

If you can win 4, 5 or 6 – 1 on many nights and 67.8% or better of your games, indications are you have a lot of depth and capability. That should provide you some level of comfort that when things go wrong (illness, injuries, suspensions, and the like), you probably have more than enough to put into the effort to assist production of a team win. But do wins by a 2+ goal margin of victory guarantee a final season outcome only one of 30 teams enjoys?

A 10-Pounder says no. Sticking with the Western Conference which has required a higher average number of wins/points to secure the 8th seed since the Lockout, you would do yourself a favor striving to win every game you can. But the thing is, no, you don’t need to win them all. You have to win somewhere between 57.5% and 58.3% – call it 60% – of your games to reach the 8th seed. Then when you get to the Playoffs, you must win at least 62.5% of your games, and always the last one in a series. (The math says win on average at least every other game through the first six in each series, and always win Game 7, so (50% x 3 + 100%)/4 = 62.5%.)

Keeping in mind you need a solid foundation of effort capability before the first puck drops. (This is the reason why a season is made or lost in most cases by deals completed by the GM leading up to training camp.) You then also require the mental wherewithal to loosen and tighten the reins by position and for the team as a whole to reach than 60% / 62.5% mark. Grasp this and you can then properly analyze and put the 10-Pound Bag Theory into practice for your team.

Putting The Theory To Work

You might ask, ‘…Just what equals 60% wins?…’  What we fans often hear a GM publicly say is something along the lines of a definition of ‘the prototypical Goalie, Defensemen and Forwards that look something like the previous year’s Stanley Cup winner – that’s what won it last year, so that’s what we have to get.’

What they should be after for their team is to set a solid, off-season foundation of at least the sum, minimum output of historically successful team efforts. (This is the Goalie, Defensemen and Forwards from an average of the 2012 Kings, 2011 Bruins, 2010 Blackhawks, 2009 Penguins and 2008 Red Wings.) Then as the season progresses and it becomes clear at one particular position they are failing to pull the combined weight of the required effort, be prepared to call up prospects (best) or make a trade (OK) to ensure by the time the team enters the post-season, they have at least that sum, minimum output capability.

a whole, the 10-Pounder understands a winning combination looks something like those winning teams listed above because, well, they won. They are important, however, and not also the 2007 Ducks and 2006 Hurricanes because Lockout rule changes were adjusted for after three regular seasons so the nature of how the game currently plays is most representative of 2008 Cup Winners and beyond.

So your GM should build your team at least as good as the last five to seven Stanley Cup Champions and not just in the image of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.

Let’s put this theory to work. A potential G29’er logical train of thought might look something like this:

I am not strong enough at Center.

Los Angeles played nine Centermen over the course of last year who averaged 9.44 goals and they had all they needed at that position to hoist The Cup

If I can replicate that with the addition of ________ at Center, I will be very competitive this year

The problem here, for example, is you might be, say, Scott Howson looking at his group of 2011-12 Columbus Blue Jacket Centermen. They collectively averaged 5.5 goals per game as a sum of their effort. So the G29’er above just needs to double that output to replicate the Kings, right? Can you even do that using what’s available on the free agent market?

Follow that line of reasoning is the tired, old way of thinking Hockey management.

A 10-Pounder Wannabe who is convinced he only needs help at Center, goes back to the original idea of the imaginary positional and team ropes and applies a bit more detail:

For the 2012 Kings, Kopitar needed 21:20 of playing time per game in order to deposit 25 goals into the back of the net.

On days when he could not, Carter would put in some of his 21 goals over an average of 19:11, or Richards part of his total of 18 in 18:53, etc.

This ‘taking up the slack’ is the push and pull that equals part of the total effort of success. For the Kings pulling their Centerman rope and effort, it took nine players’ efforts from a total of two (2) to 25 goals (9.44 average goals) to equal the ‘amount of Centerman’ L.A. needed to be a winner.


The 2011 Bruins needed 0 – 22 goals (10.33 average goals).

The 2010 Blackhawks required 1 – 30 goals (13.167 average goals).

The 2009 Penguins put out 0 – 35 goals (17 average goals).

The 2008 Red Wings? Zero (0) – 31 goals (10.71 average goals).

So on average, and throwing out the highest and lowest as potential anomalies, I need a group of Centers who average 11.4 goals each, or something closer to the 2008 Red Wings.

Saying all you need is to fix yourself at Center as the slightly more in-depth analysis above does is just not the entire issue, however. It is, well, a 5-Pounder answer because it does not take the team as a whole into account.

Needing the 2008 Red Wing’s Centermen is a problem if you are Columbus, by the way. You don’t just need about four more goals per man like the 2012 Kings. You need six. There is no, one player you can get to make up that deficit. And based on your limitations, maybe you are just forced to get one really good Center via trade/free agency and continue to inch as close to the ’08 Red Wings as you can, hoping for better from those already on the roster.

But the true 10-Pounder knows a solid, potential Championship foundation going into his season looks something like this at a minimum in terms of scoring (see Goaltending in the Afternotes):

  1. Individually:
    1. Center – The 2008 Red Wings [10.7 goals]
    2. Right Wing – The 2009 Penguins [10.1 goals]
    3. Left Wing – The 2010 Blackhawks [10.4 goals]
    4. Defense – The 2011 Bruins [4.3 goals]
    5. Goaltendering – The 2011 Bruins [2.394 GAA / 53.5 Wins]
    6. And As A Team: Forwards – 10.4 goals; Defense – 4.3 goals; Total Team Scoring – 14.7 goals per man; Goaltending – 2.39 GAA / 53.5 Wins

To stick with Columbus, at the end of the 2011-12 season, you have this in comparison to the difference from a 10-Pounder’s sum, minimum output:

Centers: 5.5 goals [ – 5.2 goals]

Right Wing: 5.5 goals [ – 4.6 goals]

Left Wing: 7.8 goals [ – 2.6 goals]

Defense: 3.3 goals [ – 1 goal]

So Team Totals are…

Forwards: 6.27 goals [ – 3.3 goals]

Defense: 3.3 goals [ – 1 goal]

Total: 9.57 goals [ – 3.5 to 5.5 goals]

Goaltending: 2.763 GAA / 32.5 Wins [ – .373 GAA / – 21 Wins]

If you take into account off-season trades through mid-August and the assumption they are not going to re-sign Boyce, Huselius, Lebda or Martinek, they now look like this before the season begins:

Centers: 7.7 goals [ – 3 goals]

Right Wing: 5.5 goals [ – 4.6 goals]

Left Wing: 6.875 goals [ – 3.525 goals]

Defense: 3.55 goals [ – 0.75 goal]

And Team Totals…

Forwards: 6.69 goals [ – 3.71 goals]

Defense: 3.55 goals [ – .75 goal]

Total: 10.24 goals [ – 2.76 to – 4.76 goals]

Goaltending: – 2.763 GAA / 32.5 Wins [ – .373 GAA / – 21 Wins]

Potentially, all of their off-season trades have only increased their sum, minimum output 0.67 goals per player. And barring a Steve Mason / Curtis McIlhenny / Sergei Bobrovsky combined 2.693 GAA / 33.5 Wins showing huge improvements, they are still likely a ways away from a Playoff position.

So you can see why in his attempt to trade Rick Nash, who personally boosted Left Wing totals by 2.8 goals per man, Scott Howson was looking for a high price in terms of ready for prime time players. There is no re-building to do here. It is building that is required.

After last season, how far out were the other Western teams who did not make the Playoffs last season?

Remembering the sum, minimum output is the goal to raise the Stanley Cup, which teams were the closest to competing in terms of scoring and Goaltending? (Note blocks in dark green/white meet or exceed the sum, minimum output numbers as listed above.)

In the Eastern Conference, Toronto’s team total in scoring was on the mark while the NY Islanders forwards and Carolina’s defense also met the standard. (Montreal’s forwards exceeding the sum, minimums is an anomaly due to two of their Left Wingers having more goals than either of the entire grouping of Centers or Right Wings.) Buffalo is the only team with a Goaltending duo which approached championship numbers, but that was only in GAA. Montreal was close, but off the mark on both accounts.

And out West, Colorado is the closest to striking distance of the sum, minimum output numbers. Their overall forward corps exceeds the mark, and, although their defense is off track by more than one goal per Defenseman, the team total is just under the mark by less than a goal per man. Their goaltending, along with Minnesota’s, is just over the mark, and both could beat it if more team scoring equaled a few more wins. Dallas is also close in overall scoring and with Goaltending that needs to allow 0.5 GAA per game less.


So, a solid foundation of the sum, minimum output numbers on your team to start the season, coupled with seasonal give-and-take by individual positions assisting overall team production equals a winning average of about 60% and nets your club a berth in the Playoffs. This is 10-Pounder 101. If you are sitting in this sweet spot, know that if you drop 3 – of – 5 games and can come back with 4 – wins – in – (then next) 5 – games, you are likely to be OK.

Remember, too, that solid foundation is established in the off-season and brought by the team to training camp. If you are not close to it on opening night, your team is not likely to raise the Stanley Cup that year. And if your team is only producing at a, say, 2 – wins – in – 5 – games / 40% clip, you probably cannot recover if you do not analyze them for their 10-Pound needs, make some (call-up or trade) adjustments and begin winning above .600 by Game 40 (January).

Those who profess to be 10-Pounders know it takes just so much to get it done, that individuals won’t have what it takes night in and night out to do so, and yet the sum of the team parts should be able to compensate. It is why a 10-Pounder is going to continue to make pointed assessments and hard calculations in order to better define his (Hockey) environment.

So how does your team look going into the season? Is your GM a 10-Pounder or a G29’er? (If the season starts on time) We should know come next June…

Afternotes On Goaltending

As stated above, Goaltenders can be their own highly involved calculation, as a simple bottom line for those five, Stanley Cup winning teams, the average is 2.394 goals against / 53.5 wins per season, or an equivalent of the 2010 Boston Bruins’ duo. But don’t forget in analyzing to look at it from a 10-Pounder perspective and remember the total, team rope of effort is important. If your Goalies give up less GAA than the 2010 Bruins’ average (like the 2012 Kings and 2008 Red Wings), your team can score a less and still produce wins. The math thus looks like this:

2012 Los Angeles Kings’ Goalies = 2.155 goals against

                Difference from the sum, minimum output = + 0.239 goals against

                0.239 goals against X 82 games = 19.6 goals per year

                19.6 goals per year spread across the number of players in 1.a. through 1.d. above = a team that needs to score on average 0.68 goals per skater / per season less

And as a playing season progresses, Los Angeles’ six less wins, or about one less victory produced per NHL month, should be viewed by a 10-Pounder the following way:

IF we are scoring at about a 9.72 goals per forward pace, and

                IF we are scoring at about a 3.62 goals per Defenseman pace, and

                IF we are averaging about a 60% winning rate,

                And IF our Goalies are averaging a 2.155 GAA and winning 3-of-every-5 games,

                THEN we are doing OK and do not need to make trades at the Deadline to see the playoffs.

The 2012 Kings averaged 7.76 goals per forward and 5.14 goals per defenseman, a sum of 12.9 team goals per man versus the 13.34 above. Maybe that is why Dean Lombardi went after Jeff Carter (although not necessarily with 10-Pounder math as the reason). Finishing under the 10-Pounder average is most likely why the Kings were the Number 8 seed going into the Playoffs.

(For Columbus, last year’s numbers indicate they were a –0.369 GAA from the sum, minimum output for Stanley Cup Champions. That equates to a – 30.26 goals for the team / – 1.59 goals per player over the season they would need to make up. With their forwards short of the mark and their goalies needing to improve, more trades are likely in the offing over the 2012-13 season.)



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