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The Impact of the 2013 Rule Changes

The final numbers are in. Did the Summer 2012 rule changes substantially change how the game was played in 2013?

Drew Hallowell

ESPN did a quick piece on the impact of the new rule changes during the break between the two semifinal games on Saturday. Television has certain restrictions that web doesn't -- notably time, the only rate limiter in existence. Anish Shroff, Mark Dixon, and Yale's Andy Shay quickly moved through the material -- shots, goals, and saves per 60 minutes of play and the concomitant increase in those metrics from 2012 -- but there's so much more out there that illustrate the impact -- or non-impact -- of the rules.

Here's an aggregation of various metrics showing the change in values from 2012 to 2013. I provide some brief thoughts on what I think things in the table mean. You're free to draw your own conclusions and leave them in the comments.

Metric Changes: 2012 to 2013
Metric 2012 2013 % Change
Individual Team Performance Activity
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 31.87 34.17 7.22%
Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 28.85% 27.87% -3.40%
Raw Offensive Efficiency 29.78 30.36 1.95%
Raw Defensive Efficiency 30.14 30.76 2.06%
Non-Faceoff Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 26.66 27.69 3.86%
Shots per 60 Minutes of Play 33.79 36.22 7.19%
Saves per 60 Minutes of Play 10.73 11.32 5.50%
Non-Faceoff Groundballs per 60 Minutes of Play 17.51 18.45 5.37%
Extra-Man Postures per 100 Offensive Opportunities 10.49 10.79 2.86%
Clearing Rate 83.90% 85.96% 2.46%
Riding Rate 15.85% 13.74% -13.31%
Extra-Man Opportunity Conversion Percentage 34.81% 34.46% -1.01%
Extra-Man Down Conversion Percentage 34.67% 33.89% -2.25%
Extra-Man Opportunity Reliance 12.34% 12.28% -0.49%
Extra-Man Down Reliance 11.95% 11.95% 0.00%
Team Penalty Minutes per 60 Minutes of Play 3:03 3:05 1.09%
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 47.33 45.50 -3.87%
Combined Game Performance Activity
Total Opportunities per 60 Minutes of Play (Pace) 65.71 66.68 1.48%
Combined Shots per 60 Minutes of Play 67.95 72.72 7.02%
Combined Goals per 60 Minutes of Play 19.73 20.42 3.50%
Combined Saves per 60 Minutes of Play 20.81 22.70 9.08%
Combined Non-Faceoff Groundballs per 60 Minutes of Play 35.71 37.03 3.70%
Unadjusted Total Penalties per 60 Minutes of Play 7.34 7.64 4.09%

Some brief thoughts:

  • Despite the rule changes designed to increase tempo -- timer on scenarios and quick restarts -- the average number of possessions played in games this season didn't substantially rise from last season. That, however, doesn't mean that the rule changes have failed. Rather, there is a greater fluidity in the game than there was a season ago -- the quick restarts has increased the amount of giddy-up in the games, the threat of timer-on scenarios is forcing action, and timer-on scenarios are creating the death of interminable offensive opportunities. Importantly, the fastest team in 2013 -- Albany (78.58 possessions per 60 minutes of play) -- played faster than the fastest team in 2012 -- Georgetown (75.41 possessions per 60 minutes of play); the slowest team in 2013 -- St. Joseph's (58.50 possessions per 60 minutes of play) -- played faster than the slowest team in 2012 -- Hofstra (58.01 possessions per 60 minutes of play). The upward tick in tempo occurred throughout Division I, seeing the average absolute standard deviation in tempo decreased from 3.35 to 3.21. The game went quicker in 2013, but there is still a wide gap between programs with jetpacks and those lugging boulders. The rules have worked, it just hasn't permeated all of existence as originally thought.
  • Remember when everyone was losing their minds in late February? "The officials are ruining the game! There are so many penalties! The end is nigh! This is the worst thing ever!" Well, total penalties per 60 minutes of play wasn't even up one -- one! -- penalty per game and total average penalty minutes was up a whopping two seconds. Either teams adjusted to the new rules and points of emphasis or the officials simply decided not to call stuff (probably more the former than the latter). The game wasn't ruined. Huzzah.
  • With a focus on increasing tempo and the rules around stick stringing, I thought that there'd be a higher rate of turnovers per opportunity in 2013 compared to 2012. As it turns out, teams were actually a bit more careful with the bean this season. That could be a function of teams focusing on valuing the ball or simply the development of individual player stick skills, but regardless, turnovers were down this season. That's pretty radical.
  • Important note about shooting percentage: I think that it's a mistake to tie the small decrease in raw offensive shooting percentage to the rule changes around how sticks should be strung. Raw offensive shooting percentage tends to move between seasons regardless of the rules in place -- 2009: 26.94%; 2010: 28.91%; 2011: 27.83%. The fact that the percentage is relatively in line with what has been put together since 2009 leads me to believe that the decrease from 2012 to 2013 in raw shooting percentage had little to do with how sticks were strung.
  • Shots are up, saves are up, and goals are up -- are these things related? Answer: How the hell should I know? I think that it’s fairly safe to assume that the new rules around quick starts and timer-on situations are impacting the increase in shots; the former provides unsettled situations where guys want to take advantage of unsettled opportunities and fire on an exposed keeper while the latter necessarily -- in almost all instances (but not every single one) -- puts a team in position to put an attempt on cage. It's unclear how timer-on scenarios are impacting goal scoring, and that's probably a project for this summer; as for quick restarts impacting an increase in goal scoring, I don't think it's ridiculous to believe that teams taking advantage of those scenarios are potentially driving up the number of tallies in 60 minutes of play. As for the increase in goalie saves, it's likely related to timer-on scenarios -- those postures require a shot on goal, and many of those shots are likely of the savable variety. That's the kind of action the new rules were designed to develop, and the marks are being hit.