Lowetide’s linked to a cool Mike Smith post over at The Hockey News in which Smith talks some more about his company and what they have for sale. It’s interesting stuff, although I’ve got some doubts about the value of what he’s selling, unless he’s not even mentioning the good stuff.
In the fall of 2005 I helped a business consultant, Richard Coleman, put together a company, Coleman Analytics, which provides hockey analytics to NHL GMs and coaches. It’s pretty much hush-hush. We limit the number of franchises because we believe the information is too valuable to let every team have it.
The clients that use it keep that fact confidential and we do as well. This is easier than you would assume since most GMs have little interest in our data. Every coach who has seen it has wanted it, but unfortunately some of their GMs weren’t so keen on the idea. It’s called teamwork – or is it the lack thereof?
But let’s start at the end. This season, 2008-09, we have five clients. All five made the playoffs. Last season, we had six clients; five made the playoffs. (That is 10 of 11, if you’re counting). The first two seasons, 2005-06 and ’06-07, we had a total of nine clients and seven made the playoffs. (That is 17 of 20, if you’re counting).
If you assume that the client list hasn’t changed, only grown and then declined this year – it seems to me that after the initial pitch, it’s probably only going to change if a GM changes – five of the following seem most likely to be the current clients: Calgary, Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, New York Rangers, Boston and Montreal.
Only one of Columbus, Carolina, St. Louis, Chicago and Vancouver could have been clients last year and this year. Given his claimed success rate, the Jackets, Blues and Hawks are probably out, if you assume that teams are more likely to maintain subscriptions to this. Canucks seem possible though.
I am not surprised that this stuff isn’t of interest to the Oilers.
Essentially, we break the game into several distinct games. We then track player and team performance during each of these “new games.”
What makes up these different games? One is when a game is on the line. Another is when the game is out of reach, i.e., a team has a three goal lead or greater. Two others are shorthanded and power play situations. Yes, you can probably think of others: How about power play situations when the game is on the line, or when it is out of reach?
As someone who’s looked at this stuff, I’m seriously doubtful that the information he’s generating could be of much use. To start with, a hockey game is pretty much always on the line. Matt Fenwick’s made the point: most goals in hockey are big goals. Most moments are big moments. Without having seen Smith’s definition, it’s tough to say definitively but I’ve got serious doubts that he’s capturing anything useful. For example, in 2007-08, about 38% of ES shots occurred with the game tied, another 35% of ES shots occurred in one goal games and
The three goal lead or greater stuff strikes me as even dodgier, just because it happens so infrequently. I don’t know what kind of conclusions Smith can draw.
There is one player, who shall remain nameless, who has never been above the bottom third in scoring when the game is on the line and his scoring rate decreases as the game situations become tougher – and he has never made less than $5 million. No, it’s not Alex Ovechkin, nor Teemu Selanne nor Sidney Crosby.
Because all have earned less than $5MM at some point in the last four years, let alone ever? The bit about never making less than $5MM almost has to be hyperbole, given the NHL’s salary structure. In any event, if you assume that the guy is a forward (as seems reasonable) and made more than $5MM this year, you come up with the following list of candidates: Heatley, Crosby, Ovechkin, Sundin, Briere, Spezza, Gomez, Vanek, Richards, Gaborik, Kovalchuk, Hossa, Smyth, Thornton, Lecavalier, Drury, Iginla, Datsyuk, Nash, Marleau, Elias, Mike Fisher (apparently made $6MM last year; I must have missed all the stories raging about that), Havlat, Kariya, Malone, Sakic, Legwand, Nylander, Alfredsson, Mike Richards, Gagne, Jokinen, Rolston, Bergeron, Naslund, Ribeiro, St. Louis and Staal. Given that it’s presumably someone towards, the upper end of that list, I’ve got no idea who he’s talking about.
Another example: How do you rate the best goalie? Is it save percentage? How about save percentage on close shots? Or maybe save percentage in the third period when the game is on the line or save percentage in shorthanded situations on close shots when the game is on the line…You get the point. More likely, it is a combination of several analytics.
I almost think he has to be kidding with this stuff. “Save percentage in shorthanded situations on close shots when the game is on the line”? Depending on how tightly he defines on the line, he could be talking about 30 or 40 shots annually. I’m not sure how a combination of several analytics matters, unless he’s discovered that some parts of save percentage are exceedingly repeatable while others are exceedingly random. I’ve got significant doubts that he has.
Hey, maybe there is no need for the GM to know that the player he just traded for, who makes more than $5 million, scores in the 27th percentile when the game is on the line. Really, why would a GM want to know this? His owner might. But then, maybe it is valuable for the GM to know that the defenseman he can get for a fourth round pick at the trade deadline, who makes less than $1.25 million and has another year on his contract, is in the 81st percentile for plus-minus in the third period when the game is tied.
You almost think, reading this, that Smith hopes it’s going to be read by someone who shunned him and proceeded to trade for a player who makes more than $5MM who scores in the 27th percentile when the game is on the line, however that’s defined. Fun fact: the only forward moved at the trade deadline this year who made more than $5MM was Olli Jokinen. Brad Richards, Sergei Fedorov and Marian Hossa might fit the description from the year before. Maybe Tkachuk, Bertuzzi or Smyth from the year before that.
In any event, while I think that it’s good that better ideas are coming to hockey, it seems to me that we’re in the game winning RBI phase. In twenty years, it might get interesting. Until then, this needs some open sourcing.