• Bobrovsky: So Good He Makes Past Critiques Disappear

    by  • June 16, 2013 • Hockey • 10 Comments

    One of the things that led to me starting this site back in December of 2005 was a kind of nagging sense of frustration about consuming hockey media that consisted largely of stuff that was just obviously wrong or unfalsifiable. In a way, the unfalsifiable stuff is more pernicious – if Mark Spector says that teams that hit more win more, I can check it out and conclude that’s not true. The unfalsifiable explanations for some phenomenon, by definition, can’t be disproven. So, if you’re someone interested in hockey and truth, you just have to grind your teeth while someone offers a bunch of technical bafflegab about why something’s happening.

    The really irritating thing is that media in general, and sports media in particular, is like the natural home for people who trade in this stuff. Dan Gardner wrote a cool book about this a few years back in which he reviewed a lot of psychological evidence and argued that we’re drawn to experts who sound convincing and who have simple explanations for things. Unfortunately, those experts who are most famous seem to also be the ones who tend to be most wrong. Gardner discusses Robert Shiller, a Yale economist:

    As we saw, most people are far too sure of themselves, and this gives us trouble if we use confidence to gauge accuracy. Robert Shiller is an interesting illustration. Aside from his very impressive title – Yale economist – Shiller is the very antithesis of the loud, quick-talking, dead-sure-of-himself pundit. He speaks quietly and is often hesitant, even a little inarticulate. He qualifies his statements and mentions reasons why he might be wrong. He is seldom, simple, clear, and certain. But he has a track record that includes correctly calling both the high tech bubble of the late 1990s and the real estate bubble that followed and that record got him airtime on business shows normally dominated by cocksure pundits. A 2009 interview with CNBC was typical. The American real estate market was “still in an abysmal situation,” Shiller said, but there was a great deal of diversity within the national market and “people have gotten very speculative in their attitudes towards housing.” This made it possible that in certain regional markets “there could be another bubble.” But “this is not my more probable scenario,” he added. It was more likely that prices “will languish for many years.” By the standards of TV punditry, it was a nuanced and thoughtful overview of a complex situation plagued with uncertainties. And people hated it. Posted on a website, the interview drew 170 comments. Most ignored Shiller altogether and instead offered dead-certain predictions of the sort that are usually heard on TV. Some were contemptuous. “This guy is really hedging his bet. He doesn’t want to be underexposed or overexposed. I sure wouldn’t take advice from him.” Bring on the blowhards. As British politician Norman Lamont once said, admiringly, of one of his favourite newspaper columnists, “He is often wrong but he’s never in doubt.”

    Which brings me to Justin Goldman, of The Goalie Guild. Goldman first came on to my radar in 2010, when he authored a piece on Cult of Hockey in defence of JDD. This paragraph in particular caught my eye:

    Of course I didn’t watch every single Oilers game last season (I host Avalanche radio shows here in Denver), but as Staples was analyzing the way in which goals were scored against him, I was analyzing JDD’s emotions, demeanor and body language. He displayed helplessness. He felt abandoned. He reacted as if he was hung out to dry. As a result, the issue of timing is probably my main defense. Both in the technical and mental aspects, timing plays a giant role in a goalie’s ability to stop the puck.

    Goldman closed with this:

    In closing, I’d argue that Deslauiers prepared for last season with the mindset of a backup looking to prove his future value. He was thrust into a situation in which he had no experience handling. He thrived with a .901 save percentage on 33.1 shots per game. He had little positive energy flowing around him and did not have many nights where the team worked extremely hard in front of him. He battled extremely hard and took the brunt of many emotional pressures. Most goalies would have completely fallen apart and given up. He didn’t at all.

    Because of this, I feel he has earned the right to have an opportunity to begin the season in a much more comfortable situation. He’s mentally prepared to grab the reigns and guide the Oilers in the right direction. The Oilers retained him for one season for a reason. The tough experiences he faced last season only make him stronger and mentally tougher this season. And with those quick hands and fast feet, he’s quite capable of playing much more consistently, effectively and technically sound. Never bet against a goalie that has mental toughness and the skills to win games at the NHL level. If the situation around him improves, then naturally so will his confidence. And when the confidence improves, so does the positioning, the rebound control and the stick handling. This is the true nature of a goalie – the power to make saves mainly comes from within their mind.

    Look, I don’t know anything about goaltending from a technical perspective. When Goldman talks about technical things, maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. I have no way of knowing. As a result, I’m forced into making a decision about whether he’s a trustworthy source of information from other things. Like the fact that he’s comfortable analyzing the mental state of a guy who he doesn’t know from thousands of miles away. Or that he was oblivious to the fact that goalies who haven’t done much in the AHL don’t tend to become really good in the NHL. Or that it all sounds like pseudo-scientific BS. For me, those are red flags.

    He sounds certain though and he’s built himself quite an audience. More than 14,000 followers on Twitter, he does a variety of different media and he sells scouting and consulting services for goalies. Curiously, he denies that he’s an expert if he’s pressed on the point. It’s all very odd. Why would you buy consulting and scouting services from a non-expert?

    I got an email from someone last night alleging something curious. The writer pointed out that Goldman had written a post about Sergei Bobrovsky when he went to the Columbus Blue Jackets that had since disappeared from his site. I checked it out and lo and behold, it was true. If you go to the archive for June 23, 2012 on his site, you see this:

    If you go to the Google Cache of the archive, you see this:

    The link for the Bobrovsky piece is dead for some reason. Curiously, my correspondent had a copy of it that he’d made for some reason and forwarded to me. A copy exists elsewhere online. It featured quotes like this:

    In my opinion, Bobrovsky needs a really heavy workload in the AHL next season. He’s not ready to take on the role of a full-blown NHL starter, especially on a team like Columbus that really needs steady and experienced goaltending. It’s a really tough transition from Russia to NHL, especially when the goalie is smaller, and not given ample time to play and get comfortable on the smaller ice surface. Bob thrives because of his excellent footwork, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for a bigger role.

    Obviously the Blue Jackets hope Bobrovsky evolves into a starter sooner rather than later, but to me, that seems like a stretch. I just think he still has a lot to learn about playing consistently in the NHL.

    Furthermore, he’s a 6-foot-2 goalie that plays like he’s 6-foot-0. He looks so small for his size sometimes, he over-condenses, and that’s not a luxury he can afford moving forward. He has the right mindset and the work ethic to be a starter, but technically speaking, I think he still has a long way to go.

    In terms of improvements, he just needs to work on playing bigger (space management) and managing plays behind his net. That’s a huge area of concern for me, because once he starts to chase a play, he over-reacts and starts swimming. I see that head start turning side to side, and I can sense the uncertainty. He needs to display more body control in tight, and obviously he needs to work on rebound control and covering space.

    There’s no way of knowing for sure where the intentions lie here. That’s one of the great struggles I face as being an independent scout. But no matter which way I look at this acquisition, I am left with the same line of thought.

    I don’t think it will pan out.

    I don’t think Bobrovsky is quite ready for this type of situation on this type of team, and I don’t think Columbus is satisfied with the goalies they have right now. But let’s see what happens next week, and let’s see if Bobrovsky can prove me wrong! For the sake of his future, I hope he does, because he’s a hard worker and a competitor.

    Whether I think they’re skilled enough or not, those are the type of guys I always want to see succeed, because I know they’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

    Why would Goldman delete such a piece from his website right before Bobrovsky wins the Vezina? The only reasonable conclusion that I can see is that he’s in the business of building a brand and trashing a guy who wins the Vezina a year before he wins the Vezina, suggesting that he should be in the AHL, kind of makes you look foolish. Particularly if you’re in the business of being a goaltending expert.

    Everybody’s wrong about stuff sometimes when they’re talking about the future. When it happens to me, I have a tendency to go back over my reasoning in order to look for why I got it wrong. For me, that’s a pretty solid way to learn things. Simply doing what you can to erase your thoughts from the collective memory isn’t much of a way to learn but, if you’re getting consulting and scouting and media gigs based on your expertise, maybe learning isn’t really your thing. You’ve got a patter that works; why mess with it?

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    10 Responses to Bobrovsky: So Good He Makes Past Critiques Disappear

    1. June 16, 2013 at

      “Everybody’s wrong about stuff sometimes when they’re talking about the future. When it happens to me, I have a tendency to go back over my reasoning in order to look for why I got it wrong. For me, that’s a pretty solid way to learn things.”


      Plus, it makes for very interesting and informative reading if you share what you’ve learned.

    2. June 16, 2013 at

      This also speaks to how poorly the goaltending position is understood, particularly in terms of projecting future performance.

    3. Pierce Cunnee
      June 16, 2013 at

      I once heard someone say, “I am always happy to be proven wrong. That just provides me another opportunity to learn.”

      I think Goldman, as well as everyone else, should heed the above quote, as well as your article Tyler. It is ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from what you did wrong.

    4. June 16, 2013 at

      in his defense though, he’s probably a terrible person who can’t think of himself as not constantly right.

    5. Cody R
      June 16, 2013 at

      It still seems like a pretty good analysis. Bob has said himself he has adjusted his game not to play so small in the butterfly. To raise his shoulders, bring his hands out in front of him, yadda.

      So are we upset that Goldman deleted a post on his website?

    6. Lambert
      June 16, 2013 at

      Not being one to comment on blogs in general, I found this to be so thought-provoking and troubling that I didn’t want to flood your Twitter feed. The deletion of the criticism is what makes the Goalie Guild look silly, because I’m sure — having not ever once read the site — that this kind of specious aspect of a little-understood position and indeed an entire part of the sport is rampant throughout the site’s analysis.

      In the breakdown of why Drouin-Deslauriers (who it should be noted is about a season from being out of professional hockey entirely) should be the starter for the Oilers is very strange because it argues that he’s ready for the NHL not because he’s good enough but because of his mental toughness, but only after noting, “He displayed helplessness. He felt abandoned. He reacted as if he was hung out to dry.” So how do we arrive at the decision that he is mentally tough? How do we know at all?

      This kind of stuff is, as you say, rampant in hockey and probably all sports, but I don’t watch most others so I don’t know for sure. Certainly all the crap writing Fire Joe Morgan railed against falls into that category. I think what separates the Goalie Guild’s claptrap from other, traditional incorrect analyses that value “toughness” and “being hard to play against” (which are still favored in the halls of too many front offices around the league) is that it’s not something that you can quantify.

      It’s easy to look at corsi numbers for “tough” players like Colton Orr or Brian McGrattan and say they shouldn’t be on the ice or the roster for any NHL team. It’s a lot harder to say that a goaltender is giving up bad goals because he doesn’t have his glove high enough when shots come from the left wing (or whatever.. I again must say I don’t know if that’s the kind of analysis this guy does; from the excerpts it doesn’t even appear to get that specific). The only time the average fan sees a hole in a goalie’s game, in general, is when he gives up the same kind of goal over and over again over the course of a season. You can see when a guy can’t get to shots from the short side, but for the most part, the art of goaltending is a mystery to all but actual students and/or practitioners of the position, which the Goalie Guild by its name alone props itself up as being.

      “In terms of improvements, he just needs to work on playing bigger (space management) and managing plays behind his net. That’s a huge area of concern for me, because once he starts to chase a play, he over-reacts and starts swimming. I see that head start turning side to side, and I can sense the uncertainty. He needs to display more body control in tight, and obviously he needs to work on rebound control and covering space.”

      That’s four sentences of stuff that sounds very technical. “Space management,” and “more body control in tight.” And all that kind of hides the mystical proclamation, “I can sense the uncertainty.” That, in turn, lends itself to a belief that his ability to sense anything Bobrovsky or any other goalie is feeling is somehow tied into the expertise that led to terms the reader doesn’t necessarily understand and certainly doesn’t know they work mechanically in an actual NHL game.

      That goes back to deleting the criticism in the first place, because yes, he absolutely does want to make himself seem quite the expert on the subject of goaltending, and that post undermines his credibility entirely. I’ve been wrong in my analysis of things before, obviously, and one of the most glaring of these, which brings me eternal embarrassment, is that I once wrote something about how the Maple Leafs won the Steen-and-Colaiacovo-for-Stempniak trade. I didn’t, at the time, know anything at all about shooting percentage or regression to the mean, and I just basically wrote a few hundred words amounting to “GOALS THOUGH!” I was wrong, and I’ve since learned why.

      (Eric T was right when he says garbage like this gives bloggers a bad name, and undermines everything the actual good ones do, because his attitude that he needs to be infallible to lend himself credibility means that all his incorrect opinions need to be wiped from the internet.)

      That’s the point of his analysis, though. It’s to deceive people into giving him money. I have no doubt he knows more about goaltending than me, and certainly more than the average fan, but when his analysis so often extends into the mumbo-jumbo territory, all it does is show that people have a desire to better understand things which they currently do not, and that those people are idiots who will happily give their money to a snake-oil salesman.

      Incidentally, I’m beginning a new venture analyzing the best defensemen in the league, in which I will talk at length about the gap control and puck retrieval skills of Sheldon Souray, who seems very confident to me. I think he should be getting about 25-28 minutes a night. I’m not an expert though.

      • katiebakes
        June 16, 2013 at

        Please comment more on websites.

    7. rick
      June 16, 2013 at

      This is a huge issue I have with most MSM, bloggers, etc.. almost every area of hockey coverage. There are a lot of people talking about things they do not fully understand and saying them with too much confidence. There are so few places to get legitimate coverage of sports. I am a huge proponent of “fancy stats” but they do not tell the full story either. As far as I am concerned the only true experts are GM’s individuals who have played AHL/NHL, have a vast understanding of analytics, and are able to compromise between the two. Therefore, I take very little of what any of these people are telling me at face value. Honestly Dellow thats a I like about you. Your a prick but at least you are decently accountable and stick only to analytics to explain stuff cause thats all you can do, for the most part you don’t pretend to be something you not. Also you run great hit pieces like this, which are awesome.

    8. Sapp Mac
      June 16, 2013 at

      The funny thing about all of this is that at least in some sense Goalie Guild recognized that he was going to be called out regarding his Bobrovski bs. Pretty sure Spector and Cox have tons of shit written that was equally as asinine but even though they’ve been proven wrong time and time again they can’t even recognize it.

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