• Dear Steve.

    by  • May 20, 2014 • Hockey • 45 Comments

    There are competing schools of thought on what stat guys should do when guys with high profiles write extraordinarily stupid things about hockey analytics. One school says that we should just ignore them. For many of these guys, it’s obviously just trolling for clicks. The other school is that their pieces should be taken apart. I usually can’t be bothered to do any more than just crack a joke on Twitter about something obviously ridiculous.

    In the case of Steve Simmons’ latest column, I will give it a full review.

    On the night I first began to question advanced statistics in hockey, the stats man who sits a few seats down from me in the press box began regurgitating the game in numbers.

    Mikhail Grabovski, he said, was the best Leaf that night. According to the numbers, Jay McClement was the worst.

    About an hour earlier, when a colleague asked for advice on who to pick as his three stars for the next day’s newspaper, we both bypassed Grabovski, neither of us liking his rather singular game that night, and talked about the value of McClement, who had been particularly strong both defensively and killing penalties.

    When I asked the stats man about the discrepancy between what we’d seen and what the numbers showed, he answered: “Sample size.”

    I don’t understand why the stats man with whom Simmons was speaking would respond “sample size” to this inquiry. Assuming that they were talking about Corsi%, McClement’s Corsi% wouldn’t reflected his work killing penalties. Mammoth samples for McClement say that he’s terrible at 5v5 in comparison to Grabovski, no matter what Simmons thinks of his defensive play.

    IIn Game 1 of last year’s playoff series between the Leafs and the Boston Bruins, Toronto was badly outplayed. Only one Leafs player seemed capable of competing at that level — James van Riemsdyk. So, curious after the game, I asked my stats friend who had the best numbers for Toronto.

    It so happened van Riemsdyk had them, but his numbers were just a percentage point better than Phil Kessel, who I thought had a dreadful game. Again, I asked: “How can the numbers be reliable, when two players can have such varying games and end with similar statistics?”

    “Sample size,” I was told.

    I’m starting to suspect that Steve Simmons’ stat man answers “sample size” because he is fictitious. Here’s the Corsi chart for the Leafs from that game.

    So either Simmons’ stats guy is a moron or Simmons is making things up.

    So I began to wonder: If what I’m seeing tells me one thing and the statistics tell me another, and the answer for the discrepancy is seemingly sample size, then at what point do you start to question how much individual analytics matter in hockey? And how many samples belie what the game really is?

    We’ll do Simmons the courtesy of assuming that this question is still valid and that his examples of this aren’t due to misunderstanding or worse. Is it at all possible that some of the things that Steve thinks are valuable – Jay McClement’s strong defensive work – aren’t as valuable as the ability of a diffident Russian to keep the puck in the other end of the ice? If the analytics guys are right about the things that lead to goals – and nobody’s presented much of an argument that we aren’t – then maybe Steve’s the guy who needs to reconsider what he’s seeing.

    I don’t understand his second question.

    Hockey is not so easily determined. And, in a way, the stance to match it with other sports has polarized the game, divided old and new, divided zealot and traditionalist. It’s not like there isn’t something to be learned from the new statistics, especially in a team way: It’s just they are in no way game-defining in the manner the analytics community believes them to be.

    Steve would do well to realize that “zealot” is not an antonym for “traditionalist.” He would also do well to be explicit about the way in which he believes that the analytics community treats the new statistics as “game-defining.” Do I think that Mikhail Grabovski is a million times better than Jay McClement? Sure. Is that what we’re talking about here? I don’t know.

    Random Brendan Shanahan quote that has nothing to do with the subject.

    If you can’t play without the puck in the NHL, for the most part, you can’t play or won’t play. So how, numerically, do you measure a player when 95% or more of his 45-second spurts is spent without the puck?

    One sensible way to go about doing this is to look at the share of the shots that his team gets with him on the ice versus when he’s not. You could take into account where he starts on the ice, if his coach uses him in the defensive or offensive zone a lot. You could look at how players who play similar minutes do elsewhere. You could look at how he does with different players. All of this would permit you to draw some sensible inferences about how he plays without the puck. This is what analytics guys do.

    There are more random or scrambly goals than just Bolland’s title winner. In a different way, though, it was not unlike the key goal Ryan McDonagh scored in Montreal on Monday night. McDonagh took a slap shot in the direction of Canadiens netminder Dustin Tokarski. It didn’t seem like a scoring chance. But the puck hit Alexei Emelin in the pants, deflected off him, hit the goal post and then deflected into the net.

    These are game- and series-changing plays: They can’t be defined by any statistic. There is a mistake and a bounce and a battle and a deflection and another bounce and a goal. And in the words of Jim Hughson: “That’s hockey.”

    It’s as if knowing whether a team or player is going to have more chances for those breaks than another team or player would be useful information that helps you understand what’s going on.

    The Maple Leafs were among the worst Corsi and Fenwick teams (the best known of the advanced statistics) in the NHL this season. When they collapsed, the stats mavens were almost gleeful. They knew it was coming. They called it. The Leafs were their convenient poster-boy for the changing way to interpret hockey. And an easy target.

    Not that easy. Some guy was doing a victory lap in October, taunting the analytics guys with:


    The mavens weren’t quite so accurate in their analysis of the Colorado Avalanche who, like the Leafs, gave up too many shots against and didn’t have the puck enough. But all Colorado did was win and finish ahead of Chicago and St. Louis. Not all shots on goal matter. Not all possession is meaningful puck possession. Not all faceoffs won will result in possession. Not all faceoffs lost end up with bad results.

    The “mavens” will tell you that every year, one or two teams will have things go right and slip in to the playoffs despite not really deserving it. It’s part of hockey, watching some underpowered team do enough to get across the finish line. If you want a sport where the best team always triumphs, watch bobsled.

    The difference between Steve and the analytics guys is that we acknowledge that there will be luck. Skill will usually win out but every year, there will be a couple of teams with whom it doesn’t. Steve sees it and assumes it means that something caused it.

    When we said the Leafs weren’t going to make the playoffs, what we were really saying is that they were depending on lightning to strike in the same place two years in a row and that that wasn’t much of a plan. If Colorado doesn’t make massive improvements next year, they’re going to be relying on the same thing. Someone’s going to be lucky next year and get a big year from an unexpected goalie or have pucks go in. I don’t know who it will be but being the team that got lucky this year doesn’t tell me anything.

    The Los Angeles Kings, even before Marian Gaborik, were among the best possession teams in the NHL and yet among the most challenged to score goals. At one point in the season, they scored 16 goals in a 10-game period and followed that up by scoring three goals over six games: That’s 19 goals in almost 20% of the season.

    At that time, the team that had the puck the most scored the least.

    Yes, and how are the LA Kings doing now? They’re in the conference finals you say?

    Look, there’s a discussion to be had here – I think it’s reasonable to suspect that LA’s tactics hurt their S%, for reasons that we have yet to figure out and that the Kings are, as a result, not as good as their Corsi% would suggest. They’re still really, really good. Pointing to 19 goals scored in 16 games for a team that’s in the Western Conference Finals at some point would seem to support that.

    Even now, after his difficult playoff run, there are statistical breakdowns that will tell you Sidney Crosby had a strong playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not. He scored once. He had the puck, but created little offence for himself or those he played with. His Corsi numbers led the NHL: But the best offensive player in the game has scored one goal in his past 17 playoff games.

    The statistics indicate Crosby had a fine playoffs. Crosby, himself, would disagree with the numbers. The stats people will tell you the game must adjust to the statistics but, really, the stats need to adjust to the game.

    Earlier in his piece, Simmons said: “In hockey, a defensive error — some quantifiable, some not — a breakdown, leads to more scoring than offensive creation does.” 11 of Crosby’s last 17 playoff games (I’m amazed Steve didn’t include the last game of the Ottawa series) have been against NYR and Boston, home of the two best goalies in the NHL. The other series was against the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. This seems inconsistent with that.

    I wouldn’t say that Crosby was great but I’d say that he did enough that his teams could have won. With more support or against a lesser defensive team, maybe they would have. I do know that 26 players have posted a 60%+ Corsi% over at least 500 minutes in a season since 2007-08 – Sid was at 61.6% in the playoffs. 65% of the time, that generates a GF% of 60% or better. 88% it puts you at a GF% above 55%. 3.8% of the time, it puts you at a GF% below 50%.

    Sid played 198 5v5 minutes in the playoffs, with a GF% of 47.1%. Me, I’d bet on Sid figuring out how to find his space in the long run. Because that seems to be how hockey works. The playoffs are a small sample tournament; enjoy the games but don’t think that you can take that much from them.

    The game hasn’t changed all that much, other than speed and length of shift. The voices of analytics haven’t invented a new game, only a new way to look at it.

    There is a place for what they do — just not a defining one. The game, through these eyes, is too free-flow, too incidental and accidental, too promiscuous to be naturally or easily analyzed with math.

    Good thing the Leafs don’t play in the CHL. The CORSI Hockey League.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    45 Responses to Dear Steve.

    1. Arvind
      May 20, 2014 at

      Love the post, as always. I don’t know if you listen to the Steve Dangle Podcast, but they had Simmons on and he made literally all of the same points as he did in the article. Unfortunately, the hosts didn’t really call him out on it or engage in any sort of debate regarding it.

      • Bill
        May 21, 2014 at

        That’s because corsi, like wins added, gvt stays on the internet.

    2. May 20, 2014 at

      Not surprised that Simmons would make up those first two anecdotes. I suspect that a close accounting of what he purports to come from sources would reveal more instances of that kind of behaviour. Who could possibly forget Sundin’s impending retirement because of his hip injury?

    3. May 20, 2014 at

      Great post.
      The thing that really rubbed me the wrong way about the Crosby example was that it demonstrates a lack of understanding, seemingly willfully, of what the statistic is attempting to measure. His personal goals are not what people use corsi for; its meant to predict future gf%, not personal goals rate — although that may be part of it, its not the primary function of the stat. Why use an example where the player in question has lousy stats that are not entirely relevant to the statistic your attempting to disprove? It’s like pointing to Nash’s low goal totals and high shot totals and deciding that therefore shots are irrelevant to keep track of. There are tons of examples of more relevant criticisms — NJ or LA come to mind as examples that would argue his point more intelligently. The willful ignorance there just really annoys me.
      I know you covered all this just ranting because his comments get on my nerves. Thanks for the post, good read as always.

      May 20, 2014 at


    5. Sapp Macintosh
      May 20, 2014 at

      I figured we knew the entire anecdote was ficticious the moment Simmomds claimed to ask relevant questions about why fancystats sometimes produce wonky results.

    6. Matt
      May 20, 2014 at

      The game, through these eyes, is too free-flow, too incidental and accidental, too promiscuous to be naturally or easily analyzed with math.

      I agree with this statement 100%. If it were natural or easy, one of the academic papers that these arrogant dipshit math or econ professors produced over the past years would have been worth a damn. Also, a lot of proponents of possession metrics oversell them, don’t understand them very well, or (in most cases) both, including some well-known proponents.

      But I digress. Steve’s problem is one that is pretty common: the failure to understand random variation. His intuition for how long it takes talent to overcome luck in Goals-related stuff (points scored, GF/GA, even SV%) is wrong. It is massively wrong. But because he has never stepped back quite far enough to understand what the argument is, he can’t address it effectively. Someone like Bruce McCurdy has done 100x better at poking holes in shitty analytic arguments, and I’m sure he would agree that in a lot of areas he’s a much bigger “believer” now than he was 5 years ago.

      Steve, and journalists and fans like him, understand that the team that played better can lose *a* game (unless it’s a Game 7). They don’t believe it can happen in a whole series though, and they don’t believe it can happen frequently. This is partly because they don’t understand the mathematical essence of “random” and partly because they have reverse-engineered so many stories over the years to have the Deserve fit the Result.

      It wouldn’t matter how polite or snotty, mathy or anecdotal this piece was, Tyler. You are outside of his frame of reference and, though he is a bright guy (really), he fundamentally does not understand what you are talking about.

      • May 20, 2014 at

        What about Steve Simmons and his entire oeuvre suggests that he’s a bright guy?

      • Bruce McCurdy
        May 20, 2014 at

        Thank you, and yes I probably am a bigger “believer” (hate that word in almost any context) than I was. We all learn and grow. I can say without fear of contradicting myself ;) that I have learned more about hockey in the last decade than in the previous four. Analytics has played a major role in that, as has the “frank exchange of views” that is possible on the Internet in a way not previously available to even the most knowledgeable fans.

        It’s also true that there are some shitty analytic arguments even today. Still room for a few Devil’s Advocates in the discussion.

      • Skinny
        May 20, 2014 at

        ” he fundamentally does not understand what you are talking about.”
        Every single day we engage in activities, or use products that we don’t fundamentally understand. Our ignorance doesn’t however make such things incorrect.

        People once thought the Sun revolved around the Earth. Some geek said it didn’t and was killed for it. Turns out he was right, others just didn’t want to listen to the facts. Just because they believed in a geocentric model of the universe, didn’t make them right.

    7. Skinny
      May 20, 2014 at

      If you look at Crosby’s last three playoff series, you’ll see:
      Lundqvist – 2012 Vezina winner
      Bobrovsky – 2013 Vezina winner
      Rask – likely 2014 Vezina winner

      Why is Crosby struggling to score?

    8. Locky
      May 21, 2014 at

      I think this illustrates one of the biggest issues in communicating the effectiveness and the failings of analytics in hockey – the straw man and absolutist positions.

      Steve Simmonds’ absoutist position that hockey analytics are not useful is patently false. As is the position often implied on some more mainstream blogs (puck daddy, i’m looking at you) that Corsi and Fenwick are absolute indicators of a teams success.

    9. chelch
      May 21, 2014 at

      Why oh why didn’t Larry Tanenbaum listen to Burkie and push this guy out of town, instead of the reverse?
      Great post.

    10. May 21, 2014 at

      What amazes me about Simmons is this: he is so proud of how he relies on what he sees, yet humans are inherently vulnerable to having our perceptions manipulated.

      Just like not all scouts are perfect, advanced stats aren’t perfect and 100% reliable. But like scouts, they’re tools. Some tools in the advanced stats box are better than others. Some require the assistance of other tools to be useful. But the point is, the toolbox is now a lot bigger and more readily available to everyone thanks to the development of advanced stats.

      To fight against learning and using these new tools is an egregious display of self depreciation. It’s nonsense.


      • Hossim
        May 21, 2014 at

        When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

        When you’re a dunce, everything is useless.

      • beingbobbyorr
        May 21, 2014 at

        “If scientists invented the legal system, eye witness testimony would be inadmissible evidence.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D. (Astrophysics)

    11. Josh
      May 21, 2014 at

      I confess that my head spins pretty quickly when corsi, corsirel and the rest are discussed. I’m just not great at dealing with the raw numbers. I wonder though if, given the complex nature of hockey and the fact it’s a unique combination of team and individual effort, perhaps analytics are best used to do just that: analyze rather than predict. As I said, I’m not in any way a stastician, I am genuinely asking. I think advanced stats do a great job of breaking down what did happen, but is there any conclusive proof that they are equally effective at predicting what will happen? It seems like you have to add up a lot of disparate categories to determine a future result. Maybe I’m just not standing far enough back to use them effectively.

      • Patrick
        May 21, 2014 at

        Josh, whether you consider it “conclusive proof” or not is a matter of opinion but there are absolutely statistics which will inform you of what is likely to happen in the future. Tyler actually wrote a couple great articles recently which touch on the subject.

        The first deals with a stat called PDO. Individual PDO is the sum of team shooting percentage and team save percentage while a certain player is on the ice. Team PDO is also used the same way. In Tyler’s own words, “PDO regresses strongly towards 100%” What this means in relation to your question is that a player with a PDO significantly higher or lower than 100% will not maintain that pace (whether a hot streak or drought) in the long run. It’s a tool that can help you differentiate a good team from a team that is getting “lucky” so to speak. Good teams are likely to maintain success, “lucky teams” are not (in the long run).

        Tyler’s article:

        The other article I’m talking about discusses the relationship between CF% and GF% (corsi-for % and goals-for %). Essentially his point is that in the long run GF% and CF% will be pretty close to the same number. This relates to your question because you may observe a player with a vast difference in CF% and GF% and predict that in the long run his GF% will draw much closer to CF%.

        Tyler’s article:

    12. Anonymous
      May 21, 2014 at

      As a writing professional, I’m constantly shocked how Simmons is being employed to write.

      • Noah
        May 21, 2014 at

        I bet you’re Bruce Arthur.

    13. jamo
      May 21, 2014 at

      The advanced stats will almost always corroborate what you see happening on the ice. There are times, though, where they are extremely useful in challenging your perception of how a player is performing.

      Taylor Pyatt scored an even-strength goal in back-to-back games this season. I remember thinking at the time that Pyatt was player really great. In those two games (3/25 vs. PHX and 3/27 vs. LAK) he was seemingly everywhere, delivering big hits, being a menace in front of the net, and generally appearing to be a competent player. But this is Taylor Pyatt we are talking about, and he is NOT a competent player. He’s a bad, bad player. But still, I was excited!

      The thing is, despite those two goals (both in losing efforts, natch), the hits, the “Woah check out Pyatt he’s everywhere!” I was hearing from the announcers he was, in fact, not very good. The Pens were out-Corsi’d 20-16 at even strength with Pyatt on the ice in those two games (not bad numbers for him, but, again, he’s not a good player), and as you’d imagine his QoC not very strong.

      So what I learned from those stats was that Pyatt played a couple of pretty pedestrian games and was likely the beneficiary of luck and my poor interpretation of what I was watching.

      This is probably because – to steal a thought from Steve Simmons – “The game [ . . . ] is too free-flow, too incidental and accidental, too promiscuous . . . ” to be consistently accurately understood by merely relying on what our eyes tell us.

    14. TFCNU
      May 21, 2014 at

      My problem with hockey’s “advanced” stats is that they aren’t at all advanced. They also run contrary to “advanced” stats from other sports. In hockey, a player that takes a lot of shots and can’t hit the back of the net is good just unlucky by advanced stats. In basketball, that player is Raptors-era Rudy Gay and is considered the worst player in the league by advanced stats. Likewise, the argument behind PDO: that there is effectively no skill in shooting or goaltending or that there is some magical connection between a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage makes zero sense. I don’t deny the value of advanced stats and I buy it in basketball and baseball. I’ve just yet to see anything in hockey that looks remotely like the advanced stats of other sports.

      • TMS71
        May 22, 2014 at

        The basketball comparison is not appropriate for a couple of reasons. First Rudy Gay was considered bad, not because he took a lot of shots, but because, when he was on the court the Raptors made a relatively low percentage of the shots that they took. As a team they took about the same number of shots as other teams. Corsi is a stat about team shots while a particular player is on the ice. It is not a measure of how many shots that particular player takes. So if there was Corsi in basketball Gay’s would have been about the same as everyone else’s. Very close to 50%. The second reason the comparison is not appropriate is that in basketball, a team will succeed in attempting a shot on almost every possession. A team can advance the ball up the court into the offensive zone almost every time and they can get some type of shot on almost every possession. Most of what separates the good teams from the bad, offensively, is the percentage of shots made based mostly on the quality of the shots (and additional points on free throws). This is not the case in hockey. In hockey many possessions do not result in shots. Better players are able to create shots in a greater proportion of their possessions. They do this not only by being better at offense but also by being better at preventing the opposition from ever getting control of the puck in the offensive zone. Sometimes they even make it difficult for the other team to get out of their own zone.

    15. Glibly Eliding
      May 21, 2014 at

      It seems fundamentally illogical to try to argue that an approach is wrong when you don’t know much, if anything, about that approach. So it’s safe to say that Mr. Simmons’ entire reason for arguing against analytics is to justify his decision not to do the hard work of learning it.

      Which means that every one of his columns on it is merely a reiteration of him saying “I’m lazy, and here’s why”.

    16. Sam N.
      May 21, 2014 at

      “Look, there’s a discussion to be had here – I think it’s reasonable to suspect that LA’s tactics hurt their S%, for reasons that we have yet to figure out and that the Kings are, as a result, not as good as their Corsi% would suggest. They’re still really, really good. Pointing to 19 goals scored in 16 games for a team that’s in the Western Conference Finals at some point would seem to support that”

      Is there a metric for shot quality? As in maybe shots and attempts from within the “house.” Teams like LA possess the puck well but, when you watch them play, they don’t attack the middle of the ice. The closer you are to the net, the more likely a shot will go in. Crosby and Dan Boyle had high enough corsi numbers during the playoffs but they didn’t seem to move the puck to the middle of the ice. It was frustrating watching them on their zone entries especially. They both turned to the boards more often than not and when Crosby is successful, he usually moves the puck to the middle somehow (either by skating it, shooting it, or passing). That might be a way to show the separation between teams like the Blackhawks and Kings when their Corsi numbers are so similar.

      Theoretically, (engineering background, so forgive me) a team could cycle the puck for 60 minutes and attempt one shot. This team would have a CF% of 100 if the other team didn’t attempt a single shot. CF% obviously wouldn’t tell the whole story in this situation: CF and CA would help. This type of game would be viewed as a bad game for both sides. This an exaggeration of the Kings at times they will cycle for forever and a day and their only attempts are perimeter shots, thus handicapping their chances of scoring on each shot. Maybe a new metric could be introduced to show the frequency at which teams will move the puck into “scoring position” or attempt shots from scoring position”

      • Mark Parisi
        May 22, 2014 at

        My understanding is that it’s been shown that shot quality is irrelevant compared to shot volume.

        • TMS71
          May 22, 2014 at

          I wouldn’t say it exactly like that. It’s that when it has been looked at, shot quality has differed very very little between teams. Especially shot quality allowed. This was looked at closely to determine whether goalie save %s are affected significantly by their team’s defense. The answer was no. Teams allow essentially the same assortment of shots in the same proportions and goalie’s save %s are due to luck and their own ability. I don’t know if shot quality for has been looked at as closely but my hunch is that it has and the same conclusion applies – the differences between teams are very small and don’t account for much of the variation in goal scoring. Luck and shot volume seem to be the biggest factors.

    17. Tom Benjamin
      May 21, 2014 at

      Lord knows that the last guy I’d ever want to defend is Steve Simmons, but come on. This is miles from being an extraordinarily stupid column even if he was careless about identifying the correct game for his Van Riemsdyk anecdote.

      His maybe mythical stats guy should respond “sample size” to every query about a single game. At best, Corsi has only been tested at the team level, and even there, questions arise. If teams can defy odds for an entire season, how large does the sample size have to be for an individual to ensure we are seeing signal rather than noise? Simmons does not express the question well, but it is a valid question

      An individual player is given 20 or 25% of the credit (or blame) for every Corsi event that occurs when he is on the ice. Obviously this is almost always wrong. Sometimes he deserves all the credit, sometimes none and sometimes in between. How many events are required before the number should be trusted? How long does that take?

      Furthermore, we are pretending that a shot that is taken when Tom Sestito is on the ice is worth the same as a shot taken when Steven Stamkos is on the ice. They are not. There may be a predictable relationship between shots and goals at the league level, but that can’t translate to the individual level.

      Finally, volume does count. If I am playing against Sidney Crosby, I’ll take a smaller percentage of the shot attempts if I can reduce the number of shot attempts. I’d rather be out shot 6-4 than 11-9 when Crosby is on the ice. If I have the inferior team, I will always shoot for a low event game by clogging the neutral zone as much as possible. If that results in a lower Corsi% than I might expect in a high event game, so be it. I still think I’ve got a better chance to win.

      I don’t think anyone with even a passing interest in hockey would claim that McClement is a better player than Grabovski. Yet there have been many games when McClement was more valuable whether that is reflected in the Corsi or not.

      • May 21, 2014 at

        There’s no question possession stats are proven to be much, much more useful at the team level than the individual one.

        Which is why we very rarely use the stats in the way Simmons is pretending we do – to evaluate individuals game to game.

        I’m the mythical stats guy, but the conversations we’ve had are entirely misrepresented in that piece. I think “sample size” was a response to so many of Steve’s questions that it became a running joke, but that had more to do with the questions than the analytics.

    18. jvuc
      May 21, 2014 at

      Honestly I liked some aspects of Simmons critique. And I also enjoy the many insights dellow offers. I don’t know why or where this – Analytics vs Simmons comes from. Everyone can grow up here as the truth lies somewhere in the middle

      • May 22, 2014 at

        No, the truth doesn’t lie somewhere in between Tyler’s piece and Simmons’. Simmons’ anecdotes are entirely made up and the rest of the piece shows absolutely no understanding of what is or can be measured and how that information is used. He literally has no clue what he is talking about.

    19. Nick
      May 22, 2014 at

      I’ve always enjoyed reading articles on “advanced stats” because I think it’s a useful way of analyzing the game and it offers insights that mere observation doesn’t provide. And I also think they offer quite accurate predictions, particularly during the regular season.

      My only reservation is that the human element seems to be discounted a little too often, like saying a having a good captain doesn’t matter, or having a quality role player in the dressing room is inconsequential etc etc and that it’s only about the numbers. Hockey (and sports in general) is an emotional game and I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t discount those things as meaningless. Also, as someone else hinted, advanced stats can’t always predict specific tactical adjustments/coaching decisions, like consciously playing a low event game against Crosby or baiting the opposing team into taking more penalties etc etc.

      Anyway, I like advanced stats, but probably the reason some people don’t is because of this belief that hockey is an art and that studying it scientifically somehow besmirches it or lessens its unpredictability and beauty. I just say they’re missing out on another, very interesting perspective.

    20. Mark Parisi
      May 22, 2014 at

      Simmons is pretty much unilaterally wrong in his article, but I think that’s borne of ignorance and I think the ignorance is borne of the way the advanced stats crowds presents their case.To wit: the numbers are often presented as analysis–and smugly–when they are nothing of the kind.

      This is not to say that advanced stats are more accurate than, say, an eyeball test or something like plus/minus. They indisputably are. But too often they’re used to support some hyperbole disguised as analysis:

      Player X is terrible. How do you know? His CorsiRel is really bad. Okay, WHY is his CorsiRel really bad? Because he’s terrible.

      That’s circular logic. And it’s definitely not analysis.

      We know some things like PDO can be used to predict future performance, and I think that approach is reasonable. But it’s not enough to just claim a player sucks and point to a number. If that’s the extent of the “analysis,” then the only difference between plus/minus and Corsi/Fenwick/whatever is that the second set is more accurate. Neither offers any explanation of WHY, which is the heart of analysis.

      As the use of advanced stats matures, I’m sure the bridge between numbers and explanations will become more cemented, but as it stands today, I feel that too many in the advanced stats community tend to throw their numbers around like they’re absolutes, and that this is probably the biggest cause for resistance to them. Advanced stats should serve as the stepping stone to meaningful analysis of WHY–because we know they give a more accurate picture of what’s happening on the ice–rather than be represented as meaningful analysis on their own.

      • dawgbone
        May 22, 2014 at

        I don’t know of many who use the circular logic that you are referring to.

        I’ll bring up a few Oiler examples:

        Luke Gazdic has a low Corsi and is terrible. He’s not terrible because he has a low Corsi, but him being terrible contributes to that low Corsi. He’s terrible because he doesn’t skate very well and has loads of difficulty handling the puck (especially in terms of receiving a pass). Combine those two things together and you’ve got a player who naturally isn’t going to contribute much to puck possession which puts him behind the 8 ball before your even look at things like positioning and how he reacts to the play.

        Nick Schultz was brought in to protect late game leads. He cost the Oilers Gilbert, who was their best defenseman at the time. Nick Schultz is a good positional defender, but again he struggles at handling the puck, especially in terms of passing it any further than a body length away. His Corsi was low because the puck struggled to move to the other end when he was on the ice (which he was a contributing factor of).

        It’s important to stay away from the generalizing of what some of the stats people are saying. Most don’t suggest turning the TV off and hitting the spread sheet, but rather that this is another tool you can use when evaluating a player.

    21. WBS
      May 22, 2014 at

      Great read. Anyone who doesn’t at least consider advanced stats isn’t fully doing their job. It is a tool just like any other piece of data is a tool. Are advanced stats the end-all be-all? Absolutely not. Should they be ignored? Again, absolutely not.

    22. Bob
      May 22, 2014 at

      Tyler and others have impressively addressed the Simmons’ article so I will only make an observation.

      I found it interesting that part of Simmons’ argument included a baseball comparison and the use of WAR and OPS, both advanced stats that were developed long after Babe Ruth played. When Sabermetrics came upon the scene, “traditional” baseball writers had the same reaction to those “fancy” stats that Simmons et al have towards hockey analytics. The irony is just tremendous!

    23. Dave
      May 22, 2014 at

      Look, Steve Simmons is a terrible, terrible journalist and hockey mind. I rarely think he understands the game when I watch him on TV, when I read his articles, or when I hear him speak. The guy is a D-grade pundit. The fact that he doesn’t understand analytics is no shocker.

      But hey, the Leafs guys are for the most part terrible. I hope he continues to enjoy his segment with Damien Cox on The Reporters on TSN.

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    27. Johnny
      May 27, 2014 at

      When the NHL had 21 teams, we all thought that the atom was the smallest particle. Scientists, analysts and rational thinkers do great work with the information that is available to them. Sometimes, they don’t have the best information and they might be missing important pieces to the puzzle. I’m glad there are mathematicians and statisticians who are working on this. We might be working with the best analytics available, but that doesn’t mean they are flawless or that we should stop searching for better tools or better data. To stop questioning the people who think they have all the answers . . . that would be foolish.

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