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 email@example.com