The Case Against Kris Russell Part 1

Matt Henderson
December 02 2016 02:30PM

Alright. I’ve been overly damned cheery for weeks on this site. I think it’s a pretty much non-stop stream of happiness since the season began, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Oilers are on the verge of doing something incredibly unadvisable: Extending Kris Russell. It makes so little sense for so many reasons, and yet here we are. Let’s have a conversation about this.

This is part 1 of 2 articles that will talk about the prospects of extending Kris Russell. Today the focus is on the player himself and where he fits on the club. Tomorrow the second article will run discussing the various reason why extending Russell is a truly awful idea. 

Let’s start with the cold hard truth. Kris Russell is Edmonton’s worst defender.

I’ve already lost a segment of readers and I accept that. For some people, saying the obvious is offensive and there are others that just can’t acknowledge the truth. It’s understandable that the statement may seem shocking, although it’s dangerous to come to any other conclusion than the one stated above.

I know that Kris Russell skates really well. I know that he blocks lots of shots and is always willing to sacrifice his body. There are times when he uses those skills and good things happen on the ice as a direct result. It’s fantastic that he can skate with the puck like he did during a 4v4 recently and create an opportunity for the team.

The problem with Russell, and it’s what makes him so thoroughly dangerous to the Oilers, is that the things he does well are really noticeable but what he does poorly often goes by invisibly. For example, he will block two shots in a shift and retrieve the puck in the corner, take some strides, then move the puck out of the zone. The eyes catch all of that really well. What they are not generally trained to see is that Russell’s side was targeted by the attacking team, he gave them unobstructed entry to the zone by giving a 10-foot gap, and after he threw the puck up the ice it was immediately picked up by the attacking team and brought back in again.

This imaginary sequence of events I’ve used as an example happens very frequently with Russell and it’s bearing out in all of the non-traditional stats we can get out hands on. Once you start looking for entries allowed and successful transitions back up to offense, there is one Oiler defender who starts standing out in the least positive way possible: Kris Russell. It’s then impossible to unsee it.

Every player has a Risk/Reward benefit. Every single one. It’s all about what you create minus what you give up. For a player like Dustin Byfuglien he’s constantly derided for weaknesses in his own zone, but he more than makes up for them with his impact in the offensive zone. Someone like Adam Larsson we recognize has limits in the offensive zone but he’s stronger defensively.

Kris Russell, however, is neither strong offensively nor stellar defensively. This is a bad combination, but it’s actually his impact on offense that should be most alarming. Of course, it’s the WAY in which he chooses to defend that negatively impacts his ability to transition back up to offense. No matter which way you look at it, Kris Russell is a ticking time-bomb for the team.

Edmonton has had seven defensemen play at least 200 minutes 5v5 this season. Here is where Russell ranks of those seven in some key statistical categories.

Corsi For per 60: 7th (50.03 CF/60)

Corsi Against per 60: 7th (56.36 CA/60)

Corsi For Percentage: 7th (47.0%)

Fenwick For per 60: 7th (38.34 FF/60)

Fenwick Against per 60: 6th (39.87 FA/60) *This should be one of the stats he performs best in because he’s a shot blocker. Fenwick counts only unblocked shot attempts.*

Fenwick For Percentage: 7th (49.0%)

Shots For per 60: 7th (28.18 SF/60)

Shots Against per 60: 3rd (28.37 SA/60) *Good Job!*

Shots For Percentage: 7th (49.8%)

Scoring Chances For per 60: 7th (18.96 SCF/60)

Scoring Chances Against per 60: 3rd (19.98 SCA/60)

Scoring Chance For Percentage: 5th (48.69%)

Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage: 4th (33.7%)

Defensive Zone Faceoff percentage: 3rd (32.7%)

On-Ice Shooting Percentage: 2nd (10.2%)

Save Percentage: 2nd (94.59%)

PDO: 2nd (104.8)

tmi

So that’s a pretty big wall of information. Here are the key takeaways for me: Russell is last or next to last in every single shot metric we have available. In Scoring Chances against he’s doing an OK job of staying in the middle of the pack, but the team also generates the lowest number of chances for when he’s on the ice. He’s also getting a pretty even distribution of zone starts so I can’t blame his low numbers on bizarre usage.

At the same time as all of that, Kris Russell has a stellar PDO. Our eyes should be in love with Kris Russell and our brains should associate him with success because he is riding a wave of percentages that are covering up his deficiencies. In the four years prior to joining the Oilers, Kris Russell’s on-ice save percentage was 91.74%. I think it’s highly unlikely that at 29 years of age Kris Russel has figured out how to make his goalie jump to 94.59%. The inventor of PDO himself (Brian King) says that the stat was created because the Oilers were extending players with high numbers and dealing away for pennies the ones with low numbers. Teams mistake great PDO for great talent then make awful decisions. 

There are things that no metric can tell you, like how a player is in the dressing room, what kind of character they have, etc. All of those things are inputs. They are tools that the player has available to help him/her get the job done. The metrics help inform us as to how well the job is getting done. In Russell's case, we have a lot of information that says the team struggles to move the puck in the right direction when he's on the ice. 

Where does he fit on the blue line? If you had to keep one player moving forward, Russell or _____, how many Oiler defenders do you go through before you keep Russell? He makes it through the entire list for me.

55858b9ff1b2921ada1404429222703b
Arch has a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Classical Archaeology. He once shook Don Cherry's hand immediately after handling raw meat. He writes for HockeyBuzz and OilersNation covering the Oilers. Tweet him @Archaeologuy
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#201 ComeAtMeDog
December 03 2016, 05:59AM
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Kris Russell playlist

"They see me rolling ... They hatin !!!! " ( willis n Matt )

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#202 BubbaZanetti
December 03 2016, 06:58AM
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Danglishish wrote:

Let's just boil this down, shall we?

1. Advanced stats have value, but they are by no means conclusive on a player's value or ability. Their predictive value - particularly when a player changes teams/systems - is limited. See, for example, Mark Fayne.

2. Advanced stats have flaws, even those that are most subscribed to (Corsi, Fenwick). Those flaws include that they typically assign blame/praise to every player on the ice for any given event, even if that player does not contribute to said play. They also do not recognize quality, only quantity.

3. The only stat that ultimately matters is wins and losses. Nobody raises the Stanley Cup for having the best Dangerous Fenwick. Advanced stats people often forget this.

We traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larssen, and the advanced stats people lost their minds (and continue to do so). WE NEVER FINISHED HIGHER THAN 24th in the league with Hall, and are currently on pace for ~ 90 points and a playoff birth without him, and the advanced stats people don't care. "Hall pushed the river" is what they say. Okay. Pushed it right to the front of the draft order?

With respect to Russel, we're a better team with him. Proof is in the pudding (otherwise known as the win/loss record). If your advanced stats don't like him, I don't care. We're better. That's all I care about. Sign him to a 2nd or 3rd pairing salary, and let's keep winning, shall we?

Thank you for reminding me that common sense is actually alive and well in Oil Country.

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#203 Anton CP
December 03 2016, 07:32AM
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The old saying, it is better be lucky than good.

Even if Russell is the worst d-man on the team so what? They are not paying him top dollars nor long turn contract. If with him that team wins more often than losses then I won’t even care if Russell is just a cardboard cutout, wins is the only number that matters. Instead of trying to make him the worst, how about making an actual effort to explain why the team wins more than losses when he plays?

I've not bother with hockey advance stats at all simply because it is incomplete. The true analyzer is someone will figure out a number that can actually match the performance, not the other way around.

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#204 camdog
December 03 2016, 07:43AM
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The advanced stats say that the Oilers are a better team without Hall then they were with Hall. Of course I'm not going to leap to the conclusion that Hall was part of the problem, that said the numbers suggest he may have been. Do we simply ignore the numbers that do not support our own beliefs? Seems like some people do...

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#205 Anton CP
December 03 2016, 07:49AM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

Every team uses analytics. Every single one.

Especially Dallas Eakins.

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#206 GCW
December 03 2016, 08:02AM
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Anton CP wrote:

The old saying, it is better be lucky than good.

Even if Russell is the worst d-man on the team so what? They are not paying him top dollars nor long turn contract. If with him that team wins more often than losses then I won’t even care if Russell is just a cardboard cutout, wins is the only number that matters. Instead of trying to make him the worst, how about making an actual effort to explain why the team wins more than losses when he plays?

I've not bother with hockey advance stats at all simply because it is incomplete. The true analyzer is someone will figure out a number that can actually match the performance, not the other way around.

Kris Russell wants a 5 × 5 deal. The oilers are one of the teams stupid enough in the league to mistake PDO/luck for talent. That's a dangerous combination.

No one cares that much this year. I hope his luck holds through the season. But it is foolish to assume it will hold in perpetuity.

Signing him to an extension when what they need is a right handed defender who can run a powerplay just compounds the foolishness.

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#207 Oiler Al
December 03 2016, 08:44AM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

Counterpoint: Kris Russell is exactly why hockey Analytics are more important than ever. They are identifying severe inefficiencies in a player that otherwise go unnoticed or our standard narratives fail to properly describe.

As for the poorly researched part of your complaint, I'm open to the possibility I provided incorrect information. Can you point out where I did so I can fix it?

There might be a place for advanced analytics in hockey,[no so much for the average eye fan],which might be both curious and suspicious of the numbers.

I just think the numbers geeks have taken this too far. They have created paradigms for every capricious notion happening on the ice. eg; 5X5, then you have 5X5 tied, leading, trailing, etc etc. It gets insane, next you will have 5X5.. ice is bad, crowd is small... Some guy will come up with numbers that will predict the weather on how Russell played last night!

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#208 Oiler Al
December 03 2016, 08:44AM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

Counterpoint: Kris Russell is exactly why hockey Analytics are more important than ever. They are identifying severe inefficiencies in a player that otherwise go unnoticed or our standard narratives fail to properly describe.

As for the poorly researched part of your complaint, I'm open to the possibility I provided incorrect information. Can you point out where I did so I can fix it?

There might be a place for advanced analytics in hockey,[no so much for the average eye fan],which might be both curious and suspicious of the numbers.

I just think the numbers geeks have taken this too far. They have created paradigms for every capricious notion happening on the ice. eg; 5X5, then you have 5X5 tied, leading, trailing, etc etc. It gets insane, next you will have 5X5.. ice is bad, crowd is small... Some guy will come up with numbers that will predict the weather on how Russell played last night!

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#210 Oiler Al
December 03 2016, 09:21AM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

I'm pretty sure the advanced stats have never said that and that's why nobody is saying it. They aren't ignoring an inconvenient truth. They just don't see things that exist only in your imagination.

It would appear that advance analytics create models so that the end justifies the means.

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#211 CMG30
December 03 2016, 09:24AM
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Reading through the comments here it's plainly obvious that far too many commentators are angry that someone dared to challenge their personal dogma rather than any legit beef with the article.

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#212 RJ
December 03 2016, 09:27AM
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Danglishish wrote:

Let's just boil this down, shall we?

1. Advanced stats have value, but they are by no means conclusive on a player's value or ability. Their predictive value - particularly when a player changes teams/systems - is limited. See, for example, Mark Fayne.

2. Advanced stats have flaws, even those that are most subscribed to (Corsi, Fenwick). Those flaws include that they typically assign blame/praise to every player on the ice for any given event, even if that player does not contribute to said play. They also do not recognize quality, only quantity.

3. The only stat that ultimately matters is wins and losses. Nobody raises the Stanley Cup for having the best Dangerous Fenwick. Advanced stats people often forget this.

We traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larssen, and the advanced stats people lost their minds (and continue to do so). WE NEVER FINISHED HIGHER THAN 24th in the league with Hall, and are currently on pace for ~ 90 points and a playoff birth without him, and the advanced stats people don't care. "Hall pushed the river" is what they say. Okay. Pushed it right to the front of the draft order?

With respect to Russel, we're a better team with him. Proof is in the pudding (otherwise known as the win/loss record). If your advanced stats don't like him, I don't care. We're better. That's all I care about. Sign him to a 2nd or 3rd pairing salary, and let's keep winning, shall we?

Russell and Larsson haven't been that spectacular. Having the NHL leader in points makes a much bigger difference.

He's everything a #1OV was supposed to be but Hall, Nuge and Yak never were.

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#213 VK63
December 03 2016, 09:30AM
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¯\_(ツ)_/¯ wrote:

Well that may have been a non-existent back check, but you got to give him credit for his playmaking ability.

https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/video/hjalmarsson-scores-off-a-turnover/t-277437096/c-46933103

Hjalmarsson's tally got no assist for this on the score sheet, but one is clearly owed to Hall.

Yah. Taytay got shorted on that one.

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#214 NealH
December 03 2016, 09:40AM
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Relax everyone... this must be the week where engagement metrics are measured. Henderson's just trolling us.

I look forward to Part 2...

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#215 D-rek
December 03 2016, 09:49AM
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I have not commented on this site in a long time, but on this I have to.

Typically I think articles by this writer are informative, and try to employ common sense along with analytics (which can be hard at times for traditionalists). But this article can not be classified that way.

Kris Russell has been a key component of the Oilers success this year. The numbers can say whatever they want (I have time for advanced stats, in the right proportions, and used in conjunction with the eye test they can be valuable) but if they say Kris Russell is Edmonton's worst defenseman, they are just plain wrong.

There have been a lot of bad defenseman on this team over the last decade, it has been easy to see. Russell's ability to get the puck out of the zone has been sorely missed over the years, and a welcome addition this year. Just having a player who doesn't panic in his own end and make horrible giveaways (J.Schultz anyone?) is a major improvement over what we have had here.

This is clearly a case of the eye test overruling the numbers test. Like I said I have time for analytics, but teams need to be able to identify cases when maybe the numbers are wrong. Advanced stats are good to have, but they aren't the only thing that matters. Eyes matter too. Russell may not be a top pairing defenseman, but he has been a major improvement over what we've had here for far too long.

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#216 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 10:02AM
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BubbaZanetti wrote:

Thank you for reminding me that common sense is actually alive and well in Oil Country.

Anyone who uses advanced stats will be the first to admit to 1-3.

Its how you apply the information, knowing the limitations, still in a productive way, that can make them successful.

Because if you don't, someone else will.

There is not a single statistic on this planet that doesn't have a flaw. There is also not a single person on this planet who's observations are perfect.

Im sorry this information didn't match up with what you are observing, but it is possible that you are wrong. Have you considered that? That maybe you are the one that's wrong and not the stats?

And note, that I said considered. Have you taken the information presented here and at least considered for a few moments the possibility that it could be correct?

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#217 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 10:03AM
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D-rek wrote:

I have not commented on this site in a long time, but on this I have to.

Typically I think articles by this writer are informative, and try to employ common sense along with analytics (which can be hard at times for traditionalists). But this article can not be classified that way.

Kris Russell has been a key component of the Oilers success this year. The numbers can say whatever they want (I have time for advanced stats, in the right proportions, and used in conjunction with the eye test they can be valuable) but if they say Kris Russell is Edmonton's worst defenseman, they are just plain wrong.

There have been a lot of bad defenseman on this team over the last decade, it has been easy to see. Russell's ability to get the puck out of the zone has been sorely missed over the years, and a welcome addition this year. Just having a player who doesn't panic in his own end and make horrible giveaways (J.Schultz anyone?) is a major improvement over what we have had here.

This is clearly a case of the eye test overruling the numbers test. Like I said I have time for analytics, but teams need to be able to identify cases when maybe the numbers are wrong. Advanced stats are good to have, but they aren't the only thing that matters. Eyes matter too. Russell may not be a top pairing defenseman, but he has been a major improvement over what we've had here for far too long.

How do you know that?

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#218 Harry2
December 03 2016, 10:04AM
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Gravis82 wrote:

Saying that Russell is not a good pickup, does not mean that therefore Chiarelli is bad at assessing all defensemen.

Not sure where you are getting that extrapolation from.

Also, what do you have against Dellow?

No but saying Chiarelli is wrong to resign Russell after having a year to evaluate him because of fancy stats is very arrogant.

Dellow was hired by MacT/Eakins. Enough said

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#219 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 10:08AM
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Anton CP wrote:

Especially Dallas Eakins.

Not everyone who uses analytics knows what they are doing. Does Eakins have a graduate degree with at the very least a statistical component? Um no.

I would bet that most who do this work for teams, do.

And its not necessarily about calculating the numbers. Its about interpreting the numbers and making sound recommendations based on known limitations. That is not a skill that develops without much guidance from people much more experienced and smarter than yourself, and years of practice.

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#220 passelin
December 03 2016, 10:12AM
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@D-rek

The fact he is characterized as the 'worst' by these measures is relative and does not take away from your point that he is an improvement from last year.

To my eye the top 6 have all been quite good and it's not way off base to say that of the top 6 he has been the 'least good' - still good enough to me.

I think we will find in part 2 that the point is that Russel is not the right fit in terms of cap distribution and value for dollar.

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#221 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 10:20AM
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Harry2 wrote:

No but saying Chiarelli is wrong to resign Russell after having a year to evaluate him because of fancy stats is very arrogant.

Dellow was hired by MacT/Eakins. Enough said

what does Dellow have to do with anything?

Dellow has not said a word since he shut his blog. How on earth do you have enough information to make any judgement on the quality of his work?

Options 1) Dellow was awesome, but Eakins didn't listen. 2) Dellow awful and Eakins listened

If you think Dellow was awful then you are therefore saying he was bad at his advanced stats job. That implies that others could be good at their advanced stats job.

So right now, do you think Henderson is wrong in his interpretation, and is just as bad at this as Dellow was? Or do you think that Henderson did most steps correctly (as you imply would be possible), but its the numbers themselves that are biased and wrong?

If you think its the numbers that are biased, then tell me how you know that. If your answer is, "Because Dellow....ect again",or bescause "they dont agree with what I see and I am always right!!"...then perhaps consider the circularity of the logic here.

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#222 SALAKAN
December 03 2016, 10:22AM
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goes to the bathroom and flushes this thought out.

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#223 passelin
December 03 2016, 10:24AM
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@Harry2

Love the huge response engagement on the math - who would've thought your high school math teacher was right. This is how they should teach it in school.

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#224 tileguy
December 03 2016, 10:27AM
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Hurry, part 2 is just beginning.

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#225 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 10:34AM
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camdog wrote:

The advanced stats say that the Oilers are a better team without Hall then they were with Hall. Of course I'm not going to leap to the conclusion that Hall was part of the problem, that said the numbers suggest he may have been. Do we simply ignore the numbers that do not support our own beliefs? Seems like some people do...

If you presented that argument in a boardroom, to the company CEO using an analogous business example, you would be fired. Your with and without analysis as presented has too many uncontrolled and unaccounted for variables, rendering it invalid. They would have listened to you and likely lost millions of dollars

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#226 Harry2
December 03 2016, 10:37AM
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passelin wrote:

Love the huge response engagement on the math - who would've thought your high school math teacher was right. This is how they should teach it in school.

You go right ahead and use math to assemble an NHL team and let me know how far you think they'll get. This isnt baseball

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#227 Harry2
December 03 2016, 10:39AM
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Gravis82 wrote:

what does Dellow have to do with anything?

Dellow has not said a word since he shut his blog. How on earth do you have enough information to make any judgement on the quality of his work?

Options 1) Dellow was awesome, but Eakins didn't listen. 2) Dellow awful and Eakins listened

If you think Dellow was awful then you are therefore saying he was bad at his advanced stats job. That implies that others could be good at their advanced stats job.

So right now, do you think Henderson is wrong in his interpretation, and is just as bad at this as Dellow was? Or do you think that Henderson did most steps correctly (as you imply would be possible), but its the numbers themselves that are biased and wrong?

If you think its the numbers that are biased, then tell me how you know that. If your answer is, "Because Dellow....ect again",or bescause "they dont agree with what I see and I am always right!!"...then perhaps consider the circularity of the logic here.

Wow ykur love for Dellow is kinda creepy. Ill trust a cup winning GM over a guy writting about a player from behind his computer. Not to mention Edm's record with and without the player in the lineup

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#228 VK63
December 03 2016, 11:34AM
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camdog wrote:

The advanced stats say that the Oilers are a better team without Hall then they were with Hall. Of course I'm not going to leap to the conclusion that Hall was part of the problem, that said the numbers suggest he may have been. Do we simply ignore the numbers that do not support our own beliefs? Seems like some people do...

Given how many biases exist in the world, I'm sure there are several that apply, heck Kahneman and Gladwell are making real money raising the cognitive awareness of their nefarious existence.

remember when "theres an app for that" solved such problems. ;)

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#229 WSO
December 03 2016, 01:34PM
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@Gravis82

'Bottom line, corsi etc is a proxy for dangerous shots, and taking a dangerous shot means you probably have decent grit, or else you wont find yourself in that spot very often.'

Nope, nope nope.

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#230 Derzie
December 03 2016, 02:18PM
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Stats people hate Kris because he proves them wrong. Happened in Calgary, happening in Edmonton. Stats-tears are the best tears. Stats are valuable as a tool but not as a religion. The worshippers are the ones that I'm talking about. People with perspective use eyes & stats. Those without write Kris Russell hate pieces.

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#231 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 02:39PM
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@WSO

Why not? Convince me.

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#232 Gravis82
December 03 2016, 02:48PM
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Harry2 wrote:

Wow ykur love for Dellow is kinda creepy. Ill trust a cup winning GM over a guy writting about a player from behind his computer. Not to mention Edm's record with and without the player in the lineup

1) you never answered my questions

2) I have no opinion on Dellow, either way, and I have not seen his work nor will I spend the time evaluating it because it is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

3) what is relevant is that your dislike of someone that is completely unrelated to the current issue is somehow influencing your current interpretation of this situation.

4) If Russell absence was related to losing 5 games as you say, and then a complete reversal of fortunes after his re-introduction, then he is probably worth 11 million. If that affect was all him, then folks, we have the best D man that has ever played on our roster.

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