Analytics vs. the Rest of the Hockey world

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I have been out of the NHL for three full years now. As a player I never once heard of advanced stats inside our dressing room. A coach never brought it to our attention or discussed it with us individually or as a group. Since then the analytical part of the game has picked up momentum. It is gaining traction and respect throughout the hockey world.

So why does it seem that for many people it is one or the other? Analytics or traditional hockey thinking?

While I was playing in Edmonton, my buddies would send me emails with write ups of what people were writing about my team and my play. They loved seeing the ones that would criticize my play. Sometimes sending the real beauties to me repeatedly! David Staples from the Journal seemed to have the ones they loved the best.

When I played I couldn’t care less about what the mainstream or other types of media would say about me. As a player it is important to block out the noise, both the good and the bad. Mike Keenan once told me a great line: “When you are winning you don’t need the media, when you are losing they can’t help you.” That really stuck with me through my career. Lucky it did because I played through some dark years in Oilers history and the media opened up with both barrels!

Once I retired and got into the media I thought I would start taking a look at what was going on around these types of stats. I checked out different websites to try and understand what it could all mean for the game of hockey. My good buddy Lowetide took time to educate me.

I then heard a guest on his show one day that caught my ear. He was well spoken and made some interesting points about the Oilers. I didn’t agree with everything he said but I did appreciate his approach. Lowetide mentioned his name was Tyler Dellow. I had never heard of him before so I took a look at his website. I would check back every now and then to see what he was putting out there. Interesting stuff.

mchockey

I started to follow him on twitter. WOW. That is when I tuned him out. I never understood his very aggressive style on the twitter platform. What was the goal? I suppose it gets attention and bring him followers. Makes sense to draw people to your website but I was turned off by his us vs. them mentality. I became turned off from all advanced stats.

Last fall in Toronto I was introduced to him at the Oilers/Leafs morning skate. Seemed like a nice guy but he was very nervous. Maybe it was the first time he would meet with the Oilers hockey ops. I wish I would have talked to him more about his research but it didn’t happen. Maybe I would have changed my thoughts on him. Everyone is different in person then behind their computers. Lost opportunity, maybe for us both.

Back Again

Randy Carlyle

It just so happened at the same time I was about to become interested again in advanced stats. It took the team I always disliked as a player the most, the Leafs, to bring me back to them.

I was in Toronto for work most of the fall. I was watching this team nightly. They were doing well but I knew they couldn’t keep it up. There were major holes in their game. I had played against and for teams that were winning games they should be losing.

The analytics world was screaming from every mountain top that the Leafs would start to struggle. They felt looking at their advanced stats that the Leafs would falter. I saw, felt and said the same thing that the Stats groups did. The Leafs couldn’t keep winning games in the same manner all season. I thought they gave up too many very good chances and relied heavily on goaltending.

So here is the stat gang and me arriving at the same conclusion even though we came at it from different perspectives. They from the numbers and me from years of watching and playing the game. This was the moment I started to “trust” what the advanced stats were saying. It wasn’t a eureka moment, but it got me back into looking at these stats.

This all brings me to my point… so if we got to the same place and agreed on the outcome why do we have to argue about how we got there? Why does it have to be either analytics or traditional hockey thought for so many people? One or the other? In the Twitter world it seems like a war. Just doesn’t make sense to me. Why is there an argument about how we come to the same conclusion?

There will always be disagreements on players and teams. It doesn’t matter on the background of two people they can have opposite opinions after watching a game. The part I don’t understand is the hostility that goes back and forth between these two groups. Seems counterproductive.

Now I have been guilty of chirping from the safety of Twitter on occasion as well. I am not perfect here either in this debate, but there has got to be some middle ground.

I had Scott Cullen from TSN on my show a few months back. It was a great discussion! I asked him a lot about the advanced stats he follows closely. I challenged him on some and learnt on many others. I changed my position again on advanced stats after talking with him.

This season will be the first season I plan on looking on a game by game basis at advanced stats for the Oilers. After the game, though! I will do this for a few reasons:

  • 1. I don’t completely trust what the stats say. I want to be able to compile my thoughts on the game and compare.
  • 2. I want to see what the differences are between my notes and the advanced stats. I want to see what the stats and I are seeing differently and try to figure out why.
  • 3. I want to get a clearer idea of which advanced stats I think have legs and which ones are a waste of time.

At the end of the day, I get no enjoyment out of crunching numbers during a game. I do keep track of one stat every game though: Chances for and against. This to me is the most important team stat to track during the season. I have my way of doing it that as a player I used. Not every shot is a chance against and not every missed shot isn’t a chance for.

But by looking at the overall team game I do think individual player’s games can be overlooked. That is why I am circling back to the advanced stats. I have about two months to get right up to speed!

  • Jason Strudwick

    This all brings me to my point… so if we got to the same place and agreed on the outcome why do we have to argue about how we got there? Why does it have to be either analytics or traditional hockey thought for so many people? One or the other? In the Twitter world it seems like a war. Just doesn’t make sense to me. Why is there an argument about how we come to the same conclusion?

    You’re asking the wrong question. It’s when your eyes/experience and the analytics don’t get to the same place that it’s most important to have both. Then you can begin to ask questions and find out what’s really going on.