Monday Mailbag – Analytics vs Eyeballs

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Mailbag

It’s Monday, once again, and here we are with another edition of the mailbag.  Each week, I take your questions (email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter) and send them out to our writers for their opinion.  As always, I got a bunch of great questions, but I need questions for next week. If there’s something you want to know just fire me over your question, and I’ll do my best to get it posted ASAP. With that said, here are 3000 words worth of wisdom for you to soak in and enjoy. 

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1) Vetinari asks – With Hendricks, Pakarinen, Caggiula, Fayne, Davidson and Russell out, we’ve seen Pitlick, Slepshev, Nurse, Gryba and Benning step up with some success.  Have any of the call ups displaced any of the opening night roster in your eyes?  Do you think we may see trades when guys move off IR or will we try to slide players through waivers or send down guys who are waiver exempt?

Jason Gregor:

The Oilers haven’t had any depth in years, so this is a good problem. Davidson and Russell will be back in when they return, likely for Gryba and Benning. Hendricks will draw back in, likely for Lander. He can kill penalties, take draws and he’s a better skater than Lander. Pitlick is the one who has earned a spot in the lineup and I don’t see him coming out. Caggiula will need some games in the AHL, but once he is back in game shape I see him coming up because McLellan would still like to try Draisaitl on the wing on the second line. I don’t see Pakarinen or Fayne drawing in regularly unless someone goes into a big funk or is injured.

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Lowetide:

I think Davidson and Russell find their way back into the lineup right away, over Gryba and Benning. I think Edmonton may end up dealing someone, likely a LH (Davidson?) for a RHD. Hendricks probably moves Tyler Pitlick to the pressbox but that isn’t a certainty. Drake Caggiula will end up playing in Edmonton but probably gets some rehab time in Bakersfield.

Jonathan Willis:

I think the three guys who might have been on the outside looking in who have done well for themselves are Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and Eric Gryba. I’d guess as of this writing (Wednesday night) that Pitlick has probably displaced Iiro Pakarinen, though of course the team may never be healthy enough that the coaches have to choose between the two. I also tend to think that Gryba may take Mark Fayne’s slot at the end of the roster, if only because it’s been clear for a while now that the new administration doesn’t really rate Fayne. If everyone gets healthy there could be bad news for Lander, who certainly has his uses but is basically a good No. 13 forward; he’s a logical candidate to go on waivers if space runs out. Having said that, Drake Caggiula should certainly start off in the minors once he gets healthy, so it may never come to that.

Jason Strudwick:

Depth has been an issue for the Oilers. This is a good problem to have. I would expect Hendricks. Russell, Davidson and Nurse to continue to be with the Oilers. Caggiula needs ice time having not played for so long. I think Pitlick will remain with the big club. He has played very well but needs to stay at the same level he is at right now. The rest could end up in the AHL if everyone is healthy at the same time but we all know that is not likely.

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Matt Henderson:

I think Hendricks is probably the one established player who might have lost his long term spot on the team with Pitlick and Lander doing the things they do well. He’ll get his spot back when he’s healthy but now I’m sure they won’t be too worried about moving him. I’m not sold on Benning being ready and I think Edmonton needs a RW who can do more than Slepyshev. I want an upgrade on Russell, but I don’t think an internal option will be enough. 

Robin Brownlee:

Pitlick has done more than enough to stick for now. Gryba isn’t going anywhere. He’s a competent, safe player on the fringe of the roster at reasonable money. Injuries happen, so I don’t see the need to start trading people when/if everybody is healthy. It never stays that way long.

Chris the Intern:

Honestly, this question hurts my brain because I have no idea how to feel. I would love to see half of these guys back in the lineup but why fix something that’s not broken? What an awesome problem to have, though. My guess is that we’ll be sending guys down before trading them.

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Baggedmilk:

I think Hendricks will automatically get back into the lineup when he’s ready, likely at Slepyshev’s expense. I don’t see how Pakarinen gets back into the lineup with the way Pitlick is playing, and I’d bet that Caggiula goes back to Bakersfield for a bit before being recalled. 

2) Shane asks – What are the panels thoughts on Nazem Kadri’s play against Connor McDavid from early in the road trip? From my chair, I thought someone should have leaned on him more. Okay it’s a different league now and you can’t take penalties and Connor has to play through it yadda yadda. Should not the team help get space for Connor?

Jason Gregor:

Leaned on him more for what? He didn’t take any cheap shots. He played him hard, and got away with some borderline plays which weren’t dirty, but more veteran savvy. The bigger issue was when Martin Marincin put him in a headlock and no one did anything. That can’t happen, but teams are allowed to play McDavid hard, and if it isn’t cheap then there is no issue.

Lowetide:

The first problem is the refs. That early penalty in the first (and the OT one) have to be called. Second, the Oilers do have a rugged style and eventually will have to send a message to Kadri via a hit to Matthews (or some such). Vancouver has the same issue. It is a damned waste of good young talent, but if Nazem Kadri is going to take liberties and the refs put away the whistle, hockey players will take care of these things. Same as it ever was.

Jonathan Willis:

Sure, they should try. I just don’t know how effective they will (or for that matter should) be. For the vast majority, if not all, of hockey history star players have had to fight their way through tough checking and whatever physical damage the opposition can land.

Jason Strudwick:

You answered your own question. He will be getting this kind of treatment regularly. That being said someone could have stepped up to challenge Kadri but not the usual guys like Lucic and Maroon. I always got upset when a smurf was running around on the ice and no one else on my team would step up. I was happy to help out with the bigger guys but maybe one of our smaller guys could handle the guy for a change!

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Matt Henderson:

The NHL is a league that regularly allows its best players to be impeded. This is the league McDavid plays in. I bet the next time they play McDavid won’t let Kadri get the best of him in those kinds of scenarios. There isn’t something any other Oiler can do about making McDavid space. He has to make it for himself and he will.

Robin Brownlee:

Yadda Yadda? McDavid has to play through tight checking. He’ll get lots of help if somebody steps over the line. You’d love the play by Kadri if he was wearing an Oilers jersey. Tough hockey, no?

Chris the Intern:

As much as I hate it, Kadri played against McDavid perfectly. He was annoying, rough, and chippy. I would have loved to see someone step up and shut Kadri up though, because his strategy was obviously effective.

Baggedmilk:

I would have liked to see someone like Kassian or Maroon or Nurse get into Kadri’s grill but that never really happened. I know Lucic went over and had a chat with him after the whistle but it didn’t really affect the way he played. Someone needed to grab the guy and feed him fist kisses, or do the same thing he was doing to the Leafs’ good players. Either way works.


3) William asks – Other teams seem to be cutting off McDavid’s space in the neutral zone. What adjustment can Connor make to get himself a little bit of extra time?

Jason Gregor:

He is doing just fine. He creates many top-end chances a game. What he needs to do is start shooting more, but versus the Rangers, a great skating team, he still created a lot. I wouldn’t be worried about McDavid making adjustments. He’s already figured them out. If he doesn’t dominate every game it doesn’t mean he needs to adjust, it just means the NHL is really difficult and even McDavid can’t look two steps ahead of the opposition every night.

Lowetide:

I think the Oilers need to have a second line the other team has to worry over, and also believe Connor can force the issue and create penalties—something he has already done.

Jonathan Willis:

I’m not going to second-guess McDavid’s neutral zone play; the man knows what he’s doing.

Jason Strudwick:

Teams will continue to try and slow Connor down before he gets going. They will take away his time and space by playing very close to him. The challenge for him is to find that open ice. Coming back deeper into his own zone or the neutral zone will help.

Matt Henderson:

I think he needs to get the puck sooner. He has to get it in his own zone or early into the NZ. Teams will cut McDavid off and it will be up to the defense to change their zone exit patterns. That’s a coaching thing. I think that’s something McLellan has to figure out. 

Robin Brownlee:

I don’t see teams cutting off McDavid’s space to any great degree. Speed creates time and space and he’s got plenty of that. He can’t score at a two-point-per-game clip all season.

Chris the Intern:

Connor needs to start the rush from his defensive zone. Having a defenceman break out THEN pass it off to Connor in the neutral zone doesn’t give him enough time to get his rocket skates going.

Baggedmilk:

Welcome to the show, kid! Now that people know just how good Connor is the coverage on him is only going to get tighter and tigther. I can see the Oilers changing their breakout a little bit where Connor comes swooping down by the goal line to pick up speed towards the neutral zone. The key will be to get him the puck as soon as possible and let him do his thing. Another thing that will help Connor is if the other lines can start/continue to provide secondary offense. 

4) Ryan asks – Can we talk about how bad Lucic has been now? I feel like he avoids criticism because he’s the guy Oilers fans have always wanted, but it’s tough to argue that his play hasn’t been abysmal so far this year, minus a couple of games early on. Is this what you expected? What needs to be done to get him going? If he continues as-is, his contract is going to look real bad in a hurry.

Jason Gregor:

What were you expecting him to be? Saying he has been abysmal suggests you wanted him to dominate every game and every shift and produce 70+ points. He isn’t that player. The biggest concern has been the errant passes, likely because he’s trying to hard. Other than that I haven’t seen anything relating to abysmal. I want to see how he plays against the Ducks, Kings and Sharks before I get too concerned with his play. 

Lowetide:

I like much about his game, but his errant passes have been costly. He needs to straighten that out, and maybe try to do less. I am sure he is trying to adjust.

Jonathan Willis:

This is more or less who Lucic is; I’m not seeing a lot of gap between his play over the early season in Edmonton and what I’ve seen of him with other teams. He’s always a useful player, but he isn’t a wrecking ball every night and there are some holes in his game, just as there are in every non-McDavid player on the roster. He’s on pace for 50-odd points, the same number he had in two of the last three years (during which time he played on excellent teams and with excellent centres). As for his contract, I’m really comfortable with it for this season and the two that follow it and it doesn’t get really risky until years six and seven. See this: How is Milan Lucic likely to age over the next seven seasons?

Jason Strudwick:

Yikes! What happened to you today that you are so negative? His stat line looks very respectable to me for a player who is new to a team and getting used to new linemates. I have said since he signed here I wanted to see him with Leon and I have finally gotten that.

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Matt Henderson:

He is the player I expected. I don’t know what other people were thinking they would get with Milan Lucic. I don’t think he’s been bad though. He’s still the third leading scorer on the team (as per time of writing). The crappy part about Lucic is that he was easily replaced offensively by Maroon on the McDavid line. I’m sure we’ll come back to this issue later and I can already anticipate where the comments will be going in that article.

Robin Brownlee:

You can talk about how inconsistent he’s been, sure. That’s a fact. Abysmal? No. You’re ready to bail 15 games into a long-term deal? Interesting.

Chris the Intern:

LOL, Lucic has nine points in 14 games. I wouldn’t call his play abysmal. He’s had a few horrible plays recently, was demoted off McDavid’s line deservedly, but has looked good with Draisaitl so far. Why are we counting him out already?

Baggedmilk:

Lucic is third in team scoring, and on pace for 25ish goals. From where I blog, Lucic is doing pretty much what I expected him to do. Maybe pump the breaks on being too upset, the Looch train ride is just getting started.

5) Sean asks – How can we bridge the gap between analytics and the eyeball test? There are still many arguments over social media about the value of these numbers and I’m wondering why some people seem to be in one camp or the other?

Jason Gregor:

Why are some people Conservative and other Liberal or NDP? They are allowed to have different views. There are people on both sides who don’t fully understand or respect the other, but I’d say they are the minority, but likely the most vocal. I haven’t experienced much argument surrounding it in awhile. I’ve had some good debates over it, but the only ones yelling about it now are those who blindly believe their viewpoint is the only correct one. It is good to question both analytics and the eyeball test, because both can still be subjective and both sides will have a bias, even if they say they don’t, and it’s about trying to avoid the bias when making an assessment on a player. Which is more difficult than many admit.

Lowetide:

There are many things that analytics can teach us, but appropriate social behaviour isn’t one of them. I think people should use analytics as much as they wish, and then share them with others who have a common interest. It is possible to co-exist if mature people use the brains God gave them.

Jonathan Willis:

There are two different cases here: the fan and the professional. In the first case, we’re never going to entirely bridge the gap. Some people don’t care for the numbers (or just don’t want them in this context) and that’s fine. It’s a game; enjoy it however you like. 

In the second case, if you’re in a position where you’re doing this for a living – as pundit, coach, GM or whatever – and you don’t have a decent grasp of both sides, I don’t even know what to say. If you’re running the numbers and not checking them against the video, there’s a massive gap in your knowledge because you don’t understand the inputs. What level of arrogance does it take to assume that your numbers are so good that there’s no need to check them by actually watching the games? On the other hand, if you’re relying solely on your eyeballs to catch everything in a game that has as many moving parts as hockey and you can’t be bothered to even understand the analytics movement, there’s a massive evidence-based conversation that you’re basically not a part of. What level of arrogance does it take to assume that in a league with 1,230 regular season games every year there’s no value in looking at recorded data beyond goals, assists and penalty minutes?

If you’re a fan, do what makes you happy. If you’re a professional, you’re never going to be as good at your job as you could be if you aren’t constantly comparing the two for yourself anyway.

Jason Strudwick:

HA! There is value in both. At this point, I still lean heavily to the eyeball test but this shouldn’t be a real surprise. What I can quickly see with my eyes is something that an analytics person misses. The same goes for the numbers. I can look at the numbers for hours and miss a bunch but a numbers guy will pick out a tonne of info. I now enjoy going back and forth to see what we think the same or the opposite. 

Matt Henderson:

To bridge the gap I would suggest learning as much about the numbers as possible. The fancy stats guys are not advocating the use of numbers only in analysis. They just happen to place importance on things that have proven to be important over and over again. The value of the numbers is not a debate. Analytics won the right to be at the table for conversations about both individual players and teams as a whole. 

Now, people who write about the numbers (myself included) need to make themselves clearer when they write. They need to show that for the most part these numbers are connected to success in ways that make sense to hockey fans (because they do).

Robin Brownlee:

There are arguments — for those who choose to engage in them — over the value of some numbers because there are legitimate questions about the value of some numbers. I don’t lean on advanced stats as much as some people tend to, especially in the short-term, so I don’t get into the two camps thing. From a writing perspective, there are people who incorporate advanced stats almost seamlessly into their copy and are very good at adding clarity in doing so. Others, not so much.

Chris the Intern:

We will never be able to bridge the gap. That’s like asking why the US can’t come to an agreement on gun laws. There will always be stubborn people who believe what they believe and will fight and argue until the end of their lives. It’s human nature.

Baggedmilk:

I think the biggest thing from a fan perspective is just taking the time to educate yourself with what these fancy stats mean. I know for me, personally, I was aprehensive about while I should care about Corsi but once you learn what the numbers mean you can see why they’re important. What I like to do is watch the game and then check the numbers to see if my eyeballs match the numbers. If they don’t, it’s kinda fun to figure out why.


    • S cottV

      Agreed too many low grade shots.

      Oilers need to get way better at working the puck around the perimeter.

      Confuse, tire, and stretch out the defensive alignment and then take it to the net, for higher grade shots at net.

      Drai in particular – needs to get with this program, especially playing with guys like Lucic and Kassian.

      Drai needs to embrace this heavier go, rather than bail on it – with high risk passes and low grade shots.

  • OILFANMEXICO

    Can any of the writers/bloggers/staff on Oliersnation, explain to me why there are no microphones for the media to use to ask Mclelland questions?Even Mclellland can’t hear some of their questions. You can hear the coaches answer questions, but viewers can never hear the friggin’ questions being asked! This day in age you would think there would be a solution.What about a boom microphone like they use on movie sets? Or a microphone like they have on the sidelines at football games(you can hear bone crunching hits 50ft away)?

    • Jason Gregor

      It’s a *^%&*(&^(*^^ joke.

      I’ve asked numerous times and some how in a state-of-the-art arena they can’t produce a wireless mic to pass around when people ask questions. It’s ridiculous.

      • chickenStew

        So who can we as fans (the people who the press conferences are for!) complain to?

        Maybe if a few thousand emails and phone calls got to the right person, we could actually hear something other than,”mumble mumble…?” “Good point! I’d say 2 weeks”.

        • Seanaconda

          Interviews still suck but the on ice mics are pretty decent get to hear more fbombs and words especially from behind the nets than before.

          Really wish they would make an R rated feed with all the players and coaches mic’d up I would pay more for that.

          When they mic up players the only player I’ve seen that they can get alot of soundbites from is kopitar cuz he doesn’t swear.

      • OILFANMEXICO

        Next time you get to talk with Nicholson bring it up. Hopefully he will act on it.I barely watch any pressers now because i have to guess what questions are being asked by the media!

    • Hemmercules

      Thats Sportsnet for ya. They need that extra money to spend on props for Principe’s game intro’s.

      Glad Mclellan finally said something about Ebs. He needs a kick in the ass.

    • Total Points

      I have e-mailed the Oilers a few times about this but they dont seem to care. Hopefully more people will complain and something will be done.

      Very un-professional

  • madjam

    Some of the luster is wearing off/settling in after an early positive start to season . McDavid now does no longer look like a prolific scorer , but more a dynamic play maker or complimentary player – not the triggerman we thought/projected he was going to be . A bonafied triggerman is still lacking on Oiler squad , as we see most other forwards are not doing the job to a high degree . Losing Hall this scenario was foreseeable , as others have truly not fared near as well . Talbot has played well , but can not rely on him to be stellar every night just to procure wins .

    Half to wonder if any of Eberle , Lucic , Hopkins , Draisaitl , etc. might be trade bait in this season if production remains poor . We are getting a fairly good glimpse of areas that still need more improvement player wise . Defence not out of the woods as yet either .
    Intensity of club is okay , they do not suffer from lack of desire .

  • freelancer

    This team is really missing Russell right now. While I can agree he isn’t a long term top 4 option this team has been desperately missing his ability to pass the puck effectively out of the defensive zone.

    • Sal-Sational

      what do you mean.. there is nothing wrong with Ebs. He’s played like this for the past 6 years. The only reason people and media don’t talk about him (and his $6M Salary) is because he’s a good ol Saskatchewan boy and not European.

    • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

      Nothing. He’s the same player he has always been. The team is getting better around him and the dust is settling. People are starting to see what Ebs looks like on a more competitive team.

      Hopefully he get hot and gets traded. Not sure what the solution at RW is going to be though.

  • Oiler Al

    If you are a comedian you tell jokes. If you crunch numbers , you punch out analytics.

    A limited number of fans are into Analytics, others are enjoying the eyeball game.I think its more for coaches,mangers scouts etc and the numbers guys.Wonder how much of a game these guys see, while trying to twirl numbers as the game goes on.

    Why is it that MSM rarely bring up advance stats in game or post game scrums. “hey coach your Corsi sucked tonight”.

    • I remember covering the 2012 World Juniors for The Score, and the best answer I ever got from Team Canada coach Don Hay was in response to a question about Freddie Hamilton.

      Watching the game I’d made a point of tracking matchups, zonestarts and scoring chances, and I noted that Hamilton was starting most of his shifts in the defensive end and playing most of his shifts against the other team’s top line, all while staying in the black chance-wise.

      Anyway, I asked Hay if he could elaborate a little bit on the work Hamilton was doing, since these things were happening, and he just opened up on the player, his role for Canada, and why he was underappreciated relative to some of the bigger names on the roster.

      It’s not about “hey, why did your Corsi suck?” In post-game situations – and this is true at every level I’ve worked, from major tournaments to the AHL – it’s just about using those numbers to get some insight into line performance and the coach’s thinking. It’s just a matter of translating those numbers back into what they mean on the ice before you ask the question.

  • @Hallsy4

    I’ve noticed the same problem in other venues, like during John Gibbons interviews for example I can never hear the question. Maybe it’s intentional, not a shot at anyone but often reporters don’t ask good questions, which would be difficult on the spot, and the interviewee just spouts cliches anyways, not answering said question. Play a hard 20 minutes, my linemates a great players, it’s on us players to perform. It’s bull crap. Say what’s on your mind brother!

  • Oilerchild77

    Finally the coaching staff has noticed how Eberle has pulled his disappearing act again and took him off the top line. It’s about friggin time. I mean he is noticable, but that’s only when he’s losing his man in the d-zone.