Strome is back! Two years x $3.1M.
Given the negotiator, that’s a decent number given Strome’s qualifying offer ($3M) and arbitration rights. These days, anything that isn’t a big overpay is a win in Oilersland.
That said, I have a lot of time for Strome. He’s a legitimate NHL player, and his signing helps clarify and solidify the third line while adding a player who has the skill to … on occasion … play higher in the lineup.
One of the interesting characteristics of Strome, though, is that he goes through these flashes that make you think he’s a much better player than he’s shown himself to be. (Arguably, an extended near-season-long streak of that sort fooled the Oilers into thinking Strome was on par with Eberle as a scorer).
It’s kind of funny – I first drafted this article when Strome had just had a really good run, with five goals in five games, leading some to declare that he’d finally arrived as a player. Then he went cold like Newfoundland in June, and the newsworthiness of the article fell. So I put it on hold.
A few weeks later, Strome once again heated up and scored five points in just three games, leading many at that time to similarly ask whether Ryan Strome has finally turned the corner. I started updating the article again.
And then he went cold.
Most recently, I heard a lot of people react to the contract signing by saying things like Strome had “found his game” and “arrived” late in the season. As I’ll show you later, that’s probably not the case. It’s more likely just a(nother) streak.
The season is over and Strome is signed, so dammit, let’s finish this analysis. Is Strome actually streaky? And if so, just how streaky is Ryan Strome?
Stop Making Sense
How streaky is Strome? It’s a surprisingly challenging question to answer.
The reason it’s challenging is that every player has hot and cold streaks, and the nature of those streaks is extremely hard to distinguish from randomness. In fact, for years statisticians argued that “the hot hand” in sports didn’t exist. Just like flipping a coin repeatedly inevitably leads to significant streaks of heads or tails, the points streaks we saw were borne entirely out of randomness.
That idea has been falling out of favour the last while, which makes sense to me – as much as we’re prone to being fooled by randomness, I don’t for a second believe that streaks and trends in human behaviour and performance can be modelled by memoryless coin flips. Coins don’t remember what happened last time, but we do, and it does affect us.
So rather than run run run away … oh oh oh … let’s think about how we might answer the streakiness question.
My plan here isn’t to write an academic paper, but just make a reasonable, understandable, and analytically light-but-sound argument as to the extent of Strome’s streakiness (if you’re really interested in the hardcore stats stuff, here’s a rigorous approach to testing for streakiness, knock yourself out!)
Mr. Connor Sistent
Let’s tackle the problem by starting with the other side of the coin – by looking at the steadiest player we can.
Suppose we had a player that scored just shy of the pace of Ryan Strome over the last couple of seasons (so about 0.4 points per game), but was absolutely not streaky at all. We’ll call this player Connor, last name Sistent.
What I’m going to do is ask you to think about what Connor’s point scoring would look like over time if you put it on a chart.
OK, here’s a visualization of what it pretty much *has* to look like:
Given his total lack of streakiness, Connor’s 0.40 ppg means he’s getting a point every two to three games. In order for this to happen in a non-streaky way, we’d expect to see a couple of things:
- First, as we watchpoints as they occur in games, we’d see a consistent one-on one-off one-on two-off kind of pattern. If the runs of points or not-points get longer than that, we’d accuse Connor of being streaky.
- For that same reason, we’d expect to see few or no games where Connor scores more than one point … after all, if he puts up a two-point game, that means as a 0.4 ppg player, he’d then have to go four or five games without a point to compensate, and then he’s streaking again.
The chart above, from left to right, shows the games that Connor has played. Every time he scores points, we add a bar for that game showing how many points he got. No points, leave that spot blank. A player with no points would have an empty chart. A player who has points every game would have a solid blue mass.
So what we see with Connor’s game is nice, even, steady progress. There are no streaks, which would show as long periods of either blue space or blank space.
In addition to this game track type of chart, let’s count a few key ‘streaky’ items about Connor’s game history as well:
- his longest streak of games where he scores no points
- his longest streak of games where he scores at least a point
- the number of games where he scores more than a single point
The more streaky the player, the higher these numbers will be. Less streaky players will have low(er) numbers. In chart form, Sistent’s chart looks like this:
As with the previous game track chart, this is pretty much what we’d expect. There are no long streaks, and no multi-point games. Connor Sistent is nothing if not … consistent.
Ryan “Yo Yo” Strome
Now, let’s run the same pair of visualizations, but this time for Ryan Strome. (Note: data sourced from hockey-reference.com). Here’s the game track:
Some difference, huh! Visually, lots of runs of blue and lots of gaps suggest Con and Ryan are distant relatives at best.
Of particular interest is the last section of the chart, where you can see a loooooong cold streak, followed by a fairly (for Strome) typical burst of points. That means if you think Strome “arrived” or “found his game” late in the season, you’re almost certainly being fooled by recency bias layered over Strome’s streakiness.
Now here’s the streaky chart:
We’ve got significant hot streaks (up to five straight games with points), some nasty cold streaks (up to 11 games, ouch), and a healthy dose of multi-point games … which is kind of what you’d expect given the length of the cold streaks.
Given that Con Sistent is so consistent, Ryan Strome might want to change his name to Riley Streakye.
But wait! I am forced to point out a fatal flaw in my own argument.
Sure – Strome is streaky compared to Con Sistent. But Con Sistent isn’t a living being. Every player is going to look like Flake City compared to him. What does Strome look like against peers who actually, you know, exist?
To answer that question, I pulled a list of players who’ve scored at a very similar pace (.42 to .44 points per game) and played a similar number of games (about 150) the last two seasons. The screen returned: Zach Hyman, Radek Faksa, Michael Ferland, and Boone Jenner.
Here’s how it looks when you directly compare the game tracks of those players with Strome:
-.– -.– –..
So in the context of living beings, the differences still kind of jump out at you. With the exception of recently traded Michael Ferland (who is in the ballpark), Strome’s combination of bursts and empty spaces is quite noticeable, like he’s communicating to us in Morse Code. “Help me, Mark Messier has my cell number”.
And here’s how the streak tables look in comparison:
As with the game tracks, comparatively you can see that out of this peer group, Strome ranges from a tiny bit to noticeably more streaky. The main thing is that he has more multi-point games than anyone else. Remember – all of these guys score at very similar levels.
That Strome runs unusually hot when he’s on a scoring jag is exactly why people keep getting fooled!
The bottom line as far as Strome is concerned remains the same: yeah, we can be reasonably sure that he’s streaky. The difference isn’t extreme the way it is when compared to the legen (wait for it) dairy perfectly unstreaky player, but Strome is still visibly less consistent than several of his peers.
In other words, now we have a little bit of analytical confirmation – the runs of good play from Strome are not necessarily him “turning the corner”, “arriving”, or “finding his game”. More likely it’s just another hot streak from a player who has been consistently inconsistent and inconsistently consistent over the past two seasons.
It doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player. In fact, if you look at his comparables (in addition to the four I used above, you could roll in other useful NHL players like Ryan Hartman and Nick Bonino Bonino Bonino), it should be clear that Strome is a legitimate NHL player, better than many give him credit for.
And we should not hold the price Chiarelli paid to get him against Strome (or any player for that matter). The trade is done, it’s a sunk cost. Strome is a useful player nonetheless.
Just remember … now that he’s remaining an Oiler, we pretty much have to accept that we’re gonna go streaking with Ryan Strome.