We’re just 10 days into June, but you know Edmonton Oilers’ fans are going through hockey withdrawal, and rightfully so, when the signing of a fringe player like Devin Shore generates the kind of heat it has since he inked a two-year deal with an $850,000 AAV yesterday. Thank goodness there’s another fix ready to go today with Connor McDavid being named a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist.
As is often the case, the analytics crowd has been vocal in the Shore debate. The numbers tell them GM Ken Holland could have rolled dice to come up with a player better suited to improve the team’s bottom-six forwards than Shore. He takes an ass-kicking in the metrics they’re using. Their numbers, after all, tell the whole story. There is no room for context. This scenario isn’t just about Shore — we get the same analytics saw-off with a lot of players, like Tyson Barrie right now, but I digress. A sample or two from the Twitterverse:
You mean this guy? 5.16 GA/60 in the playoffs guy? Come on Dusty. pic.twitter.com/VPjdojjuwW
— Aditya 🐉 (@NorthernWyvern) June 9, 2021
Imagine if our MSM had two brain cells to rub together. Or critically spoke out about useless signings. Or wanted to see the team improve after being the worst 5v5 team outside of 97/29.
— Jamie Wright (@JamieWrightO3) June 10, 2021
Of course, there was some pushback by those on the other end of the spectrum — those who have no use for analytics, or at least the, “If you disagree with my numbers, you’re wrong” way in which they are often delivered. It’s the “watch the games, nerd” crowd. There’s no real meaningful debate to be had with those dug into this position either.
The analytics hockey community is the worst. I’m willing to bet 95% of them have never even played the game at a competitive level themselves, so they don’t understand that hockey is a fluid game and can’t be measured by graphs and spreadsheets. Hockey is NOT baseball
— Matt Jones 🇨🇦 (@jonesymatt60) June 10, 2021
THE MIDDLE GROUND
I’m not an analytics guy — stunner, I know. I often check analytics sites to make sure I’m not being fooled by what I see, which has happened a time or two over the years. Advanced stats, when taken in overall context, can be a valuable tool. My biggest problem with analytics isn’t the numbers, it’s the “there’s zero room for dispute” stance too often taken by those who present them. The eyeball-only crowd can be equally obstinate. That’s why you get so much heat over a relatively minor signing like Shore.
One of the people I try to reference when I’m looking for a better command of meaningful advanced stats than I have in concert with common sense and a feel for the game is Darcy McLeod, known as Woodguy on Twitter and elsewhere. For me, Woodguy represents a middle ground that too often escapes those in both camps. On the Shore signing, he tweeted:
Final 5 team's 5v5 goal share for their bottom 6 this season:
Wanting EDM to upgrade their bottom 6 shouldn't be a controversial opinion.
Its not "analytics thinking", its goals and winning thinking.
— Woodguy (@Woodguy55) June 10, 2021
The Oilers need to significantly improve their 5×5 goal share, which has been horrid in the bottom six. Of that, there is no debate. Anybody who watches the game and adds up the numbers can see that. I don’t think Shore, or any single player in the 12th or 13th spot on the roster, is going to move the needle in a meaningful way on his own. I can’t believe Holland is oblivious to that. His deficiencies duly noted, Shore has shown he can be useful, notably on the PK.
Is Holland’s staff running numbers not being used on popular analytics websites? I don’t know. Do they see something in Shore you and I don’t, something that isn’t necessarily measurable by any metric they don’t mind paying $100K over the NHL minimum for? I’m guessing they do. I’m not inclined to believe that Holland cut a deck of cards to decide whether or not to sign Shore or just decided, “Why the hell not?”
This is a first move, not a last move, to address a legitimate flaw. There is more to come — there has to be. I don’t love the re-signing of Shore. I don’t hate it either. With Holland finally having some cap space to work with, I’m willing to wait and see how the bigger picture unfolds — no matter what the numbers or my eyeballs tell me today about the signing of one player.
Now, what about McDavid and the Hart . . .?