In recent years hockey has lined up in two separate camps, those who believe that what you see is what you get on the ice and those who think there’s a mathematical formula that can explain everything that happens in a hockey game.
The hockey analytics crowd has elbowed it’s way into the picture over the last few years causing many to re-examine the traditional ways the game has been viewed at least on a statistical level. The biggest casualty of hockey’s new math has been the deceptive and now often-ignored plus/minus system which made it’s way into official NHL statistics in the mid ‘60’s.
Toronto and Edmonton are two of the teams that have hired stats gurus to work directly with their front office. In Toronto’s case, president Brendan Shanahan fired two respected assistant GM’s (Dave Poulin & Claude Loiselle) and replaced them with stats man Kyle Dubas who comes to the NHL directly out of Sault Ste. Marie in junior hockey.
And the Canadiens stance on the subject? Nothing but silence, but it’s hard to believe that a front office as thorough as the Habs have been the last two years; one that includes Marc Bergevin, Rick Dudley, Scott Mellanby and Larry Carriere is ignoring the subject. They can’t afford to.
Over the last five months the Canadiens signed or traded for Dale Weise, Mike Weaver, Tom Gilbert and Manny Malhotra. Each can be classified as important under-the-radar, salary cap friendly veteran acquisitions that will fill 20 percent of Habs 2014-2015 roster. Every one of them was highly regarded by the stats crowd. No doubt scouting played a major role as it should but it would be folly to ignore any available backup information. Statistics don’t say anything about a player’s character. work ethic or leadership qualities but they are piece of the puzzle and it’s information that today’s general manager has to have to stay competitive.
The cornerstone of most of hockey analytics are the computerized statistics produced by the league itself; faceoff locations, faceoff wins, on-ice presence, hits, turnovers and so on. Advanced statistics has simply taken the statistics to another level and they continue to be expanded to the point where even an Albert Einstein’s eyes might tend to glaze under the sheer numbers volume. It takes a special mind to even want to take in all of the information now available. Hence the recent front office number cruncher hirings.
It’s generally accepted that the birth of statistical explosion came with the so-called Corsi Numbers, started by goaltending coach Jim Corsi while in Buffalo. The Corsi Numbers are based on the theory that puck possession is the key to winning games on a regular basis. Using only 5-0n-5 statistics, the numbers have proven that if one team consistently has the puck more than it’s opponent it’s chances of winning rise considerably. For the fan who has trouble balancing his bankbook let along reading a analytic readout, things are confused by the nuance in the numbers. There are not only individual Corsi Numbers but Team Corsi’s, enhanced Corsi’s and on and on to the point of distraction.
One of the flaws in the system is the subjectivity of the information. The Corsi’s are based on information collected in the official NHL game statistics. A turnover or giveaway at the Bell Centre may not be viewed the same way at Madison Square Garden or the Air Canada Centre.
Something to consider if you’re a member of the old school and have trouble accepting the new wave – of the four teams in the Stanley Cup semi-finals this year…three finished in the top 6 in Team Corsi stats. LA and Chicago were number one and number two….the Rangers number 6. The Canadiens were the outliers at 26th. During the regular season, 11 of 14 non-playoff teams had negative Corsi ratings.
It won’t be long until the NHL starts to include the Corsi Numbers or a semblance of them in their nightly statistics probably as a replacement for the outdated plus/minus figures. The league is already moving to put some kind of copyright protection on the way the stats gurus are using their statistics. How far they go with enforcement will be a question.
Meanwhile nothing stops progress. Already there are local sites breaking down game telecasts. Montrealer’s Christopher Boucher in English and Olivier Bouchard in French have been doing some fascinating work on the Canadiens in that regard over the last four or five years.
And before long the computer age will take things to an even higher level. Already there are computer programs being built that will break down every move with and away from the puck.
If want to dig into the world of enhanced statistics, click on behindthenet.ca. Good luck. There is such a thing as too much information but you’ll never convince the analytics crowd and an ever growing roster of hockey GM’s of that.