Hockey “Anal”ytics By Greg Moshopoulos
As we head into fall, and preseason hockey is upon us, the most controversial topic across the hockey world has been the adaptation of analytics and the factor it has on the NHL.
This off-season has been widely known as the ‘summer of analytics’ in the NHL with several teams hiring these ‘experts’ onto their payroll. The Maple Leafs hired 28-year old Kyle Dubas to be their assistant GM after showing success at the junior hockey level using his strategy. Recently, the Edmonton Oilers hired Tyler Dellow to be at the forefront of their hockey analytics trend. It has gotten so absurd that the Devils hired professional poker player Sunny Mehta to head their analytics department.
The general gist of this ‘new’ thinking is based on the belief that if you possess the puck more frequently than your opponent, you’re more likely to win. Ok… now how many of you just facepalmed yourselves? Be honest…. That’s the equivalent of telling an NFL team to keep your defense off the field and don’t turn the ball over. Gee thanks, that was a real futuristic approach.
There are so many things wrong with their breakdown of each player and I could keep you occupied for weeks pointing them out, but I’ll just cite a few examples:
New York Rangers If any of you watched the post-season, you can understand the frustrations of Rangers fans with Brad Richards and Rich Nash. The two highest paid players on the team would routinely make awful decisions with the puck and fail to capitalize on prime scoring chances when they had them. But guess what??….according to hockey analytics, they were the best players on the team. That’s not a joke. Mats Zuccarello on the other hand who often spear-headed their offensive attack with aggressive forechecking and deft puck possession, was ranked 7th.
Nashville Predators I think everyone in Smashville would agree that the acquisitions of Filip Forsberg and fellow Swede Calle Jarnkrok were nothing short of outstanding and have people in Music City excited. Jarnkrok scored 9 points in 6 games for Milwaukee, then continued that momentum by tallying 9 points in 12 games with the Preds. Forsberg saw limited action early in the season as a 19-year old and had 5 points in 13 games with the big club under coach Barry Trotz’s stifling style of defensive hockey. How did they rank under the watchful eye of the analytics guys? Forsberg was ranked 20th on the team in Corsi rating and Jarnkrok ranked 21st. TWENTY-FIRST!….behind the likes of Patrick Eaves and Rich Clune. Did I miss something?
Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk. Not much else to say about the Russian that makes opposing players wish they had an extra set of eyes. Surely he’s the best player on the Wings by a longshot. Except the fact he ranked ELEVENTH on his own team in Corsi rating, behind future Hall of Fame nominees Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith and Drew Miller. Are you confused yet?
San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton gets a bad rap for failed playoff performances, but nobody can doubt what he does during the regular season, right? I mean the guy only leads his team in points every year and is consistently one of the league leaders in assists. So Corsi can’t POSSIBLY screw a resume like that up, right? Well, I wouldn’t have brought him up if that was true…. FOURTEENTH on his own team. But I’m sure they were thrilled with Tyler Kennedy who ranked 5th in Corsi while mustering up 17 points and a -10 on one of the best teams in the west. By comparison, Thornton collected 76 points and was a +20 last season.
The stat buffs argue that the best teams in the league have the most players at the top of their ratings. This is flavor of the month club stuff as far as I’m concerned. Does anybody remember how ‘revolutionary’ the ‘wildcat’ was in the NFL not long ago? Just about every team implemented that into their playbook after watching the Dolphins utilize it. It didn’t take long for people to catch on that this wasn’t a new scheme, but rather a recycled version of the ‘single wing’ from the 1930’s. My point is if you watch the games, you know who’s doing their job and who isn’t.
You can call me crazy, closed-minded, think I’m being old-school (I’m 36) or whatever insult you want to throw at me. I’ve never heard a player say they are really concentrating on possessing the puck longer to improve their Corsi. Bottom line….you don’t need ‘anal’ytics to run a successful franchise. You need depth up front, a solid blue-line, and a goaltender who can get hot at the right time. If you look at any team that’s etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, that is the common thread you will find.