Analytics – TheOilKnight.ca
 

Analytics

I am not a fan of analytics – at all. There I said it. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. When I say analytics I specifically means fancystats in hockey. Do I have time for someone who wants to have an intelligent conversation about certain fancystats while acknowledging it still requires the balancing of the visual analysis also? Absolutely, if it is someone I respect.

However, if your only angle into a hockey conversation is by throwing math equations around to pretend you are smarter than everyone else then you can kindly show yourself out. Hockey is not math, hockey players are not robots and being able to point to a couple of insignificant stats carefully formulated to try and gauge an ever changing game full of coincidences, just proves you are incapable of objective analysis. In fact, reaffirming your position by one-upping a rebuttal with even more cherrypicked stats does nothing to sway me either if you can’t give me an accurate visual description to match your argument. It is like doubling down with a pair of sixes. Maybe you should re-think your strategy.

When it comes to fancystats, you can have all the puck possession, Corsi & Fenwick percentages that you want. I don’t care if your zone entries are 100% every game.  If my team scores more goals than yours – I win. If my team gets to the slot more and gets more Grade A chances consistently than yours – I’m going to win more than you. I don’t need some magic formula to illustrate my point. Hockey is not that complicated – people are. NHL outcomes are determined by goals for and against. Goals win games more than any other statistic I know. The best way to score? The more high quality chances you get the better your odds. The more high quality chances you prevent the better chance you have of not giving up five. It’s not rocket science. What you do when you get into the opponent’s zone and what the opponent does in yours determines the outcome of the game. It’s called Offensive and Defensive execution. Everything else is secondary and pales in comparison to execution. It’s like throwing for 400 yards and dominating time of possession in football but not scoring a TD. Or getting dominated all game but your Red zone defense holds. If you don’t capitalize on your chances you’ll end up being the Los Angeles Kings of this season. #1 in league in Corsi for 2016-17 but #21 in GF% (according to puckalytics.com) and didn’t make playoffs. That’s about the extent of my appreciation for analytics in hockey.

Now, you will and probably already have come across some very rude and condescending people who are convinced they are practically solving world hunger while re-inventing the wheel at the same time with analytics. Pay no heed to these attention seekers. They like to go on social media to try and prove how much smarter they are than everyone else about hockey by degrading players they feel don’t help fit their narrative of effective hockey. I cannot begin to comprehend the arrogance of these “experts” who think they can unequivocally declare they can predict outcomes without fail. Or can sum up all that is a hockey player by his Corsi or Fenwick adjusted which are just made up stats by their predecessors to begin with.

If that were true, then coaches would be irrelevant. Just install iPads into the boards it will tell the players who needs to go out in which situations. Heck, the games could also just be simulated no need to even risk injury. GM’s could just punch a name into a computer and it will spit out potential trades that will be approved by the analytical society instantaneously. 100+ years of hockey can all be summed up in one sophisticated program, created & re-distributed by people who never played the game a day in their lives. I joke but that is where it seems this is all headed. Pro-analytics people won’t stop until they can successfully predict with as close to 100% accuracy as possible all that is the game of hockey. You’ll have geniuses that will develop a program that will successfully predict the Stanley Cup finalists one year and it’ll explode only to suffer an “off year” the following year when the ‘human factor’ in hockey messes up their algorithm.

Predictive analytics typically try to assign a probability or score to something or someone. This constant need to assign the most inconsequential stats to hockey players in order to rate them baffles me but for those interested in trying to successfully predict who could potentially be a solid acquisition for their team I can understand the appeal it may have. Of course, one could also do so by visually scouting the player but it’s a big league and it’s hard to focus on one player all the time – I get it. What I don’t get is the constant need to push back against those who “see him good” without any visual reassurance just a couple of cherrypicked stats pawned off as “evidence” or “facts”. If you are going to use analytics for your argument, shouldn’t you use ALL of them at once to form your opinion not just a couple to suit your narrative? Regardless, they are obviously going to be around for awhile and I’m sure they can be somewhat helpful for coaches and GM’s when making decisions, to what degree is debatable. As an Oiler fan, if I can reach common ground with people that like Analytics yet still find balance with what their visual analysis tells them then all the more merrier.

I personally think it is all pretty much a waste of time and is sucking the life out of the game but hey, whatever floats your boat.

 

**Updated** Now that highly respected Rob Vollman recently came out and stated  that analytics can only predict about 36% of outcomes and has it’s limitations, not only has it re-affirmed my point but also sent the faux-analytic experts into tailspin. Maybe you need to watch the games after all. Gee, what a concept.

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