On Zach Parise, Players Using Analytics, and Healthy Skepticism

There’s a show called Modern Family in which a couple adopts a child named Lilly. The show plays up the little girl’s typical curiosity, as at varying points she’ll go into a phase where she just asks “why” continually until her parents get fed up. For some reason I thought of that while reading this piece by the Star Tribune’s awesome Minnesota Wild columnist Mike Russo this morning. Parise has always been one the players I have most admired because I think he blends the old school abilities to work hard, go to the net, block shots, and play in all situations, with the more new school skills at puck handling, entering the offensive zone with control, and most importantly, scoring goals. I may be Canadian, but even I could appreciate how cool his game tying goal in the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal Game was (and let’s just not forget how that game ended).

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On whether analytics are useful to players

There have been some interesting (let’s be honest, ridiculously annoying) quotes recently on the acceptance of analytics amongst coaches and players. “Of course coaches should use it,” the popular refrain goes, “but I don’t think players themselves can take much use from it directly. Well this interview between FanGraphs and Oakland A’s outfielder Brandon Moss suggests otherwise. Give it a skim and take note of how Moss’ awareness of in what situations and under what conditions he has success influences choices he makes with regards to his technique and strategy. Sure, it’s easy to say that coaches should look at the numbers and then relay general concepts to the players, but with that approach you’re opening yourself up to the same problems in acceptance as you are bringing general concepts to GMs without numbers to back them up.

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On whether descriptive, non-predictive stats really have use

As many of you know, I love reading about baseball and soccer analytics. I think that in baseball’s case, having the “first mover” element means that later-adapting sports like hockey can look to copy many of their concepts and ideas, even if the sports are quite different. Soccer, meanwhile, is quite a similar game to hockey – just a slower version – and therefore many of the more specific practices translate quite well.

Soccer is at an interesting point though because they, unlike baseball, are uncovering new statistics (courtesy of companies like Opta) while also just now figuring out which of those statistics are meaningful. You can get an idea of how far behind analytics in soccer is by the fact that its main predictive statistic: Total Shots Ratio – which is essentially the soccer version of corsi – is actually based on corsi.

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Controlled Situation Corsi: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and the Set Play

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I wrote last week about the Bruins’ struggles following offensive zone faceoff losses. Obviously, Shawn Thornton played a part in that, but a fourth line can only get so much ice time, and obviously there was a bigger issue. When I looked over the numbers from the past few years, it became clear that David Krejci and his linemates, who received a large portion of the offensive zone starts, were hurting the team the most in those situations. Considering Krejci’s new 6 year, $43.5 million contract, and the ongoing debate over whether he or Patrice Bergeron is truly Boston’s number one center, I decided to look briefly (update: not so briefly) at the breakdown of their numbers and where such struggles might be coming from. First of all, here are the numbers.

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On Martin Brodeur, “GOAT”, and Longevity

There was a report published today that the Montreal Canadiens have, or had, or might have had interest in Martin Brodeur as a backup goalie to Carey Price. I’m shady on the details not because I’m journalistically ignorant, but because I don’t care. Brodeur is, frankly, no longer an NHL calibre goalie, the Canadiens are set (or, I guess, already over capacity) in net, and to be quite honest none of this has anything to do with why I’m writing this piece.

I’m writing on Martin Brodeur because Joe Posnanski answered a mailbag question about Derek Jeter today that reminded me of a topic I had been meaning to write about for some time: Longevity.

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On P.K. Subban and the NHL’s Marketing Gaffe

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and the discussion turned to hockey. Now this was somebody who has worked in a professional sports front office in analytics, has met with a number of commentators, coaches, managers, and players in the sports world. It’s safe to say ESPN is glued onto his TV screen for major live sports. The guy knows sports, and he happens to be of a minority group. “The Calgary Flames,” he told me, “were always a team I liked because of Jarome Iginla. He’s great, and he’s black!” “Oh,” somebody else chimed in, “well what about P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens?” “Wait, there’s another black star in the NHL now?” was the response.

I was shocked and yet somehow not surprised.

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On Akim Aliu, Racism, and Character in Hockey

I’ve been reading Gare Joyce’s “Future Greats and Heartbreaks”, a book about a journalist learning the art of scouting, and there have been a number of neat tidbits about the 2006 and 2007 NHL drafts and the junior hockey that was being played at that time. But there was one story that I didn’t find as much neat as I did sad. There’s no secret that there’s a race problem in hockey. It’s no longer hard racism so much as it is soft. White Canadian coaches prefer compliant, dull, white Canadian players, and so when a guy like P.K. Subban –  with a lively personality and something of an ego – comes along, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and words like “enigmatic”, “selfish”, “undisciplined”, and “cocky” get thrown around.

As Joyce travels around the Canadian Hockey League venues, he encounters a draft-eligible prospect by the name of Akim Aliu. As a hockey fan, I remember Aliu as somebody who was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Blackhawks, who briefly played for the Calgary, and just recently played a season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. But it turns out there was a lot more there I had missed.

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