Sam Page has been doing a great series at SI.com on reconciling the views of the analytics community with conventional opinions on players based on the eye test. Most recently, he took a look at Shea Weber, a polarizing figure among analysts because of his mediocre possession numbers.
Read the piece, because Sam does a great job of breaking down film and coming up with potential explanations for these discrepancies, and the differences between the Weber/Suter and Weber/Josi pairings. His analysis, though, reminded me of a bigger issue surrounding the use of such stats that is important to remember: While these statistics are useful because they are shown to be repeatable and predictive, they are still situation-dependent. As an example, it is tempting to look at With or Without You (WOWY) statistics and use it to say point blank that one player is driving the play and the other reaps the benefits. But the fact is, certain players have skillsets that complement specific other players, and sometimes it’s just about finding the right combinations, the right systems, and the right situations for players.
So what is the important takeaway from all this (other than the fact that a top puck-moving defenseman would sure help the Preds)? Well as a general manager, it’s not just as simple as picking out the players with the best past possession numbers and signing them. In order to ensure that those numbers remain positive in your organization, you need to ensure that said player is a fit in the system, and that you have linemates who can complement their abilities. Every year we see players with supposedly good possession numbers fail to live up to the hype on new teams. Sure, there’s a luck component involved, but a lot of it is a failure to properly evaluate a player’s skillset. As with everything else in hockey, there’s nuance. It’s important to remember that.