AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 14 – On Organizational Structure, Tough Decisions, and the Southampton Way

Jacob Steinberg had a great piece in the Guardian on how top soccer teams approach managerial hirings. Lifespans for coaches these days in any sport are short, so it’s always worth having contingency plans, and finding ways to promote continuity even amongst change. Steinberg highlights the case of Southampton, where the club fired Nigel Adkins in mid-season following consecutive years of promotion and a gutsy come-from-behind draw against Chelsea. There was an uproar, but the team’s executives recognized a situation where a coach had done great things, but had brought them just about as far as he could, and where a different voice was needed to take them to the next level: enter Mauricio Pochettino. After an impressive eighth place finish, the Argentine left for Tottenham, and Southampton was prepared for that as well, with a profile in mind for the type of manager it knew it needed. Now, the low-budget Reds sit in fourth place in the top soccer league in the world; crazy things happen in european football.

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What’s Up With the Minnesota Wild?

Analysts love to credit the Chicago Blackhawks for using analytics to survive the hardship of remaining competitive in a salary cap world. Purists prefer to blame analytics for the failures of the Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Somewhere in the middle there is the Minnesota Wild, a team that willingly acknowledged its efforts to change from a trapping, dump-and-chase behemoth to a speedy carry-in assault, building on the principles of Eric Tulsky and others, who found that controlled entries on average lead to twice as many shot attempts as purposeful dump-ins.

The Wild are a curious case because last year, they started out as an analytic darling, with some of the best possession numbers in the league. But then some of the team’s core players got hurt, and in order to survive with a roster filled with replacements, the aggressiveness had to be abandoned – or at least put to one side – and the possession numbers, unsurprisingly, tumbled.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 2 – The Blackhawks Need to Get Creative

Jonathan Willis has a great piece at Bleacher Report today about the Chicago Blackhawks and the tough situation in which they find themselves following long extensions to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, a number of other wealthy contracts, and the fact that the salary cap is unlikely to rise as much as originally hoped. This type of situation is, of course, the result of success, as GM Stan Bowman has had to pay his players high salaries thanks to the free agent demand for players who are well-developed, put in appropriate roles, and showcase their talents in the playoffs.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: December 30 – Maximizing the Eye Test

The NBA’s Detroit Pistons are increasing their professional scouting abilities by deploying four full-time pro scouts to different parts of the country. They file thousands of reports on players, so that when a move needs to be made, or even just when scouting the opposition, the GM or Head Coach can simply pull up recent reports on players or teams. Some will say that too many scouts can be a bad thing in terms of communication, but I don’t think any team has reached the point where that would be a concern. What this is really doing is maximizing the eye test. There is a recognition that the metrics we have to measure things are far from perfect (even more so in hockey), but rather than combine them with occasional viewings or going off of reputation, you can employ scouts to watch virtually every game. It’s a system that makes a lot of sense and one that NHL teams with the means should immediately explore.

On the Legacies of Marc Trestman and Phil Emery

A large feature of analytics is a focus on process. It involves dissecting the thinking behind decisions more than the decisions themselves, since there is so much variance involved in outcomes. There are so few large decisions that ever come our way, and by evaluating process you can filter out that variance. One of the problems with fans assessing coaches and general managers is that we either judge based on outcomes – which is faulty because of the impact of that variance – or we attempt to get inside the heads of people whom we likely have never met, and whom all we have to go on is decisions themselves, media reports, and press conferences.

The Bears today fired Head Coach Marc Trestman after a very disappointing 5-11 season marred by locker room controversies after coming into the season with Super Bowl aspirations. General Manager Phil Emery was also let go, the man who had hired Trestman two seasons ago. The decisions were completely defensible. For a team with this much talent to perform so poorly was simply unacceptable, and there wasn’t anything to suggest a turnaround for next season in the last few pitiful weeks of the season.

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The Top 10 Bruce Springsteen Songs

When I started this blog, I made sure to apologize for the fact that there would be some non-hockey/non-analytics/non-sports content, and I’ve realized lately that I haven’t followed through on…you know…what I apologized for. It’s a well-known fact that many sportswriters like Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know why this is other than to say he’s amazing, so I’m not sure why everybody doesn’t. I’ve had the opportunity to attend one full Springsteen concert (3h45 mins in length) and he’s simply the best there is live. But even beyond that, his imagery and lyrical abilities are both excellent, and having read his biography I can tell you that there are a lot of fascinating stories behind the music he’s written that make me appreciate him even more as an artist. With that, for those interested, here are my picks for the Top 10 Springsteen songs. These are objectively correct and beyond reproach, but feel free to comment/tweet your own faves so that I can tell you whether or not they are acceptable choices.

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On Changing Environments and Sample Size

Micah Blake McCurdy (a good follow on Twitter here) has been posting division projections for most of the season, and today he explained how his model works in more detail. While his work doesn’t account for injuries, goaltending, special teams, or shot quality, I still think it’s one of the better projection models I’ve seen and is certainly useful. After all, he’s proven it works pretty well using past seasons. The most interesting passage from the article (read here) though for me was this:

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: December 16 – Might four-man defensive units work?

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings, who recently fired their head coach despite a not-horrific start by their standards, are rumored to be looking to try a new system that, were it successful, could completely change the sport’s dynamic. You can read about it here, but essentially the Kings are looking to play a four-man zone-style defense, which would involve one player consistently focusing on offense – a cherry-picker, if you will. Now as the article points out, the reality of the situation may mean a 5-man defensive unit but one man designated as a breakout player who immediately sprints up court whenever the opposition takes a shot. It’s a very interesting idea and it should be noted that this isn’t the first time the Kings have done something innovative.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: December 9 – Birnbaum, Tango, and Shot Quality Revisited Again Again

Phil Birnbaum, who is one of the great non-hockey analytics writers out there, has taken a number of stabs at the shot quality question in hockey over the last couple of years, and today weighed in on the Tom Tango controversy.

The issue – whether to weight goals significantly higher than other shots in corsi analysis – is one I’ve stayed relatively quiet on, and that’s simply because like any good jury, I want to see all the evidence presented before coming to a decision. We’re still not at the point where I’m totally confident evaluating the worth of Tango’s statistic, or the merits of shot quality overall, but I think that’s partially because the answer depends on the question we’re trying to answer. Does shot quality matter? Absolutely. Does it render large sample shot differential metrics useless? Nope. Can it be used to improve on what we have? I think it can. As Birnbaum has often pointed out, we know that shot quality impacts shooting percentages because we see it in score effects. Is it possible a team could play a system in which they more resembled a team down a goal than a team in a tied state, thus impacting shot differentials and shooting percentages? It’s possible, although it’s important to note that there are psychological factors involved in score effects, as well as the other team playing a certain way. It’s not just one team that impacts it. It also seems quite plausible that teams make the conscious choice to forego shot attempts in order to try for better shots. I think the Ducks are a team that have done this the past couple of years, and the Leafs may be as well. Those changes aren’t enough to impact the idea league-wide that more shots = more goals, but on a team level it could. This is where the sniff test comes into play. We may not have the statistics to prove such decision-making exists, but that just means we have to try harder to find them.

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