DC Hockey Analytics Conference Presentations

Thank you to all who attended the DC Hockey Analytics Conference (#DCHAC) and watched via livestream. While there were some technical difficulties that prevented us from recording all of the presentations, we did manage to salvage a good portion of them. Here they are, as well as all of the slides.

Arik Parnass – Opening Comments & Introduction to Analytics

Slides: Intro to Analytics

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Zero to One: Why Attachment to Competition Hurts NHL Clubs

When Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palentir and the first outside investor in Facebook, conducts interviews, he always asks one very difficult question.

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

I’ll wait while you struggle to find an answer that suits you individually….no go ahead….okay maybe table that for later. While straightforward, it’s an incredibly difficult question both because most of the knowledge we accumulate – particularly when it comes to conventional education – is widely agreed upon, and because in an interview setting, answering it inherently involves voicing an opinion that the interviewer doesn’t share. It takes courage, and courage is something that Thiel feels is lacking.

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The Deleted Section From My NHL.com Long Read

On Sunday, the NHL’s website published my long read on the place of analytics in hockey and why they are so critical. As you know if you read it, it contained a lot of material, and good for you if you managed to understand it all. It was the product of months of revising and editing, and in the end a complete section needed to be cut. I made the decision to cut that section – which focussed on evaluating defense – in order to add substance to the other sections, and because I didn’t think it entirely fit. Here is that section:

EVALUATING DEFENSE WITH ANALYTICS

Evaluating defense is an area in which analytical findings have helped to shape perception. Conventional analysis dictates that the best players at preventing goals do so through proper positioning, good stick-work, blocking shots and hitting the opposition. Those things can be important when the other team has the puck, of course, but they don’t paint a full picture of a player’s effectiveness at preventing goals.

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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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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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On Russell Martin and the Differences Between Evaluating Baseball and Hockey Contracts

Today, the Toronto Blue Jays signed Canadian Catcher Russell Martin to a huge 5 year, $82 million contract. I’m no expert on baseball analytics, but I know enough to be able to find concepts to apply to hockey where possible. I have, however, seen many people making fun of this as a massive overpayment. They’ve called it “McCann Money” with the implication being that Martin is by no means the player that Brian McCann is. Now I don’t know how big the gap between the two players is, and frankly I don’t have the time nor the will to find out, but there is one factor fans – especially those who primarily follow hockey and thus appear on my feed – may not be taking into account that I’d like to address.

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Reconciling Analytics With Intangibles No Simple Matter: On Michel Therrien and NHL Coaching

My story of the day from yesterday turned into a more extended column, so I decided to post it this morning.

There has always been a conflict between the values of analytically inclined hockey people (let’s call them analysts) and old-school minds (purists). I’ve written before about how my experiences have allowed me to gain some insight into both schools of thought, and in many ways fuse them into my views on the sport, but I wanted to bring up a couple of issues with regards to the questions surrounding Michel Therrien and his coaching following an absolute drubbing — both in terms of possession numbers and the score — at the hands of the Calgary Flames. Friend of the blog Andrew Berkshire wrote a great recap of the game and criticized Therrien for the team’s possession struggles, which is justified. But some other analysts tend to simplify the game down to a variety of semi-predictive statistics without considering other circumstances. I wanted to use this situation to share some more general thoughts on the use of analytics.

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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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