AP Hockey Story of the Day: June 16 – FC Barcelona and the Benefits of Culture

Great piece in Harvard Business Review about FC Barcelona, who recently won soccer’s prestigious treble, and the way in which they attract players. In hockey, teams talk about “instilling a culture” or “fostering a winning culture” a lot, but it’s not usually specific beyond that. The Bruins, with their smashmouth play over the past decade are probably the closest recent example of a team searching for a specific kind of player and intimidating opposing teams with a specific identity, and obviously the Broad Street Bullies are an older illustration of this. Barcelona is successful because it is rich, but also because it has always been a team built on skill above all else, so skillful players want to play there, good players want to play there, and because of the success of La Masia, the team’s academy, kids want to play there as well. Coaches and players come and go, but the fans know what to expect, and they feel that something is special to them. It brings the best out in the team, and ultimately leads to success.

It is something that, depending on where I was in a rebuilding cycle, I might look to establish if I were an NHL team executive.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: March 16 – Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

For those of you that have been following me for a while, you’ll know that I don’t throw around the term “must-read” every day. I reserve it for an article that I truly feel every person with an interest in hockey, sports, analytics — whatever it may be — has to take a look at. Take my word for it, therefore, that when I classify an article as one of the top 10 I’ve ever read, I’m not exaggerating. I would produce a list if necessary. This recent piece by Joel Achenbach is absolutely in my top 10. It is a great read on the scientific process, but it can be applied to analytics and sports and really any aspect of life.

Here are just a few excerpts from the masterpiece. It’s not too hard to draw the necessary inferences when it comes to hockey analytics.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: March 4 – On the Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant and the Human Element

I’ve written about the Cubs and their growing use of analytics before at this blog, and while I thought I had, it turns out I haven’t explicitly written about the Houston Astros and their extreme uses of analytics – in essence, treating their players as exclusively products and maximizing assets without regard for morale and the slippery slope that can result from that – but others have, so I would direct you here and here if you’re not sure what this paragraph is in reference to.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: February 15 – Appreciating a Great Blog

Stefan Wolejszo over the past year has written at a compelling blog called “Integrating Hockey Analysis”. With a background in analyzing both qualitative and quantitative variables, and research and expertise in sociology, Stefan made some very intriguing points on how to avoid the heated analyst/purist debate that has permeated the blogosphere and Twitter over the past few years. He has also done a great job of describing ways in which a team could incorporate analysis of latent variables (often referred to as intangibles) into evaluation of players and teams.

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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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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.

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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