The 2015-2016 NHL season is almost here, and our sport has come upon a new phase — arguably the third — in its analytics progression. The first stage was about broad ideas and testing; I’ll call it the Discovery Phase. It involved public minds brainstorming large-scale ideas about the conventional truisms of the game, looking to prove and disprove that which many had taken for granted. It lent us ideas like the undervaluing of small players and terms like Corsi and PDO. It was revolutionary but not yet a revolution. The second phase was the Recognition Phase, which was kicked off by the Summer of Analytics. Teams began to buy into public work as worthy of investment and began to question their own practices. Now, as we saw it in baseball, a third phase is emerging. One in which much of the public is willing to accept the initially-controversial public ideas, but in which analysts are pushing back on generalities in situations that are often team and player dependent. We are now in a phase where analysts take a magnifying glass to every claim being made. For example, there is no more argument about whether or not Corsi is relevant or important — at least not among those in positions of influence. The question is in what cases it works best, and maybe more importantly, where and why it fails. Because it does, after all. There are players whose finishing abilities, defensive prowess, special teams impact and leadership mean that the value Corsi presents is significantly off base. And it’s important in a billion-dollar industry to figure out how to account for that. The same can be said for any of the metrics that came out of the Discovery Phase or that continue to be developed today.
The point of all this is that we’re at a point where you no longer dismiss the exceptions; you dig into them. There is a lot in the world that can be explained by simple variance, but the game of hockey is far too complicated to assign anything that doesn’t fit a successful model as such.