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Player Profile – Ryan Getzlaf

The case of Ryan Getzlaf is interesting in this sense: he’s one of very few players who can put up elite point totals every year without a lot of goal scoring. Here’s what I mean.

 

  • From 2007-2013, there were 99 players in the NHL that played at least 5000 5v5 minutes. Getzlaf finished 91st among these 99 players in goals/60 minutes. That puts him behind players like Steve Ott and Dainius Zubrus. Of course, his assists totals are so elite (8th out of 99) that he ranks 38th in points/60 minutes on this list.
  • Despite a solid 5v5 total, Getzlaf makes his hay on the power play: there were 90 players over that same time frame that had 1000 minutes on a 5v4 power play. Of those 90 players, Getzlaf was fifth in points/60 minutes, ahead of guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. That’s a bit ridiculous.
  • These numbers, plus his great season so far this year, have helped Getzlaf be only one of 11 players with at least 480 points since 2007 and he actually has a better points/game rate than Joe Thornton and Daniel Sedin over that stretch.

 

In short,

Best hairline in hockey. (Getzlaf, C-ANA)

Best hairline in hockey. (Getzlaf, C-ANA)

for several years now, Getzlaf has been pretty good at 5v5 and elite on the power play. This has helped cement him as one of the top players in the NHL.

 

There are two common criticisms of Getzlaf that have pretty big fantasy implications:

 

  • He doesn’t score often enough.
  • He has Corey Perry finishing his passes which inflates his point totals.

 

Let’s start with the goals.

 

It may shock some people but in full NHL seasons (i.e. excluding the lockout-shortened season), Getzlaf has as many 20 goal seasons as not. In fact, if you pro-rate each of his seasons to an 82-game pace, the only season where Getzlaf wouldn’t have cracked 20 goals is 2011-2012, which was his worst season in the NHL since his rookie year of 2005-2006, posting 11 goals and 57 points in 82 games.

 

Despite the reputation, Getzlaf is an established 20 goal scorer. That might not seem impressive, but since 2007, Getzlaf is at 0.30 goals/game which puts him 42nd among players with at least 400 games played and there’s 130 of them. He’s not going to post elite goal scoring totals, but he’s not the black hole he’s made out to be sometimes.

 

Also, it should be noted that Getzlaf realizes that the best use of his talents is probably making other people around him better and that helps the team more than his goal scoring. He can score when he wants to: in the four seasons where he’s averaged at least 2.4 shots/game, he’s scored at least 24 goals. In every other season, it’s under 20 goals.

 

Of course, “making players better” can be a bit subjective. If it weren’t for this list of course. That link is Getzlaf’s Without/With you numbers from 2007-2012. The names he’s played the most with – by that I mean at least 900 minutes – include Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Francois Beauchemin, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Kunitz, Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, Cam Fowler.

 

The only teammate on that list of Getzlaf’s who had both their CorsiFor% and GoalsFor% drop when not playing with Getzlaf was Beauchemin, and his CorsiFor% dropped over five percent while his GoalsFor% rate remained constant. Getzlaf’s GoalsFor% without Beauchemin skyrocketed from 44% to 58.1%.

 

To a man, every one of Getzlaf’s teammates have been much better with him than without him. He can score goals, sure, but he doesn’t need to. And the numbers are there to prove it.

 

So maybe when he’s not with some of those teammates, he’s just riding the shooting of Corey Perry, right?

 

This is certainly possible. From 2008-2013, Getzlaf and Perry were pretty much as bad without each other as the other player was. So while it’s fair to say that Getzlaf wouldn’t have as much success were it not for Corey Perry, it’s also fair to say the same about Perry with regards to Getzlaf. Of course, there is a small sample size to worry about as over the course of that time, Getzlaf essentially only played about a half season’s worth of five on five time away from Perry.

 

That’s not a terrible thing either. These are two guys who have developed an incredible level of chemistry together through several years of hockey together.

 

It should be noted that back in 2007-2008, Getzlaf went on a hot streak away from Perry so if you go back another year, the evidence tips in Getzlaf’s favor even more. Given, that is eight years ago now.

 

The ability for Getzlaf to play away from Perry shouldn’t even factor in to this, though. These guys are both signed for a lot of money past the year 2020.

 

The last concern is the age. Getzlaf is turning 29 in the spring and his foot speed could start slowing down. One thing that works in his favor is that Lockout II fell in line with his rookie year so he really only has about seven and a half full seasons of NHL play under his belt. There’s not much reason to think both he and Perry can’t be elite for a few more years.

 

In all, Getzlaf might be an elite NHLer but he’ll never be a truly elite fantasy roto option. He scores enough but not a lot – he still hasn’t had more than 30 goals in a season, though he can get there this year – and he doesn’t take a ton of shots. In points-only leagues though, this guy should be considered a top 15 forward for years to come.

Finland Topples Canada 5-1; Advance to WJHC Finals

The gold medal drought for Canada at the World Juniors will continue as they were unable to come back against a strong team from Finland, losing 5-1 today in Malmo, Sweden at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championships.

 

Canada, as had been the theme for the tournament, got off to a slow start, but both teams were guilty of that. The stories of the first period were the two goalies, Zach Fucale and Juuse Saros, making stellar saves when they had to. Oh, and Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba took another bad penalty. This is not a recording.

 

The second period was when the action really took off.

 

A dump-in by Finland on the rush resulted in a weird bounce off the boards that landed right on the stick of Joni Nikko, and the puck found its way to the back of the net to make it 1-0. There was really nothing Canada or Fucale could have done about that one; it was a bad bounce that just happens sometimes.

 

For whatever reason, Canadian coach Brent Sutter keeps putting Anthony Mantha on the right side on their 1-3-1 power play, which essentially has him play half the power play as a right defenseman. This is a gross misuse of his skill set, which is better served down low off the net, or directly in front. Not surprisingly, no Canada goals came off the power play in the first two periods.

 

The second Finnish goal came on the power play, when a high-tip set play resulted in a rebound off of Fucale’s pads and was buried in behind him by Arturri Lehkonen. Lehkonen was down low, but Finnish forward Saku Maenalanen was the one who was left alone for the high-tip, which was Scott Laughton’s man on the penalty kill.

 

Canada’s Jonathan Drouin would reply for Canada about five minutes later to make cut the lead in half. Could pressure by Anthony Mantha forced a turnover onto Curtis Lazar’s stick. The resulting rebound landed on Drouin’s stick, and we had a game on our hands.

 

Finland would score four minutes later to get their two goal lead back following what was probably the save of the tournament by Fucale, as he dove to his left and sprawled out for a glove save. The problem was the Canadians didn’t clear the puck and Buffalo draft pick Rasmus Ristolainen roofed it over Fucale just seconds later.

 

One last note about the second period: Jonathan Drouin should learn to keep his hands down. When you receive a head-checking penalty, as he did twice this tournament, it’s a two minute minor and a 10-minute misconduct. He can’t be in the penalty box for 20% of a semi-final game. When you follow through with your hands on a hit, it’s the easiest call in the world for a referee to make. He didn’t learn the first time around, maybe he learned the second time around.

 

The third period didn’t bring a whole lot. There weren’t many shots, and the Finns extended their lead late in the game on a penalty shot before adding an empty-netter to make it 5-1.

 

Full marks to Finland and their coaching staff in this game. They took their share of penalties, but for the most part, they weren’t the undisciplined kind like Canada’s Drouin and Petan took (the latter for yapping at the referee). They got the lead and played absolute lock-down defense. Canada couldn’t string together more than three passes and when they tried to be individuals about it, the Finns congregated to the puck and the danger was cleared.

 

Hopefully this is a wake-up call for Canada. Not the players, there is nothing wrong with Canadian hockey itself and the programs are still producing elite hockey talents. The selection processes are terribly flawed. Guys like Darnell Nurse, Max Domi and Hunter Shinkaruk – who were all first round picks in the NHL Entry Draft last year, mind you – were told to stay home for this version of Team Canada. Well, you saw the results. With Drouin and Petan in the box, they may as well have just fast forwarded the clock 12 minutes because no one else was going to score a goal. There’s no sense in taking “safe” hockey players if you keep finding yourself down in hockey games, which Canada did every single game this tournament including the game against Germany, a team who could be relegated from the fucking tournament.

 

You want to keep “playing it safe”? Fine, then you’ll keep losing hockey games because you can’t score, and you’ll keep going down early in games because you’re relying on one line to score while holding your breath that the other three don’t get scored on. This was an embarrassing tournament, and none of that is on the players, it’s all on the coaching staff. This isn’t isolated, either, you only need to read this piece from ESPN’s Scott Burnside about how Team USA’s selection committee for their Olympic roster were using their actual dreams as evidence to take/not take players. It’s insanity.

 

Canada will face Team Russia tomorrow in the bronze medal game, while the Finns have a date with their neighbours from Sweden.

Canada Rallies to Beat Slovakia at World Junior Championships

Canada was able to overcome a 3-1 second period deficit to Slovakia today at the World U-20 Junior Championships 5-3. It wasn’t easy, and Canada should consider themselves fortunate to have gotten this win.

 

It started right off the bat when Jonathan Drouin, Canada’s top offensive player and Tampa Bay draft pick, took a two minute minor for a head-check, which carries an additional 10 minute misconduct with it. Drouin essentially leaped with both arms directly at the Slovakian defenseman’s head. It was a dumb penalty to take so early, and it resulted in an early power play goal for Slovakia’s David Griger. It was quite the power play to watch, too; the Slovaks were efficient with their puck movement and it got Canada’s penalty killers chasing at times.

 

Slovakia would score twice in the second period, once again on the power play, and it didn’t look good for Canada. By my count, at the halfway point of the game, Canada had given up three separate 2-on-1s against and two breakaways. Slovakia wasn’t generating much sustained offense against Canada, but the Canadians were giving away premium chances time after time. The mistakes were numerous; bobbles at the blue line, not getting pucks deep and so on. In all, the Slovaks hit two posts and a crossbar in this game, so even though Canada ended up with a 48-22 shot advantage at the end of the game, the game could have easily been 4-1 or 5-1 for Slovakia in the second period.

 

The second half of the second period and then the third period brought a lot of line juggling. Scott Laughton was finally taken off the fourth line and put with Bo Horvat and Connor McDavid while Drouin, after being benched for parts of the first period after that dumb penalty, was seemingly double-shifted.

 

Anthony Mantha was probably Canada’s best offensive player, but his usage was becoming a bit of a worry. After a pinpoint pass from the corner on Canada’s first goal to set up Curtis Lazar on the power play, Mantha scored the second goal by using his huge frame to screen the goalie on a shot from the blue line and he put the puck away for his fourth goal of the tournament. For the rest of the game, coach Brent Sutter for some reason put Mantha on the point for their power plays. Sutter seems like a smart guy, but Mantha already had one goal and one assist on the power play in that very game by using his size and skill down low. Why the hell would you put him on the point?

 

Aside from the mistakes, the biggest takeaway of this game was the emotion showed by Drouin, and not in a good way. Undeniably, he’s probably the most skilled player at this tournament. However, that early penalty was a poor one to take and at one point in the game he was yapping incessantly at the linesman about a puck that hit the roof (thus rendering the play dead). He was lucky not to be given another penalty at that point, and he would do well to keep quiet about plays like this. This is a long tournament and the referees don’t forget.

 

It was a better effort from Canada than against the Czech Republic but the issues are still there: over-pursuing on the penalty kill, turnovers at the blue lines, not adjusting to international refereeing and not backing up defensemen in the offensive zone led to many more scoring chances than the Slovaks should have ever had.

 

Zach Fucale looked good in net for Canada, which is to say that he didn’t allow any soft goals. In a tournament format like this, you need your goalie to make the first save consistently, and Jake Paterson wasn’t doing that. It doesn’t appear Fucale will give away games, which is all you can really ask for from your goaltenders.

 

If Canada doesn’t quickly learn to play a bit safer with the puck (without sacrificing their offensive creativity), they are in for a rough ride tomorrow against rival United States. This game is a big game, not to determine who moves on, but the winner will likely not have to play one of Sweden or Russia before the semi-finals.

2014 World Junior Recap: Canada vs. Czech Republic

It should be noted most of these (all of these) recaps will be centred on Canada. It’s hard enough keeping up with everything in the NHL all day, it’s harder if you’re watching Finland vs. Germany juniors player each other.

 

Technology limits what I can show you (still working on getting a new laptop, etc.) but there are probably three things to take away from the 5-4 shootout loss Canada suffered at the hands of the Czech Republic this afternoon:

 

  1. This is tournament hockey. What I mean by that is anything can happen in this type of format. Czech goalie Marek Langhamer only faced 29 shots, but quite a few of them were high-quality chances and he was a big reason this Czech team was able to prevent Canada from ever taking a lead in this game.
  2. It doesn’t take much to end up with the puck in the back of your net. There were two goals scored off of faceoffs by the Czechs, both were defensive lapses by Team Canada. The first, Canada’s Bo Horvat just let his opposing centre walk around him on a faceoff in the Canadian zone and the puck was in the back of the net moments later. The second was on a penalty kill, but Curtis Lazar – who was the weakside forward – just pretty much backed out of the slot after the faceoff, leaving his made wide open to bury the puck. These lapses in a tournament hockey format will mean the difference between winning and losing.
  3. With players of this age, the coach becomes that much more important. In the overtime period – and someone correct me if I have this wrong – but future first overall pick Connor McDavid and Canada’s best forward Jonathan Drouin combined for one shift. This game is surely a “lesson game” for Canada, and the benching of McDavid and sporadic use of Drouin were part of the lesson the coach was trying to teach the player, but it’ll be interesting to see if this continues in future games.

 

A few notes on the players themselves:

  • It’s tough to put a game on the goaltender, and Canada goalie Jake Paterson was far from the only culprit, but he just did not look comfortable all game long. From his wild leg kicks that permitted the first goal to slide under his pad, to sliding into his net twice during the shootout rather than using the posts as anchors, he never seemed technically or mentally sound in net. Again, this is just observational stuff, but he looked to be fighting the puck most of the game. It wouldn’t be surprising if Zach Fucale gets the start in the next contest against Slovakia.
  • Aaron Ekblad was his usual stalwart self on defense for Canada, however Adam Pelech seemed to get stronger as the game went on. He was making better decisions with the puck and was one of the top defensemen by the end of the game.
  • Scott Laughton continues to impress. I had heard comparisons to Mike Richards of the LA Kings before, and I’m starting to see it. I think Laughton has a bit more offense in him, but you can see the great two-way game he already possesses. There’s a reason he’s wearing the “C” for the Canadian squad.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incident at the end of the second period. And by incident, I mean Czech Republic’s Michal Plutnar laid out a referee, and it appears to be intentional.

 

Anyway, Plutnar only received a two minute penalty for the play, and I have never seen a play like that in my life. This is a multiple game suspension waiting to happen, and it’s unreal that he wasn’t immediately ejected from the game. It’s believed the linesman didn’t think it was intentional, but it’s hard to see how it’s not.

 

Canada sits with a win and shootout loss now but it doesn’t matter because they are almost certain to qualify for the quarter-finals, a new format from years previous where division winners got a bye to the semi finals. Their next game is against the aforementioned Slovaks on Monday morning.

 

(stick-tap to Josh Gold-Smith and the Score for the GIF)

A Few Words on Tom Wilson and Brayden Schenn

A lot of what we do in everyday life comes from our own personal experience.images In an age where just about any question can be answered and tutorial found with a few keystrokes, it’s pretty easy to forget how we learned anything in the first place.

 

As kids, we learned things as they are taught to us by those in your environment. Everything from reading to baiting a fish hook is a skill that was passed to us, and honed through practice.

 

Sports are no exception to this. People may be born with a disposition for athletics, but you’re not going anywhere until someone puts a football, baseball, basketball or hockey stick into your hands, and you work at your craft for thousands of hours.

 

I was fortunate to play hockey for most of my life to date, and was able to learn a lot of things along the way about how the game of hockey is played. More importantly, I was able to differentiate the manner in which different players play the game. One thing I learned was that there’s a lot of gray area in hockey.

 

I can distinctly remember one high school game (which reminds me, it’s 10 years since that season………………………..) where a player of ours took a header into the boards when a player from the opposing team had barely touched him. It was a yard sale at its finest, and it got us a late man advantage we needed in this tie game. The ensuing four-minute power play resulted in two goals for us, and we would end up winning the game by three (it was the finals of a tournament, too).

 

What I learned, more confirmed, about hockey that day was that it was perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged, to do whatever it took to win a hockey game, even if it meant deceiving the referee about an injury. It wasn’t surprising by any stretch, I can think of at least one instance where I had done so myself. But conversations in more recent years with friends of mine who achieved much higher levels of hockey than I ever did, and continue to do so as coaches, are well aware that results are what matter, and power plays do just that.

 

Fast forward to last night.

 

In a 2-2 hockey game late in the second period between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals, Washington rookie forward Tom Wilson took a run at Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn, which then sent Schenn flying into the boards headfirst.

 

 

 

At first glance, the hit (0:04) looks really bad. Schenn is in the “danger zone” if you will, which is anywhere from 3-5 feet away from the boards at the time of the collision. When you are hit in that are into the boards, your ability to protect yourself is minimal. Wilson knows this, every hockey player does.

 

The backside camera angle, which starts at 0:55, is even worse. We see Tom Wilson come into the zone, coast for several feet, then take three very quick strides to explode into Schenn, which sends him flying into the boards (that last stride is a half-push with his left foot, but is a stride nonetheless). Despite it being shoulder on shoulder, Schenn was trying to reverse himself at the time and Wilson had no ability to prevent the hit at that point. Wilson’s charge made him unable to react to the play in front of him to avoid injury, which is reckless hockey. Wilson will probably be suspended for this, and rightfully so. A good three to five game suspension would get his name on the record and make him be a little more cautious about what he does to other people.

 

Besides the slew of suspensions that we’ve seen recently, what also worries me is the possibility of faking injuries for the sake of getting a necessary power play. This was a tie hockey game, a divisional game, between two teams that will likely fight for playoff spots. Watch the reaction of Schenn through the whole sequence after the hit:

 

  • At 1:01, Schenn gets to his feet fairly quickly, and looks at the referee who’s in the corner who did not have his hand raised to call a penalty.
  • At 1:03, he turns and takes two strides towards the middle of the ice with his head up. He can see the referee skating in from the neutral zone who did have his hand up to call a penalty.
  • At 1:04, he takes a header into the ice, twice, and then tries to skate off.

 

Earlier today, these tweets came out:

 

 

 

Luckily, indeed. That was an incredibly reckless play on Wilson’s part, and Schenn was lucky not to be injured.

 

Is it not plausible though, given what we can see on the video and the quotes from today, that Schenn was embellishing his movements on the ice following the hit?

 

This would fall very much in line from what I’ve learned through the years, and from what we see on the ice. In fact, later that night, Shawn Horcoff was called for a (phantom) high-stick in the Dallas/Colorado matchup. It was a 2-2 game in the third period, and Horcoff gave a shove to Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie with his stick, and it looks like the blade of Horcoff’s stick bounces off Barrie’s right shoulder. It resulted in a power play, which Colorado was unable to convert. They’re still looking for the man behind the grassy knoll, though.

 

Faking a penalty is one thing, faking an injury is another, and that line gets blurry real quick. My personal experience tells me hockey players do it, my eyes watching video tells me no different. If Schenn was truly unable to skate at this point in time, then this is all moot and my apologies. But it looked like he was trying to get a five minute power play for his team in a tie hockey game. This game is about results, not process. Not how you got your wins, but how many wins you have. There are millions of dollars at stake, and an immense amount of pressure and pride to go with it.

 

This presents a dilemma to Brendan Shanahan, who hands down the sentences on punishments for the Department of Player Safety. Schenn came out and said he had no concussion, which is great news. It’s also good news for Tom Wilson, because the NHL levies suspensions with part of their basis being the injury suffered. Agree with it or not (I do, with shades of gray, as most hockey is), the injury plays a factor. Would Wilson have only gotten two minutes for charging instead of the five minute match penalty had Schenn not dove into the ice, twice? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll never know.

 

The Flyers would win the game on the back of those two power play goals, a big regulation win against a divisional opponent.

 

Injuries are beginning to mount in the NHL and it has a problem on its hands. Shanahan can’t hand out the suspensions fast enough and player after player is hitting the IR. Wilson deserves what is coming to him from Department of Player Safety, that there is no doubt. It would be nice if the players would realize how serious the issues at hand are, and didn’t try to make matters worse on the ice. But we have to realize, again, this is about winning hockey games and power plays help do just that.

 

If high school players are willing to fake an injury for the sake of winning a hockey game, I don’t think it’s above NHL players to do the same, given the stakes.

Analytics Aren’t Everything; They Don’t Have To Be

 

For some people, the word sends an alert to the brain to proceed with caution.

This is how some people look at the 2013 Dallas Stars.

This is how some people look at the 2013 Dallas Stars.

Anyone that uses analytics for any sport has been caught in a social interaction at some point (preferably in real life) where the admonishment of these statistics becomes a sort of rallying cry. You need to only find some old football buddies, talk to them about aDOT and watch a couple of them go cross-eyed. I’ve had similar experiences explaining FenwickClose to some hockey friends.

 

It wasn’t always like this. For most of my life, I sat down in front of the TV (or in the stands if I was lucky enough) and just enjoyed the sport. Each sport that I watched (hockey, baseball and football in order), I watched for the enjoyment of the sport. Each bone-crushing hit, each majestic home run, each 50-yard screen pass for a touchdown would get the ol’ ticker pumping in my chest.

 

Things are different now. Bone-crushing hits are seen as a forced turnover, majestic home runs are a function of fly-ball and home run rates (with a dash of park factors), and 50-yard touchdown screen passes are only relevant if they went to the running back I started today in my daily leagues.

 

This type of thinking was encapsulated perfectly by C.D. Carter, a fantasy football writer who is the author of “How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner” and contributor to several publications, in a piece for the New York Times this morning.

 

In that piece, Mr. Carter talks about how people are dehumanized towards the players themselves through fantasy sports. The tipping point was a couple of weeks ago with the tragic death of the son of Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. What is pointed out in the article is that for some people, the circumstances of the death of a child wasn’t the most relevant information, rather whether Peterson would play on Sunday was. How would the death of his son affect his yards per carry? Would he break a wheel route for a touchdown? I’m sure many (myself included) wouldn’t be able to recite the name of the child by memory (it’s Tyrese, by the way), but they’d know how many fantasy leagues they have Peterson in.

 

The reduction of players to numbers is a function what is necessary to excel at a game that is about numbers. It’s perhaps a sad condition to be in, but here we are.

 

The thing is, not everyone is like that. While some people saw the six-goals-in-three-games start for San Jose Sharks rookie forward Tomas Hertl as an unsustainable quirk of a small sample size, others saw one of the greatest starts to a career ever by a teenage rookie. Some saw the two shutouts in three games for Colorado Avalanche goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguere and thought how quickly he was going to crash in his regression, others saw a remarkable start to a season for an aging veteran on a young, exciting team.

 

From Yahoo! hockey writer Nick Cotsonika:

 

 

 

That’s the dilemma facing some sports observers today: Is it possible to just sit down and enjoy a game anymore?

 

As I mentioned with Hertl and Giguere, when you look at sports with an analytical slant, you don’t look at the game the same ever again: You don’t see a chip off the glass in hockey, you see an uncontrolled zone exit; you don’t see Golden Sombreros for striking out four times in a game, you see an inevitable string of at-bats for a high-strikeout player; you don’t see running backs gut out third-and-short runs, you see a hit to the yards-per-carry column.

 

Ellen Etchingham, a free-lance hockey writer whose work can be found on The Score, tweeted about just this the other night:

 

 

When you look at a game differently, it’s never the same. Not everyone agrees with this point of view. Not everyone even really understands this point of view. And that’s perfectly fine.   Recently, James Mirtle talked with Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk about shooting percentages and creating chances. The most telling quote to me is:

 

  What’s the average (league shooting percentage at 5v5)? Like 15 or 10 or something?”

 

The fact that JVR was off by nearly 100% of what the actual shooting rates might be with his first guess (as Mirtle points out, it’s actually about 8%) means it’s a pretty safe assumption that there might not be a lot of players in the NHL who either A) understand or B) put stock in to analytics. His teammate Joffrey Lupul said as much:

 

 

 

 

This isn’t Moneyball, or anything close to it. It’s a different way of analyzing a game that is a multi-billion dollar industry, and doing so quantifiably instead of the usual “oh he’s a grinder.” Lupul is right when it comes to negotiating contracts, and we shouldn’t be surprised that was a quote coming from a player. I’m pretty sure if I was in a business that was going to give me over $5M a year to do what I do, I wouldn’t care too much about how I do what I do either, I’d just make sure to keep doing it.

 

Of course, no one should be told how to enjoy a game, be it from an analytics viewpoint or not. Unless of course you’re doing the wave:

 

 

But that’s for another day.

 

The point of all this is that analytics are becoming more and more popular. Mr. Lupul is almost definitely right when he says that contracts are not negotiated on the basis of Corsi. But the four major North American sports are a tens-of-billions of dollars per year industry. There needs to be better ways to critically analyze an industry this big. You can’t keep wasting money drafting, developing and signing players because they are “good grinders” or can “gut out” runs.

 

I still watch a lot of sports. On an average week, during the season, it’s probably 2-3 football games, 10-12 baseball games and 10-12 hockey games. There are instances where I’m still a fan in the purest sense of the word (thank you, Olympics), but for the most part that is not the case anymore.

 

Yes, Mr. Carter is right when he says that fantasy football (read: Fantasy sports) can be dehumanizing. Yes, Ms. Etchingham is right when she says that analytics changes the way you watch the games. And yes, JVR and Lupul are right when they say most players don’t give a shit (I grew up in a circle of friends that includes several Major Junior, University and professional hockey players. Nearly to a man, all of them think that Corsi, Fenwick and all other hockey analytics are bullshit).

 

But Mr. Spector is also right when he says that a fan can enjoy the game however they want, and the way some fans are choosing to enjoy their favorite sport now is radically different than what has been the norm. Despite the rejection by some (The Will To Win!) of these analytics, they are changing how games are presented and analyzed.

 

  • Tyler Dellow, one of The Hockey News’ 100 Most Influential People, is now contributing analytics pieces to Sportsnet.ca.
  • Although I don’t have an official count, I can say with confidence I heard the term “FanGraphs” on baseball broadcasts more this season than every other year combined.
  • Hockey Night in Canada and TSN hockey broadcasts now mention, even if it’s in passing, “shot attempts” which is another way of saying Corsi “puck possession.”
  • I’ve heard YPA used before in NFL broadcasts, but don’t ask me which one.

 

There’s a lot of “you’re an idiot” “no you’re an idiot” that goes in the analytical vs. non-analytical debate and that’s too bad. No one learns anything that way.

 

Watch your favorite sport how you want to watch it. That’s your right. But the way the game is being analyzed and presented is changing, whether you realize it (like it) or not.

 

Rankings

Hey all,
Here are my draft guide rankings that I’ll be updating all the way up through start of the season (last update: August 24th).


Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyPros

A Public Service Announcement on Statistics and Context

Sabres goaltending coach, Jim Corsi. You can guess what he came up with.

Sabres goaltending coach, Jim Corsi. You can guess what he came up with.

 

Usually contained in these pages is fantasy information, updates, profiles and everything in between. I’m going to take a little side-step and discuss something that has been bothering me for a while now and that’s the disconnect between “stats” people and “old school” people.

 

There was quite the brou-ha-ha late last night on Twitter, when the following was tweeted by a highly-visible Canadian TV hockey personality:

 

 

— Steve Kouleas (@stevekouleas) June 4, 2013

 

And then followed up with this:

 

 

Let’s just say he probably couldn’t be more wrong. In response to his “ask a GM” question, a GM for a Major Junior hockey team replied:

 

 

For those unfamiliar, Corsi is a possession statistic (and possession is the best predictive measurement in hockey) that counts all your team’s shot attempts then subtracts your opponent’s shot attempts. It is a relatively new concept, having only been created about a decade ago and really only getting recognition in the last five years. Myself, I’ve only begun to really buy in the last couple of years. But it is a predictive measurement of even-strength prowess, where most games are won or lost.

 

The problem, as with just about any metric, is that Corsi is not “all-encompassing”. Corsi, while extremely useful for 5 v 5 play, doesn’t have much more use in a penalty-kill situation than comparing players on the same team. This is because players are going to have deplorable Corsi rates on the penalty kill because of the nature of playing special teams.

 

Another limitation of Corsi (and it’s sister-stat, Fenwick, which measures all the shot attempts but doesn’t include blocked shots like Corsi does) is that it is in its most useful state when used when teams are close in score or tied. This is because as a team goes deeper into a hole, say a 3-0 deficit in the third period, their game plan alters dramatically and thus Corsi/Fenwick shouldn’t be used as a measurement of their prowess at even-strength. It’s the same team, but not the same system/style and thus shouldn’t be used in this context.

 

But as I said, the problem is that it’s not all-encompassing. Most statistics are not and this is where the disconnect begins between “stats” people and “old school” people. Corsi, in and of itself, is limited in small samples and more importantly in blowout games. Corsi by itself is a piece of the puzzle. But if you take the Corsi of a player, then look at the zone entries/starts of his line, you look at power-play opportunities, quality of goaltending and so on, then you get more pieces of the puzzle. Then you look quality of opponents, coaching systems, injuries and other “intangibles” and now you have almost all the pieces of the puzzle.

 

That is the problem. People look for that one statistic  that measures everything. Nothing in hockey does that, nothing in basketball does that, nothing football does that and as close as WAR in baseball is to doing it, it will never give us the complete puzzle. People, including myself, made fun of Chicago White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson for coming up with TWTW (The Will To Win) as the primary metric. While he’s wrong, he’s not completely wrong. That will to win is part of a player’s make-up. That player’s make-up includes not only the will to improve his play and study his opponents, but the capacity to do so. Again, more pieces of the puzzle.

 

To say that any one stat gives us the whole picture is ignorant, as is saying that statistics alone give us the whole picture. If I look at a baseball player to see how he’s doing, sure I look at the traditional stats. I also look at the advanced stats. I also look for adjustments he may have made at the plate, where he’s hitting in the lineup and how often he does so. I don’t look at two statistics and say “he’s good” or “he’s bad”, I have to take the entirety of the situation into account.

 

But to say that these advanced metrics don’t have any value is equally ignorant. I would wager the majority of people who trash on metrics in any sport haven’t taken the time to study them. You don’t need to shut yourself in your bedroom for a week, but you can take 2-3 hours some lazy Thursday night and read up on what they are, what they measure and how they are useful. (Keep this in mind: predictive metrics are probabilistic in nature. Nothing, nothing, is guaranteed in sports)

 

I have almost finished reading Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal and the Noise’, a book on why predictions fail or succeed. My personal feelings on the book aside, one of the main take-aways was that if you start at a position of “this is 100% right” or “this is 100% wrong”, you’re not going to get anywhere. To say metrics have no value is wrong. To say ONLY metrics have value is equally wrong. There is so much information available to everyone that no one has the excuse of ignorance anymore, despite it’s seemingly increasing presence. So if you’re a stats person who doesn’t look at lineups, line-mates, offensive/defensive schemes, then get reading. If you’re a non-stats person who doesn’t look at (or understand) fly-ball rates, puck possession or yards per attempt, then get reading.

 

If you’re a non-stats person and don’t want to, that’s completely your prerogative. Just don’t argue with people that are looking at the whole picture instead of just part of it. If you’re a strictly-stats person and don’t want to read beat writer reports, don’t argue with people that are looking at the whole picture instead of just part of it.

 

Numbers matter, but so does context. To exclude either is the best way to ensure that you won’t understand a sport or player at any greater depth than you currently do.