It’s about time for a rant.
Recently, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press wrote about the Red Wings’ opinion and involvement in the analytics trend within the NHL. Gustav Nyquist, Stephen Weiss, and Jimmy Howard all brushed them off as not a big deal. Not concerned at all. Ken Holland and Mike Babcock insist that they have their own analytics.
When it comes to analytics in the NHL, I do not believe today’s metrics offer an effective value-add to teams looking to improve their roster. There has been a lot of discussion in the media and other hockey blogs about Fenwick and Corsi percentages and how players’ performance in these scores are accurate representations of how they play.
For those who have not been exposed to the Fenwick and Corsi percentage metrics, they track puck possession by adding up shots, missed shots, and in Corsi’s case, blocked shots. My issue here is that missed shots and blocked shots are valued the same as shots on net. As any individual who played hockey can tell you, you can’t score on missed shots. Wayne Gretzky did say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” but you also miss 100% of the shots that miss the net.
Additionally, there has been word that, in the near future, pucks and jerseys will be equipped with tracking chips to uncover deeper analytics within the game. The FoxTrax puck was a fun novelty for kids and visually-impaired individuals, but not very helpful otherwise. Chips in jerseys? I’m not an octogenarian scared of technology, but this is unnecessary. However, I can’t wait for Pierre McGuire to tell me that Pavel Datsyuk skated 1.34 miles through the first two periods and what that means going into the third period with the Red Wings up 3-1, but down 7-5 in scoring chances.
For goalies, I’ve read other blogs that discuss 5-on-5 save percentage, penalty kill save percentage, and other metrics. As a goalie who has played high-level hockey, these numbers mean nothing. You stop the puck or you don’t. You win or you don’t. Petr Mrazek has a higher-than-average GAA, but wins games. Viktor Fasth of Edmonton has a high GAA, but loses. The team in front of the goalie also has an impact, so stats for one team do not translate to success or failure with another team.
There is not yet a way to determine a player’s value based on more than what the eye can see. Don’t read into analytics. See player development for yourself. Game tape and vigilant observation is currently more effective in determining if the players on your roster are the best fit. Finally, who are you going to trust when it comes to player evaluation, Mike Babcock or a journalist discussing Fenwick scores? I think the two have their respective jobs for a reason.