Oilers start is an important reminder that statistics don’t tell the full story

Statistics are a mainstay in sports. After first being used to analyze players in baseball, statistical analysis has also found its way into many sports, most notably hockey, football and basketball.  In fact, #fancystats are now so common in the hockey world that you will rarely read a hockey article that neglects to mention them.

Analyzing hockey players without statistics is like only using one eye.  You can still see, but you don’t get the full picture.  

This can go both ways.  Analyzing a player just with statistics is like only using your other eye.

However, I don’t weight traditional and statistical analysis equally.  I believe that statistics should be used to formulate about 60-70% of one’s opinion of a certain player, leaving 30-40% for traditional analysis.

Not all people share this view with me, which has led to a quite unfortunate view that some people hold, where statistics are weighted at 100%, and are used independently.  Statistics can be an incredible resource, but the should not be used without the company of the “eye test”, or traditional analysis.  Only looking at the statistical aspect can lead to misleading conclusions, such as the conclusion that the Matthews is not the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs team, which I wrote about in a previous post, which can be found here, or that the Oilers are playing well so far in the 2017-18 season, the subject of this post.

Shot based statistics such as Corsi and Fenwick show that the Oilers are dominating, as they have 59% of all Corsi events and 60% of Fenwick events.  

These statistics tell a completely different story than anybody that has watched the games will tell.  The Oilers have looked disorganized and just plain bad so far, a view that many others share.

Jason Gregor, Oilersnation: “The Oilers aren’t losing due to a lack of talent.  They have enough skill to compete, but not enoug talent to overcome the hideous mistakes they’ve been making.

Bad reads
Ill-advised pinching
A porous penalty kill
Sub-par goaltending
Inability to score from in close.”
(Article)

Jason Gregor is a smart man, and this excerpt sums things up well.  There is a simple message in the pair of paragraphs; the Oilers are making too many costly mistakes. It’s as simple as that.  It doesn’t matter if they are vastly out shooting their opponents, if they can’t cut down on these mistakes, they will not even come close to making the playoffs.

There is no statistic that measures costly mistakes, which is exactly why statistics should not be the only factor taken into account when analyzing a player.  

If statistics cannot account for something that can have such a huge impact on a game as a mistake that leads to a goal, statistics should not be used exclusively to analyze a player.

A common and perfectly valid belief in the #fancystats community is that it is foolish to judge a player solely based on what you see.  This would be perfectly fine, but many statistical analysts exclusively use statistics to evaluate performance, which, in my opinion, is just as bad.

Both allow you to formulate valid opinions about a player’s skill and performance, but when combined, that opinion becomes more informed and more powerful than before.

You would never use just one eye to view something.  Do the same with this.

Remember:

Statistical Analysis = valid opinion

Traditional Analysis = valid opinion

Statistical Analysis + Traditional Analysis = Powerful, informed opinion

Don’t limit yourself to just one eye.

Use both.

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Calgary, Hartford, Hamilton And Seattle All Now Lumped Together Under One Big Arena Mess

Ho Ho Ho! NHL (and other North American sport leagues) hypocrisy rides again. It centers about the issue of building sports arenas and stadiums and who should pay for them. In this year where the jolly old arrogant NFL stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their franchises just to please Los Angeles, a city that snubbed them for two decades, and plans to do the same to Oakland in the near future, we find four cites who either have or want an NHL franchise suddenly bound together on the issue of a new arena. It seems strange that we can lump all these diverse cities together but the issue is the same. And there is the same blackmail, lies, taxpayer burden, and hypocrisy tainting all four locations.

Calgary

It all starts in Calgary where the Flames ownership have engaged in “or else talk” to get a new arena built to replace the 34 year old Saddledome. On the table is a proposed combined NHL-CFL project (arena-stadium) called “Calgary Next” that will cost either $890 million (the proposers) or nearly $2 billion (the realists). Just to let everyone know where the NHL stands on this issue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary earlier this year and urged the municipal powers that be to accept it. He loves new arenas like the ones in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Detroit. He wants new ones built in Phoenix and Ottawa too.

But when you can’t agree on the real cost of a major project, it is not wise to start building until you get all the answers. Remember Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Skydome? They soared to $1 billion and $500 million before they were finished. Calgary officials and taxpayers have every reason to ask questions and proceed cautiously.

More importantly for this article, just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It has been renovated once and with over 19,000 seats, it is one of the bigger and better arenas in the NHL. Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL have specified what they are dissatisfied with and what has to be changed. All that’s been stated is that the building is too old at 34 years (How come the Empire State Building, etc. is still standing?) and if they don’t get their way, the Flames will consider moving. Perhaps if they would state what is wrong with the Saddledome, a much cheaper renovation could be made. But taking their cue from the arrogant NFL, the Flames ownership have issued a veiled “or else” ultimatum to try to blackmail the city and its taxpayers. They of course want nothing to do with building a new arena by themselves.

The Flames want to move because of the mere age of the building. But right now in Hartford and Seattle, officials plan to spend $250 million and $564 million to renovate a 41 year old building and a 55 year old building so that they can get an NHL franchise. And a few years ago, when Jim Balsille was vainly trying to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, its officials voted to spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to the current NHL median seating of 18,500. The Coyotes of course never came so the renovations were never made.

But if the NHL and the Flames can’t accept a 34 year old renovated Saddledome, how can the NHL accept the renovations of the XL Center and the Key Arena? If I’m a municipal official in Hartford and Seattle, acting responsibly on behalf of my taxpayer voters, I want to get something tangible for my money and that means a certain NHL franchise and nothing less. I don’t want to spend $250 million and $564 million and be told by the NHL that the changes made are unacceptable. I want answers right NOW before I spend a single penny. I’m not going to spend that amount of cash and get nothing to show for it. I want a straight and honest answer from the NHL. Are you going to accept a renovated “old” building or not? And if the answer is no, I’m not spending anything.

Seattle

There are other questions that should be answered right now, starting with seating capacity. That’s not an issue in Calgary and won’t be one in Hamilton or Hartford where the seating will be raised to 18,500 and 19,000. But it sure is one in Seattle. The proposed $564 million renovation will mean a seating capacity of only 17,100, making it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders who have just stated that if they get a favorable ruling, they intend to build a brand new arena at Belmont Park. Seattle’s “improved” renovated arena will be over a thousand seats less than the NHL median. And back to Hamilton, that’s less than the current seating capacity of Copps Coliseum which the NHL claims is unacceptable. The best this renovation can do is build a stopgap arena. Is this renovation really worth doing at that cost?

And most importantly, there’s the cost issue. As noted above, the weaselly Flames ownership doesn’t want to spend a single cent on a new arena but engages in veiled blackmail instead. If NHL hockey was not so important to Calgary, I’d show the door to the Flames ownership right now. I’m not going spend a single penny on either “Calgary Next” or just a new NHL arena until I know the true cost of building one. And if a much cheaper renovation of the Saddledome is more appropriate, that’s what I’ll do.

Hamilton

And for Hamilton, Hartford, and Seattle I’ve got some other questions. How come it only costs Hamilton $50 million to make Copps Coliseum an acceptable arena while it costs Hartford $250 million and Seattle $564 million for the same thing? How come it cost Las Vegas and Quebec City only $375 million to build a new arena while it has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million and the $564 million for just renovations in Seattle? I want answers NHL, and I want them NOW.

Hartford

So where do I stand on these issues?

Calgary:

I want to know just what the Flames ownership says is wrong with the Saddledome and if it is feasible, renovate the building again. I’ll only consider “Calgary Next” or other schemes if renovating the Saddledome is not feasible. And before I spend any money, I want to know the true cost of any new arena/stadium. If the Flames ownership is still not satisfied, I’d reluctantly show them the door. It would be just as damaging for them and the NHL to leave Calgary as it will be for the city.

Hamilton:

Stop kicking this city around NHL. Tell them that you will award them an expansion franchise based on the $50 million renovation. And tell Toronto and Buffalo to spell out reasonable compensation terms like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. This city should have been given a team long ago.

Hartford:

First I want to know if the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center or not. If they do, I will proceed with the $250 million renovation though I do want to know why Hamilton can renovate its arena so much more cheaply. If the NHL will not accept the renovation, I want to know why Quebec and Las Vegas can build acceptable arenas that are over $100 million less than the estimated cost of a proposed new Hartford arena. And when I get satisfactory answers for both the costs of renovation and building a new arena, I’ll proceed on that basis.

Seattle:

Scrap the renovation project. For the money they are willing to spend, tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new modern one on the site that has proper seating. And because the NBA will always have more seats in an arena than the NHL, build a new arena to get an NHL team first. The NBA will automatically be satisfied.

I want Calgary to keep its team and I want the other three cities plus Quebec into the NHL as soon as possible. But not at the cost of giving into blackmail and spending public tax dollars wastefully. To repeat, these cities want truthful answers NOW, NHL and they expect you to honor your word. They don’t want to be lied to in this day and age, when it is too late to turn back and leagues like the NFL are making suckers out of loyal fans and their public officials. They want something to show for their money, an NHL team playing in an acceptable arena. I don’t think that is too much to expect.

 

The NHL, Off The Ice

The NHL. Hockey, you think about it and what comes to mind? Class, respect, loyalty, sportsmanship and well, old school. Yes hockey is “old school”, now I don’t know if it’s just coming from a young man perspective but I love the NHL on the ice, but off the ice, it’s not a great product. Being not only a NHL fan but a sports fan in general, I love waking up every Sunday to watch the NFL, I love when Lebron plays the Warriors in the NBA, I love watching international football. Whether it’s Messi creating magic, the Neymar Jr. trade to PSG or the great Cristiano Ronaldo leading Portugal to a UEFA European Championship. They all have something in common, a talked about offseason and outspoken superstars.

Now I’m not talking about the protest that are going on in the NFL, I’m talking about their polarizing players that come with the NFL and also the NBA. Richard Sherman, OBJ, Cam Newton, Lebron James, KD, Steph Curry very outspoken, entertaining players in the NFL, they aren’t scared to speak their mind and to push the limits of their respective leagues. I know hockey is a very isolated sport but even being a fan in Canada listening to Canadian Sports shows, the NBA and NFL still dominate the off seasons because their product off the field is just as good as on field. You ever watch a NHL do a post game interview and think “Wow, that was entertaining”? Didn’t think so, you ever watch a Marshawn Lynch, or a Richard Sherman interview, you’re glued to the television, you’re searching them up, seeing who they are, following them on social media, keeping up on what they’re doing.

The main problem the NHL has in terms of off the ice is our personalities, we criticized PK Subban for being himself, for stepping outside the box. He’s entertaining, he’s fun to watch, he’s got a big personality, he’s respectful with everything he does and the hockey world criticizes him because it’s not “the hockey way”. The NHL and their personalities need to stop acting so old school and start to embrace and encourages players to be more like PK off the ice. The NHL needs to look at some of their younger demographic and accept we are more open to these bigger personalities, that we won’t crucify players for being more bold. Crosby, possibly the NHL biggest superstar has no known media accounts, and I love Crosby, I think he’s great, he was born a town over from me and I’ll cheer for him whenever I can, but off the ice, you hear nothing from him. With the young guns coming in like Matthews, Liane, Eichel, we should be encouraging the future NHL stars to have some personality, to promote the NHL not just on the ice but off the ice. To draw more attention to the NHL and make it a more talked about sport, not only Canada, but the United States also.

It was what I expected from the Penguins, saying they would go to the White House if invited, people just brushed it past social media and pushed it to the side. Could you imagine if the American Phil Kessel came out and said he didn’t agree with the Donald Trump said and came out with a statement saying he wouldn’t go to the White House. Or the Penguins as an organization to come out and support what’s going on and not accept an invitation. I don’t believe it would hurt the NHL as much as people would believe, the NHL would benefit because fans of other sports would see this and be more interested, they might search the team up, they might see what the NHL is all about, the NHL might get a few more fans. Now I’m not saying they need to protest the anthem at hockey games, but supporting the other major sports, to stand right there with the Golden State Warriors would make a major impact on the off season in hockey.

NHL, as a fan, as a young fan of the game, I loved it the moment I picked up a hockey stick and strapped up the laces. I’ve loved the product on the ice, but now is the time to support more personality off the ice and promote the NHL to the younger demographic. Make The NHL Great Again.

Will There Finally Be Good News For A New Home For The New York Islanders?

Will there finally be one suitable arena problem resolved for the NHL? The team with the second smallest arena seating capacity for hockey, the New York Islanders might finally get a new arena built at Belmont Park. The Islanders ownership is clear. There has to be a new home for the Islanders somewhere, either in the New York area or in Hartford. Staying in the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn is not feasible unless there is an emergency situation.

Since their glory days in late 1970s and early 1980s, the Islanders have been a run down franchise, mostly because of their arena problem. The old Nassau Coliseum with its 16,000 seats was relevant in the 1970s when the NHL median arena seating was approximately the same but as the decades passed, that median is now over 18,000 seats and the Nassau Coliseum/Barclay’s Center is now the second smallest in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg. Still worse, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructive view seating for hockey. Staying there for the long term really isn’t a feasible option.

The whole future of the franchise depends on moving to a suitable arena somewhere. The current Islanders ownership admirably wants to make the franchise a viable, contending team again but it cannot really start until the arena problem is solved. Their preference is to stay in the New York/Long Island area if a suitable arena can be built. Hartford and possibly Quebec City remain options if nothing local can be resolved.

The team has one genuine superstar, John Tavares, but a contending team cannot be built around him until the arena problem is clarified. With the bad ice and obstructive seats, the Islanders cannot sell out even the second smallest arena in the NHL. If the franchise is to survive, they have to have a new home somewhere.

Hartford knows it. The city and the state of Connecticut recently voted to spend $250 million to renovate the 41 year old XL Center to a more than adequate 19,000 seats. Then the mayor of Hartford and the Connecticut governor sent a letter to the Islanders inviting them to become a returned Hartford Whalers once the renovation is complete. But for now, the Islanders want to retain their traditional identity and remain in the New York area.

Unfortunately it is estimated that it will take Empire State Development 4-6 months to make a final decision on the arena issue and if favorable, it will take almost two years to build a new arena. Like all building projects, this requires some careful long-term thinking. Still from the Islanders point of view, it would be better if all the pre-planning period was over and construction finally started.

Hopefully, one of the worst issues on the NHL’s plate will finally be favorably resolved. That only leaves the decision of whether the NHL will accept renovated old arenas in Hartford and Seattle as good enough to grant expansion franchises; whether there will be new arenas in Ottawa and Calgary; whether there will be an Arizona Coyotes in the future; whether the new arenas being built in San Francisco and Milwaukee which are being built for the NBA will also be suitable for hockey or have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center; setting a suitable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo and finally letting Hamilton have an NHL franchise (remember them, Gary Bettman?); and resolving the Quebec City ownership mess. Other than that, happy times are coming to the NHL.

 

The Yurd: Week 1 NHL Review

With week 1 of the NHL regular season in the books we have a small sense of what the teams are going to look like, along with a few surprises. Here are the good, the bad and the unexpected of the week.

The Eastern Conference

The Best: Toronto Maple Leafs (3-1-0)
The Toronto Maple Leafs look good, like really good. The Leafs started off their season on the road in Winnipeg where they dismantled the Jets 7-2, then heading back home beating the Rangers 8-5 and the Blackhawks 4-3 in an OT thriller. Their only loss during that stretch coming against the New Jersey Devils. You can make the argument that New Jersey could be considered “the best”, but let’s be realistic here folks, the Devils don’t have the roster to sustain this for the rest of the season. While the Leafs will be fine and should be top 2 in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs young guns are looking great, Patrick Marleau looks 5 years younger out there and the resurgence of Dominic Moore adds great depth. One of the most important things to take away from this is depth scoring, all lines are putting pucks in the net and only 7 players don’t have goals, 5 of which are defencemen. The only things the Leafs should be concerned about is their goaltending, Frederik Andersen has struggled through 4 games with a save percentage of .871 and a GAA of 3.97. The Leafs also need to learn how to turn their switch back on when they get down by a few goals and get themselves back into the game. Other than that, the Leafs look like a real contender in the East.

The Worst: New York Rangers (1-3-0)
Starting off the season losing to the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 in Madison Square Garden is not the way you want to start the season off. The Rangers have started a disappointing 1-3-0, with their only win coming against the low scoring Canadiens. Lundqvist has not looked like the King early on in the season allowing a GAA of 3.06 and a save percentage just under .900. The only highlight of this less than stellar start seems to be Mika Zibanejad who has 5 goals in 4 games, this might be a good individual stat but as a team, Zibanejad has half of the team goals, not a way you want to start the year. Alain Vigneault has his hands full right now, if he’s not able to rally the Rangers, you wonder if he could be on the hot seat at some point during the year.

The Surprise: New Jersey Devils (3-0-0)
The Devils are coming out hot, they have yet to lose a game this year, outscoring opponents 16-6. Cory Schneider has been their best player by far, with a save percentage of .948 and a GAA of 2.00. As of now they rank second in the league in goals per game and are tied for fourth in goals allowed. I can’t see the Devils keeping this up in an 82 game season, but they might as well ride the hot streak as long as they can. Marcus Johansson seems to be fitting in fine in New Jersey with 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games, however the thing New Jersey fans should be feeling happy about is their rookie. No I’m not talking about Nico Hischier, but in Jesper Bratt. The 19 year old Swedish left winger now has 3 goals and 3 assists in 3 games, while posting a +5 rating. I can’t see New Jersey snagging a playoff spot in the loaded Metropolitan Division, but hey, you never know.

 

The Western Conference

The Best: Chicago Blackhawks (3-0-1)
Nothing against all you St. Louis Blues fans out there but Chicago might be the best team in the NHL. Their only loss coming against the Maple Leafs in overtime by a Matthews nip, you have to put this team at the top. Leading the season off with a 10-1 win against the Penguins on the road, then going into Columbus to dismantle them 5-1, that’s impressive. Outscoring their opponents 21-7, the Blackhawks seem to have shaken off their awful first round playoff exit last year. Remember the last time Toews led Chicago to the promise land? They had a kid named Brandon Saad on their team, since returning back to the red, white and black, he has 5 goals and 2 assists in 4 games, while his counterpart Toews has 5 points in 4 games. I’m not going to lie to you, the Blackhawks aren’t going to get knocked out against the first rounds this year, it’s early yes, but this Blackhawks team looks as good as ever. Meanwhile on the backend, Corey Crawford is looking great between the pipes, a GAA of 1.00 and a save percentage of .971, Crawford looks like he could lead this team to a Stanley Cup finals yet again.

The Worst: Nashville Predators (1-2-0)
The Predators will be tested tonight against the Dallas Stars, if they can get a regulation win here, they’ll move out of my “Worst” spot in the West. However for now I can say, what’s going on in Nashville? Their only win coming against the Philadelphia Flyers (with a little Power Play luck), they should be winless. After scoring 2 goals in under 60 seconds to end the game, the Predators barely squeaked out a win. They started the year losing to a young Bruins team without Bergeron, then getting shutout by the Pittsburgh Penguins two nights later. Have have allowed 13 goals over their first 3 games, for a team that is considered having one of the best defensive cores in the game, this is a really disappointment. Losing James Neal to the expansion draft might have been the worst thing to happen to the Preds over the summer, with that and the Stanley Cup finals loss hangover, they do not look like the same team as last year. However if they can get past all that, expect the Predators to bounce back soon, especially from the backend.

The Surprise: Las Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0)
I had a feeling the start for the Golden Knights was gonna be magical, and I was right. Las Vegas has yet to lose a game with their most impressive win coming against the Arizona Coyotes in their first ever home games. The Golden Knights came out hot with 4 first period goals, giving the fans something they needed in Las Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury has looked fantastic for them posting a fantastic GAA of 1.32 and a 3-0-0 start, although I’m still sadden to see him not in a Penguins uniform, I hope he and Las Vegas have great year. In the front end of things, James “The Real Deal” Neal seems to be loving Las Vegas, with 5 goals in 3 games, he’s off to a very hot start in the desert. I don’t expect them to make it to the playoffs, but I don’t think they’re a last place team. Expect the Golden Knights to be a surprise team this year and hopefully they can get a devoted fan base behind them.

 

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Alexander Ovechkin, 8 goals in 4 games, including back to back hat tricks. It’s not a coincidence that since switching back to CCM, he’s back to his old scoring ways.

Quebec City Gets The Players Vote For Expansion

The heat just got turned up further on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about getting Quebec City back in the NHL. In a recent players poll for USA Today, 67% of the NHL players who were asked which city should be the next NHL expansion team said Quebec City, the failed bidder in the last expansion, whose bid has been officially put into “suspension” by the NHL.

Actually, Quebec City would have been accepted without a problem during the last expansion along with Las Vegas, if they had a suitable bidder. In 2010, Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford and offered them terms for readmission, the first sign that the NHL was considering expansion in the future. These terms included three important factors; great fan base, a proper NHL size arena, and a suitable owner. Winnipeg is back (though through a franchise shift), Quebec has been knocking at the door, and now Hartford has said that it wants to join the party.

Quebec has now 800,000 municipal residents and a market that stretches from half way to Montreal eastward to include the four Maritime provinces. There is no problem with a fan base. It just opened the Videotron arena that the NHL loves so much, that it awarded Quebec City an exhibition World Cup game and allowed the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason exhibition games there. No problem with an arena.

That leaves the third factor, ownership, and the NHL wants nothing to do with Pierre Karl Peladeau, the owner of the Quebecor bidder. He is a known supporter of the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois; he engaged in a bidding war to buy the Montreal Canadiens against current owner Geoff Molson and when he lost, he made inappropriate public racial remarks about Molson; then he tried to obstruct one of Molson’s business colleagues; and is regarded by the NHL Board as too untrustworthy to be considered a Board member. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on the Board, no matter how much money he is offering. The damage he could potentially do far outweighs the half billion dollars that Peladeau is offering. Peladeau’s bid was doomed long before the first shovel for building the Videotron plunged into the earth. Gary Bettman turned Peladeau down without a second thought.

That still leaves the NHL’s unofficial commitment to Quebec City. Probably during the construction period, Bettman, who was seen publicly many times with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial premier but never with Peladeau, told the premier and the mayor privately that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner, but to continue to build the arena while he searched for a new owner.

Because whatever Bettman is doing or has done is behind the scenes, behind closed doors, it is difficult to see what is going on. He has to find a new owner and get Peladeau out of the picture. For a while I speculated that Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux who played his junior hockey in Quebec City and was selling his shares of the Penguins might be the new owner. Then I thought that Patrick Roy who resigned his coaching post with Colorado with ex-Nordique General Manager Joe Sakic’s blessing might be involved in an ownership group. He said at the Quebec exhibition World Cup game that he would do all he could to get Quebec City the Nordiques back.

But whatever Bettman is doing or hasn’t done is all shrouded in dark mystery so nobody but insiders have any clue to any progress being made. The NHL is quite content to live without Quebec City so long as they do not have a suitable owner forever. But that will not make Bettman very happy after the public promises he made during his 2010 tour.

Can he get rid of Peladeau or come to terms with him? Can he find suitable French Canadian owners? And if he can’t find suitable French Canadian owners, will Quebec accept English Quebec owners like Molson or outsiders from “English Canada” or the United States who cannot speak a word of French?

Canadians of course like to believe the myth they themselves created; that Bettman is an anti-Canadian and leads a gang of American owners who are opposed to any expansion to Canada. That’s hardly true of a Commissioner who publicly invited Winnipeg and Quebec to come back, urges new arenas in Ottawa and Calgary, and vows to give Edmonton a future All Star game and a chance to host the NHL Draft after being impressed during a tour of Edmonton’s new arena.

With all this public mystery going on, Quebec remains in suspension. Now a poll of the NHL’s players reveal that they favor Quebec City to be the next expansion team. That also makes things awkward for Bettman who wants to realign the league into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences each with 4 divisions of 4 or more teams. Quebec City is in the east, meaning that the most western team, either Detroit or Columbus has to be shifted back to the Western Conference at least temporarily which neither city wants. What Bettman really wants is an expansion by a single western city or an expansion by Quebec and two western cities. The last expansion, which was supposed to bring in four “done deals” and only got Las Vegas was a humiliating failure.

If you go on the Internet, you’ll see websites claiming that the NHL has no interest in Quebec and expanding further in Canada or that Las Vegas got in instead of or at the expense of Quebec City. None of it is true. The NHL and Bettman want Quebec back (especially if they can get another $500 million). So now does the majority of the players. It is bigotry, racism, and lack of capital that is keeping Quebec City out of the NHL. Everybody wants Quebec back, but nobody has found the key to unlocking the door.

 

Stop Complaining About WAR

A month or two ago, both DTM About Heart and MannyElk, two exceptionally talented hockey analytic experts, released their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) data. The two analysts calculate their statistic differently, but both use smart formulas that make a lot of sense, and show relatively similar results. For this post, we’ll be using MannyElk’s data, but simply because Sean Tierney was kind enough to put it in an easy to read graph, not because it is in any way better than DTM About Heart’s.  To put this simply, WAR is a statistic that measures a players contributions on both offence and defence in goals, somewhat like plus-minus, except using advanced statistics to measure offensive and defensive contributions, instead of just goals scored and against. These advanced statistics are a better representation of skill than goals scored and against while the player is on the ice, like in traditional plus-minus. The contributions of the player are then measured against those of a replacement level player, which is the player that would replace said player if that player was unable to play in any way. Essentially, a replacement level player is the 13th forward, the 7th defender, or the 3rd goalie. The goals are then translated to wins, to find how many wins a player is worth over a replacement level player.WAR is a complicated statistic that the average person will have difficulty calculating, including me, so I’m not going to go too far into depth on it here. 
After the data was released, there was a lot of anger and general dislike directed towards this statistic, largely in part due to how it put certain players ahead of others. As the following graph shows, this statistic places Ron Hainsey, a good defenceman, but by no means a top pairing player, ahead of Auston Matthews, who won the Calder, and looks like he will be the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs for quite some time.
Hockey fans didn’t like this very much, with plenty of Maple Leafs fans going on Twitter tirades defending their star forward. I, and most other people with an understanding of analytics that is above the level of “beginner”, didn’t see any issue with this.
Why?
Yes, Auston Matthews is better than Ron Hainsey, there is no question about that. But what is the point of statistical analysis of all that it tells us is what we already know? If that’s what we are looking to get out of it, why even use it all? Statistical analysis in hockey is in no way perfect, but neither is the “eye test”. Traditional and statistical analysis tell us two different things. The “eye test”, or traditional scouting, measures a player’s skill, and stats tell us the player’s contributions, and when the two are used together, they can tell us if a player is using his skill to it’s full extent, and if the situation the player is in is working out.  
A great example of the usefulness of statistics is Oilers defenceman Kris Russell, who is the subject of what is perhaps the biggest disagreement of traditional and statistical analysis in NHL history. On the surface, Russell appears to be a hardworking, shot-blocking blue liner that can be counted on in the defensive end. When you dive deeper, the statistics tell us that Russell has a negative impact on possession, and the production of his teammates, as well as being poor when defending leads, which is what a player considered to be a defensive defenceman like him is expected to be good at. For me, it’s the fact that he plays poorly when ahead in games that makes me believe that he isn’t a top 4 defenceman, as in my opinion, a top 4 defenceman shouldn’t need to be protected, and only be played in certain situations. A bottom pairing blueliner however, can be protected, making it the optimal role for Kris Russell to play in.
Using the eye test, I would say that Russell appears to be a middle pairing defenceman. When we dive into the stats, he looks like more of a bottom pairing defender. If we take both conclusions, and weight them equally, we can conclude that Kris Russell is a 4th or 5th defenceman, probably on the lower end of the scale for 4th defencemen, and the higher end for 5th defencemen. However, I’m more stats oriented, and I believe that stats tell us more than our eyes, but not to a huge margin. When I am making conclusions about a player, I weight statistics at about 65-70 percent, and traditional scouting at 30-35 percent. With statistics weighted higher, we can conclude that Russell is a bottom pairing defenceman, which is what I believe.
When only using statistics, the general opinion is usually nearly identical. However, statistics are not everything, and the eye test is also important while making conclusions, although in my opinion, not equally. However, others may believe that the eye test is equally, or more important that statistics when judging a player, and that’s okay, because at the end of the day, you are entitled to your opinion, and as long as you include both statistics and traditional scouting in your conclusion, your opinion will likely be an informed one, and therefore a legitimate one. It’s when one ignores one component, either stats or scouting, that that opinion is no longer an educated one, and in most cases, is no longer a fair one. Information is key to an opinion, so why limit yourself to only one kind of information, when you can have two? It doesn’t make sense.
WAR is an innovative and great statistic created by smart people, but the issue with it is not that it puts Ron Hainsey ahead of Auston Matthews, it is because it does not use traditional scouting. The fact that it does not use traditional scouting is actually why it puts Hainsey ahead of Matthews, as it only utilizes the stats, which don’t nearly tell the full story, especially in this situation. So please, stop criticizing WAR because it puts one player ahead of another. The real issue lies somewhere else, but that isn’t WAR’s fault, or the fault of the smart people that created it. The issue is the issue that lies in all statistics, that they don’t use scouting in their conclusions, but the reality is that that is impossible, because scouting is all opinions, and everyone has a different opinion, and opinion cannot be defined in a concrete number.  
You can use numbers in making a conclusion, but your conclusion should not be measured in numbers, as opinion cannot be defined in a number. In a perfect world, a conclusion should be defined in a paragraph, or multiple paragraphs that include numbers, but are still mostly words. All that I ask is that you don’t use just numbers, because that isn’t as accurate as it could be, and why not make it as accurate as possible? Please, use a mix of words and numbers. Do it for me.
Just to set things straight, I support the use of statistics. In fact, I encourage it. As I mentioned earlier, I weight statistics over scouting when judging players. If you follow my NHL draft coverage, you know that I use my spreadsheet a lot. It’s my main source of information on prospects, but that being said, it is not my sole source. I also watch games and highlights, as well as reading scouting reports from other scouts. I do all that, because I don’t see why I should share my opinion if I’m not going to do my best to make sure that it is as well informed as possible. Ryan Merkley, a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, is number one on my draft spreadsheet. If I only used stats, Ryan Merkley would be #1 on my draft rankings, and guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, number 1 and 2 on my, and many other, draft lists, wouldn’t even be top 5. Anybody that follows the draft knows that Dahlin and Svechnikov are better prospects than Ryan Merkley, but if we only looked at stats, we wouldn’t know that. When we do mix in scouting, we realize that Dahlin and Svechnikov truly are better, and that Merkley, despite being incredibly talented, has far too many red flags to be #1.  
This can also go the other way, as Calen Addison, another 2018 prospect, is ranked late first, early second by many, but due to his statistics, I have him in the mid first round.
Statistics don’t mean much without scouting, and scouting doesn’t mean much without statistics. They go hand in hand, so use them hand in hand. Please.