NHL offseason: Analysis, statistics and the process of gathering information

Harry How

The discourse on non-traditional statistics in sports has progressed over the years. Regardless of your standpoint, the goal of any statistic is to provide information and disregarding information is a great way to get left in the past.

The line was clearly defined. When I first became aware of Twitter and the online hockey community associated with it, the discourse around analytics was evidently divisive in nature. That discussion largely remains unchanged, as polarizing viewpoints are fired between those who incorporate non-traditional statistics and those who do not.

While this debate is engaged on a regular basis, it seemingly becomes more amplified during the offseason. Considering fans have nothing more to talk about than player evaluation, statistics are used to demonstrate a player's worth. This lends itself to disagreement over the evaluation method between those who use non-traditional stats and those who do not.

The primary source of conflict appears to revolve around the premise of watching the game and quantifying the game. In the end, both perspectives are trying to determine value, which is why the schism between the two seems so trivial in nature.

I'm not particularly strong with numbers. I had a terrible math teacher when I was in middle school (two-years in a row!) and I never rebounded. Calculating assists, goals and save percentage was easy for me. Fully understanding what Corsi was, wasn't as easy. Fortunately, I've come into contact with individuals who do understand it (as well as the other 'advanced analytics') and have had a chance to speak with them about the concepts.

While I'm still not comfortable heading over to Behind the Net, analyzing the data and including it in my features, game stories or news updates, the concept of non-traditional analysis has altered the way I perceive the game. In essence, it has broadened my perception of what is valuable, which is the sole reason for using a statistic, traditional or not.

Eric T. is an individual who writes at great lengths about analysis. His focus primarily highlights information supported by non-traditional statistics. However, Eric's primary point is not the statistic but rather the dynamic perspective the statistic can provide when determining value, via Broad Street Hockey:

The lesson isn't "stats can help you win"; it's "knowing more than the other guy can help you win".

'Knowledge is power' is a really lame thing to put on a poster in a classroom. It's also a universal truth.

Education -- and the process of seeking it -- is important, whether you're trying to make more money at your job or ice a more competitive hockey team. The more information you have about something, the more prepared you will be to determine how valuable it is. By embracing data, you are embracing information.

That doesn't mean the data is infallible. It just means you as an individual have more information to lean on when making a decision. This is the perspective taken by Kyle Dubas, the general manager of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, via Buzzing the Net:

Right, well I look at advanced... analytics as just another avenue to broaden the way that we look at the game in a way that maybe we can find some inefficiencies with the way that teams evaluate players. I don't look at it as the be-all and end-all, I don't look at it as being right 100% of the time.

Personally, the way I viewed the game changed when I became aware of non-traditional statistics. It's not that I reference a player's Corsi or zone entries the way I would a goal total, but I am more aware of the benefit of possession. In turn, I pay more attention to it when watching a game than I used to. As a whole, my perspective has broadened and has opened up new areas of potential analysis.

Ultimately, that's the whole point of information. You either learn from it or you don't, which isn't so much about the data as much as it is about you.

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