Thank god hockey is back. It has been a tough winter for me. The Penguins have won The Cup and I want more, the win as a fan leaves me wanting to see more high quality hockey. Thankfully the World Cup pops along and we have some quality to watch.
One thing I have noticed through the build of this tournament is the great divide between 'the eye test' and the 'numbers nerds'. I honestly thought the divide would be getting smaller not larger. I suppose it was wishful thinking. I believe that the 'analytics movement' is a great tool to help see what has happened, it is a great tool to help you find traits in players and teams that your brain just cannot process watching a game at full speed. To totally rely on own 2 eyes as the be all and end all of team and player analysis is the height of arrogance, it also sets you up to fail more often than being right.
That is the real kicker isn't it, what is being right? I would assume winning a Stanley Cup is being right, improving your point production is being right, improving your goals against is being right. These all lead to improvements in results, how you go about those improvements as coaches and players is where those people make their money.
What is frightening are the people in decision making positions in the NHL who are either too arrogant or frightened of 'the numbers' to use them. Whether this is because it will mean the are 'wrong' or they feel that they know so much that new data, new information will be superfluous to the information their experience and 'eye test' provides.
Look at the 2 big trades that happened in the summer, the 'stats community' felt there were two big winners and two massive loosers. Sift through twitter and you will see the shock of the trades and condesending tone that a lot of 'stats community' threw at those teams, I was part of that. It was baffling, there is more at play in these trades than just numbers, there is locker room fit, attitude and perceived ability to win with certain players.
I will give credit to those in the traditional hockey media who attempted to justify the trade of Subban for Weber, using all the key hockey words for players who are delcining or are just not good; grit, leadership, hard working, physical, good in his own zone. All of these qualities are important parts of a hockey team, but are no good without skill.
Shea Weber has skill, the issue for Montreal is PK has more, and helps his team in both ends of the ice more that what Shea Weber helped the Predators.
Just using Dom Galamini's HERO charts can show you that reducing shots on Carey Price is going to be harder with Weber on the ice. This is just the simple truth, and this is where these numbers and graphs hurt, they are a statement of what has transpired, this is for the 2016 season, Subban was playing for a trainwreck of a team and Weber almost made the Conference Finals. Yet Subban still suppressed shots on his goalie better than webber. I haven't even mentioned the length of contract and age of player at the time of the trade. I don't blame Matt Pfeffer for throwing everything at Canadiens management to avoid the trade.
I'm not looking for a Scientology conversion here, just a bridging of the gap between opinion and 'feel' and the emotionless reality of numbers. I will give the Predators credit here though, they had the balls to trade away their captain, but even taking that into account, they still win this trade hands down.
As for the Oilers and the Devils, their GM lucked into a Cup win with a goalie in Tim Thomas who had one of the best playoff runs of all time. That Boston team got "Red Winged" by the Canucks in 2011. Then the trade of Seguin trade occurs and the demise of the Bruins started. This is the same GM who traded one of the best wingers in the game, full stop. The argument in Edmonton is this trade allowed the the Oilers to get skilled protection for McDavid, in Lucic, but he has to keep up with McDavid both mentally and physically. Plus Lucic is reactionary with his 'protectionist' actions, it's how the roll works. If he is the protagonist, the opposition will run McDavid in retribution, thus he cannot 'protect' McDavid until it is too late and he has been hit. In reality the Oilers just need to petition to the League to call the rules correctly and protect the leagues MOST IMPORTANT ASSET.
The gaps between these two players is not massive, however the ages of the players is what makes the change of player on the wing so damning. I know that Taylor Hall being traded for Adam Larsson helped at a position of need, however Adam Larsson alone is not enough for a player of Hall's talents.
There is a trend with Chiarelli, be warned Edmonton fans, you have the hard parts of the roster down pat, the superstar and an extremely high level of support players, albeit reduced by one. The NHL is moving to a fast, young mans game. If your wonderful forwards cannot use the puck with speed they will be neutered and told to have more grit, get bigger and stronger, when in reality, they need to play to their strengths. Puck moving defencemen are hard to come by, thus the high price of Hall to obtain Larsson, however Larsson is not a player who is going to help get the puck out of the zone on his own skates, or aggressively pinch to maintain zone time so your talented forwards can play with the puck more.
I know, I know, contracts matter and Shattenkirk not being signed past the end of the 2017 season is a big problem, however if Edmonton has a new arena, the next superstar, surely they can convince Shattenkirk to hang around long enough to get the puck to their forwards.
We love sports because we can all have an opinion, however the numbers can often make us look silly for our opinions. Those that use the numbers and the images can be very brutal about using them (me included) because when you see the data it looks so obvious.
I have realised that until those with the biggest platforms are able to put these numbers into broadcasts during play and then through intermissions. Until the numbers are not mocked by those covering the sport, in fear they are going to be replaced by them, we are going to see this divide get wider and wider.
Let the number shaming begin for 2016.
Thanks for reading.