For the past few months, perhaps years, there has been an ongoing war pitting old school journalism and their perceptions of hockey against that of the modern day analytics believers.
You can find these debates on any given day. All you have to do is take a look at the mentions of anybody who is firmly planted on one side of the issue or the other on Twitter.
The reason this debate continues to rage on is because it has to do with power. It has to do with people who used to control hockey narratives now feeling threatened that they no longer hold the keys to the discussion.
Before, a writer could make things up and lean heavily on intangibles to make their cases for or against certain players based on their own biased perceptions, real or imagined.
With the rise of tangible and credible data/analytics more and more people hold the keys to today's hockey discussions.
The old guard does not like this. This dynamic reminds me of one of my favorite television shows, The Wire.
*Very mild spoilers below*
In The Wire, the Major Crimes Unit is always on the cusp of doing fantastic things until the higher ups in the police force get in the way of their success. One of The Wire's many great characters is brilliant detective Lester Freamon. He had a simple philosophy of trying to fight crime in the drug war. His philosophy wasn't to follow the drugs, it was to follow the money
"All the pieces matter" - Lester Freamon
Instead of falling prey to the old predictable ways of fighting the "war on drugs" (which always lead to small time arrests that have literally no impact on the greater issue at hand) Freamon decided to take a different and more progressive route, he decided to follow the money. The money led him to politicians and other high end targets.
What could the Baltimore's inner city drug war in The Wire possibly have to do with hockey stats and analysis? The drugs are the narratives based on intangibles that old school journalists have used. They can't be proven or dispelled, but are spoken of like they are gospel. Following the drugs will never provide you the how's and the why's of what is happening. It is low level stuff, you never get to the root cause. Most intangible based hockey writing is low level, it does not help objectively explain anything that is happening.
The money is analytics, it doesn't have a bias, it's just information, follow it and not only will you find more answers , you'll find more questions, and as a result you'll learn way more than if you were to do it the other way.
The Police Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of Operations in The Wire did not like the money being followed because it exposed the people that had the power of keeping them employed. They needed to bury the investigation(s) in an effort to not ruffle feathers. Following the money (data) was bringing to light way too much pertinent information. The people in power wanted to stay in power, it didn't matter if the information would help the greater good.
Basically in a nutshell this the reason why a number of hockey journalists do not like modern hockey analytics. The information is leading to more questions, more answers, and a better understanding of what happens on the ice. The people in power want to stay in power, and the only way to do it is to try and suffocate and ridicule the new information. The more information that is out there, the more exposed they become.
The good news is that this information cannot be suppressed anymore. There are way too many great writers/bloggers on the internet doing great things and it is all easily accessible. Print media used to be the gatekeeper to sports information, but that is a no longer the case. The drug war may have no end in sight, but the war against analytics is a losing battle at this point.
As fans of hockey we are entering a golden age of hockey information. What started with Corsi/Fenwick and player usage charts will evolve greatly with the additions of tracking systems like SportVU. There has never been a better time to be a fan.
I for one am going to enjoy "following the money" for years to come.
Thanks for reading!