October 02, 2014

Pucks On The 'Net: On Advanced Stats

It has been the summer of analytics and advanced statistics. National Hockey League teams and sports media outlets are hiring bloggers from all over the place to help them get the edge on understanding these stats. Corsi. Fenwick. PDO.

I am admittedly indifferent to many of these stats. I am certainly not opposed to them. But I am not by any means enamored by them either. I am about as neutral as can be on the topic as far as hockey is concerned.

But on the journalism front I'm a little more annoyed, I admit.

Take, for example, last week when I turned to a Canucks blog at 4am (I get up early) to catch the final score of the Vancouver/Arizona pre-season contest. The author (who does not need to be named), presumably hoping to get hired by a NHL team himself, proceeded to break the game down with Corsi charts and Fenwick graphs and criticisms of players who had a bad night, at least according to the spread sheets.

Yet at no point in the article did the author happen to mention the only hockey statistic that matters at all - THE FINAL SCORE! A note to all you advanced stats bloggers - your main job is still quasi-journalism. Before you go on your advanced stats diatribes please remember the 5W's and the final score, usually somewhere in the opening paragraph or two!

Now I know this was an unusual case. In fact, while I'm not convinced advanced stats help NHL brain trusts, coaches and players much, the one thing I did like about advanced stats was it was bringing better quality content to the blogosphere.

Content is king, but presentation is almost as important. Many of these advanced stats writers go on and on about their numbers as if they are unable to talk about the game in any traditional way. I love that they are looking at hockey differently and are bringing new content to the conversation, but it has to be done right. Certainly the dismissive and condescending attitude of a few of the top advance stats proponents did not help matters.

The top writers, like Cam Charron, Rob Vollman and Thomas Drance, are first and foremost excellent writers. They are the cream of the crop because they understand the importance of the story. They also understood that hockey analytics really just raise questions and do not answer any. They dug deeper, trying to find the answers. That's why they got hired. They earned their reputations not only as advanced stats guys, but as writers who understand the game of journalism as much as hockey.

Advanced stats are here to stay. So you might as well start figuring out what a Corsi is, I guess. Just remember - at the end of the night it is hockey's traditional statistics that still tell the story of the game - goals, saves, and the final score.

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