by PuckStopsHere on 08/25/13 at 06:51 PM ET
Steve Simmons writes a bunch of soundbites and publishes it as a column in the Toronto Sun each week. Here is his most recent example. In it one of his soundbites is
Another reason why I have next to great difficulty for the CORSI analytic statistic in hockey. I saw a team adjusted CORSI ranking for this past season. Tyler Seguin of the Bruins was rated fifth best in the NHL. The same Seguin whom Bruins coach Claude Julien kept on the third line, moving rookie Carl Soderberg from press box to first-line centre when Patrice Bergeron got hurt. I’ll take Julien’s instincts over strange numbers anytime
My first reaction when I read this was perhaps he read my work. After all I published the top 20 players in 2013 by team adjusted Corsi this week. That is unlikely to be a coincidence is it? If I am the source that Simmons used, he definitely did not understand what he read and probably made no attempt to understand it. That is easily shown because Tyler Seguin is not fifth best in the NHL, he is actually sixth. That isn't a big difference and perhaps implies that Simmons saw some other list that team adjusted players in another manner. In a worst case it shows Simmons was not very good at fact-checking. However, whether Seguin is 5th or 6th really makes no difference to the point he is attempting to make.
The point Simmons is attempting to make is that if I scan a list of the top finishers in a given stat and there is one person near the top that I do not agree with, then the statistic makes no sense. For example he could argue that he has big troubles with goals being used as a hockey statistic because Jiri Tlusty finished tied for fifth in goals in the NHL last season and there is no possible argument one could make that Tlusty is the fifth best player in hockey. In fact I couldn't make a coherent argument for him being in the top 50 players in hockey. Is that not the same point Simmons tries to make? Does anyone seriously think it invalidates goals as a hockey statistic? What it shows us it that goals (or team adjusted Corsi) or any other single number does not by itself rank NHL players. In the subset of games we saw last year Tlusty was one of the top goal scorers in the NHL and Tyler Seguin was the sixth best player in terms of the puck possession that his team had while he was on the ice relative to his teammates.
If I as trying to make Simmons simplistic point that one player near the top of a given statistic invalidates the statistic, I would have found another player to pick on. Why not Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings who appears third (ahead of Seguin) and is probably not seen as a player with Seguin's value (would you think Williams could have been traded for Loui Eriksson?)
With any statistic there are two groups of players who will excel. There are the players who have significant skill in the area that the statistic measures and there are players who play in circumstances that maximize their ability to do well in the area the statistic measures (more realistically all players have a bit of both behind their numbers). In order to "discredit" a statistic Steve Simmons style, one needs to identify a player who played under circumstances that maximized their ability to excel in a given area measured by a particular stat far more than his natural skills put him near the top in that stat. You need to find someone like Jiri Tlusty in the goals statistic.
The problem is Steve Simmons didn't do a particularly good job selecting this player in Tyler Seguin. Seguin is a very high draft pick (second overall) who has done well in terms of puck possession numbers or in terms of points per minute of ice time throughout his young career but has never been given a chance to play a significant frontline role. Simmons criticism implies that Claude Julien is infallable and could never have kept a talented player from getting the chance he should have had. This is a somewhat silly claim as hockey history is littered with talented players who were never given much of a shot with their first NHL team and moved on to another team to reach their highest levels of success. Martin St Louis in Calgary, Dominik Hasek in Chicago and Marcel Dionne in Detroit are three obvious examples off the top of my head. Some players were not given shots on well-run teams that won Stanley Cups including both Esposito brothers (Phil in Chicago and Tony in Montreal). There are countless other examples we could find if we keep looking. The possibility that Claude Julien was wrong in not giving Seguin a bigger role in Boston and eventually in getting him traded is quite plausible.
Seguin was hurt in terms of total ice time because of the way he was used in Boston. If he played more, his numbers would have been better. However as a big fish on the small pond of the Boston third line Seguin was sheltered from playing in the toughest situations and that likely helped him in a statistic like a team adjusted Corsi ranking.
The Seguin trade to Dallas was Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to Dallas from Boston for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser. Seguin, Peverley and Eriksson are the proven NHLers here. Eriksson is probably the most established so far, as he appeared in the 2011 All Star Game. The other four players are prospects and the prospects going to Boston are more likely to make significant NHL impacts. The reaction from most NHL observers is that Dallas got the biggest jewel in Seguin. He is a young player who is full of talent and looks ready to soon establish himself as an NHL star. It is a big price for Dallas to have paid to obtain Rich Peverley and Ryan Button if Seguin was not regarded as a soon-to-be star player. This is the kind of deal which could go a long way to rebuild Dallas and go down as one of the more lopsided trades in recent history.
Seguin is a poor choice for Simmons to key onto to make his attempted point about Corsi. In a couple years somebody merely posting Simmons words verbatim could lead to laughter. I imagine there is a further agenda to bash Tyler Seguin or to suck up to Claude Julien.
The biggest problem with Simmons writing is that he writes a series of soundbites and we are to guess at their context. It appears he mistrusts Corsi largely because it is new and he doesn't get it. He would probably have the same reaction if he was just introduced to goals as a new statistic and be amazed that somebody like Jiri Tlusty could be at the top. Instead he picks a player who is regarded as a soon-to-be star because he wasn't given a frontline role in Boston as his example of a top team adjusted Corsi player who invalidates the statistic. If Seguin makes the leap forward that many expect his point will look really silly. Even if he doesn't, Seguin's puck possession success can be understood as a talented player gets to play a protected third line role allowing him to be a big fish in a small pond. The biggest thing Steve Simmons needs to do to make a valid point is to stop writing a column of soundbites and better address any one of the points he thinks he is making in a soundbite.
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