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Red Wings early overnight report: on advanced stats and standards of performance

I took a roundabout way to doing what I do for a living, and my trip involved a failed attempt to pursue an engineering degree because I couldn't keep up with Calc III and two attempts to complete a far-too-advanced "statistics and probability" class that ended in failure.

I tend to cringe involuntarily when people start talking about "advanced stats." Strangely enough, however, I've also tended to keep track of shot attempts on a period-by-period basis, noticing on my own that the stat's a superb indicator of who's controlling puck possession...And ExtraSkater's summary of the terms "Corsi" and "Fenwick" both explain that shot attempts are the basis of said numbers, and, unlike those who get into wars insisting that you can't predict a game's results without "seeing it" versus those who suggest that a close look at the scoresheet makes "gut feeling" observations irrelevant:

Corsi  Corsi is the number of shot attempts by a team or player. In other words, it's the sum of a team or players's goals, shots on net, shots that miss the net, and shots that are blocked. It's used as a proxy for puck possession: since we can't (yet) measure how long a player or team has possession of the puck, we use corsi as an approximation. We're interested in puck possession because you can't score if you don't have the puck (and the team that has puck more often usually wins). For players, we usually measure "on-ice" corsi, or all of their team's shot attempts while they're on the ice.

Fenwick  Fenwick is the number of unblocked shot attempts by a team or player. It's the same as corsi, but excludes shots that are blocked. It's used because over many games it's a slightly better proxy for possession than corsi. It's not used exclusively instead of corsi mainly because over smaller sample sizes, the larger corsi number is more accurate in reflecting puck possession.

As suggested by the in-italics part of my intro, there's something of a war between those who believe that hockey--especially when the NHL introduces the extra cameras and player-tracking software that it's stated it will install in rinks over the next two years--can in fact be turned into baseball-style "moneyball" versus those who argue that hockey is too fast-paced and inherently unpredictable to determine a player's worth based upon a few "advanced stats."

NHL teams, or at least the teams that aren't run by Brian Burke, will tell you that they are in fact quite interested in accumulating and analyzing as much information as they possibly can, regardless of whether its "metric" is measured by Corsi, Fenwick, PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) or "gut feeling," but they will tell you two things:

1. Teams are a little skeptical of the "unbiased" status of team-employed statistical crews. In some rinks, you'll see a team credited with 50-to-60 shot attempts by default, and in others, if the goaltender doesn't have to stop the attempt and the puck doesn't clang off the glass, it's a "dump-in" as far as some stats crews are concerned;

2. Teams are regularly approached by companies who insist that they have in fact found a way to measure and crunch every stat in such a manner as to accurately predict player and team behavior, and for the low low price of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, they'd be happy to provide their services to the team.

So yes, most teams do in fact keep track of Corsi and Fenwick numbers, but the teams tend to prefer to collect their stats independently (see: the Wings' back-up goaltender keeping faceoff stats for the team), and teams are still somewhat leery of those who insist that this or that advanced metric is the best way to analyze a player's effectiveness

37 years after Roger Neilson first began to utilize video scouting to break down games, teams use the NHL's rink cameras and sophisticated video software to break down and catalog plays, but even after the Leafs hired "stats guru" Kyle Dubas as their assistant GM, teams aren't suddenly going to gut their pro scouting staffs, nor is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock going to do anything less than pre-scout his team's next opponent by doing anything less than watching the team's previous 2 games.

Babcock made a surprising set of comments to NHL.com's Dan Rosen today, as noted by Rotoworld...

That's just smart. If you don't have someone dedicated to a relatively new set of information that's available to you, and you can hire someone with a math-and-hockey background to help you navigate all of the newer stats that are "coming online" as the years pass, you need to create a position and fill it.

This doesn't mean that Mark Howe, Kirk Maltby or any of the Wings' pro scouts are going to stop traveling across the country watching as many games in-person as possible to scout both teams and players, this doesn't mean that (as we learned today) Mr. Ilitch's gut feeling won't influence Ken Holland, Ryan Martin, Kris Draper, etc.'s decision-making, and this doesn't mean that all of a sudden, the Wings are going to bench Daniel Cleary because his "numbers suck"...

But it's a change for the good.

Obviously I feel similarly to Babcock--one must avail oneself of all of the available information, but given the thus-far inconsistent set of data collectors, and given that hockey is inherently fast-paced and somewhat unpredictable, I can't say that I feel that stats are a be-all-end-all, nor are "eyeball" viewings and "gut feelings" without statistical context.

I think they're intertwined--which is a good thing--and that this whole argument over what are still a limited number of advanced stats are much ado about people who come from different schools of thought sparring about "who knows better."

Winging it in Motown's Kyle McIlmurray weighed in on Rosen's Tweets:

Not long ago, I think some of us can remember Ken Holland stating that his philosophy was going with "gut analytics." I'll admit, when I heard him say that, I wanted to throw-up all over myself and lay face down on my floor. There is nothing I crave more than a team who thinks progressively, applies new ideas and tries new things. What does Corsi provide you? It provides raw data for a player's shot attempts. It takes out zone-relative data, goalie save percentage, shooting percentage, and shows you if he is getting outshot or is the one doing the majority of the outshooting. Players like Henrik Zetterberg, are possession monsters who anchor the puck, and create shot attempts, where players like Luke Glendening are usually doing the exact opposite.

Earlier this month, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote a piece about NHL teams and how they are beginning to warm up to the untapped world of statistics. The article, which can be found here, mainly cites two NHL general managers. New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello, and our very own Ken Holland. What Kenny said, wasn't TOO much of a surprise. He seems a bit reluctant, but he's obviously starting to entertain the option of investing in it:

Quoting Campbell:

Ken Holland is a lot like [New Jersey Devils GM Lou] Lamoriello. He has run the Detroit Red Wings hockey department for a long time and with enormous success. He’s also an unconventional thinker and one of the more progressive voices in the game. He wants to embrace analytics, but like a lot of other hockey people, isn’t sure the numbers tell a complete story.

“We’ve been talking about it, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big factor in any of our decision making,” Holland said. “Let’s say you’re Pavel Datsyuk’s linemate. You move to another team and not playing with Pavel Datsyuk is going to have an effect on your lack of success. With baseball, it’s more black and white because the pitcher is on the mound and he’s going against the batter. But in hockey, you’ve got four teammates and five opponents who are going to have some impact on what’s going to happen.”

One of the problems with analytics is that the people doing them are taking their information from the event summaries provided by the NHL. Those summaries are done by human beings, all sorts of them, who might have a different interpretation of what just happened. Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said it occurs often. He said the league will sometimes send out video of a disputed goal and ask 10 GMs if it should have counted. Five will come back saying it should count, the other five saying it should be disallowed. A giveaway or takeaway in one arena might not be one in another. Robert Svehla used to lead the league in hits when he played for the Florida Panthers, largely because he could count on being credited with double digits in hits every time he played a home game.

That's very true, very very true. This is still a "young" science by hockey standards, and from a hockey-acceptance standpoint, "advanced stats" are still learning how to walk.

But there are things such as Corsi that take that kind of subjectivity out of the equation. When you’re combining shots, missed shots and blocked shots, you’ve got every kind of possible shot covered. A defensive zone start cannot be disputed, nor can things such as a goalie’s save percentage.

(Yeah, but color me skeptical regarding what counts as a missed shot or blocked shot in a particular rink)

Anyway, Kyle drops a bit of a bombshell before noting that, as you and I know, the Red Wings are a team whose success is built upon puck possession:

So, they've been talking about it.. That's enough to make me excited over it. But speaking to somebody inside the organization, I learned Ken Holland directly told players at this year's Development Camp that they would begin implementing "shot attempt" analysis into their evaluation. Shot attempts = Corsi/Fenwick. Period. And yes, I trust this source.

As Kyle points out, given that assistant GM Ryan Martin was previously the team's salary cap specialist and a player agent, this shouldn't surprise us.

Does getting a "stats guy" mean that, "Hey, Babs, Quincey's got a bad PDO over the past three games, he needs to take a seat" will overrule the coach's decision-making? No, that's not going to happen, but the more information the team can analyze and utilize to their advantage, the better.

 

 


Shifting gears but continuing in the same vein, Chris Ilitch's interview on WDFN really did change the "equation" for me. I had assumed that Mr. Ilitch was slowly but surely shifting his focus away from the management of his sports teams, and his apparent status as still very hands-on in the workings of the Tigers and Red Wings...

That explains some stuff, or it at least helps us understand why the management's same-old-same-old, "Let's make a lateral move if we can't land our target in free agency" and, "We're going to be overly loyal to our players, even if it hurts us, because bringing back someone we know is generally a god thing" philosophies are still so entrenched.

Maybe Ken Holland isn't the only person who's thinking that way, and maybe in Cleary's case, he's getting a tap on the shoulder.

I had hoped that Chris Ilitch's different paradigm, combined with Ryan Martin's background (again, he's a lawyer, a former player agent and was the team's salary cap specialist) and Kris Draper's increased role would yield some more aggressive movement, but instead, two years after the team swung and missed on Ryan Suter, they still haven't found the Ryan Suter who was supposed to step into Nicklas Lidstrom's shoes, they still haven't found a right-shooting defenseman, they still haven't added a pure goal-scoring winger to the mix, and they still keep retaining or bringing back alumni who've done little to retain their jobs, never mind earn raises, almost reflexively.

So the regime is in fact "older" than we'd all anticipated, literally and figuratively, wth Mr. I and Jimmy Devellano still having larger roles in player personnel than we'd assumed, and with Chris Ilitch instead taking a business-centric role in the organization.

That doesn't excuse the team's consistently poor offseason results since they landed Brian Rafalski in 2007 and Marian Hossa in 2008, and the Detroit Sports Site's Max DeMara speaks for all of us in this regard--and he does so while wondering whether the Wings will be held to the same or better performance standards now that we know a new arena is 3 years away:

Fans, while loyal, certainly aren’t stupid. They know that lately, the team has badly fallen short of those goals. It’s no one person’s fault that free agents have rejected overtures, or proper moves have been made, but the organization as a whole stands to lose the most goodwill with fans if things cannot get worked out on all these fronts within the next two years. It will help threaten the investment the Ilitch family is making in downtown Detroit and could set the new land development up for quick failure.

The Wings goals remain making the Final Four every year and attempting to make a good run toward the Stanley Cup, and we're certainly not seeing that happen these days.

I do agree with DeMara that there's a little more on the line now that we're talking about a $450 million rink beginning to be built this fall, but I also fear that the organization might rest on its laurels until they're in the new barn and more revenue is flowing.

There are many Wings fans who fully believe that Holland & Company have been told to tread water until the team arrives in its new barn and people are paying more money for tickets, suites, etc., and sub-par on-ice performances provide fertile ground for that line of thought.

Sports, despite being maligned for it, so often does becomes the lifeblood for community and city development. A quality Red Wings product on the ice would only enhance the ability of the new arena district to get off on the right foot. Otherwise, Olympia Entertainment will have to rely on buzz and venue excitement alone to do the trick. In the short term, that would easily happen, but over the course of time, excitement could peak allowing every part of the project to slowly stagnate.

That's the fear regarding the surrounding development. "Everything at once" sounds nice until you look back at the last 40-to-45-years of City of Detroit, Wayne County and State of Michigan governance and insertion of sticky fingers into construction processes to benefit the legislators currently in office and/or their business partners, and if the Ilitches aren't careful, this could get very messy.

The wisest move, at this point, would be for the Ilitch family to begin to demand more both from Ken Holland and themselves in a team building role. The 2013 Red Wings as constructed, and likely the 2014 team as well, wouldn’t be able to match their expected exceptional surroundings with the proper level of play. As a result, what people would be motivated to live in such an area? What diners would come without any other quality entertainment to enjoy? What would shoppers be drawn to purchase if not team apparel first?

That's the good part of this rink being built--it demands a strong "anchor tenant" to draw people downtown 42 regular-season nights and hopefully more than 6-8 playoff nights per season--and that suggests that the team's "low ebb" can't sink any lower than it is now if the team's to bring a premiere product to the new rink in 3 years.

Red Wings fans aren't spoiled in my opinion--we're accustomed to a high standard of excellence, and I don't believe that there's anything wrong with settling for seventh or eighth-best (or worse) given the amount of money that it costs to follow the Wings and attend Wings games.

Since it turns out that Mr. Ilitch is in fact still involved in the Wings' roster machinations, he and the Red Wings' managment and coaching staffs need to examine their regular season, playoff and offseason records of late, and they need to utilize every avenue available to them to ensure that Mr. I's shaking hands with a 39-year-old Pavel Datsyuk and 36-year-old Henrik Zetterberg in three years, and that Mr. I's shaking hands with the elder statesmen of an elite NHL team at that time.

The Wings aren't elite right now, and that's not good enough for Detroit or Red Wings fans, old rink, new rink or no rink.

 

 

 

Otherwise, via RedWingsFeed, Michigan Hockey found a YouTube video sourcing a clip from Fox Sports Detroit's Wingspan, discussing the Little Caesars hockey program, and Kris Draper, Todd Bertuzzi and Danny DeKeyser discuss the tradition and reputation thereof:

Update: FYI/FTR from the Grand Rapids Press's Jon Rzepecki:

A playoff atmosphere has once again found Grand Rapids as Southern Little League will host both the 9/10 and Senior League state baseball tournaments this week.

Western Little League of Grand Rapids (District 9) will field teams in both tournaments. An opening ceremony will be held for the players aged 9-10 at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 25, at MacKay-Jaycees Park off Kalamazoo Avenue.

Games for the 9/10 will begin on Friday before the ceremonies. The tournament will run until the championship game on Wednesday, July 30.

...

Detroit Red Wings center, and former Southern Little Leaguer, Luke Glendening from East Grand Rapids will speak at the ceremony.

"I have fond memories of my time at Southern Little League and know that each is learning a good deal about baseball and even more about life while making life-long friendships," Glendening said. "That's what Southern Little League is all about."

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.