Damn it man, I’m a metrician, not a magician!

Damn it man, I’m a metrician, not a magician!

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Well, it’s been a wild ride on twitter for the past few days. If you follow the hockey analytics crowd on twitter you probably know what I’m talking about, though for those of you that don’t, let me fill you in. I think the best place to start is the beginning of this recent road and it’s a bit of a bumpy ride so buckle up.

As I’m sure many, if not all, of you know, on Thursday afternoon the Leafs placed Grabovski on waivers for the purpose of buying him out. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this news was a shock to most of us, but none more so than those heavily involved in the “advanced statistics” community.

NOTE: As a slight detour, I placed that in quotations because I, like some of the others that use these numbers (Corsi, Fenwick, etc.) prefer to call them possession statistics or just statistics. The reason is relatively simple, “advanced” is a term that differentiates those numbers from the ones tracked by the NHL and in order to help the possession numbers become more widely used and more understood, the end goal is for the two to be treated homogeneously (with the appropriate trust in the different statistics based on the merits of each).

Why was this move such a shock? Well, because Grabovski is a good hockey player that signed an expensive (pretty much accepted that he’s overpaid, the degree to which is open for debate) contract because he put up points. This season however, instead of playing Grabovski in an offensive situation, Carlyle gave Grabovski some of the toughest minutes in the league. He started the vast majority of his non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive zone against opposing teams’ top players, making it very difficult to generate offense. On top of that, he played with line-mates that weren’t exactly going to set the world on fire offensively themselves, exacerbating the problem of generating offense. On top of that Grabovski had some bad puck luck and a gastro intestinal issue that’s he’s been dealing with for quite some time. In past seasons when he’s been used in an offensive role, he’s been a possession monster for the Leafs. This season the Leafs were a train wreck possession wise but Grabovski was still good relative to the team, which is very impressive considering his role.

Grabovski wasn’t placed in a position to succeed offensively, was instead given some of the toughest minutes possible, dealt with bad luck and an injury, and was still above water possession wise relative to the team. So his buyout didn’t really make a lot of sense, regardless of the re-signing of Tyler Bozak that took place the next day.

The outrage this buyout generated amongst the hockey analytics twitterverse was met by opponents (or non-users) of possession statistics with cries of melodrama and claims of understanding the buyout because of Grabovski’s lack of production given his cap hit.  Harsh words were exchanged on both sides, prompting a tweeter by the handle @smithdanielj to claim “Grabo’s buyout may prove to be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassination of the war between Stats guys and Traditionalists.”

The next day wasn’t much better as the Leafs spent big money bringing in David Clarkson and re-signing Tyler Bozak. The prevailing opinion amongst the hockey analytics people is that Bozak is an inferior player to Grabovski, an opinion not shared by most mainstream media types (as evidenced by TSN placing Bozak as their #4 UFA with Grabovski as #9). Before noon, when FA Frenzy officially began, news of Grabovski clearing waivers was yet to be announced and the opponents/non-users of possession statistics were forwarding ideas that if Grabovski cleared waivers the proponents of possession statistics were wrong abut Grabovski. This certainly didn’t help ease tensions between the two groups.

Saturday saw the intensity of the dialogue brought down to a simmer (-ish situation) but Sunday would easily change that.

On Sunday morning, Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul tweeted “contracts aren’t awarded by this CORSI i am hearing all about. They are awarded for an equal value of skill and depth (at a certain position” and “If you bring certain attributes and you play to win. I’ll take you on my team 7 nights a week. Lets not look at this like Moneyball.”

And with that, all hell broke loose. The dialogue developing from Lupul’s tweet once again pitted “traditionalists” (opponents/non-users of possession statistics) against “advanced statistics” people. Quietly tucked away in the debate are clusters of productive discourse but for the most part the claws came out and the name-calling began with earnest. Typical comments coming from the “traditionalist” camp were along the lines of “watch the games instead conjuring up all-knowing numbers from behind your abacus”, while responses from the “advanced statistics” people took the form of “show us something better Luddites”.

These are of course exaggerations of the comments (in most cases, some were actually like these) and there were a relatively large number of people saying, “Actually it’s possible (and preferable) to use possession statistics AND watch hockey (correctly) to evaluate players”. In fact, the purpose of using these numbers is to shine the light on what’s happening on the ice, a shared goal with video analysis. Both are typically used in good analysis to reinforce each other and explain abnormalities.

The ride is almost over, I just want to take a minute to say that I enjoy using possession statistics to augment my understanding of the game and that they’ve helped me focus my attention to useful activities while watching hockey games. These statistics aren’t “advanced” or sorcery at all, and in fact are really about finding ways to quantify (albeit with funny names) ideas that we hear hockey players talk about all the time (great visualization of these ideas by Blake Murphy called “EXPLAINING THE GRABOVSKI-BOZAK “STATS” DEBATE IN SHINNY HOCKEY TERMS”).

The point I’m trying to get across here is that these stats don’t paint the whole picture and don’t replace watching the games, and nor should they. However, they DO tell a story about what happened and when used with the knowledge of other variables like “character”, “skating ability”, etc., a more complete picture of a player begins to take shape. They don’t tell the complete story about what’s going to happen in the future either (something Cam points out in article below) but there are other measures that help with that (like knowing the peak scoring years for forwards, for example).

There have been some posts about this already (see Cam Charron’s Corsi and Moneyball  and Dirk Hoag’s NHL Advanced Stats Aren’t So Advanced, But They’re Better Than Nothing) and you should definitely check them out. On top of that fellow MLHS writer @mORRganRielly has an open invitation to discuss possession statistics on reddit.  I would also recommend reading Jesse Spector’s piece about the history of Corsi titled Who is Jim Corsi? Meet the name behind the number.

Wow, what a wall of text! Thanks for sticking around to the end and I look forward to your comments about possession statistics and their role in the NHL.

Taken from @mORRganReilly’s reddit thread are some learning links on possession statistics:

1155 comments
palmspringsleafer
palmspringsleafer

Hi Everybody! Raining in Plam Springs and sun in TO?

Anyone know what the buyout will be for the lasy 2 years of Clarkson's contract. The middle couple of years is at 7mil per but it drops off in years 6 7 I believe. the buyout should be cheap ... a mil a year or so? If thats the case not such a bad cap contract, especially if the cap climbs ..... like it has almost every year.

Savo43
Savo43

Give Kadri Duchenes contract + a year. 3 yrs at 3.5 each year. Sign Franson for 6 years, 4.2 million (JVR-like deal), trade Liles, try and resign Gunnar for just under 3, and who gives a shit about the rest tbh. lolll. 

Armchair GM
Armchair GM

JMAC17, Bon... I still can't reply from my BB... Earl McRae's book is called The Victors and the Vanquished.  He used to write for Canadian Magazine - it was an insert in the weekend paper in the 70s... If you can't find it get in touch with the site owners and I'll mail a copy of the Leaf articles... Bon, yes the Popcorn Kid is a Leaf scout...

Armchair GM
Armchair GM

Anybody ever read journalist Earl Macrae's long articles on Harold Ballard and Mike Palmateer?  Some good writing... Harold talking about all his babes in every town... 

CallumConnorKnight
CallumConnorKnight

Interesting to see how much the RFA defense will get.. Franson and Gunnerson will more then likely get the same type of contract maybe 2-3yrs @ 3.25 and Fraser maybe 1.25 Kadri should command a healthy 3.. have to move someone for sure hopefully Liles... he's a good player just doesn't fit in the grand scheme of things.. we need the RFA's to be signed or at least let Gunnerson walk and pick up a Murray or Hainsey..


daveybolland
daveybolland

My concern is that the dislike for the Leafs moves on the part of Alec and Declan's part means we'll see less enthusiasm and writing out of the crew here at the site. 

getstanley1
getstanley1

@palmspringsleafer While it will be cheap for the Leafs cash-wise in that case, the cap hit is averaged over the contract term, and as I understand it, the cap hit on a buyout wouldn`t change based on actual dollars paid. I believe $6.5m buyout (total of two-thirds for two years) spread over four years. So $1.625m cap hit for 4 years.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

Duchesne was further along the curve than Kadri when he signed that deal.

Bon Scott was a Leaf fan
Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

@Armchair GM 

Happy to hear it.  I like when Leafs brass bring back the older players in some sort of role behind the scenes (helping them out cuz God knows they were getting screwed when they were playing).

JMAC17
JMAC17

@Armchair GM Where did you find that.  I grew up hanging out with Mike...him and my Dad were good friends.  Would like to read it.

getstanley1
getstanley1

@CallumConnorKnight I'm still scratching my head as to why Komi wasn't a regular buyout...should have held on to the freebie...going to need it next year for sure, if not this year.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

Funny how a year ago everyone was talking "trade Franson." 48 regular season games later ....

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@daveybolland The only move I disliked was the Bozak resigning/Grabo buyout. I really like the Bolland addition. He's going to be a fan favourite. I hated and then warmed up to the Bernier addition and am onboard with that decision. Clarkson... I've always liked him and coveted him, but dislike his term. I get that it was free agency and it's a bidding war. He'll be great here and another fan favourite. The last few years of that contract will be a bit of a mess, as predicted.

We needed a 1C and a pairing for Dion and got neither. I really, truly believed that would launch this team into contenders quickly. I've believe they'll contend (reach a SC final) within the next 2-3 years with a couple of good trades and was disappointed that wil be prolonged until they get a true 1C and a really good D to play with Dion.


Savo43
Savo43

@daveybolland Im excited as a mawf! Its clear that many ppl are just obsessed with the speed we displayed last season, and don't understand that although that speed was hard to counter, it also left many holes throughout our lineup physically and stylistically in Randy's matchups which over a period of time made it hard to maintain leads. Now we have speed, and we have filled those needs , and IMO look MUCH more diverse, with everybody having clear roles going into next season. A couple games and i think Alec and the gang will come around on the moves Nonis has made.

wendelsfist
wendelsfist

@daveybolland I wouldn't worry about that.  They are a few of the writers that I read who can be objective by describing the pros and cons of the changes.  They will offer their opinion but are are pretty good about not letting that influence the quality of their content. 

Bon Scott was a Leaf fan
Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

@daveybolland 

Can't see that happening.  Then again, Alec used to blog for the Sens once upon a time, if I recall correctly.

Savo43
Savo43

@Xxxxxnew Also, i gave Kadri 3 years, Duchene got two. That would indicate that Kadri would need to prove his worth one year longer before getting a raise. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Xxxxxnew Because he had the nerve to defend himself by thinking he deserved to be judged by more than just the Ron Wilson era...

Bon Scott was a Leaf fan
Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

@DeclanK 

I'm down with all the moves...except the 7 year term for Clarkson (I guess we'll deal with it when the time comes).

I think Nonis and crew were very intent on signing Scuderi.  He would have been a nice addition to our D.  


Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

CBC doubles in revenue next year, NBC already started. We can give Kessel a raise with what comes off the books from Tucker and Armstrong.

getstanley1
getstanley1

@Uncle Otis Come to think of it, that's most likely. There's a new deal with NBC I think? CBC is up too I believe. Could be a big jump ahead.

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@getstanley1 

I smell a left field shocker in the making...just feels like too quiet and as you say,the need to move $$ around

Only hope is a big cap jump

getstanley1
getstanley1

@Uncle Otis @getstanley1 Yeah that's why I think the Phaneuf rumours have legs. No way you sign him and Kessel next year and have any money left for Bolland, Reimer et al.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I liked him too but everyone got on his back here because he didn't start well and he got vocal about his playing time and ended up down with the Marlies.

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@wiski 

Feel the same

Tim L wanting to imprint and Nonis likely feeling pressure...not sure that's a great combo though

We'll see soon

Bon Scott was a Leaf fan
Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

@Uncle Otis @Bon Scott was a Leaf fan 

HA!!  He was outed here sometime last year...so he had to come clean.  As I recall, he was waiting for a chance at the big leagues (Toronto) and was biding his time covering Sens games.  Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.  Their loss...our gain.