Now, before you bewail another “advanced stats debate,” give this latest article by Anthony Petrielli some time of day. He’s given us permission to post some lengthier excerpts before you head over to his general hockey blog to read the rest.
Last week, the National Post published a story centered on the Leafs Jay McClement. In it, McClement referenced some of the stats coaching staffs track and utilize. After pointing it out as an interesting tool, I received some replies that suggested it was basically a useless waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. As someone who coaches hockey, I consider some of the things the Leafs coaching staff tracks to be useful as a teaching mechanism for my players. If I had access to those stats for my team I would use them all the time to breakdown plays, consistencies, weaknesses, strengths, etc. The thing is, most of these stats are not great indicators of long-term sustainability with the ability to project the future well. Herein lies the key fact of the matter: there are differences between coaching stats and GM stats, and those different stats have different values depending on your position and what you’re trying to achieve.
My goal here isn’t to breakdown all the stats and assign them labels as a “coach stat” or “GM stat;” what I’m really trying to do is discuss how stats have various strengths and weaknesses, and how they can help or hurt our judgement depending on how we are viewing the game.
A good place to start would be discussing the stats in question and the ones the Leafs used. There were only two named and they were tracking turnovers-takeaway ratios and tracking hitting location, both of which I’d say are fairly peripheral for a GM but can be important for a coach to use.
We already know how the Leafs breakdown turnovers, because they’ve told us. Carlyle records turnovers in three categories: 1) Guy is playing as an individual; 2) Offensive player takes chance; 3) ‘Brain-dead.’ What that really means, when it comes to the Leafs tracking turnovers, is that coaching staff wants to erase 3). You can show a player his CORSI and it will mean absolutely nothing and have no effect on his game whatsoever, but if you’re breaking down his turnovers with him maybe that leads to a swing of shots on net against to a few more shots for.
Furthermore, that turnover description can also be broken down through player roles. Yes, the Leafs let Phil Kessel take chances (and again, I’m just using the Leafs as an example here but this applies to every team, really) because he’s in a scoring role and that’s what they ask him to do. However, a player like Jay McClement is in a grinding role so the Leafs aren’t as comfortable with him falling under the “1” category. If McClement loses the puck once or twice a game because he’s tried to beat a defenseman one-on-one, that’s probably not acceptable; that’s not his role. I’d wager a guess that they would ask him to chip and chase, or pass the puck to the trailer, instead of deking.
Showing players the type of turnovers they make and what they can and can’t do is how you preach puck management. You can’t just show a player his possession stats and think that’s going to change anything; you need to look into what’s causing that and how you change that. Specifically breaking down turnovers is one way that can be done.
On tracking hits:
That takes us to tracking hits. Hits have some, little, or no value at all depending on your beliefs, but knowing where a guy is making his hits can be valuable in maximizing a player’s efficiency. Regardless of where you stand on the value of a hit, the ability to hit a guy, separate him from the puck, and retrieve it for possession is important and valuable for any player to have. If player X and player Y both throw 100 hits, and X has 25 hits that change possession while Y has 35, player Y is obviously more valuable physically. I’d like to see the breakdown of X’s hits to see why he’s being physical yet not able to change possession as much. Although Dustin Brown is a much better player than Cal Clutterbuck, I would compare their hitting styles (as their hit counts are usually similar) and guess that Brown is much more effective at hitting on the forecheck and getting the puck versus Cal Clutterbuck, who more just finishes a lot of his checks. As a coach you can’t just shrug and say “well I have Cal Clutterbuck who hits a lot but isn’t very effective at doing so to turn the puck over.” You actually need to try and find ways to maximize his skillset. That’s what good coaches do.
There’s no doubt that this is a little thing, but it’s a win if a coach gets a forward who hits a lot to throw 20 more hits over the course of the year that cause a change in possession and lead to, say, two extra goals. Showing his defensemen when to finish hits in the D-zone and when not to, leading to better positioning and preventing three goals against that otherwise probably would have happened, is a win. A coach can only use what he has – something that is too often forgotten online — so if he’s getting players to be just a little more effective than usual, that’s a win.
Even in Moneyball, we see the staff talking to players about things such as “if you take a first pitch strike, your batting average drops X for the rest of the at bat” versus telling a player, “your OBP is too low, now you know, so change that.” Is OBP useful in baseball? Of course. Is it useful in terms of teaching a player how to improve though? Not really.
What it really boils down: Coaches use certain stats to cover the nuances of the game, and the GM uses overarching stats that look at the big picture to ask “what’s all this work really producing?”
This is why I believe many coaches are terrible GMs. Mike Keenan (Luongo trade) and Darryl Sutter (Phaneuf trade) immediately come to mind. Being a GM takes a certain mind frame where you are always projecting the future, working within the parameters of the cap, juggling expiring veteran contracts with the rookies in your organization, and so on. The best GMs are ones who can properly analyze and predict the future and when to buy low and sell high.
Coaches, meanwhile, look at players and see, “I like this size in my line-up” or, “I want that guy because he wins a lot of battles.” It’s a completely different thought process.
Next time you see an organization discuss a stat they use, really take a second to consider how they might be using that stat before you instantly criticize it simply because you don’t agree with it.
Read the full article here.
This was an interesting look at result vs. process when it comes to statistics in hockey. It makes an important distinction on what stats can be applicable at the coaching level and which are useless to a coach (but perhaps useful to a GM) when trying to utilize analytical tools to get the most out of his team of players. In the process it provides some insights on how numbers and eyeballing can be complement one another rather than clash.
It also further illustrated a point as it pertains to the Leafs and their use of analytics – calling the Leafs backward simply because we don’t know what exactly they track, other than knowing they may not be the same metrics one may have come to understand online, is presumptive and narrow minded. Greg Cronin caught some flak for having no clue what Corsi was, but why would he? He can’t instruct his players to “do more Corsis,” and telling a player only to throw more pucks on net in most cases is not going help him perform any better anyway. Slowly, it seems, we are beginning to learn of some the stats the Leafs do place value on. The Leafs track and categorize hits and turnovers; they also track, grade and break scoring chances down into six different categories. They look at zone entries and odd man rushes. These all have interesting and potentially useful applications.
Tuesday morning links…
Latest on Kadri: Give and Take
Pretty much exactly what we’ve been talking about here while everyone was flipping out over Kadri‘s long term demands. Kadri wants Duchene’s contract (2 x $3.5m), Leafs want to give him Couture’s contract (2 x $2.85m).
Top 25 under 25: #3 Nazem Kadri
Read some more about Kadri, if you feel you haven’t heard enough about him lately.
Mason Raymond – Pre Injury/Post Injury, and what does his future hold?
Again, provided this is unrelated to any outstanding contract situations, Anthony put in best in a chat yesterday when he said, “worse case he’s a guy who will score a few goals just by being so damn fast.” We’ll see how he looks.
Getting to Know Dion Phaneuf
Yes, he smiles.