Are complex numbers better than words for measuring a player’s performance? (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
“I like him. Great shot, quick release, high compete level, and his Fenwick and Corsi Relative numbers are off the charts!”
– Something no one in hockey has said to me. Ever.
Bruce Dowbiggen wrote a solid column on Monday for the Globe and Mail about a missed opportunity to explain the true value of Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra in the wake of his apparent career-ending injury.
Now, anyone who has paid the Canucks a lick of attention could point to Malhotra’s success in the face-off circle and defensive prowess as attributes that the team will miss. And honestly, for a fourth-line center who averaged about 11 minutes a night, that might be as in-depth as the eulogy needed to go.
But Dowbiggen, a vocal proponent of the use of advanced analytics in hockey — let’s just call ‘em “fancy stats” — saw a chance to weave a more nuanced yarn.
He pointed to a fancy stat that highlights zone starts. It painted exactly how effective (and nearly exclusively used) Malhotra was in his role, and from that Dowbiggen was able to correlate how Malhotra freed up the Sedins to save their energy for the offensive zone. And that, he argued, gave a more accurate assessment of Malhotra’s impact than the “amiable banter” most television analysts offered.
Dowbiggen might have a point. Hockey has traditionally been an under-analyzed sport. It’s only within the past 15 years that the NHL began officially recording stats such as giveaways, takeaways, blocked shots and hits. To this day, things like zone time, passing accuracy and puck possession are concepts left to individual teams to track, if they’re so inclined.
That data vacuum led to a new generation of homemade and highly unofficial stats that purport to reveal hidden truths, as well as give fact-based support to concepts that originated in the gut.
HACKEL: Stats the NHL ought to keep