NHLNumbers - An Overview

Jonathan Willis
May 10 2012 08:17AM

 

 

Wanye and Kent have already given you peeks behind the curtain, but here is a more thorough overview of the new NHLNumbers - The Nation's blog dedicated to studying the NHL and the game of hockey from an objective perspective.

Hockey’s rich statistical history is not transplanted from other sports. Moneyball may have popularized the idea of advanced statistical analysis, and it certainly has driven fans into the search for numbers that reveal truths about the game and its players, but the fact is hockey has always had innovators pushing for a more rigorous analysis of the game.

The Grassroots

Roger Neilson is often seen as the father of this generation’s advanced statistics. The innovating coach – who, among other things, brought video into popularity as a reviewing and teaching tool for coaches in the NHL – was at the forefront of many of the statistics only entering popularity with fans today.

Neilson wasn’t the only one, though. The Soviets tracked pass completions, zone entries, and used that data to determine the way their teams played. At the Summit Series, their Canadian opponents tracked shot attempts (now more commonly known as Corsi numbers), shot location and shot type. When those two teams met in 1972, they were already tracking nearly every significant advanced metric in use today.

It’s just taken 40 years for those innovations to start surfacing publicly.

Statistics are often regarded with contempt as a way of reducing everything that happens in the game of hockey to a variable on a spreadsheet, but that take misses the entire point.

The goal of modern statistical analysis is actually quite simple: to study hockey in a rational, evidence-based way. That means isolating the information that really matters and then using it to make intelligent judgments about the game.

The modern innovators, people like Vic Ferrari and Gabriel Desjardins, have helped hockey coverage immensely. Ideas rooted in statistics – like quality of competition and variance in shooting percentage – have emerged with increasing frequency in mainstream coverage. The reason they’re becoming more frequent is that they make sense, and they inform our understanding of the game. Looking at the hockey without understanding matchups requires looking at the game without really comprehending the strategy behind it.

The Future

Other ideas are bound to follow suit. Zone starts, which have a tremendous impact on individual players and entire teams, will force their way into the mainstream conversation for the same reason.

This, then, is what we want to do here at NHL Numbers: to improve our understanding of the game. To bring the rigour applied in other fields to uncover truths and understand cause and effect. We do that by grounding our conclusions in evidence. We do it by considering what coaches do and looking at why they do it. We do it by eliminating the noise and the distraction, by spiking our passion with incredulity of sentiment and myth and by focusing in on the things that really matter.

The Roster

We already have a number of excellent Nation Network writers who will be contributing to this new project. Existing talent covering Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg will write here, too. The heart of the site will be new talent, though.

We’ve added some heavy hitters, including George Ays from Blueshirt Banter, Tyler Dellow of MC79hockey, Gabe Desjardins of Behindthenet, Josh Lile from Defending Big D, JaredL and Chase Wfrom Driving Play, Scott Reynolds of CopperNBlue, Corey Sznajder from Shutdown Line, Eric T from Broad Street Hockey, Rob Vollman of Hockey Prospectus, and Ben Wendorf From Arctic Ice Hockey. We will also expand into other media such as podcasts and beyond in the near future. 

Finally, we plan to solicit contributions from anyone who wants to investigate hockey from an evidence-based perspective. If you have any interest in getting involved or having a study published here, don't hesistate to contact Kent (kent.wilson@gmail.com).

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Cam Charron
May 10 2012, 08:30AM
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Impressive roster, Jonathan. Who's going to have the bulk of the sheltered minutes?

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#2 dan
May 10 2012, 08:32AM
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Excellent idea. Great list of contributors. One point. A shout out to A. Ryder who for me was very influential and inspiring in the field of study.

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#3 rod blogojevich
May 10 2012, 08:32AM
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You guys couldn't sign Domebeers to a deal?

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#4 dan
May 10 2012, 08:43AM
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@Cam Charron

The guy who refuses to talk to the media...

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#5 Kent Wilson
May 10 2012, 08:59AM
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@dan

Ryder is one of the influential pioneers in the field whom we haven't mentioned yet. Tom Awad, Ken Krzywicki are a couple of others. They were doing this type of stuff before many of us were on the scene.

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#6 dan
May 10 2012, 09:05AM
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@Kent Wilson

Good point. Ya I got in via baseball back in early 2000's.was frustrated.. Couldn't find much on puck..Ryder was it. I recall another..I. Fyffe I believe started quite early I believe.

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#7 Kent Wilson
May 10 2012, 09:12AM
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@dan

Yup, you are correct. Rob Vollman was talking hockey back around that time too.

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#8 Bruce Peter
May 10 2012, 09:25AM
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Will this be a place where scoring chance data gets collected in one spot?

Anyways, you should defintely be in contact with Olivier Bouchard and Andrew Berkshire. Those two are more than ready for the increased exposure.

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#9 Eric T.
May 10 2012, 09:30AM
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Cam Charron wrote:

Impressive roster, Jonathan. Who's going to have the bulk of the sheltered minutes?

"Sheltered minutes" is the wrong way to look at it, because all of it is hard work and important; there are no easy minutes here.

But there's no question that some of the writers are more offensive than others, while some tend to be pretty defensive.

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#10 Eric T.
May 10 2012, 09:36AM
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So that list of contributors seems to be in alphabetical order, with me filed under T and JaredL&ChaseW stuck at the end of the L section.

#StickToNumbers

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#11 James Mirtle
May 10 2012, 09:38AM
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derp?

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#12 Kent Wilson
May 10 2012, 09:38AM
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@Bruce Peter

We're hoping to do something like that, but even more organized.

Those are two good suggestions as well.

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#13 PopsTwitTar
May 10 2012, 10:13AM
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Is anyone actually collecting pass completion data now? I've always wanted to see that (and am considering doing some tracking myself).

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#14 dan
May 10 2012, 10:15AM
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Have suggestions for upcoming projects:

we collect :

1)bad goals "goals that average goal would stop" define & track.. easy & could improve goalie evaluation....significantly

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#15 freeze
May 10 2012, 10:47AM
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PopsTwitTar wrote:

Is anyone actually collecting pass completion data now? I've always wanted to see that (and am considering doing some tracking myself).

+1 Seems like a good stat for analyzing 'puck-moving' defensemen.

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#16 Chase W.
May 10 2012, 12:10PM
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Eric T. wrote:

"Sheltered minutes" is the wrong way to look at it, because all of it is hard work and important; there are no easy minutes here.

But there's no question that some of the writers are more offensive than others, while some tend to be pretty defensive.

I'm scoring 60 points starting primarily in the defensive zone and you can't stop me.

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#17 Corey S.
May 10 2012, 12:12PM
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dan wrote:

Have suggestions for upcoming projects:

we collect :

1)bad goals "goals that average goal would stop" define & track.. easy & could improve goalie evaluation....significantly

I know Japers Rink looked at "soft goals" before for the Caps goalies. That sounds similar to what you're talking about.

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#18 Derek Jedamski
May 10 2012, 03:18PM
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Really looking forward to seeing what you guys roll out here.

Just a thought, may of been done before and I missed it but it'd be interesting to see some kind of study breaking down players production in a contract year vs production in first year after signing a new deal.

You could really break it down into two segments, one where the player re-signs with his current team (RFA or UFA) and one where the player leaves as a UFA.

There is the popular perception about how most players slump in their first year in a new city, I'd imagine that is the case but it would be interesting to see if there the statistic backing to that.

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#19 dan
May 10 2012, 03:46PM
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Corey S. wrote:

I know Japers Rink looked at "soft goals" before for the Caps goalies. That sounds similar to what you're talking about.

thanks..will try to contact..going to track it for next year..

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#20 Robert Vollman
May 10 2012, 04:45PM
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@Kent Wilson

Thanks Kent. Iain Fyffe was already doing this stuff in 2000 when I met him.

By 2004 he started a Hockey Analysis Group on Yahoo, which already had us, Alan Ryder, Tom Awad, Gabriel Desjardins, Tyler Dellow, Marc Foster, Tom Tango, and many more people knee-deep in stuff that most teams still haven't touched.

Of course the field has exploded since then, culminating in a site like this. I think it's fantastic, and I'm loving every minute of every discussion.

I'll be especially on the look-out for questions from people new to this stuff. I'm happy to help people the way Fyffe and gang helped me.

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#21 dan
May 10 2012, 07:11PM
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@Robert Vollman

Hey Rob; Thanks for the clarification. Good to know the 'Roots' ..really enjoy your work..look forward to interacting...Dan

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