The growth of analytics in hockey is creating jobs

The use of analytics in hockey could change the way the game is consumed by the average fan. Photo Credit: leoniewise/flickr

The use of analytics in hockey could change the way the game is consumed for the average fan.Photo Credit: leoniewise/flickr

There was a time when puck skills, grit and intangibles were the best ways to evaluate hockey talent. Then the 21st century came along.

This season could be the year of numbers in the NHL, where teams will judge players based on stats such as Corsi, Fenwick and other analytical tools.

“I don’t even know what that is. I’ve never even heard of it,” said Blake Wheeler when asked about his Corsi and Fenwick by a member of the Winnipeg Free Press. That attitude is prevalent across the league, and even prominent players in the game, such as Johnathan Toews and Drew Doughty haven’t added positive comments about the use of analytics in the game.

Corsi and Fenwick are both used to measure puck possession. The theory is that if your team is controlling the puck for most of the game, they are more likely to succeed. Corsi measures shot attempts towards an opponents net minus the shot attempts against your own net. Fenwick is basically the same as Corsi, except it excludes blocked shots.

Corsi Datawrapper

This graph measures the Corsi percentage for Canuck defencemen from last season. If a player’s score is more than 50 per cent, that means he was on the ice for more shot attempts on the opponent’s goal than shot attempts against his own goal. Since most of the Canuck defencemen are over 50 per cent, it means that they generally maintained pretty good puck possession last season.

Fenwick datawrapper

Ryan Stanton leads all Canuck defencemen in both Corsi and Fenwick scores, meaning that the team had better puck possession when he was on the ice. Jason Garrison, who was last in both categories, was traded in the offseason to Tampa Bay. The low scores in both categories indicate poor defensive play, which could have been a factor in his trade.

The analytics revolution has not been accepted by everybody, though, and the debate about what kind of role analytics should play in the sport has been heavily argued over the past couple of months. Whether you’re on board with the use of “fancy stats” in hockey, the reality is that individuals who are familiar with using fancy stats are now being hired by NHL teams.

Tyler Dellow, who used to blog about the Edmonton Oilers was hired by the organization. He now works for the team who he used to criticize, bringing the use of different analytical tools applied to the floundering Oilers organization.

Other bloggers like Dellow were swooped up by NHL organizations, including Eric Tulsky and Sunny Mehda. Popular Canucks Army blogger Dimitri Filipovic has also disappeared from the analytics blogger radar recently to take an undisclosed hockey-related job.

Kyle Dubas, 28, was hired as the assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer. He was the general manager of the OHL team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he was lauded as being a great talent evaluator by using analytics, in part, to turn the OHL team around.

TSN has also jumped on the fancy stats bandwagon, and is going to begin broadcasting a radio program called TSN Hockey Analytics.

There are fans, as well, who may find fancy stats too much to comprehend, so this could affect the role of hockey analytics within mainstream sports media. However, the role of fancy stats has really come under the microscope over the past few months now that analytics gurus are finding work within NHL organizations.

This is all new to many hockey fans, players, and managers, so there are bound to be people who laud the idea for its use in evaluating talent, as well as those who believe it is unnecessary for the game.

Whether you’re a supporter of fancy stats or not, its worth paying attention to, especially when those who know how to use evaluate advanced stats are landing jobs within the NHL.

Trevor Beggs

A third year Journalism student, taught by some stellar professors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Currently covering the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.

1 Comment

  • Ryan Lehal
    Reply December 6, 2014

    Ryan Lehal

    As the stats you’ve provided show, the Canucks defencemen maintained a pretty good puck possession percentage. Sadly, this was not all that reflective in their play last season. This is most likely the reason why many people discredit it, similar to the plus/minus stat. I cant help but relate this puck possession stat to the moneyball theory, which was similar in that the emphasis was placed on how often a player gets on base. The more you have the puck the more you’re likely to score, while the more you get on base the more you’re likely to score. Great article Trevor.

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