At then end of the day, no matter what the sport, everyone will agree that there is only one statistic that truly matters.
Wins and losses.
However, a team has to have a strategy in order to get the wins they need. Whether it is a high powered offense, a staggering defense, or a combination of both, it has to be effective in order to succeed.
How, then, do you measure the successfulness of your strategy? Goals for, goals against, shots for, and shots against are the most basic of these. Generally speaking, if you are outscoring and outshooting your opponents on a regular basis, then your team is doing a good job.
But you can still break these statistics down even further. What leads to these shots? Possession, turnovers, winning faceoffs... little things that are harder to track can add up to the main stats that we see every day.
Hockey is a convoluted mess. It's fluid, with the players constantly changing during play, and no player is exactly as tough to play against as the one he replaced. So how do you even up the playing field, and track how well one player is doing compared to all of the others?
This is where advanced stats begins to come into play.
For years, there were very few statistics that were tracked by the NHL. Just your basic goals, shots, and penalty minutes, without much else. Now though, new ones are slowly being adopted so that they are officially tracked regularly. The problem is that the official stats are behind the curve (get it?) on stats tracked. Advanced statistics tries to break down these plays by individual as best it can, while acknowledging that there are many other factors in play at the same time. Because of that, they can be messy, and extremely confusing.
It's kind of interesting, right? And by that I politely mean, it's kind of...dense. As in I can't look at it and instinctively figure out what it means, despite being around hockey virtually my entire life.
And that, to me anyway, is a problem.
Maybe I'm not the right audience for these numbers. I mean, there's a reason why I'm a writer. The most complex math I'm willing to do these days is calculating the tip on my bar tab.
But the fevered proselytizing of highly respected writers like Dowbiggen and James Mirtle and countless bloggers notwithstanding, these calculations might just be the greatest product that relatively few people want, the Freaks and Geeks of hockey statistics.
Sure, you can imagine how these might be of use to agents and general managers as they look to quantify a player's value in terms that allow them to increase, or suppress, salary demands. And there may even be some Moneyball-type angle that allows a team that employs an analytical ace to get a leg up in trades and free agency.
But beyond that, the numbers feel alien. Many hockey fans still think of Gary Bettman as a basketball guy, which suggests that influence from other sports is not warmly embraced. Why then would they welcome something that reeks of Astroturf and peanut shells, like baseball's anal obsession with chronicling the full measure of every moment?
These statistics can tell you a lot of things about individuals, but due to the nature of hockey, they can sometimes be tough to read through. The question, as it is with any sport, is how much the fans want to know. Heck, in baseball, there are statistics for every little thing. There is even a stat that tells you roughly how many wins per season a player will give you. For the casual baseball fan, none of those matter. They like wins and losses, and batting averages -- that's about it. But for the baseball and math obsessed, stats are an every day part of the sport.
It's no different for hockey. The only problem is that the advanced statistics are still so new, that they aren't as widely accepted yet. They're messy, confusing, and not for everyone. But they can also be extremely useful in judging a team or individual's progress. If you're still on the fence about them, like Muir is, just be patient. You might come to love them.
Coming up in today's links: News for the upcoming game tonight, Lindy Ruff is fired, and spending a little time with Marty.
- Cristopher Nilstorp is in net tonight, and he's ready for his chance. [Stars Inside Edge]
- Mike Heika has his scouting report on the Canucks for tonight. [Dallas News]
- Mark Stepneski has his game preview, including a comparison of stats (the non-advanced kind) [Stars Inside Edge]
- If you weren't watching hockey last night, you may have missed the best game of the season last night, with the Pens and Flyers going at it. I saw many people comparing it to a playoff atmosphere, it was that good. [NHL]
- Lindy Ruff was fired after 16 years of service to Buffalo. Whether you like the team or not, you have to admit that 16 years in an official NHL position is quite an accomplishment. [ESPN]
- As expected, Jannik Hansen was suspended for a game after his hit on Marian Hossa. [Globe And Mail]
- Mike Milbury calls Crosby and Malkin "crack addicts" for offensive play. I'm less shocked by the phrasing, and more schocked by the press actually saying something negative about these two. [Puck Daddy]
- For your video of the day, Marty Turco mingles with fans during the Stars' most recent hockey game. Man, I missed this guy.