Dallas Stars Daily Links: Custance Says Stars Are Only "One Foot In" on Analytics

How do the Stars stack up against other teams in the league when it comes to advanced analysis? Better than ESPN thinks they do, I suspect. Also, seemingly every player is out for 4-6 weeks, and Sidney Crosby's age is a number

ESPN has a huge post on team analytics across the four major North American sports, if you haven't seen it. It's comprehensive in that it categorizes every team's employment of all sorts of "new" analysis, but it's not exactly exhaustive when it comes to telling you exactly what each team is doing with advanced team and individual measurements, predictions and the like.

I would here like to note that I don't really care for the term "analytics," or at least I don't like how broadly the term is used. We're really just talking about new(ish) means of measuring teams and players, and somehow "analytics" has become the "moneyball" term for any NHL team that wants to actually, you know, figure out how valuable their team and players are.

Anyway, Craig Custance ran down the NHL teams, and his entry on the Stars is not as enthusiastic about their interest in the A-word as some other information we've seen since last summer has indicated. He labels the Stars as not quite "believers" when it comes to what teams like the Blackhawks are doing with analytics:

GM Jim Nill comes from a Red Wings organization that has relied more on scouting and experience than analytics.

However, in coach Lindy Ruff, he has a man who is very familiar with analytics from his time in Buffalo, where he employed Jim Corsi as goalie coach.

Nill is an information consumer, always looking for an edge, and he has an open mind about analytics. But, his scouting roots are how he's had success, and that remains the main lens through which he evaluates players.


Not exactly Journey to the Center of the Earth when it come to the depth of reporting you get here, but I want to cut Custance some slack, considering how massive this article is. I'm not sure I will cut him slack for failing to do a Google search for "dallas stars analytics," but I want to, kind of.

Anyway, here are some reminders on what we've seen so far on this topic, as I think Custance may have gotten a bit of a misread on the Stars' attitude towards advanced analysis.

From Mike Heika, back in August:

Ruff said that getting instant information during the game is difficult, and that a lot of times he simply has to trust his brain and his years of coaching experience.

"I like looking at those numbers. I like looking at scoring chances. I like looking at our entries and the other team’s entries. There are a lot of things you look at after the game on the video to confirm what you’ve seen," Ruff said. "But I also know that when I’m watching a game, I know a player’s last five shifts and I know what he’s been doing and I can assess quickly how I want to use him. Information is always good _ accurate information _ but I also know that watching the game and reacting to what’s going on, it’s tough to react in a timely manner and use information at a time when you might need it most. I think you have to have a combination of preparation with the information and then the ability to react during a game." [DMN]

Standard stuff, really. The whole "use your eyes and whatever other information you can get, then employ them as best you can in game situations." I think literally every coach would say the same thing about this, except Patrick Roy.

And also from the Morning News, Michael Florek labeled Jim Nill as "engrossed" in advanced statistics:

Now the Dallas Stars general manager, Nill hasn’t fallen behind as "advanced" statistics like Corsi (the amount of total shot attempts per team) and Fenwick (total shot attempts minus blocked shots) have become more prevalent in evaluating players and teams.

Nill and his staff now use a computer program that does the work of at least 100 college students: it measures Corsi, giveaways/takeaways, scoring chances and a host of other stats. After each game, the coaching staff reviews the numbers then goes back to the film and tracks its own stats to look for any discrepancies.

The numbers flag certain elements the Stars staff might miss. From there, the staff examines the aspects further and comes to a decision that could determine a player’s future.

"If it’s a number you get out of right field, I think it’s great for analyzing that," Nill said. "Why such a difference? If the numbers are closer, now you’ve got more of a comfort level to say, ‘OK, yes. There’s something here. We made this decision as a staff and the numbers back it up.’ It’s a lot easier to make a decision then." [DMN]

That doesn't sound like Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve, certainly. Again, I think Custance may not have seen some of this info before he gave his impression of the Stars' position on fancy-pants numbers.

And finally, our own Josh Lile had, I think, the most complete rundown of where the Stars were at the start of this season when it came to their "belief" in advanced analysis of their team and its abilities:

The Stars are very much invested in fancy stats (it was blatantly obvious prior to these revelations), but they want to make sure that the data on which they are making decisions is of the highest quality currently attainable. What the Stars are doing is carefully comparing the "computer" data to their own to give them an extra degree of confidence when it comes time to make a decision that will impact the club.

There is this idea out there that you have to use either statistics or scouting with very little notion of how to use both in concert with each other. You can't coach someone by looking at their shot differentials alone, but you also aren't as effective as you can be if you fail to recognize identifiable problem areas that can be more easily identified through statistical analysis.

What successful organizations do though is marry statistics and scouting. The process described by the Stars is but one of many ways an organization could marry these evaluation methods, and it's actually quite simple.

By undertaking this game tracking adventure the Stars are starting with the research-supported belief that the metrics they are tracking carry weight. If you're skeptical you have to keep in mind the McKenzie note that teams aren't at this point. They're more focused on refining and evolving their analysis than questioning the validity of analysis as a valuable expenditure of time. [DBD]

For the percentage of you that are "sick" of hearing about this, well, don't worry. I don't want the players replaced with robots (yet).

I'll say it again: so-called "analytics" are not about replacing eyeballs with Deep Blue or forcing coaches to abide by Corsi numbers with every single decision they make from the breakfast table onwards. It's simply a matter of trying to gain a competitive advantage in a league where parity is pushed above all else. There is good, solid math behind the importance of being a positive possession team--and again, most teams are "way beyond" simple Corsi numbers with their analytics--and we should all be encouraged that the Stars are working hard to gain any advantage that they can.

Finally, I grant all of you a single comment (and no more) to make your best (read: worst) hackneyed remark about how analytics have not magicked the Stars into first place this season, yuk yuk yuk. Get it out of your system, that's fine.

* * * * *

What is your favorite place to sit at a hockey game?

Mike Heika has a list of four things the Stars might do during their remaining games. The choreographed dance from Slapshot is not one of them. [DMN]

Ralph Strangis has some thoughts about where to get a good soup 'n sammy in Winnipeg these days. [According to Ralph]

Razor also put his thoughts to digital paper regarding the Stars' rather incredible inability to lock down a game. [Razor with an Edge]

Ryan Miller is out 4-6 weeks after a collision with a teammate. Can't imagine Willie is thrilled about that. [Nucks Misconduct]

Henrik Zetterberg isn't feeling "100%," but he doesn't have a concussion, Detroit assures everyone. Zetterberg should be back in the lineup any time now, we are told. [Detroit Free Press]

Jared Cowen got three games for his head shot on Jussi Jokinen. I've seen mixed views on the number of games, but you be the judge. [Puck Daddy]

Is Sidney Crosby already hitting age-related decline? Aren't all of us, in some way, each day? [The Hockey Writers]

Ben Bishop's new mask glows in the dark and I love it. [THN]

The Bruins are in dire straits, some say, after David Krejci's knee injury. The center will be out 4-6 weeks. [SI]

Nikita Zadorov tried the old "I slept through my alarm clock" excuse, and it appears that his teammates are buying it. Kids these days. [ESPN]

Highly recommend this one: The legendary Igor Larionov has a wonderful piece questioning the creativity of modern NHL coaches (and, by extension their players). I'm still 40% sure that Wal-Mart or Pepsi is actually behind this site, but I have really enjoyed everything I've read there so far. [Players Tribune]

Joe Yerdon was inspired by Larionov's piece, and he penned a post of his own showing just how egregiously low the NHL's offense has sunk since the lockout ten years ago. [Gross Misconduct Hockey]

Analytics are not statistics, in case you had been conflating the two. The NHL is doing its part to educate us about their new fancy statistics page. [NHL]

Finally, here is the play that Zetterberg supposedly got hurt on, in case you're wondering why tons of Detroit fans are suddenly saying hurtful things about Benn. I offer this video free of comment: