Analytics Department: Covering All Angles

By JD Lagrange – The Montreal Canadiens have announced the appointment of Christopher Boucher as Director of Hockey Analytics. Boucher previously worked at Sportlogiq and spent the last two years as a scout for the San Jose Sharks.

“We are very happy to add Christopher Boucher to our team,” said Hughes. “Christopher is an industry-proven hockey analytics specialist. We recognize the importance of analytics in today’s NHL and believe that Christopher is the right person to lead this department.”

Incomplete data

Personally, I’m old school and admittedly, not a huge fan of analytics, or any one particular stat for that matter. Not to be confused with someone against it as it’s not the case. I believe that every stat has its value but it will NEVER beat a good analytical mind with an experienced eye. If you have played the game competitively, you know that there are simply too many non-measurable components factoring in the game of hockey that simply cannot be put into numbers. In addition, NHL stats officials across the league are not all equal and don’t record stats the same way. How many times have we seen a team turning the puck over multiple times and at the end of the period, you look at the stats and they have counted only a couple of giveaways?

One example of what cannot be measured statistically is the effect of intimidation. That’s not just the obvious hits and/or fights. It consists of things that do not happen during a game because one team is intimidated. Why do you think that the New York Rangers went out and got Ryan Reaves? It’s because guys like Tom Wilson were acting like clowns at a circus when the Rangers faced the Washington Capitals. Look how obvious it was that Brady Tkachuk was avoiding Shea Weber. That’s not measured. Or the effect physicality and intimidation had on the Toronto Maple Leafs in their series against the Habs last year…

Stats also don’t account for momentum swing, although they’re trying to tell you it’s measured efficiently but it’s not. How players play with an injury, how they are affected by it. That’s not measured but the eye (or knowledge) test will tell you all about it. Chemistry between players cannot be measured. Oh offensive production with certain players is, but how players find themselves on the ice, how well their style complement each other cannot.

Just like using just stats to judge a goalie on a goal is wrong. Yes, he allowed it but was he screened? Did the puck deflect off a stick, a leg? The stats will show a goal allowed, affecting the GAA and Sv% stats. Same with plus/minus stats. If a goalie allows a weak goal or a defenseman gives the puck away in front of his net, everyone on the ice gets a minus. Yet, it’s only one player’s fault. And there are plenty more situations where stats don’t give the true picture.

Conclusion

There is room for analytics in hockey but unlike non-contact sports, it is far from crucial in the game of hockey. If I had to guess, I would say that it should not account for more than 20-25% of the decision-making. The rest should be on the eye test. Like tablets on the bench cannot replace the coaches. With that said, it’s a tool and one that won’t hurt if looked at. For that reason, we welcome Mr. Boucher and here’s to a positive contribution to the team we love.

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