What Kevin Allen Gets Wrong About Advanced Stats

Last week USA Today’s Kevin Allen copied and pasted an article that many of us have read by other NHL writers convinced that nerds are ruining hockey with their advanced statistics.

He went about scouring the NHL for quotes from anyone that agreed with his idea that in this instance, players are gaming the system by shooting the puck from all over the ice to up their Corsi so they can make out big at their next contract negotiation.

“We have businessmen” in this league and “they will throw pucks from anywhere to get a better Corsi,” Trotz said.

“I could easily look at a game tape and say I could have gotten two more shots off,” [Thomas] Vanek said. “But in that situation, at that speed, if I believe I can give my teammate a better chance to score, I’m always going to pass.”

The quote that Kevin Allen got from Thomas Vanek perfectly describes why a player in the midst of an NHL game wouldn’t be actively thinking, “I didn’t have any Corsi’s in my last game, so I’m just going to bomb away from the blue line tonight so that in 3 years when I’m up for a new deal my agent and me can show them I’m a good Corsi guy.” That isn’t happening.

Hockey is such a fast-paced game with each player having to read and react to their teammates and opponents that for them to consciously think about how many shot attempts for and against they have is not plausible. In addition to that, a player in the course of a game that’s shooting the puck from crazy angles and long distances is going to get benched, or he’s going to produce bad underlying numbers. Those two results are not going to get you a lucrative new contract.

Finally, let’s address the insinuation made by Kevin that because shot metrics have increased leverage in contract negotiations, shots are up in the NHL.

Spoiler alert, they aren’t.

Data mined from Hockey-Reference.com

As you can see in the chart above, Kevin Allen could have just done a little bit of research and discovered that players are not attempting to game the system by shooting more often. Before the beginning of this season shot attempts were trending down.

That’s not to say that Corsi and Fenwick have not become a regular part of the conversation in locker rooms around the league, but Allen is certainly overstating the negative impact it’s having on the NHL.

Many people smarter than I have always insisted that metrics like Corsi and Fenwick should not be the sole tools for evaluating player and team performance. These are just some of the smaller instruments in an ever-growing orchestra that allows every hockey fan to appreciate the minutiae of this game.

Twitter – @bcanneybsb

Email – bear.canney@gmail.com

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