Can fancy stats help hockey teams? More than you think
Author: harrison brooks – contributor
The incorporation of analytics in the NHL’s stats keeping repertoire has developed faster than Taylor Hall blowing the defensive zone. Over the last few years, some of the more hardcore fans started using advanced stats to cut through the bullshit and show a player’s true effectiveness.
This year most, if not all, NHL teams have included Corsi and Fenwick into their stat books. Corsi is the differential of even strength shots, plus shot attempts, including blocked shots and shots that missed the net, while a player is on the ice. Fenwick is relatively the same thing the only difference is it excludes blocked shots from the calculation.
So, for example if a players Corsi for a game is +5 that means that his team directed five more shots at the oppositions net than were directed at his own net while he was on the ice. So when its all said and done these stats measure team puck possession, while a player is on the ice, and puck possession is vital for team success.
A few other things go into deciphering a player’s value when talking about Corsi and Fenwick, like percentage of zone starts both in defensive and offensive zones. As I mentioned earlier, advanced stats show a players true effectiveness even if they play for a poor team, also they show why the best teams like LA and Chicago are the best teams. There is no player in the league who benefitted from the coming of advanced stats more than the Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano did.
Aside from Flames fans, nobody knew or cared how good Giordano really was until the coming of Corsi and Fenwick. Giordano plays very tough minutes with a large percentage of defensive zone starts and still comes out with positive possession numbers, to the point where, now, even though he plays on the bottom feeding Flames, he is being compared to the best defencemen in the league.
Then there’s the other side where a good team can increase a player’s possession numbers. Take a guy like Sheldon Brookbank, for example, playing for one of the leagues best teams, Chicago. He appeared to have decent possession numbers but in reality he really just got a large percentage of offensive zone starts on a team that is very good offensively, thus increasing his Corsi and Fenwick numbers. Although Corsi and Fenwick can be deceiving, these stats are the start of a big change in how people look at players around the NHL.
Everyone has heard of Money Ball by now. No, not the Brad Pitt movie, the system the Oakland A’s made famous. Using analytics to create a competitive team out of overlooked players that had a perceived flaw in their game.
I never thought that hockey was a game that analytics would be able to affect the same way it did in baseball, but this looks like the beginning of a change in the NHL as a whole. Corsi and Fenwick are the start of ‘moneypuck,’if you will. Corsi and Fenwick have had so much success that they’re being used to predict certain teams to drop in the standings.
For example, last season, the Colorado Avalanche rode a hot goalie to first in the Central Division despite weaker possession numbers than other top-end teams. This lead experts like Bob McKenzie of TSN to predict a much lower finish for the Avalanche this season. Whether or not this prediction comes true won’t be known until the seasons end.
Corsi and Fenwick could also lead to the role of the enforcer being eliminated from the game entirely, because they show just how much ‘goons’actually hurt the team in the time they are on the ice.
Even though Corsi and Fenwick numbers can be deceiving, these are just the start of analytics in hockey and are stepping stones to the NHL being turned into a game of numbers like the MLB. This might not be a bad thing, because, that means the most efficient teams are being iced creating better competition league wide. I say bring on analytics. Let’s see how we can improve the gre