Perspective On Possession

The more ubiquitous metrics like Corsi and Fenwick become, the stronger their skeptics will argue against them. Though modern analytics have now permeated big-time media and drawn the attention of renowned hockey personalities, they continue to be met with resistance among the more stubborn fans. Somewhere between the polarization of statistics acceptance and complete groupthink is a happy place where opinions may differ but people are knowledgable enough to understand what they’re disagreeing about. I maintain that much of the resistance against advanced statistics is born from a lack of understanding, or a lack of desire to understand. I’ll use Ottawa’s Erik Condra as an example. Condra has been a net relative plus for on-ice possession at even strength for each of his four NHL seasons, yet is seen as expendable by the majority of Senators fans. I’ve heard on multiple occasions that any metric which puts Condra ahead of say, Kyle Turris, must be wrong. What’s getting lost in the shuffle here is that Corsi is not the be-all-end-all stat its doubters perceive it to be. Condra’s CF% REL is telling us he sees a greater share of the 5v5 shot attempts directed at his opponent’s net relative to what occurs when he’s off the ice than Kyle Turris does. Nothing more. This is unequivocal as long as you put trust in the league’s trackers.

There is an axiomatic truth regarding on-ice possession that is seldom spoken albeit intuitive enough not to have to be. Not all possession shares equal worth. The differences that exist between shot rates and shooting percentages while on the ice add or subtract importance to the minutes you play and in turn, the share of shot attempts you generate. At equal CF%, a first-line player’s minutes will hold more value than a fourth-liner’s due to the simple fact more goals are scored in those minutes. It is thus an oversimplification to compare Turris and Condra’s CF% ratings without proper context. A different way to look at possession is to examine the expected goal differential based on shooting percentages we can reasonable expect from the quality of the players on the ice. In other words, how rewarding are a player’s minutes at a set possession share?

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