Why I’m Supporting Micah Blake McCurdy’s Work at Hockey Viz


A couple days ago, Micah Blake McCurdy made his first step towards The Great Unknown. It’s a decision hanging on a number of questions we always ask ourselves in the analytics community: What is my work worth to me? What is my work worth to others? For as much time as my spend on it, how can I make sure my work means something, and my time rewarded? How do I make sure my work stays exactly that: mine?

For the past decade, a number of powerful minds have navigated The Great Unknown, finding that apprehensive teams were only willing to commit peanuts and, on rare occasions, real salaried work after a partnership of a couple years. What made The Great Unknown even more of a mystery was the disappearance of sites, and data, and “stats” groups peddling other people’s work (usually in poor or incorrect fashion), and the discovery by some stats analysts that teams had been tracking data in ways that were curious, tedious, unhelpful. When the so-called Summer of Analytics occurred, The Great Unknown had the curtain pulled back a little bit: we started knowing who was getting hired where. But that peek exposed the still-immense uncertainty of the work available with some teams, and opened a new area of intrigue: analytics writing.

So why is what Micah is doing so important?

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Why teams should use 4 forwards on the powerplay

A few days ago, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail brought up one of the first significant shifts in tactics under the Mike Babcock regime in Toronto.

While the change may be surprising to some fans, particularly given the lack of depth in the Leafs forward corps, it shouldn’t be altogether unexpected.

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A Look into Alex Ovechkin’s Elite Power Play Abilities

"Alex Ovechkin2" by Keith Allison. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Alex Ovechkin2” by Keith Allison. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see a power play quite like that of this decade’s Washington Capitals. We can’t attach a firm date to it because it could extend as far as the end of Alex Ovechkin’s career at this rate, but we know that its peak of power began with the hiring of Adam Oates as Caps head coach back in 2012. Oates had run a successful 1-3-1 power play for the New Jersey Devils with Ilya Kovalchuk as his trigger-man, but nothing even close to the heights he managed to achieve with the man advantage in his two seasons in DC. Barry Trotz, to his credit, has kept the same formation — what’s that old adage about things that ain’t broke? — with only minor tweaks, and last year the power play continued to succeed.

Now there’s a lot to discuss about the formation and its success — I like to think of the Caps’ PP as a work of art more than anything else — but for the sake of this post I’m going to focus in on Alex Ovechkin. Never has there been a more criticized future first-ballot Hall of Famer, nor arguably a more controversial elite goal scorer. It should already be a given that Ovechkin is the best power play goal scorer of all time — he sits fifth overall in PPG/g despite playing in a significantly lower scoring era than his contemporaries like Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux — but I would argue by the time he retires, he will also likely be the greatest goal scorer of all time period. It’s the man advantage recently, in the latter stages of Ovechkin’s goal scoring peak, that has been the sniper’s bread and butter. Since Oates brought the 1-3-1 to town, Ovi has scored 48% of his goals on the power play, compared to 33% prior to that. He scored 25 power play goals last year, six ahead of the next highest total in Joe Pavelski’s 19. You have to go back another five to reach the player who is in third — Claude Giroux with 14 — indicating how great of a season the Sharks’ center/winger had, but that’s a story for another day.

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Practice Concerns: Coaching wisdom & redefining consistency

Should all players be treated the same? Probably not.

Should all players be treated the same? Probably not.

A very experienced NHL coach once said something to the effect of:

“The most difficult players to coach are those in the middle of your lineup. Your best players will always be your best, and your depth players are usually just happy to be there. Catering to the second and third liners is the toughest thing, because they’ll often have a different opinion of themselves than you.”

When I first heard this, I thought it made a lot of sense from a psychological point of view. In every team I’ve been a part of, there were three groups of players: those who were on the powerplay, those who wanted to get on the powerplay, and those who know they’ll never be on the powerplay. Usually the second group experiences the most friction with the coaching staff, and I am speaking from personal experience.

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Paul Bissonnette is Wrong and Right

Photo by Michael Wifall, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

Photo by Michael Wifall, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

From the outset, I want to say the Player’s Tribune, conceptually, is a wonderful thing. To have players guest post or answer questions without the emotions of a post-game presser or rigid formality of a journalist interview provides great insight to their personalities. And just like anybody we’d encounter in daily life, they say things we agree with, things we don’t agree with, or things we might’ve worded differently. Take, for instance, today’s “Mailbag” with Paul Bissonnette. A majority of the interview, which were questions from readers, were your general enforcer interview questions: best fight, worst fight, scary fight, do you like to fight, etc.

But then there was this final question, which I can only assume came from Mark Spector:

Bissonnette Players Tribune II

Bissonnette’s response, his longest of the interview, was chock full of wrong, with plenty of right on the side.

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Prospect Cohort Success – Evaluation of Results

2008 NHL Entry Draft Stage.JPG
2008 NHL Entry Draft Stage” by Alexander Laney. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Identifying future NHLers is critical to building a successful NHL team. However, with a global talent pool that spans dozens of leagues worldwide,  drafting is also one of the most challenging aspects of managing an NHL team. In the past, teams have relied heavily on their scouts, hoping to eek out a competitive advantaging by employing those who can see what other scouts miss. Quite a challenge for many scouts that may only be able to watch a prospect a handful of times in a season. While there has been some progress in the past few years with teams incorporating data into their overall decision making, from the outside, the incorporation of data driven decision making in prospect evaluation has been minimal.

To address this, Josh Weissbock and myself have developed a tool for evaluating prospect potential which we call Prospect Cohort Success (PCS), with the help of others in the analytics community including Hockey Graphs Supreme Leader, Garret Hohl.

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Hockey Talk: How will the Calgary Flames perform this season

Twenty hockey players in red uniforms stand at centre ice with their sticks raised in salute to the crowd around them.
130223 Calgary Flames salute” by ResoluteOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Hockey Talk is a (hopefully) weekly series where you will get to view the dialogue amongst a few of the Hockey-Graphs’ contributors on a particular subject, with some fun tangents.

Prior to the summer moves, we discussed here that the Calgary Flames looked poised to regress, hard. The Flames were one of the most out shot teams to make the playoffs, and the most out shot team ever to make the second round. After making the playoffs with 97 points in a weak pacific, it seemed like they were unlikely to repeat. But, then this summer, the Flames made some interesting moves.

This week we look at whether or not the Calgary Flames will repeat their success or regress out of the playoffs:

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