There’s No Secret to Protecting a Lead

I was born into a family of Islander fans, so I never had a chance to avoid the sadness that comes with that fandom. While Islander fans are sad for a lot of reasons, one constant complaint over the past several years has been their inability to protect a lead.

However, this is not a unique complaint of Islander fans alone. Fans of other teams have similar gripes. For example, the Leafs have been criticized this season on the same grounds. And here’s fellow Hockey Graphs write Asmae when I suggested doing some research on blown leads:

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So, are some teams particularly bad at holding leads? Asked another way, is keeping a lead a skill distinct from the rest of the team’s performance, or is it just a function of the team’s overall skill and luck?

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Just How Important is Quality of Competition? Very. Also, not much. It’s All Relative.

*This post is co-authored by DTMAboutHeart and Ryan Stimson*

Recently, the topic of Quality of Competition has been at the forefront of Hockey Twitter. This post hopes to articulate some of the nuance associated with Quality of Competition, as well as Quality of Teammate, metrics and how impactful they are. To do that, we will revisit methods outlined here by Eric Tulsky, namely splitting the competition and teammate quality by position and measuring the impact of each split. Ryan recently wrote about this at the NCAA level, but it has not been looked at with much rigor at the NHL level.

Both Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammates matter. They also don’t matter. It depends on the position and metric you’re looking at. All TOI data is 5v5 and from Corsica. Ryan had the game files of who was on the ice during each 5v5 shot from Micah Blake McCurdy, so that data was used as well. Also, thanks to Muneeb for feedback during this process. Thanks to all!

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10 Rules Of Thumb For Hockey Analysts

  1. The point of hockey is to create goal differential. The point of hockey analysis is to find ways to improve it.

  2. Shot differentials today is goal differentials tomorrow.

  3. 100-10-1. 100 minutes of your time to create data, 10 minutes of the coach’s time to digest the data, 1 minute of the player’s time to absorb the data.

  4. Optimise workload, reduce uncertainty.

  5. If your findings are either always or never surprising, then review your methodology. 80/20 (in favor of confirming existing beliefs) is a good place to start.

  6. Your priority is to help the coach get a better night’s sleep and to help players maximise their experience.

  7. Know your place, but stand your ground.

  8. We are all on the same team.

  9. Who you compete against influences your results; who you work with dictates your destiny.

  10. The job is only done when you’ve trained someone to make you expendable.

 

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team (not his full-time job). He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.

Practical Concerns: On Anchoring, Delight And The Frederik Andersen Contract

One of the things I am trying to work on this summer is to be more self-critical about the way I treat and act on information. Frederik Andersen’s trade from the Anaheim Ducks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his subsequent signing of a five-year, $25 million contract proved to be a good opportunity in that sense.

Initially, I cringed a bit at the term and cap commitment Toronto made to Andersen. Five years is a long time and $5M per year is a big money for a guy who is not guaranteed to play all that well.

But I could be very wrong on that.

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Practical Concerns: A Better Way To Talk About Hockey?

“The Pittsburgh Penguins won.” “The San Jose Sharks lost.”

Do those statements have the same meaning? The answer depends entirely on what you mean by meaning.

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Following the suggestion of my friend Arik Parnass, I’ve began re-reading the book Thinking Fast And Slow, which explores many ideas that can be applied to hockey.

One of the chapters in the book deals with the concept of framing – how people can be influenced to think about a certain situation depending on the words used to describe it. Going back to our initial example, did the Penguins win the Stanley Cup (because of their superior tactics, teamwork and talent level)? Or did the Sharks lose the Stanley Cup (because of their reliance on defensemen who are slow and can’t make a pass)?

There is no right or wrong answer, but we can see how a simple difference in phrasing can lead us down different avenues.

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Video Analysis: How The Penguins Extend Zone Time With “Total Hockey”

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By any predictive metric, the Pittsburgh Penguins have generated a staggering amount of offense against the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Earlier this week, we looked at how the Penguins are able to create possessions with good defensive habits in the neutral zone. Today, we’ll examine how they create a volume of offensive chances via positional switches.

To fully understand the ideas behind the Penguins’ offensive zone play, it is necessary to study the “Total Football” philosophy:

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The line of thinking lends itself well to the speed and teamwork-oriented nature of hockey as well. While the Penguins are by no means the first team to apply these ideas, they are a good example of how they can be used effectively at the highest level of the game.

Here are some clips from Game 3 and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final illustrating the tactical benefits of fluidity and positional switches.

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Genie Bouchard, Expectations & What Players Need To Understand About Stats

This post is not really about Genie Bouchard, or even tennis in general, but let’s start with her.

On Thursday, Bouchard, the top-ranked Canadian player on the WTA Tour, lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 8 seed Timea Bacsinszky at Roland Garros. The loss could be interpreted as another setback for Bouchard, who ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in October 2014. Since then, she has slumped, going 12-18 in 2015 after winning 39 and 43 matches in the previous two years. What’s gone wrong?

Possibly, the answer is nothing at all.

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Practical Concerns: On Randomness, Risk-Taking And Coaching

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Something I set time aside for during the off-season is reading non-hockey books in an attempt to gain a better perspective on hockey. The work of Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Boomrang) and Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan, Fooled By Randomness) were of particular inspiration.

Below are some assorted thoughts based on recent readings and events. Tweet me (@ML_Han) if you’d like to disagree and tell me why. Eventually I hope to spend some time talking about this or a tangential at the second edition of RITHAC this September.

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Book Review: Caveman Logic & “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work”

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In my experience, using analytics to influence coaching decisions is a profoundly weird and incredibly interesting exercise, which is why I was very excited to read a book called The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, a newly released book written by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, two Sabermetricians who took over a pro baseball team for a season.

Being a fast reader, I blasted through the pages in about two days. I’m happy to say that got a lot out of this book. If you’re here, you probably would too.

While I don’t know or care much about baseball, Ben and Sam are my kindred spirits. There are not many people who have had the opportunity to use analytics to directly impact how a sports team is run on a day-to-day basis. As I found myself leafing through the pages, I saw a lot of my own hockey experiences in the authors’ words.

Whether it was gaining the trust of the coaching staff, overcoming teething IT issues, or occasionally falling prey to heuristics and losing “objectivity,” I identified a great deal with Ben and Sam’s trials and tribulations. So much so, that I began tweeting at Ben before I even finished the book.

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Practical Concerns: “The Blind Side”, Intangibles and My Off-Season Plan At McGill

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(Photo credit: Derek Drummond)

At VANHAC, I was asked by a few people about how we use analytics in our program. Every season is different, and to gain a full appreciation of my intentions this summer, it’s worth digging into the central thesis of a football book.

What Really Drives Results?

“[Quarterback Joe Montana, wide receiver Jerry Rice and running back Roger Craig] are stars. They accumulated the important statistics: yards, touchdowns, receptions, completions. [Left tackle Steve] Wallace is not considered a producer. He has no statistics.” – The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (Michael Lewis, 2006)

While Michael Lewis’ Moneyball did much to improve the popular understanding of analytics in sports, I happen to think that The Blind Side can help bridge the gap between traditionalist and numbers-driven analysts just as much as Moneyball did.

If you peel away the diverse storylines in The Blind Side, this is the central question behind Lewis’ book: What does a good left tackle do for his quarter-back (and by extension, their team)? And how much is that worth?

Very valuable, as it turned out. Unless an NFL team wanted your multi-million dollar quarterback seriously maimed by an opposing pass-rusher, it had better hire a left tackle with the size, speed and sense to keep up. The problem is, if this player does his job well, nothing happens that can directly be attributed to him – he has no statistics.

But conceptually, his impact on the game is not all that hard to identify. A good left tackle provides a safe, productive (and dare I say, fun) work environment for his teammates. By paying attention to the process of football, you can probably come up with a few good ways to account for that.

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(credit: Derek Drummond)

Building A Bridge

When you arrive to this conclusion about football players, it becomes a lot easier to see why the idea of “being a good teammate” and “having intangibles” matters to people working in hockey. I’ve alluded to this elsewhere, but there are really two aspects to creating that good working environment for other people – one can’t be expressed in numbers conveniently, but I reckon the other already can be. Both matter a great deal to the end result, and to how people feel in the process to getting there.

I didn’t have time to really dig into this during my talk at VANHAC, but this is probably the most important realization I’ve had in two years working for the McGill Martlets hockey program.

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