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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NHL Analytic Teams’ State of the Union

Pure-mathematics-formulæ-blackboard

Fandom means a lot of different things to different people. But one thing unites us all: we hope our favorite team will win, and spend a great deal of time thinking how they can.

For those of us who dig a little deeper on the “how” side and use analytics, we hope that our work will eventually make its way to a front office. In some ways, it already has: numerous “hockey bloggers” hirings have been made recently.

But how many and for which teams?

With some research, I’ve culled a working document on all analytics hires for NHL teams and how they may be using analytics. The following descriptions comes from a variety of sources including Craig Custance’s Great Analytics Rankings [Paywall], fellow bloggers from across the internet, media reports, word of mouth and anonymous insiders.

It should be noted that just because a team has made an “analytics hiring”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they value their input or use the analysis provided properly. In fact, hires can be made simply for PR reasons, and some teams may even give analytics tasks as secondary duties to staff members who do not posses any formal background in the subject. Teams may also have hired private firms providing proprietary data, which in reality may not provide any tangible, verifiable value than what is free and readily available online.

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2014-15 Season Preview: The Atlantic Division

Image from Sarah Connors via Wikimedia Commons

Finishing last season with an average of 87.6 points per team, the Atlantic/Flortheast Division was the worst in the NHL. I see that gap widening, not narrowing, in 2014-15.

The battle at the top of the division will, in my eyes, come down to two teams: the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins have placed either first or second in their division (the Atlantic or the former Northeast) in each of the past four seasons. The 2nd place Lightning finished a full 16 points behind the Bruins in 2013-14, but a strong off-season combined with a full season of Steven Stamkos and rookie Jonathan Drouin potentially making an impact has them near even money with the Bruins.

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Where NHL Coaching Changes Did, and Didn’t, Help Their Teams

If you or anyone you know have seen this man behind your player, contact the front office immediately.  (Photo by "Dan4th Nicholas", via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author)

Photo by “Dan4th Nicholas”, via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author

Michel Therrien has an interesting distinction in the research I’ve been doing about NHL coaching changes: he’s given me 4 instances where he and his replacement have coached 20+ games within the same season. He’s also replaced or been replaced in three of those instances by legit coaching talent – he replaced Alain Vigneault for the Montreal Canadiens in 2000-01, was replaced two years later by Claude Julien, and lastly was fired in favor of Dan Bylsma for Pittsburgh in 2008-09. What’s incredible about these three cases is that, in every single one of them, there was a drastic change in outcomes for the teams involved. Using 2pS%, or possession measured by two-period shots-for divided by two-period shots-for and against together, the numbers tell a story:
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Revisiting the NHL Regression Predictions from January 1st

Photo by “User:Zucc63” via Wikimedia Commons, modified by author

If you’ll remember, one of the inaugural posts here was a regression prediction piece, using a combination of PDO and Fenwick Close to see who might improve or decline over the latter half of the season. I decided to put together a table of the teams I predicted would negatively or positively regress, just using the aforementioned data:

If you’ll remember, I pegged Anaheim, Colorado, Montreal, Phoenix, Toronto, and Washington for negative regression, and Florida and New Jersey for positive regression. So, even with really rudimentary predictors, this season I was able to be fairly successful building predictions from a half-season sample for the remaining season. In previous years, the fancy stats folks usually picked the much more obvious targets (Toronto being the big one this year), but it’s very possible to go further if you wanted.