The End of the Conversation

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The hirings of Kyle Dubas as assistant GM in Toronto and Tyler Dellow as analytics expert in Edmonton have sent hockey’s good ol’ boys network into a panic. The contingent of hockey pundits who tout “intangibles” have long suspected and feared a reckoning at the hands of the spreadsheets. Now that it has finally happened, they effetely plead that the new era of analysis would not begin and end with Corsi:

These people miss the point. Advanced statistics aren’t just one piece in a bigger conversation. Advanced statistics are the end of the conversation.

Named for author Jerome Corsi, Corsi counts the number of corsis that players are on the ice for during hockey games. That number, called a C.O.R.S.I. number, is the best way to evaluate player skill. More corsis, better players*.

It has been proven, over and over again, that things like heart and clutch play and even random chance cannot hold a candle to digital incandescence of Corsi.

Granted, this was not always the case. Corsis used to be tracked by hand. And back before we knew of score effects, zone starts, and THoR, Corsi and its brother stat (simply called MATT) were certainly inferior to the Eye Test. But now that the methodologies and technologies have matured, Corsi is almost** perfect, as proven by the recent glut of geek hirings. The ever-shrinking “watch the games” crowd is now left to do inconsequential things like watch the games.

Dellow, Dubas, and even Eric Tulsky (who has also been hired by some team, no idea which, yeah) first made their reputations by exposing the eye test as irrelevant to the task of hockey evaluation. This was unwelcome news to coaches who ran video sessions and hockey writers who didn’t know the difference between a TR and a TD, but it was the truth (with a .553 Pearson correlation coefficient!). The automatic tabulation of shot attempts and zone entries by computers is simply more reliable than human vision, which can be hindered by astigmatism and diabetes mellitus. Still, the adjective-driven hockey media clings to its outdated way of life like a triceratops munching on a fern in the Yucatan at the end of the Cretaceous period.

That’s not to say the soon-to-be-extinct members of the numbers-free press are useless. They’re not; they are merely lone wolves… for now. But once the SportsVU system gets implemented in the NHL, the opponents of Big Corsi will be rendered utterly meaningless.

Some think that’s a bad thing. They cling to their worn-in, dog-earred copies of The Game and Open Net with fearful nostalgia. The game, they say, will one day be reduced to nothing but cold, hard numbers.

Those people are wrong. We are already there.

The dirty little secret of the stats community is that hockey can already be expressed entirely by statistics. The power elite of CoRSi’s inner circle actually have the power to simulate entire games using nothing but mathematical models. While most of us are suffering through the tedium of a hockeyless offseason, the fancystats oligarchy can generate and enjoy hundreds of hockey seasons using just a laptop and Microsoft Excel.

Hockey stats were first invented to make the sport comprehensible. At the time they were just one tool of many, intended to be used in concert with qualitative analysis and the whimsy of opinion. But as technology improved, those stats– especially C0RSI–  began to eclipse the traditional styles of talking about hockey. Now that the purveyors of advanced statistics are finally ensconced in hockey’s power elite, the conversation can finally end.

* Except in the case of defensive defensemen, if convenient.
** Nevermind; it actually is perfect.

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  • OvechkinFiresAndScores08

    umm what?

  • OvechkinFiresAndScores08

    Peter, can you explain this article to me?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I cannot

  • Dan Curry

    This might help:

    http://www.timecube.com/

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    TIME CUBE! THAT’S MY FAVE!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Alright back to the beach! Have a good week, guys!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    THoR?

  • Guest

    Here you go

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    THoR, Total Hockey Rating, is a proprietary stat that correctly proved Ovi and Crosby were not among the top 150 players in the league http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fancy-stats/wp/2014/05/08/are-crosby-and-ovechkin-top-150-players-in-the-nhl-not-according-to-thor/

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    So you’re saying there’s not an almighty hammer?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    CORSI is the almighty hammer

  • Matt Lauer

    “Advanced stats are the end of the conversation.”

    The question of course becomes whether demystifying the game makes it more or less enjoyable.

  • dylan wheatley

    lol

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett
  • Kyle Reid

    I hate that article. Their conclusion is that advanced statistics such as THoR are fundamentally flawed as they can’t predict that Crosby and Ovi are #1 and #2.

  • dylan wheatley

    did the oilers actually hire tyler

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    It was reported by Bob Mckenzie and today isn’t April 1st, soooooooo

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    John Erskine will never be demystified.

    https://vine.co/v/h3Fd9gwAKzx

  • Owen Johnson

    Amazing. Not one but TWO Caps in that video should be sent to the minors.

  • Sarah

    “Corsi can, I just don’t wanna…”

  • frowning

    “The dirty little secret of the stats community is that hockey can
    already be expressed entirely by statistics. The power elite of CoRSi’s
    inner circle actually have the power to simulate entire games
    using nothing but mathematical models. While most of us are suffering
    through the tedium of a hockeyless offseason, the fancystats oligarchy
    can generate and enjoy hundreds of hockey seasons using just a laptop and Microsoft Excel.”

    There is no indication that this paragraph was tongue-in-cheek. It has to be, right? Why can’t you guys talk about this stuff without coming off as utterly pretentious?

  • dylan wheatley

    because you touch yourself at night

  • Amykins

    OK, so I really want to get into this whole statistical way of watching hockey games and evaluating play, and maybe I just have not yet had enough caffiene today, but the following sentence does nothing to explain to me what Corsi is.
    “Corsi counts the number of corsis that players are on the ice for during hockey games.”

    Que?

  • Fedor

    “corsis” = “Corsi events” = shot attempts (on net, blocked, missed, posts).

  • Amykins

    Thank you! Some of us need some extra schoolin’.

  • Devise

    I absolutely disagree with this opinion. If we were playing a game of machines, this article would be spot on. And while I do support the advanced statistics, the concept that it is all that matters is a flat out lie. There are humans in the game. Humans with varying levels of emotions that can influence adrenaline output, the level of effort and motivation they have, are they scared, are they excited? Are they angry? There are tons of human factors at play which is why intangibles while not nearly as important as they sometimes are portrayed, still and will exist until there is no human element in the sport.

    Whether it’s a player complaining to a ref and getting a make up call later, a speech by a locker room leader leading to some players giving more effort, a physically dominating team intimidating some of weaker or younger players on the opposing side. These things simply put, happen. To deny them is to basically say the people involved in the game are not human.

  • Graham Dumas

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand scene.

  • Sarah

    RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED.
    …seriously, though, I think that Peter intended to make fun of both extreme viewpoints in the argument, i.e. that “fancy stats” have no value at all, and the viewpoint of which he is often accused, the one he parodies in the article.
    What the heck do I know, though, I’m just a girl from Texas who never watched a hockey game until ’93.

  • Luke Anthony

    I don’t buy that advanced stats is all that matters. That’s borderline insane. I certainly think they are very useful tools that shouldn’t be ignored, but saying nothing else matters in the game is ridiculous. How do you measure a young player’s potential with corsi or fenwick? Does a high corsi in the OHL or WHL mean that player will be an effective NHL player? Absolutely not.

  • GraboviMyBozak

    I completely agree. I think Corsi is overvalued. If corsi is the only thing that matters, how did the Avs and Habs make the playoffs and the Devils and Nucks didn’t? The eye test is a much more efficient way to judge a team. I also know it’s obviously not the only way. The Habs and Avs couldn’t just have had good goal tending and luck. It’s definitely an overvalued stat, especially by Peter.

  • Searle

    I think in terms of establishing how well a player is playing over a season or X amount of games it’s definitely unrivalled, players will slip through the gaps of course but the vast majority of the time it’s the one. Of course there’s a human element though, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun to watch.

  • Paterson

    The Oilers also changed their logo as part of @mc79hockey’s contract demands.

    (No, no, no they didn’t…. But you could imagine what it’d be like if they did, right…?)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    That’s not what the article says. Neil challenges THoR, which is supposedly an all-encompassing/one-number stat like WAR, because it ranks Crosby OUTSIDE of the top 150 players.

    Comparing stats to our preconceptions is actually a really common way to validate them. Like if you get sh% for forwards over 5 years, you expect the best snipers in the league to be returned.

    http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/ratings.php?db=200914&sit=5v5&type=individual&teamid=0&pos=forwards&minutes=500&disp=1&sort=HARTp&sortdir=DESC

    Crosby, Malkin, Sedins, Teows, Kane, Semin, etc.

    Therefore we can reasonably think that the stat measures snipers at the high end. But if the stat returns a bunch of different folks, it might not measure what we thought it did.

    Crosby is the best player in the league probably. THoR says he’s not even an all star One of those two statements is wrong.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Good satire comments

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I’ll do a full, non-sarcastic video explainer before the new season.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    “the following sentence does nothing to explain to me what Corsi is”

    ;)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Indications that the paragraph was satirical:

    1) “entirely”
    2) “power elite”
    3) grandiose capitalization of “CoRSi”
    4) “inner circle”
    5) “fancystats oligarchy:
    6) “enjoy”
    7) Microsoft Excel

  • Sarah

    Microsoft Excel is what tipped me off. Ha ha, Peter, like Excel does anything but make me want to shoot myself.

  • Guest
  • Tom Martin
  • Sarah

    They’re also changing the spelling to the Eulers! Hahahaha (ducks under the table)

  • Sarah

    It just occurred to me that, since RMNB appeals both to geeks and non-geeks, the latter might not get the Star Trek reference I made and wonder what the shouting was about. For anyone who is not a Trekkie dweeb, the line in all caps is the oft-repeated motto of the Borg, who are a scary Star Trek race of robot-humanoid hybrids. Their only goal is to turn all other races into weird bots like themselves, and wipe out all individual judgment.

    Of course, since this is hockey, it might be the Canadian Borg, who are relatively nice about it.

  • Rhino40

    Oh. And here I was thinking he was some random guy who was blond, white, and solved all of his problems with a hammer…

  • Rhino40

    So when I start playing inline again I’ll have to remember to take more corsis-on-net instead of just patrolling my own d-zone.

  • Rhino40

    LMAO…

  • Rhino40

    LMAO, Sarah…well played. I have always been here.

  • Sarah

    Lol, thanks. :) As the original poster of this pic explains: “Depending on your tastes, it’s actually not so bad being assimilated in the Canadian Borg. You just have to accept the fact that hockey games are being streamed into your brain 24/7 and the collected works of Rush, Bryan Adams, and April Wine play in the background perpetually.”
    Heck, they can assimilate me any time! Especially one particular Canadian. But anyway…

  • Amykins

    I should have known better. I need to stop reading your columns at work, where my default mode is to take things seriously. How are the drinks at the beach?

  • Pat Magee

    Definitely include PDO in that video!!! I seriously have no idea what people are talking about with these PDO numbers….

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Few and far between, but it’s been a great vacation.

  • frowning

    Ah, the issue was that none of these made the paragraph at all funny. Like satire.

  • Goat

    You had me going up until the second to last paragraph.

  • SeminAllOverTheIce

    This is a hockey blog…whats with all this talk about those short elongated fluffy dogs. Those things creep me out. Like a scared blow fish Dachund cross-species…poofed out. Silly Welsh dogs, I bet Walker likes them.

  • mspeer

    Yep, that was where I realized it as well. However, they say there is a lot of truth in jest. Hmm.

  • Sarah

    Pearson correlations? Pfft. What about Spearman? We all know hockey is nonparametric.

  • Sarah

    Does this help? Or creep you out more? Apologies if it’s the latter.

  • SeminAllOverTheIce

    Matty P looks different when out of his Ducks jersey.

  • Sarah

    Having trouble seeing the resemblance, although to be fair, I haven’t seen him in a Jets jersey yet.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Where you play inline at? I played in Alexandria when we were in DC. Good group of guys there even if the teams weren’t all that evenly matched.

  • Dcsportsfan85

    Advanced stats are the best way to predict future success, but unsustainably low or high shooting or save percentages can occur in the sample size of a single season. In the case of the Avs the received all-world goaltending from Varlamov as well as having some high end offensive talent that can impact shooting percentage. So yes skilled offensive players and quality defensemen/goalies can have impacts on shooting and save percentages, but eventually those percentages regress to the mean as the sample size grows.

    Whereas the Canucks saw two of their top line players (Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows) endure a significant drop in their shooting percentage, which odds are will improve next season.

    Corsi is just the best predictor of future success not the stat that determines the outcome of games, which would be goals. Isn’t the point of using stats to predict who’ll be successful in the future? The majority of better possession teams made the playoffs and I cannot remember the last time a poor possession team won the Stanley cup. The teams you mentioned were the outliers.

  • Dcsportsfan85

    Previous SC winners
    Kings, Blackhawks, Kings, Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins, Redwings……all good possession teams.

    Go look at all of the Stanley cup winners in the modern NHL and I will bet you virtually every one was a positive possession team with most of them being among the top ranked possession teams.

    So I would disagree with you that possession metrics are overvalued. They CLEARLY are not overvalued and there’s a reason NHL teams are buying into it. No it’s not the only valuable stat or way to evaluate performance, but it’s definitely one of the most critical if not the most.

  • John M

    Do the Capitals win in any of these Excel seasons? And wow…russiadatingonline.com. Not clicking on that one…

  • Justin Collins

    Oh man, I must have missed that article. Why would you even think you had made a good rating and gone public with it when there is something as obvious as that?

    By the way, funny post and even funnier reading comments from people that are completely unable to recognize satire or a joke without an “lol.”