via the City of Edmonton

When this post went live, It had been exactly 185 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes since the conclusion of the last National Hockey League game. This, primarily being a National Hockey League-centric blog, has been reeling from the effects of the lockout with so little original content to parse through.

I have a few thoughts today to offer, most of which result from things that the Edmonton Oilers seem to have done lately. This video (featuring the hockey blogosphere’s own Bruce McCurdy!) circled the net yesterday evening. It reinforces the possibility that, hm, maybe the Edmonton Oilers do want to find people to help them understand the analytical side of hockey. As Kevin Lowe is quoted as saying in the video:

“Quite frankly, I don’t have enough hours in the day to be experimenting with stuff that we didn’t think would hopefully be beneficial.”

Translated, that just means Kevin Lowe doesn’t want his time to be wasted researching things about hockey. Naturally, the Oilers aren’t the team that best fits the mould of new thinking. They’ve finished 30th, 30th and 29th over the last three seasons, so either the team is asking the wrong questions or they aren’t putting a lot of stock into what the four-man panel turns up.

David Staples has written about how the five-man analytics panel the Oilers put together was instrumental in establishing the value for Ales Hemsky and may have led to his re-signing in Edmonton. In the clip linked above, the group is focused on the science of shootouts. Lowe asks an (unanswered) question about left-handed shooters versus right-handed goalies, and does learn that the so-called “hot hand effect” doesn’t exactly exist. A player that scores a goal in a game is not more likely to score in the shootout.

Whether they apply the information or not is altogether a different story, but at least you know that Lowe is aware that the hot-hand effect is a myth when it comes to the shootout, and you know that Lowe seems to have read the Jonah Keri’s excellent book about the re-birth of the Tampa Bay Rays, since he makes direct reference to the title:

“How else can you get better, and that’s gathering information and hoping to gain that little extra 2% that perhaps other teams aren’t.”

The Extra 2% was written about Tampa’s 2010 season, a year after they had gone to the World Series on a shoestring budget. Teams like Tampa Bay and the Oakland A’s, in small regions, or to use a hockey example, the Phoenix Coyotes, need to exploit every advantage they can. For a team like the Oilers that probably make a lot of money, any research is voluntary, so it’s not like the team is required to run with the findings.

Besides, some of the best hockey research already comes out of Edmonton, and it’s freely available, mostly on the Copper and Blue, mc79hockey and the late Irreverent Oilers Fans. Anybody looking for a primer on the development of advanced statistics would probably be well-served reading through that entire archive.

I like the idea of the Oilers holding a competition to try and find a new analytical partner. The specifics of the competition seem a little dodgy, and without a very large body of work to draw from the potential winner of the contest, a few critics have mentioned that this could leave the Oilers down a very dangerous path of perhaps ‘over-fitting’. I’ll let Dogbert explain:

Basically, if I were tying up my money into player-personnel decisions or tactical decisions, I’d want to make sure whoever I was listening to had a pretty good track record. The irony is, of course, the Oilers can get a bunch of information for free from their vast blogosphere. Matchup details, scoring chance records, microstats from the Cult of Hockey page. Some of it for sure could be junk science, but there’s a lot of testable hypothesis floating around the Internet with regard to the Oilers.

For those of you who say bloggers can’t do this sort of thing, consider that the Memphis Grizzlies hired longtime ESPN advanced stats writer John Hollinger, who developed PER and is one of the principle, most recognizable names in basketball analytics. The Grizzlies don’t need a contest, well, because they already know who they can trust with this sort of information.


Second thought on the day, I alluded to this earlier in the week, but anytime anybody wants to ask Gary Bettman or Bill Daly whether subsidies offered to NHL teams in both Phoenix and Detroit (and discussions re-opened in Edmonton) at all change how much money the NHL can afford to give up in these negotiations. After all, Illitch is getting essentially $650M revitalization from the state of Michigan, and the Phoenix Coyotes are getting $324M over 20 years from the City of Glendale, as part of a front-loaded deal that sees Greg Jamison paid out $77M over the first six years of the deal as a “fee” for owning the team.

If the NHL were in dire condition as Gary Bettman would like to have you believe, then the owners’ offer would likely change with the money collected by NHL owners. That’s not really been the case. At this point in the negotiation, if you haven’t accepted the fact that the NHL’s desire all along was to shorten the season to the bare minimum they could to preserve the “integrity” of the league, all while cutting costs and getting the best deal they can get, you haven’t been paying attention.

Even small market teams like Florida find ways to make money.