Kent Wilson

kent wilson

Kent has been a freelance hockey writer for several years. He is currently the managing editor of Flames Nation.ca and a fantasy prognosticator for Fanball.com. His efforts also appear for the Calgary Flames section of Hockey's Future.com.

Recent Posts

In the process of advancing the cause for advanced quantitative analysis in hockey, I have come across a number of fallacies and duplicitous rhetoric to undermine or dismiss the endeavor. This isn’t to say those skeptical of the utility of things like Corsi, zone starts or the like are necessarily wrong – we’re only taking the first few hesitant steps towards properly modelling what happens on the ice, after all. Skepticism is always warranted in matters of statistical analysis, particularly in sport where control groups don’t exist and real, scientific inquiry is impossible.

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Rene Bourque's 2009-10 season is an example of how counting stats can fool the casual observer.

This article originally appeared at Flamesnation.ca

Robert Cleave’s recent article on Rene Bourque is an illustration of one of the basic tenets of analysis that is frequently overlooked: the game of hockey isn’t one of totals but of differentials, of ratios.

In 2009-10, Bourque scored 27 goals and 58 points. Last season, he managed a similar stat line: 27 goals and 50 points. Judging by the boxscores, Bourque was marginally worse than his career peak the prior year. In truth, he took a drastic step back in 2010-11.

Bourque’s stark development as a player was somewhat obvious to regular observers of the team last season, but is fully revealed when we peel back to the thin, but opaque layer of counting stats and delve into the numbers underneath: Bourque spent more time in the defensive zone relative to the prior year and more time getting outchanced and outscored. His presence caused a dip in scoring chance ratios with other players across the board. He was, by and large, a detriment. The eight point dip in his statsline was only the merest hint of his decline.

Hockey is about getting more, not lots. The distinction is an important one, because the latter does not necessarily guarantee the former. The statement about totals and differentials above is an axiom I’ve come to accept since I began writing about the game. A player who drives differentials helps teams win, and often their basic counting numbers have only a passing relationship to a players’ actual value.

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The summer of George

George McPhee is having the best off-season of any NHL GM and it really isn’t close. The announcement today that the Washington Capitals have re-signed RFA Karl Alzner to a two year, $2.57 million (total!) contract is the cherry on top of a very big sundae for Caps fans.

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(This post originally appeared at Canucks Army) on The Nation blog network.

One of the most persistent memes that has cropped up since the Canucks lost in the cup finals is the club needs to get tougher. Or, from another angle, the Boston Bruins won because they “bullied” Vancouver. Tony Gallagher says as much here:

The difficulty comes just where it came this year in the playoffs as teams like Boston and Nashville ground away at the best team in the league. It comes in the form of injuries to your players as well as the intimidation of the players who actually go on the ice and take the risks they do knowing there are lunkheads on the other team. How effective, for instance, will Daniel Sedin be in the six games against Edmonton if he knows Eager is perfectly free to take a run at him and try to put him through the boards and all that might happen is a suspension to a team with little chance to make the playoffs.

Cam Charron recently deflated this line of thinking at Nucks Misconduct:

Fewer teams are employing the goon to keep their players protected, and with good reason. The r-squared (correlative) value between fights and wins this past regular season was .011. In the last ten years, the Canucks have shown an ability to win in seasons that they score a lot of goals (r-squared value of .582) and not necessarily an ability to win in seasons they rack up a lot of fight totals (r-squared of .081).

There’s even a lower correlation in the previous 10 Canucks seasons between goal total and fighting majors (r-squared of .052). Oddly enough, one of the first signings Mike Gillis made as the General Manager of the Canucks was to bring aboard Darcy Hordichuk, but under Gillis’ watch, the Canucks have seen their fighting totals dip from 63 in the 2009 season to just 33 this past season (this is including playoffs) and it has worked out quite well for them.

Or course, the persistent, intuitive narratives that surround fighters/toughness relative to the Canucks and Bruins series is part of a sort-of overarching meta-narrative that recurs every year after the cup is awarded: namely, fans and pundits crowning a new team building “model” based on the latest cup winner. Of course, the factors that contribute to a playoff run are rather complex, ranging from internal issues such as team construction and coaching as well as external ones like injuries, strength of opponent, luck and officiating. Unfortunately, usually only one or two facets of the cup winner is seized upon as relevant, the others discarded in the fog of time and the rush to emulate what was most celebrated or perceptually obvious.

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The decline of Dany Heatley

In 2006-07, Dany Heatley was widely considered one of the very best players in the world. He managed 50 goals and 105 points, the second straight season he’d broken the 100-point barrier. He was part of one of the most potent trios in the NHL with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. In the summer of 2008, despite coming off a relatively disappointing 41-goal, 82-point year, Heatley signed a monster six-year, $45 million contract replete with signing bonuses and NTC’s, all but ensuring he would remain an Ottawa Senator for the foreseeable future. At just 27-years old, he seemed poised to dominate the league for years to come.

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Today is the final installment of our free agent frenzy grades. The Kings are atop the heap in the Pacific division, while the Canucks lead the Northwest.

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Bob McKenzie tweeted this evening that Dany Heatley has been traded from the San Jose Sharks to Minnesota for Martin Havlat.

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