Archive for the ‘Hypothesizing’ Category

I know a lot of people don’t like stats blogs. They’re turned off by the charts and the sometimes arcane comment thread debates over mathematical modeling issues. They try to read it, and then somewhere in the middle their eyes glaze over and they wander away thinking, how come these number guys never talk about the soul of hockey?

Here’s the thing: they do. They do all the time. Stats blogs are full of narratives and philosopizing and cultural analysis and amateur psychology. It’s just always in either the introduction or the conclusion. Read a blog post about some bit of statistical reasoning, and 90% of it will be tightly-argued, evidence-based, chart-heavy discussion of some particular detail of the game, and then suddenly the conclusion will take an abrupt left-turn into a massive philosophical generalization about the nature of hockey. Honestly, sometimes I think advanced statisticians could solve their entire PR problem if they just chopped off their concluding paragraphs and made them into separate posts.

For example, last Wednesday, the sometimes brilliant and often combative Tyler Dellow posted a piece that was nominally about the Rangers’ playoff shot-blocking. As in, that’s what the tightly-argued, evidence-based, data-rich part was about. However, wrapped around this statsy part was a whole other argument, comparing soccer and hockey and questioning why there isn’t much “room for the idea that aesthetics matter” in hockey. That’s an important question, rarely asked and even more rarely answered, and worthy of a post in its own right. Like, for example, this one.

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Dale Hunter has informed George McPhee and the rest of the Washington Capitals organization that he won’t return to coach the team. He wants to head back to Ontario to spend more time with his family and help run the London Knights, or as it was phrased today, “the family business.”

I find this incredibly interesting for some reason. Probably because I suspect it wasn’t his call. Read the rest of this entry »

Jean Beliveau, the man the truncated minor penalty was invented to stop. It didn't work.

In the beginning, when hockey was void and without form, and darkness was upon the face of the ice, there were no penalties. In the very first rules of the game, from 1877, the stated punishment for any infraction is the play whistled dead and a fresh bully (faceoff-ish thing). By the 1890s, hockey had developed a three-strikes policy for physical fouls, with two referee’s warnings followed by expulsion from the game. In 1904, we find the first evidence of modern penalties, which could be given in two, three, or five-minute increments according to the opinion of the officials, but also allowed a team to put in a substitute for the offending player. In 1914, under NHA rules, all penalties were increased to five minutes and an obligatory fine introduced as a gesture towards further deterrence, but punishments were still thought of as an individual thing- the bad man had to do his time, but his team suffered nothing.

It was the NHL that invented the power play. When the new League formed out of the shattered ruins of the NHA in 1917, it reduced penalties to three minutes but forbade substitutions. For the first time in the history of the game, teams were forced to pay a price for their players’ rule violations. Four years later, they shortened the obligatory time of a minor penalty to the familiar two minutes, and two years after that, they added the five-minute and ten-minute penalties to the officiating toolbox.

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Most hockey fans on Twitter are, by now, aware that the Los Angeles Kings feed is pretty much owning. When the Kings beat the Canucks in Game 1 of the first round (which might have been a liiittle premature to start dropping tweets like this, but anyway) they posted:

People loved it.

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At this point, there aren’t a whole lot of people with their money on the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Final. The fancy stat crowd in particular has been lauding the Kings for weeks now (on this site as well), and with just cause – they’re a good team who’s underachieved all year.

But the thorn in the side of those “hockey geeks” is the fact that hockey is a stupid game, and the sport is about as predictable as salamander racing, which if not already a thing, should be. With hockey, underdogs can play the game in a way that maximizes their chances of scoring “lucky” goals, which is exactly what the Coyotes do.

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This post does not cover this play. I cannot explain the Legwand Puck Toss.

Like all pro sports, the guys at the very top possess talents most of us couldn’t conceive of having. When you watch a guy like Zdeno Chara power a 105 MPH blast through a screen and score, we feel more awe than “Aw yeah, I can relate.”

So knowing that NHLers are extremely talented and seeing them do something like pass it up the gut right to the other team can be a little confusing. I wouldn’t have done that. How can someone so good do something so stupid? But, it happens. Every week I spend some of my time breaking down stuff most of us know better than to do in “Systems Analyst.” It’s a tough game, but sometimes guys make it harder than it needs to be.

The problem for a lot of guys is just the way they came up through the ranks.

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On Parity

When the Devils and the Flyers ended regulation at a 3-3 tie on Sunday afternoon, it was the 18th game of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs to go to overtime. That’s a lot of OT: 35% of the games, including five elimination matches and two game sevens. The Chicago-Phoenix series went to overtime five of its six games, every single battle except the last. If it had not been for the Penguins and Flyers putting on their retro 80s tribute to the lost arts of pointless hate and shitty goaltending, the entire first round in the East would have played out in tightly-contested, evenly-matched hockey. It’s been a very close postseason.

It’s possible that this means nothing. It might just be a coincidence; hockey is full of those. Sometimes players shoot 35% for a week or two for no apparent reason. Sometimes a team goes on an inexplicable slump and wins only 35% of their games in a month. Maybe 35% of the playoffs going to OT is just another one of these weird runs of hockey luck. It might be so.

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