One item getting a lot of attention this week was this column by Brian Cazeneuve over at Sports Illustrated discussing the importance of puck possession in hockey. There are two reasons for the piece's popularity.
Firstly, because it confirms via multiple interviews with existing GM's that possession is universally regarded as a key to winning in the post-Lockout NHL. This accords with much of the work done by Gabriel Desjardins, Vic Ferrari and a growing number of their disciples throughout the net of amateur analysts across the web.
Secondly, because Cazeneuve claims there is no agreed upon method for quantifying possession, a claim many of the interviewees in the article echo. This is bizarre because Cazeneuve talked to Desjardins before the piece went live, meaning he couldn't have been ignorant of Corsi and its variants (nevermind that there have been literally hundred of articles on the subject published for free over the last several years). It's also strange because it strikes me as extremely unlikely that at least some NHL executives aren't aware of possession stats like Corsi. Particularly since it's a metric that was created by an NHL coach (Buffalo goalie coach Jim Corsi).
Why everyone played dumb in the end is beyond me. Perhaps because the guys "in the know" wouldn't go on record as supporting one method? Whatever the cause, the truth is the question about possession and how to quantify it is basically over. What the stats-oriented community is interested in now is determining what circumstances moderate Corsi (linemates, opponents, starting position, coaching, etc.) and how to isolate the various factors in the analysis of single players and whole teams.
On a related note, Cam Charron of the Hockey Writers recently wrote an interesting expose on 25-year old wunderkind Kyle Dubas, the current GM of the OHL Soo Greyhounds. Unlike the execs in Cazeneuve piece above, Dubas went on record as a believer in new, advanced methods of quantifying the game:
"Baseball has been the most progressive," says Dubas, referring to not only the youth movement of professional General Managers, but also the statistical revolution that has gripped sports. The change has yet to happen in hockey, but there are a growing number of bloggers and writers who make frequent mention of advanced statistics such as Corsi and Fenwick numbers. "As a Major junior team, we don't have the budget yet [to track these numbers]," says Dubas, but he's looking to improve his team's marketing, to build revenues and invest in the team's video system and progressive statistical analysis.
"It's a thing I'm a huge proponent of," he says. "What we're trying to do right now is look at other team's rosters and find the guys that they undervalue. If we can pick them off from there, we'll be good to go."
"If you watch our trades, you'll see a lot of that built into it."
It will be interesting to see how the Greyhounds do under Dubas' direction. There is a paucity of data and advanced stats in junior hockey, so perhaps he'll be able to build a proprietary database and really get a leg up on his competition.
Next up, we have reactions to the San Jose Sharks "early" exit:
But this organization, despite all of its failures, has proven time and time again to be one of the most successful in the entire NHL. Second highest point total since 2003. Seven straight playoff appearances. Two straight Western Conference Finals appearances. The list goes on and on. Twenty nine other teams experience a painful death at the end of the season with only one reaching the summit at the end of the year. Those are incredible odds, even for a team with expectations like San Jose. And sometimes, it just takes a bounce, one measly little bounce, to push a team over the top.
That's Jason Plank of Fear the Fin, no doubt anticipating the "Sharks are chokers!" narrative that is bound to be revisited now that the club failed to once again make it past the Western Conference final and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The label "chokers" is truly inapt for the Sharks. Ignore the fact that they were incredibly beat up this postseason (significant injuries to just about every top-six forward on the team) and the fact it took a blown icing call and the flukiest goals of the playoffs to send them homeDoug Wilson and company have done all that can be reasonably expected of NHL executives: build a consistently strong, contending team that is amongst the best in the league year-in and year-out. Since 2005-06, the Sharks have averaged 108 points per season and have been top-three in the Western Conference in each of the last four years. Only the Detroit Red Wings have more postseason wins over that same time frame. Most NHL fans would kill to have that kind of "choker" team to cheer for.