Putting Chicago’s Play In Perspective

Recently, after a loss to the Colorado Avalanche, I was about to tweet out a reassurance to Chicago Blackhawks fans that there was still time in the season to fix the problems that have plagued the team. I am usually a very optimistic and positive person so when it suddenly occurred to me that I had been handing out this same type of assurance since the start of the season I was forced to rethink what I was saying. I realized I was forming that moment’s reassurance based not upon anything objective, but upon my personal feelings about the team. Obviously, as a fan of the team, I always believe in them and have faith in them to do great things. As someone who analyzes the team from a systems and statistics perspective, I feel it is my responsibility to be realistic about how they are playing. That can be very had to do and I don’t blame people for not wanting to hear it sometimes.

Instead of tweeting reassurances, I went on a mini-rant about how I did not consider Chicago to be among the very best teams in the league given their play this season. This stirred up a little controversy of course. Many very smart hockey analysts disagreed with me citing Chicago’s good possession numbers. It is true, when you look at their numbers from a percentage standpoint, they look pretty good. Chicago has some terrific offensive talent that drives those numbers even when they have small slumps in shooting percentage that cause ripples of panic to radiate through the fan base. Frankly, I am not worried about Chicago’s offense. I expect any glaring outliers in terms of shooting percentage will likely correct themselves. My biggest concern this season has been with Chicago’s shot suppression numbers. Shot suppression comes from stifling the opponent’s ability to gain the offensive zone, creating turnovers and exiting the defensive zone cleanly and efficiently. This has been the backbone of Chicago’s success despite the widespread perception of the Blackhawks as a high end offensive team (they are that too of course). Since the beginning of the season, the shot suppression metrics were not favoring Chicago, but many thought that once the defense got sorted out things would improve. The defense has not been completely sorted out at this point of the season with just over 20 games left to play.

With all of this in mind, I went through the metrics from Chicago’s recent seasons to see how they compare to this season in detail. Using the current season’s averages in each metric, I calculated the deviation from those averages on a game by game basis. Because I started with the 2008-09 season and continued forward, there was a lot of information. To make it more digestible, I graphed out the deviation from this season’s average with a 5 game moving average.

SAVE PERCENTAGE – 2014-15 5v5 SCORE ADJUSTED SEASON AVERAGE = 92.6675%

0815 SV PCT 1415 DEV AVG

Chicago’s goaltending appears to have been far more consistent this season than in prior seasons with less variance in the highs and lows.

SHOOTING PERCENTAGE – 2014-15 5v5 SCORE ADJUSTED SEASON AVERAGE = 7.6654%

0815 SH PCT 1415 DEV AVG

This season, the Blackhawks’ shooting percentage (sh%) has been a bit off in terms of the big name producers at times. This is not unlike prior seasons and as I said before, with all of the offensive talent on the team, I would expect this to correct as it has in the past.

FF60 (UNBLOCKED SHOTS FOR RATE) – 2014-15 5v5 SCORE ADJUSTED SEASON AVERAGE = 44.04431

0815 FF60 1415 DEV AVG

Chicago’s offensive pressure appears consistent with what we saw from them last season. They are one of the “shootiest” teams in the league and have been for a while, so again, this is not really an area for any serious concern.

FA60 (UNBLOCKED SHOTS AGAINST RATE) – 2014-15 5v5 SCORE ADJUSTED SEASON AVERAGE = 38.36645

0815 FA60 DEV 1415 AVG

This is what I have been harping on. This is what is so concerning about the Blackhawks this season. This is so clear that it does not require a long winded explanation. This is what needs to be fixed if the Chicago Blackhawks hope to have a short summer.

*all data used herein from war-on-ice.com and current through 2/21/2015

Penalty Killing Metrics and Pitfalls in Evaluating Success

The strength of a team’s penalty killing, in my opinion, is more important than the strength of a team’s power play. The element of a penalty kill that is of foremost importance is the neutral zone forecheck of the shorthanded team. If the team with the man advantage cannot gain the attacking zone, they cannot take shots and score goals. Unfortunately, at this point at least, the microstats that detail the efficacy of a team’s neutral zone forecheck are not available to the public and it is debatable that all teams in the NHL even collect or use these types of stats. So, with the supremacy of the neutral zone forecheck in mind, what is most important to penalty killing that we can measure? We often hear that the goalie is a team’s best penalty killer and while that seems pretty logical, I thought I would look over the statistics for the past several seasons in the NHL to see which metrics best describe the success or failure of a team’s penalty kill.

I started out with a theory that the shot frequency would have an affect on how successful the penalty kill was over a longer term so I looked at a slew of different shot metrics. The trick with shot metrics on the penalty kill is that they come in such small sample sizes. Sometimes a PK lasts 10-20 seconds and the Power Play team scores on their first shot attempt. Other times, teams kill off 10 minutes of penalties in a game without giving up a goal. Either way, penalty kills are small portions of the game in terms of minutes, so the rate stats (CA60, FA60, etc…) we often use for 5 on 5 play can be heavily skewed.

I looked at FA60 (All Unblocked Shot Attempts Against Per 60), SA60 (Shots On Goal Against Per 60), SCA60 (Scoring Chances Against Per 60), GA60 (Goals Against Per 60), Sv% (Save Percentage) and PK% (Penalty Kill Percentage) from 2008-2009 through the present. I also used the raw numbers, i.e. Shots on Goal Against, Goals Against and the like, to see if I could find any correlation there as well.

The most obvious correlation in penalty killing metrics is between goals against and PK%.

 0815 GA60 PK PCT

Since a team’s penalty killing percentage (PK%) is based upon times shorthanded and goals given up, the 96.67% correlation between PK% and Goals Against/60 is, quite simply, expected.

0815 SV PCT GA60

A team’s Goals Against rate (GA60) also heavily correlates with the team’s Save Percentage (Sv%) on the PK. The correlation between GA60 and Sv% is less than GA60 and PK% because Sv% is based upon Shots On Goal and Goals. Teams give up a varying amount of Shots On Goal and have goalies with varying talent levels so while there is heavy correlation, this variance shows here.

0815 SOGA60 GA60

When we look at Shots On Goal Against rates (SA60) and GA60 from 2008-09 through the 2014-15 season, the variance due to the talent of the goalie becomes clearer. Teams with a higher SA60 tended to have a higher GA60 to the tune of a 20.21% correlation. This is still a fairly strong correlation from a statistical standpoint, but it really underlines the differences between teams in terms of the performance they get from their goaltending.

0815 SOGA60 PK PCT

Knowing that PK% and GA60 have a very strong correlation and SA60 and GA60 also correlate fairly well, when we look at SA60 relative to PK%, we see a correlation very similar to that of SA60 and GA60: 20.21% and 20.13%.

If we omit the shortened 2012-13 season and the current season that has not yet concluded in order to remove the smaller sample sizes, the correlation between SA60 and PK% increases to 24.68%.

SOGA60 PK PCT NO SHORT

Due to the correlations in the data and also simple logic, it would be accurate to say that limiting the frequency of Shots On Goal during the penalty kill aids in actually killing the penalty. This isn’t a big leap for anyone at all familiar with hockey, but it is interesting to see how the data works together. I admit, when I undertook this project, I expected SA60 to have a bigger impact on PK% than is evident from the last 7 seasons of data. This got me curious to see how other metrics such as Fenwick and Scoring Chances would compare.

0815 FA60 PK PCT

Fenwick Against rates had nearly an identical correlation to PK% that SA60 had to PK%. FA60 and PK% showed a 20.47% correlation while SA60 and PK% showed a 20.13% correlation.

FA60 PK PCT NO SHORT

If we remove the shortened seasons of data, the correlation increases to 24.31%. Given the remarkable similarity between Shots On Goal and Fenwick in relation to PK%, I would feel comfortable using Fenwick in lieu of Shots on Goal since, overall, Fenwick gives a better indication of offensive pressure.

Scoring Chances are often used to look at offensive pressure particularly when a shot quality argument arises. Using Scoring Chances (defined in link) data from war-on-ice.com, I compared Scoring Chances Against rates (SCA60) and GA60 while a team was shorthanded from 2008-09 through 2014-15.

0815 SCA60 GA60

The correlation of 17.01% is a bit lower than the Fenwick and Shots On Goal measures as we saw above.

0815 SCA60 PK PCT

When SCA60 is compared to PK%, we see much of the same, i.e. a correlation of approximately 17%. Given the lower correlation, Fenwick is probably the preferable measure to use here.

goals against shot types r2

Using just the raw numbers from 2008-09 through 2014-15 as seen in the graph above, Fenwick shows the highest correlation to goals against on the penalty kill. This is likely due to Fenwick being a better indicator of offensive pressure over large samples than Shots On Goal and Corsi.

This still doesn’t answer the question of what the best tool, outside of a great forecheck which stops Shots On Goal and Fenwick events from happening in the first place, is for killing penalties. The forechecking, zone coverage and zone clears are reflected in the Fenwick data of course, but we still need to look at what the goalies bring to the table.

How do Shots On Goal, Fenwick and Scoring Chance rates correlate to Save Percentage on the penalty kill?

LEAGUE WIDE METRICS BASED UPON FULL SEASON RESULTS:

SA60 & SV% = 0.98%

0815 SOGA60 SV PCT

FA60 & SV% = 0.02%

0815 FA60 SV PCT

SCA60 & SV% = 0.32%

0815 SCA60 SV PCT

Using SA60, FA60 and SCA60 to find a correlation to Sv% league wide on the penalty kill is not really useful as you can see from the graphs above.

0815 SV PCT PK PCT

PK% is based upon goals allowed as is Sv%. The correlation between the two, 67.3%, is very strong as a result. Below is a graph of each team’s Sv% and PK% from 2008-09 through 2014-15.

TEAM SV PCT PK PCT

Team by team PK% in relation to FA60 again shows that the team effects are important as you can see how the teams tend to cluster from year to year, but Sv% remains the bigger indicator.

0815 TEAM FA60 PK PCT

Several trends on these graphs are very interesting. Tampa Bay’s FA60 remained tightly clustered from season to season, but their PK% still changed quite a bit during the same seasons. When we look at the graph below, we see that the Sv% changed quite a bit from season to season regardless of their FA60 and the PK% tracked with the team’s Sv%. Winnipeg’s FA60 has changed quite a bit from season to season with most of their season PK% marks remaining low. When Winnipeg’s Sv% went up for two of the seasons, the team’s FA60 was very low for one and among it’s highest for another.

0815 TEAM FA60 SV PCT

Preventing the power play team from getting into the attacking zone should be the first focus of the penalty killers. Once the power play is set up, the PK needs to block shots and clear the zone of course. Otherwise, the PK is largely dependent upon the goalie as his performance seems to have a large impact on whether the penalty kill is successful.

Below are graphs for the 2014-15 season. Goalies for each team that have at least 50 minutes on ice shorthanded are noted. (Where players have been traded, they are included with the team they played the most games for during the current season.) There are certainly teams that benefit from their lower FA60, but there are others that are successful in spite of their FA60.

1415 PK PCT SV PCT

There are several things that stand out about the current season’s data. Minnesota has a high PK% that seems more reliant, up to this point, upon limiting the shots faced by the goalies as opposed to relying upon a strong performance in goal. Vancouver is in a similar situation as well, but with better Sv%s from their two goalies.

Carolina has done well limiting shots and has good Sv% marks from their goaltenders, which has led to one of the best PK% in the league. Chicago is middle of the pack in terms of limiting shots against but their goalies have two of the highest Sv%s on the penalty kill so they rank 1st in the PK% in the league.

St. Louis has a very good FA60 but poor goalie numbers and so they fall into the middle of the pack in terms of PK%. Pittsburgh is giving up shots at the 2nd highest rate in the league behind only Arizona; however, unlike Arizona, Pittsburgh has very good Sv% marks from both of its goaltenders and thus one of the best PK% in the league.

1415 FA60 SV PCT

The graphs above give good insight into why some of the metrics we use to evaluate 5 on 5 play do not, on their own, give us an easy description or prediction of why a penalty kill is successful or whether that success is sustainable. Because the penalty kill is often so dependent upon goaltending, identifying specific ways each team’s play affects their goalie’s Sv% is very important.  The systems used by each team, along with their goaltending strength need to be used together to determine how good a penalty kill is and this is best done on a team by team basis to accurately decide what is fueling the team’s success and whether the success is sustainable.

 *data used herein is from war-on-ice.com

Breaking Down Chicago’s Defensive Breakdowns

As the season creeps ever closer to the finish line, the Blackhawks have started a home stand that many thought would bring a nice points boost in the jam packed Central Division. After the first two games, Chicago had one point from a shootout loss against the Arizona Coyotes and a point from an overtime loss against the Vancouver Canucks. At the same time, the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues continued to gain points.

Chicago’s daily topic of conversation has revolved around the defense. Michael Rozsival and Johnny Oduya have come under heavy scrutiny all season, but at this point, fans have just had it with them. Both players have had rough seasons for Chicago and deserve some criticism to be sure, but Chicago’s problems go deeper than one bad defense pairing.

ZONE EXITS

One of the most noticeable problems has been on zone exits. When trying to exit the defensive zone, the defenseman will often win the puck from the attacking team near the boards. At this point, it is time for a breakout play to move the puck up the ice. Virtually every breakout play used when the defense is under pressure in the defensive zone (i.e. not simply moving the puck back into the defensive zone to regroup with perhaps one forechecker pressuring) involves moving the puck up the boards to a waiting forward. There is usually too much pressure and congestion for a defenseman having just won the puck from the attacking team to simply skate the puck out of the zone. Trying this with heavy pressure often leads to turnovers and players being out of position to effectively execute their defensive zone assignments.

Once a defenseman has won the puck, he must quickly read his options and his defense partner must do the same. D1 is the defenseman with the puck and D2 is his partner. D2 will usually call out the breakout play so that D1 can quickly complete whatever maneuver he needs to make to begin the breakout. Whether the breakout is an Over, Wheel, Reverse, Rim, Up, etc…, the defense ends up moving the puck to a forward at or preferably, above the faceoff circle near the boards. This cuts down on the risk associated with making a cross ice pass with heavy pressure from the attacking players in the defensive zone. This also requires the defending forwards to keep a sharp eye out for what the defensemen are doing so that they can move to the correct position to receive the puck and break out of the zone.

Very often recently, Chicago’s forwards have not been ready to execute the breakout when the defensemen have retrieved the puck. You may have noticed recently when one of Chicago’s defenseman has gained possession of the puck and moved it up the boards where he expects one of the supporting forwards will be waiting, there is no one there but one of the point men for the opposition. The puck is held in the zone and the whole process starts over again. Not only is this sustained zone time problematic because it obviously leads to more shots against and chances for the opponent’s to score, but it has another effect as well. When there has been a board battle, particularly when it is below the faceoff circles or near the end boards, the defensive formation tends to collapse down toward the net creating a lot of congestion and traffic. The intention here is to put sticks and bodies in passing lanes near the net. This isolates the players in the board battle so that if the attacking player wins the puck, he has very limited options to move it to a better shooting area.

One way attacking players try to create shooting lanes when the defensive formation is compressed or collapsed down low in the zone is to move the puck back up high in the zone. This causes a lot of movement by the defensive players and provides an opportunity for the attacking players to find a lane to get a shot off. What has been happening to Chicago quite often is this: the defensemen win the puck low in the defensive zone, they move it up the boards where a forward should be waiting to carry on the breakout, no forward is present, the puck ends up on the stick of the opponent working the point, the defensive formation has to shift from low in the zone to high in the zone, passing or shooting lanes open up during this transition, the opponent is given the opportunity to get a better scoring chance. Essentially, the defense is doing the job of the attacking forward by moving the puck back to the point and decompressing the collapsed defensive formation because the forwards are not ready to execute their part of the breakout.

This is not entirely the forwards’ fault. The defensemen are well conditioned to execute these breakouts almost as a reflex. Quick decisions with the puck are a necessary skill of any NHL defenseman, but if the forwards are not ready to break out of the zone, blindly rimming the puck up the boards will not work. Just because a forward is pressured along the boards does not take away the forward as an option, so continuing the play and relying upon the forward to win the puck is not a bad plan.

Again, the big problem I have seen repeatedly in recent games has been the blind passes up the boards when no forward is present to battle for the puck. The additional problem with this is that when the defenseman looks to see if a forward ready to help and finds none, he has to decide what to do. That extra second or two holding the puck low in the zone is a recipe for disaster. Still under pressure from the attacking team, the defenseman must now either skate the puck to another location or find someone to pass it to. Standing there hesitating invites turnovers and poor decisions, so it is imperative that the forwards get to the right spot and that the defensemen make a quick decision for “plan B” to avoid these problems.

NEUTRAL ZONE FORECHECK

Another area of concern is combating the breakouts of the opponent. One of the Blackhawks biggest strengths last season was shot suppression. This season, shot suppression has been a real struggle for Chicago. One of the tools used very effectively last season was the neutral zone forecheck. Not only did the defensemen pressure the puck carrier trying to enter the offensive zone, but the forwards in the neutral zone did as well.

Chicago often uses a 1-2-2 formation with various motions therein to combat the opponent’s attack. One forward plays in the defensive zone to take away passing lanes and pressure the puck carrier to make a poor decision or force the puck carrier to pass into a specific area where other forecheckers are waiting to close off the routes into the offensive zone. This cuts down on controlled zone entries, which are known to lead to more shots against and offensive zone pressure.

At times this season, Chicago’s neutral zone forecheck has looked impressive and the efficacy of the system they use has shown in the stifling of their opponent’s zone entries. At other times, the system has been exploited by teams skilled in stretch passing or has outright broken down because of missed assignments, players being caught flat footed and sloppy play in the neutral zone.

I manually track Chicago’s zone entries and zone exits among other things. This data, often referred to as microstats, helps paint a picture of how effectively the team and their opponents are getting into the offensive zone and getting out of their own zone. Below, I have included data from 5 games in January of 2015 so that we can explore what this information tells us about how the team is performing. The games include Arizona (1/20/15), Pittsburgh (1/21/15), L.A. (1/28/15), Anaheim (1/30/15), and San Jose (1/31/15).

Below is a table of data from my tracking regarding Chicago’s defensemen. It is important to keep TOI (Time on Ice) in mind while looking at raw numbers. Players with more ice time will have higher numbers of course. The data in the chart directly below is during 5 on 5 play only. I track all situations, but this is the largest share of the data and most useful for our purposes here.

21415 table 1

 At 5 on 5, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook played the most minutes during this stretch of games followed by Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Duncan Keith and David Rundblad. Hjalmarsson and Seabrook handled the lion’s share of faceoff duties in all three zones and particularly in the defensive zone. Rundblad was used very sparingly on faceoffs and then almost always out of the offensive zone. Hjalmarsson, Seabrook and Keith were paired with Oduya and Rozsival sporadically during games on a shift by shift basis, usually when Rundblad was not being used.

In order to make the data above more palatable, I have converted the values into percentages. The first table below breaks down each type of entry as a percentage of the player’s total entries against. So for example, of the 51 times (100%) that Keith was targeted on an opponent’s zone entry, 12 times the puck was carried in resulting in 23.5% of Keith’s entries against being Carry Ins.

21415 table 2
Rundblad had the lowest Carry In Against % of the defensemen, but also had the lowest number of targeted entries against because of his rather limited ice time. The thing that stands out the most here is Rozsival’s stat line. 43.1% of the time that he was targeted by the opposition as they entered the attacking zone, they were able to carry the puck in. As we know, carrying the puck into the zone historically produces more shot attempts than dumping the puck in and trying to get it back. The really interesting thing here is that in tracking this data, I also track whether a forward was able to assist in pressuring the entry through the neutral zone forecheck or aggressive backchecking.

21415 table 3

As you can see, the percentage of carry in entries against the defensemen occur largely when the defense does not have the assistance of any forwards through either the neutral zone forecheck or aggressive backchecking. These are often situations where the defensemen are forced into a retreating type of coverage to take away the center of the ice and wait for reinforcements in the defensive zone. If the defenseman gets too aggressive in pressuring the entry in this situation and fails in his endeavor, his defense partner will end up defending the play on his own. That is a risk that teams try to avoid obviously. This also shows that when a forward was able to help pressure the zone entry with the defenseman, for the most part, the opponent was not able to carry the puck into the zone and either the entry failed or became a dump and chase situation.

When we look at the percentages from a comparative perspective, i.e., of the six defensemen, what percentage of the total was each responsible for, we start to see a fairly clear picture of what happened during this 5 game span.

21415 table 4

39.1% of the carry in zone entries where a forward was there to help pressure the entry with the defenseman came against Rozsival. He also had the highest share of the carry in entries against him when no forwards were there to assist. The highest shares of the entries that failed with forwards assisting in pressuring the attacking players belong to Oduya, Keith and Rozsival.

When the defenseman was on his own to thwart the attacking player’s attempt to enter the zone with the puck on his stick or by passing it to a teammate, Seabrook had the highest share of successfully defending against the entry. Hjalmarsson was close behind him with Oduya in third. Keith was last in this category, but again he had the second lowest ice time and targets as well during this period of time.

When we split up the team total in each category of zone entry, we can see which defensemen were responsible:

21415 table 5

So, from this information, we know that during this recent span of time, Rozsival had the most obvious struggles keeping opponents from entering the attacking zone with control of the puck. Despite being 4th on the 5 on 5 TOI depth chart, he had the highest share of the controlled entries (carry/pass in entries) of the defensemen. Oduya had the highest share of pucks being dumped in against him, but also the highest share of those dump ins being successfully retrieved. Seabrook had the highest share of failed entries against or put another way, had the most success at denying the attacking player to get into the zone. Both Hjalmarsson and Oduya had impressive marks in this regard as well.

Once the attacking team gained the zone during these games, how did Chicago get the puck out? Zone exit data can help us explore this. I only know of a handful of people who track exit data and all of us seem to keep track of different things, so frankly it is tough getting any comparison data around the league to give a decent gauge here. The only thing we can really do at this point is compare Chicago’s players against each other with the understanding that particularly when it comes to forwards, the defensive formation and breakout formation being used at the time will influence who is carrying the puck out of the zone.

Below is a table showing which players were responsible for getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Many of these plays happened after other players forced turnovers, made good passes or got the puck to an area of the ice where a teammate could retrieve it so I have included those as well. They are broken down into controlled and uncontrolled actions. The controlled actions include passing in the zone, carrying the puck out of the zone and passing the puck out of the zone. The uncontrolled actions include tossing the puck to an area of the ice where a teammate is likely to retrieve it and dumping the puck out of the zone.

21415 table 6

As you can see, during this span of games and frankly all the time, the defensemen are largely responsible for moving the puck in the defensive zone.

21415 table 7

The table above shows the percentages for the touches by defensemen only. The more the puck can be moved while under control the better. Many of the actions I have labeled as “Dump Outs” are actually passes to players in the neutral zone that missed their mark and carried on into the attacking zone with forwards in pursuit. Others include simply shooting the puck out of the zone and causing the opposition to have to go back, retrieve the puck and regroup in their own defensive zone.

When passes into the neutral zone miss or the puck is dumped out and icing is called, this is considered an unsuccessful zone exit and is not included in the data above. Below is a table of turnovers in the defensive and neutral zone forced by Chicago players and committed by Chicago players. Again, the defensemen are largely responsible for getting the puck back from the attacking players and moving the puck in the defensive zone so it is expected that they would have higher numbers in these areas.

21415 table 8
For the defensemen, the passing turnovers are largely due to trying to move the puck to an area of the ice where the player believes one of his teammates will be waiting to receive it. This is particularly good evidence of the problems Chicago has had on breakout plays under heavy defensive zone pressure that I referenced at the beginning of this article. 74 of the 97 passing turnovers were committed by the defensemen. This also includes passes into the neutral zone from the defensive zone that went directly to the stick of an opposing player allowing the attacking team to immediately put the puck back in, i.e. failed zone exits.

Another troublesome indication from the table above is the lower number of turnovers forced by Oduya. While he may not have had the struggles Rozsival had on zone entries during this span of games, his inability to get the puck from the opponent allowed them to have more zone time. Another thing to keep in mind here is that often during this period of games, once play was stopped after the goalie made a save, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook were brought on to handle the defensive zone faceoff. This pairing has borne the brunt of the defensive lapses committed by their teammates as a result.

The recent call up of Kyle Cumiskey and the injury to Rozsival may alter the dynamics of the defense enough to stir up some changes in how the team is playing, but the systemic issues facing the team on zone exits will require a larger adjustment. It remains to be seen how long Rozsival will be out of the lineup, but if the defensive pairings show an improvement in their play without him, the right move will be to keep him out for a while longer. He is an older player with a history of injuries that have caused significant wear and tear and affected his skating. Rozsival has good instincts and still makes good plays, but it just seems that his age and mileage are catching up to him. He certainly tries to make the plays that made him a valuable defensive asset in the past, but simply cannot physically perform in the manner necessary to be as effective as he once was.

A Family’s Struggle

My sons, 7 and 9 years old, have made lots of friends at school since we moved here a little over a year ago. My older son befriended a classmate who was held back a year so he’s 10 years old. We’ll call the boy “C” for our purposes here. C has had trouble at school not only with grades but also with some misbehavior such as taking things of very minor value, like a shiny rock or a Pokémon card, from another child’s bag. The items were returned and he served in-school suspension for this. C gets picked on by other kids sometimes and does his share of dishing it out too. He is often at the park across the street from his house where lots of preteens and teens hang out after school so he tends to act a lot older than his age would indicate. He has a younger brother who is 6. We’ll call him “N”. N has some developmental issues both physically and mentally.

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The New NHL Terms Of Service & Analytics

The NHL’s website, NHL.com, recently updated the language of the TOS (Terms of Service) regarding the use of the site’s Services and Content. This has caused a stir in the analytics community due to the possible implications of the language contained therein. A friend asked if I would look over the former and updated TOS’s and give my impressions of the meaning and possible implications there from. Of course, these are simply my impressions of the language in the old and new TOS’s and are not intended to be construed as legal advice nor should these impressions be relied upon in such a manner.

 OLD NHL.COM TOS:

In addition, the NHL Parties also provide access to certain footage (video and audio), photographs, text, images, statistics, logos and other media and intellectual property related to or otherwise associated with the National Hockey League, its member clubs and the sport of hockey (collectively, the “Content”).

- NHL.com Terms of Service (formerly used), Section 2. Services And Content

RTSS statistics and data (i.e. data targeted by scraping programs used for stats sites, stats/tracking projects etc…) were included in the definition of Content for the purposes of the old TOS.

You may not use any of the Content or Services for commercial purposes. The Services may not be viewed in areas open to the public or in commercial establishments where multiple people can view it at the same time. Further, you may not copy, distribute, modify, republish, broadcast, retransmit or publicly display any of the Content or Services, create derivative works of them, charge admission for their viewing, or transmit or distribute running accounts of them, unless you have the prior written permission of NHL ICE, which permission may be withheld in NHL ICE’s sole discretion.

- NHL.com Terms of Service (formerly used), Section 2. Services and Content

 

Sites and/or projects using RTSS data were prohibited by the old TOS. Enforcement of this provision was not undertaken as far as I know.

NEW NHL.COM TOS:

You may not access or use, or attempt to access or use, the Services to take any action that could harm us or any other person or entity (each a “person”), interfere with the operation of the Services, or use the Services in a manner that violates any laws.

- NHL.com Terms of Service (recently updated), Section 2. Prohibited Content and Activities

 

The new TOS details a general position by the league indicates a desire to protect their site and services from malicious attack and/or abuse. The language seems to target activities by outside parties attempting to use Content (included in definition of Services) that would hamper or interfere with the efficient functioning of the site.

For example, you may not:

  • Impersonate any person or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your credentials,  affiliation with any person, or the origin of any information you provide;
  • Engage in unauthorized spidering, scraping, or harvesting of content or information, or use any other unauthorized automated means to compile information;
  • Obtain or attempt to gain unauthorized access to other computer systems, materials, information, or any services available on or through the Services;
  • Use any device, software, or routine to interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Services or any activity conducted on the Services or attempt to probe, scan, test the vulnerability of, or breach the security of any system, device, or network;
  • Circumvent, reverse engineer, decipher, decompile, disassemble, decrypt, or otherwise alter or interfere with (or attempt, encourage, or support anyone else’s attempt to engage in such activities) any of the software comprising or in any way making up a part of the Services. The use or distribution of tools designed for compromising security (e.g., password guessing programs, cracking tools, or network probing tools) is strictly prohibited;
  • Take any action that imposes an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our network or infrastructure;
  • Upload or otherwise transmit any communication, software, or material that contains a virus or is otherwise harmful to our or our users’ computers, devices, or systems; or
  • Engage in any other conduct that restricts or inhibits any person from using or enjoying the Services, or that, in our sole judgment, exposes us, users or any other third party to any liability, damages, or detriment of any type.

Violations of system or network security and certain other conduct may result in civil or criminal liability. We may investigate and work with law enforcement authorities to prosecute users who violate the Terms. We may suspend or terminate your access to the Services for any or no reason at any time without notice.

– NHL.com Terms of Service (recently updated), Section 2. Prohibited Content and Activities

The majority of the examples provided in the Prohibited Content and Activities section focus on actions that would attempt to circumvent the site’s security such as paywalls, blackout provisions, etc. The specific language that has been the focus of added scrutiny for analytics users is “Engage in unauthorized spidering, scraping, or harvesting of content or information, or use any other unauthorized automated means to compile information”.

 Scraping or harvesting content or information is often used on sites that provide shooting/possession information and in projects that examine shooting in conjunction with manually tracked events such as zone entries, zone exits and the like. While this language could be used to enforce a prohibition of these activities, it’s inclusion in a section describing prohibited malicious activities could indicate the league’s intention in that regard. My reading of these sections together and in comparison with the former TOS language leads me to believe that unless a user engages in scraping activity that somehow harms the league’s site and/or its users, the league may not be enforcing the provision.

Additionally, the costs associated with enforcement of these provisions, including proving damages associated with the scraping activity could be a deterrent to enforcement unless the user engaging in the scraping or harvesting of data is somehow making a good deal of profit from the venture. Because the league’s site does not currently offer certain processed forms of the RTSS data (Corsi, Fenwick, etc…) the use of the data in this manner would appear to be harmless to the site in that it is not taking users or viewers away from the league’s site, thereby diminishing ad revenue, nor interfering with the need for users to register for pay services. These provisions appear to be geared more toward the league’s actions against sites providing “pirated” feeds of games and also entities that may try to harvest user data.

Both the TOS formerly used by the NHL and the current TOS include language that would allow the league to require activities such as scraping be stopped. The language is more specific in the current TOS of course, but in and of itself, is not represent a change in the league’s policies. Technically, these provisions could even be used to prohibit articles or other such writing that includes any statistics kept by the league, e.g. penalty minutes, power play opportunities, etc…

The fact of the matter is that it is good for the league to have widespread coverage of its product. So long as others are not making ill-gotten money off of proprietary information, it doesn’t seem that the league would benefit from or have a real interest in putting a stop to activities such as tracking on ice events and correlating them with RTSS data despite the fact that they most certainly could do so.

Again, these are simply my impressions of the language in the old and new TOS’s and are not intended to be construed as legal advice nor should these impressions be relied upon in such a manner.

*reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on August 15, 2014

A Quick Note On The Troll Writer & The Outrage

When I joined Twitter, I did not know who was who or what was what when it came to writers and columnists. I did not just immediately know who had reliable opinions and information or who the “troll” types of writers were. It took me a long time to discern who the good writers and troll-ish writers were out there and I’m still doing so with regard to various topics and issues. Many of us who have been around for a little while travel in small circles on social media and through experience have come to have a pretty good handle on who the writers are who will likely make us angry with their opinions.

Sometimes, when the issue is something close to our hearts, it is difficult to just ignore or hold back on voicing our frustrations with these troll-ish writers, their articles or their opinions. When this happens, occasionally, others in our circles get annoyed with what seems to be another round of outrage. I know it may be frustrating for those who have heard it before, but please consider a few things when you feel fed up with another episode of “Twitter gets angry” and want people to just ignore the troll-ish writers.

First, you can always just mute the person who is angry or the key words involved in the issue so you do not have to see it again. Second, think of an issue that is very personal to you. Think also of someone you often disagree with whether that is a politician, writer, or some other person with a voice that carries far and wide. Now imagine that this person you so often find yourself in disagreement with and frankly, probably have a pretty poor opinion of, has decided to unleash a particularly bothersome writing in regard to the issue important to you. Now try to imagine staying completely silent about it. That is a pretty tough task.

Every day new people join social media. Every day someone happens to see the reaction of someone they like and/or respect to these troll-ish writers. After seeing an opinion they may not have heard or thought about before, they may be moved to rethink the positions these writers take and their own positions on the issues addressed. Every day is a new opportunity for someone new to understand that thinking critically or outside of the accepted norms with which they are familiar on certain issues can be a healthy exercise.

Sure, it may seem boring or annoying to you that people you know are talking about issues you’ve seen them discuss before, but that does not mean those people should stop. The issues and the troll-ish writers are still present, but so are the people who have never heard these arguments before.

*reposted to correct a bug in the sharing button **originally posted on July 12, 2014

A Quick Rant

The Blackhawks have always been my hockey team and always will be. Hockey consumes a major portion of my life. Of course, I have a family and they are my priority, but I also devote a lot of my time to hockey. I talk about hockey on Twitter and I write about hockey too. I not only watch the games like many others, but I go back and watch them again to manually track zone entries, defensive play and special teams strategy. That takes a long time as you would probably guess. I say this so you will understand that I am not a person who just follows the Blackhawks when they are in the playoffs or something like that.

I would love the Blackhawks regardless of their style of play, but I really enjoy the style with which they have played for the last several years. That style is basically highly skilled hockey while keeping the extracurricular activities, i.e. fighting, to a minimum. This style of hockey has been a great source of pride for me and many other Blackhawks fans over the years. I like a good clean hit as much as the next hockey fan, but there is just something about watching a player like Jonathan Toews steal the puck at his defensive blue line, thread through the retreating defensemen and score on a strong move to the net that is so much better. Things like this make me not care at all about which team is leading in hits at the end of a period.

When the Blackhawks are playing a team with an aggressive in your face physical style, they have done a great job over the years of sticking to their game and getting even by scoring. One such instance has become a bit of a rallying point for some Blackhawks fans and has been used by fans of other teams to show what they would want their team to do in such a situation.

During the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins, Brad Marchand was giving Patrick Kane the business and challenged him to a fight. Kane responded by saying he didn’t think that was a very good trade off and the two continued to verbally jab at each other. Shortly after that happened, Toews ended up scoring and so did Kane. On the ensuing faceoff, Kane was lined up with Marchand and said “You shoulda kept your mouth shut” to him a couple of times. This is really a microcosm of what Blackhawks hockey has been for several years. Attempts to intimidate them have more often than not been met with an offensive onslaught in lieu of fists.

Of course, the Blackhawks have had their share of fights over the past few years but are usually near the bottom of the league in fighting majors. It’s been a wonderful time watching them stick to their game and be successful. There have been a few moments during that time that have been a bit tough to take though. Actions that have led to suspensions for Blackhawks players are what I have in mind here. For the most part, the Blackhawks tend to play a pretty clean game but sometimes tempers get the best of them or a split second decision goes wrong. Brent Seabrook’s hit on David Backes is one of the latter. Duncan Keith’s stick slash to Jeff Carter’s face during the Western Conference Final last season was one of the former. Neither is something I feel good about as a Blackhawks fan or a hockey fan in general. I will not defend either of those actions.

I used to argue the legality of hits on Twitter. I learned after banging my head against a wall for a while that this is futile for me. All it has resulted in for me is unnecessarily elevated blood pressure and annoyance so I decided to stop doing it. Sometimes it is really hard. It is not easy to see some of your favorite players bashed by others who only watch them play a few games a season. I think that’s true for any hockey fan. The urge to say “but he’s not always like that!” and defend one of your favorite players is very compelling when you feel he is being wrongly characterized, but this is never going to change. People will not suddenly go back and watch all of a player’s clean hits on the season to determine only then if he is a “dirty player” when he makes a hit that breaks the rules. I have probably done this to players on other teams and driven their fans crazy just like people have done to my favorite players. It’s just how it is.

At some point, I have had to accept that all of my favorite hockey players, and other athletes in general, may not be the nicest people while playing their sport. It sounds so simple that it is almost silly but in actuality it has been a difficult realization to come to. So much of sports, particularly championship runs, become so romanticized that we build up grandiose notions of who these athletes really are. Regardless of their skill, regardless of the hours and hours of charity work they do off of the ice (court, field, etc…), regardless of how fun they are with their family and fans, they are still ruthless competitors. That ruthlessness is what has gotten them into a professional sport. They have another gear of competitiveness to go along with their amazing talent and skill that they have honed to the point of exhaustion for years. That drive can also lead to being so competitive and so ruthless that they do things that cross the line. This is particularly true in hockey, where physicality is a major part of the game and where punching someone in the face to resolve your differences usually gets you little more than a 5 minute rest in the penalty box.

We do not have to like the bad hits and we certainly do not have to condone them. I do not like seeing dangerous or reckless play in hockey from any player. I like it even less when it is a member of the Blackhawks doing it. It makes me angry and sad at the same time because I know that the Blackhawks do not have to play like that. They have enough talent to win without the dirty stuff. If it were a normal part of their game, I would constantly complain about it and beg for change from the coaches and front office.

I know it’s hard to deal with this type of situation on social media. Just by reminding people that I do not want to discuss the legality of hits, I opened the floodgates to people complaining at me about how “convenient” that was since it was a player on my team at the source of the most recent controversy. Next time I will just keep my mouth shut. Lesson learned. I saw a flurry of tweets from Blackhawks fans calling Seabrook’s hit on Backes dirty and being generally angry about it. I think a big part of it is their actual feeling and part of it is an effort to distance themselves from other fans, who were defending a player on their team regardless of the dirtiness or cleanness of the hit or the actions that led up to it with some serious vehemence.

I, for one, at this point in my life, think it is pointless to fight over whether a hit was legal or not. You, of course, are free to think differently and disagree with me. You do as you wish and do what makes you feel better in that situation. That is not to say that I condone all of the behavior I have seen from fans on Twitter, because some of it I find pretty disturbing, but hey, it’s a free country.

Back to my point though…

My point with all of this is that I have to keep reminding myself that sometimes people that I really admire for their sporting ability do things that I really dislike. Sometimes it is even some of my favorite players doing things I do not like. The truth of the matter is that I can and will continue to be a fan even when things go wrong. I will still be a fan even though players I really like make bad decisions and do things that I disagree with. I hope that as this series continues against the St. Louis Blues, the Blackhawks will remember what got them to this point and leave behind a period of play during which they acted like a completely different team. Some of the play during the third period of Game 2 versus St. Louis made me feel pretty ashamed. I don’t think that makes me less of a fan somehow. I think it’s okay to be disappointed in the actions of the players on your team sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I suddenly hate the Blackhawks or am disloyal. If anything, I think it is a testament to how much I love the team. I hold them to a high standard and I do not think there is anything wrong with that.

Every team has a low point of the season and particularly in the playoffs. I think that was it for the Blackhawks. I hope that was the low spot because if they go any lower than that we will be seeing a roster of Black Aces instead of Blackhawks and it will be an early end to the season. Essentially, if they want to play Blackhawks hockey and win, they have to be better. They have to get back to playing their game instead of getting involved in all of the extracurricular business that leads to tempers eventually blowing. I hope they can do it, because I would really like to watch them play their brand of highly skilled hockey and be proud of how they handled themselves for a lot longer than two more games.

 *reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on April 20, 2014

Lowest Common Denominator

A schism exists in hockey fandom. On one side is the “old school” who believes in traditional stats and intangibles and who despise the cute and fuzzy bunnies on the other side, namely the “advanced stats” crowd. This feud is like the Hatfields and McCoys, in that it is not likely to go away any time soon. So who does that leave? It leaves the casual or typical fans. These are the fans who watch all (or a lot) of the games, but are not really into stats; the fans who, like it or not, buy the majority of the tickets to the games and fund the sport so many of us are obsessed with.

The fans who are not involved in social media may not even know that advanced stats exist in hockey. How would they? If they are not on Twitter or visiting sites dedicated to analyzing the game through more in depth metrics than +/- so how would they have any clue? Most of these fans use Facebook to post shots of their kids and grandkids and there is nothing wrong with that. They might follow the team they support to get in on a contest or two but most of them are not monitoring their team’s PDO and discussing sustainability of their star forward’s shooting percentage.

What this teeming mass of hockey fandom does hear about the game they get through national TV broadcasts, local broadcast teams, perhaps a few articles by local beat writers in the paper or online and local sports talk shows on TV and radio. So what are they learning when they listen these broadcasts? That depends somewhat on the team they follow. The Buffalo Sabres, by virtue of having the namesake of an advanced metric as their goalie coach, Jim Corsi, use Corsi in their intermission shows. Toronto Maple Leafs fans have at least one member of the MSM (main stream media) who regularly uses advanced stats. The Edmonton Oilers have recently started talking more about Corsi during interviews with their players. Very recently, a few members of the Chicago sports media have started using advanced stats in their coverage of the Blackhawks.

These are small steps in a handful of places to get the terms Corsi, Fenwick, etc… into circulation in more traditional news outlets and independent of social media. The overwhelming portion of the information that typical fans get comes from the big sources though. On the whole, these big sources, i.e. game broadcast teams, pre and post game shows, national broadcast teams, etc… do not talk about hockey in terms of advanced metrics. Occasionally, these outlets break down a play to show how it developed or explain how some of the rules of the game work. What they spend a lot of time talking about is a little less educational, namely fighting, retaliation, toughness, heart, grit, leadership, simple play, plus/minus, the will to win, the code, hustle, outworking the opponent, etc…

Hockey is growing in America every year. More and more fans are finding their way to hockey and they are doing it with heavy exposure to these broadcasts. Recently, there were two games during the day in the NHL that featured hat tricks. The lead story on the NHL on NBC broadcast that evening was not these amazing feats of hockey skill, but instead the line brawl and ensuing locker room shenanigans between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames that had occurred the prior evening. The two hat tricks barely got any coverage.

So what does this teach newer hockey fans? It teaches them to focus on the parts of the game that frankly seem to be the most embarrassing moments for many of us who obsess over hockey on a daily basis. In their effort to draw ratings and fans, the media treatment of the game is actually hurting it. The NHL Department of Player Safety is tasked with trying to keep players from being injured due to predatory hits and banned behavior. Medical research has been showing the terrible effects of repeated concussions and brain injury in athletes and the NHL has been taking steps toward trying to address that. Whether these steps go far enough is a discussion for a different day. Fighting is being discouraged in the game by new rules regarding helmets and visors.

Despite all of these trends in the NHL toward making the game safer, more skilled and less of a goon show, the coverage from the media on many different levels continues to employ an antiquated approach to the game. It should come as no shock then that many fans feel that the game is “going soft”. That is what they hear all the time. When fans tuned in to the pre/post game shows, sports talk shows and broadcasts after Jonathan Toews went down with an injury from a hit delivered by Brooks Orpik, they didn’t hear about how the Blackhawks simply dominated puck possession and shots after that happened. They heard how a team that has won two Stanley Cups in the past four seasons was soft. They heard how the Blackhawks were no longer to be considered a contender for another Cup because their players did not cheap shot or fight one of the Penguins players. They heard that the way to play hockey is to fight a player for delivering what even they said was a clean hit.

Considering how often hits are regaled in these broadcasts, it’s amazing to think that any hockey would even be played with the retaliation prescribed by many hockey pundits for every clean hard hit. The way hockey is being covered by the major media outlets encourages fans to start at and remain at the lowest common denominator of hockey fandom. Hits, fights, retaliation and toughness are the only admirable traits preached to them. Skill is something for soft players despite the fact that those skilled players are the ones doing most of the winning.

Even illegal hits that are discouraged by the broadcasts morph into discussions about how the victimized team should have responded. To think that new fans are drawn to hockey solely based upon fighting is foolish. It all boils down to trying to keep hockey in its brutal past instead of helping to usher in the future of highly skilled teams putting on an amazing show for the fans.

It should come as no surprise then that when someone brings up fighting or retribution for a hit on social media, the fans who have recently made their way into that sphere of hockey fandom go “full meatball” and scream about how hockey is going soft. It is nearly a verbatim recitation of the vitriol spewed forth during the broadcasts. The broadcasts appeal to the lowest common denominator of hockey fandom believing that is where they draw their ratings. In doing so, the broadcasts perpetuate hockey fans remaining at the lowest common denominator in their knowledge of the game and the lens through which they view the game.

It is awfully hard to convince new fans and longtime fans, who are new to more advanced stats, of the merit to viewing the game from a more sophisticated lens when they are constantly told by louder, more far reaching voices that none of that matters. On the other hand, to combat the strongly entrenched views of so many fans and media members, those who do support analyzing the game in newer ways go overboard with criticism. When your belief system is attacked, it is human nature to staunchly defend it and that is what both sides of this debate are doing.

When a fan who is not familiar with more advanced metrics, but may be interested in seeing what they are about, sees all of the people they have ever listened to or learned from while developing their fandom slammed and dismissed out of hand by the advanced stats crowd, they have a very real reaction to it. It is not human nature to suddenly discard a belief system, even one as simple as sports fandom, for a whole new belief system overnight. It is even less likely to happen when the environment surrounding the discussion is hostile, which it often is in the traditional versus advanced metrics debate in hockey.

The only way to affect real change in how the game is viewed and played is to change the message being sent to the typical hockey fan. Less focus on the “code” of honor in hockey, which essentially is playground rules for ten year olds, and more focus on the amazing skill of the players would go a long way to accomplishing this. It feels like a hockey morality lesson every time one of the pregame shows in on. Perhaps actually talking about how hockey is played and how players can be assessed based upon things that require talent would better educate fans and take the focus off of the collateral parts of the game.

Slowly introducing newer ways of analyzing hockey would lead to a whole new thought process going forward. Old dogs can learn new tricks too and would benefit from hearing main stream media embrace these approaches. Showing how fandom can be enhanced by using newer ways of analyzing the game is one way of bringing hockey out of the dark ages and into the modern world. There are still plenty of things to analyze in hockey that do not require advanced metrics. The two ways of doing things do not have to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes hits do lead to a change in possession. That doesn’t mean that hits are the most important statistic. It also means that they do not have to be completely ignored. Using both ways of analyzing the game together, we can all gain a better understanding.

To do this, something has to change. The turf war over the “right way” to analyze hockey has to be resolved. If the NHL wants to move forward and attract more fans, it has to move into the modern era and encourage a more diverse prospective from the broadcasters showcasing its product. The focus on plus/minus, hits and fights has to recede somewhat and make some room for analysis with a bit more substance to it. The NFL and MLB both use far more substantive analysis in their broadcasts even if it is not as advanced as some may want it to be.

It is time that hockey stops assuming that its fans are only capable of digesting the lowest common denominator of analytical information or only wants that level of information. Many advanced stats are not all that advanced. They do not require a degree in statistics to understand. Most fans do not sit around calculating the plus/minus rating of their favorite player; they simply accept whatever the broadcast team tells them it is. There is no need to make fans calculate their second line center’s Corsi For Percentage at Score Close over the last ten games, when they can simply be told what it is. It is not necessary that every fan become an expert in stats to enjoy what the stats can reveal about a player, a team and the game in general.

There is a wonderful opportunity here for broadcasters and other main stream media to grow their markets even more simply by integrating statistics and analytical vantage points that frankly are not that difficult to grasp in the first place. If the nomenclature seems to be a barrier, then simply calling Corsi “All Shot Attempts” and Fenwick “Shot Attempts Minus Blocked Shots” is completely acceptable. Making hockey sound a little smarter is about controlling image. A smarter image attracts new fans. A smarter image helps educate fans that are already watching. A smarter image helps move the mindset from old school goon to hockey fan.

A change in the mindset of fans to something above the lowest common denominator allows for increased acceptance of the rules that are designed to keep players safe. The more educated the fans are about how the game is played and how the players are analyzed, the easier it is for teams to create an identity of skilled play without the fan base screaming about hockey “going soft”. Doing this does not mean that everyone will agree or even buy into the newer methods of analysis, but it does mean that those methods will not seem so foreign. The push back against those methods will be lessened and thus acceptance will occur among new fans more easily. After all, what we all really want is to grow the sport we love so dearly so that more people can enjoy as we do.

The future of hockey will be no different than its past unless we work to move on from the lowest common denominator of understanding and analysis.

*reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on April 7, 2014

The “End All Be All”

Recently, I expressed my frustration with the lack of advanced stats being discussed in a meaningful way by many analysts on TV broadcasts of NHL games. My main point in expressing that frustration was to point out that many hockey fans are not on social media and often do not have access to or knowledge of the resources available to explain stats they may not be familiar with. I was advocating for the inclusion of these stats in broadcasts so that people who are unfamiliar with them could feel more comfortable with them and get some exposure to them in an accessible setting. This level of comfort would decrease the pro-stats versus anti-stats strife and be better for everyone in my opinion. Unfortunately, some read this as me trying to put down people who are not on social media or who aren’t into stats, which was not at all my point. Perhaps I could have done a better job making that clearer but apparently I fell short in that regard.

I received many and varied responses to that post but one of the best basically said that when more NHL teams admit to using them, fans and media would begin to feel more comfortable accepting advanced stats as a useful tool. With that said, I was intrigued this past week by new information regarding the use of advanced stats by some NHL teams. While many in the “advanced stats crowd” have known for a while that there are several teams in the NHL that use their analytics budget for more than just tracking hits, information came out this week that expanded upon that and more importantly, the information was publicized by NHL.com thereby reaching a far larger audience.

While doing interviews with the coaches and players of the San Jose Sharks and L.A. Kings, NHL.com writer Corey Masisak (on Twitter @cmasisak22) asked questions about puck possession and the teams’ use of stats. He was met with a fairly frank discussion that led to confirmation from both teams that they do in fact track puck possession data and use it in their strategies, player usage, etc.

During media availability for the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues series, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock admitted that both he and Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville use advanced stats for their teams. On a much smaller level, I was able to get information from a woman who knows one of the Blackhawks analytics people regarding the team’s use of advanced stats. She informed me that the Blackhawks internally track Corsi, Fenwick, zone entries and exits, among other data. This information is then presented to the coaching staff for their use.  Obviously, my Twitter feed is a drop of water compared to the ocean that is the reach of NHL.com and the many other media sites and publications covering the NHL, so I do not expect that to have anywhere near the impact of the aforementioned information.

Regardless, this advanced stats usage by NHL teams such as the Sharks, Kings, Blues and Blackhawks being mentioned and explored by major media sources is a big deal. It is very intriguing. I write about and tweet about advanced stats regularly and sometimes meet with resistance to the information I disseminate. I wondered if perhaps seeing that these very successful teams use advanced stats would sway the opinions of those who had been skeptical as to their usefulness. I took to Twitter and asked for thoughts on the matter. I also made sure to explain that I was not trying to insult or make fun of anyone in order to encourage more honest responses. Obviously my audience, for the most part, are pretty accepting of advanced stats but some of them are not.

The majority of the responses I received from the skeptics boil down to this:

Numbers and stats are fine but they are not the “end all be all” of hockey analysis. You cannot just rely upon numbers to decide who the good players are. The eye test has to agree for the stats to mean anything.

Obviously, I am paraphrasing and summarizing here because several people really took the time to lay out their thoughts and, I would like to add, the majority who responded did it in a very respectful and congenial manner.

The “End All Be All” was the most widely mentioned criticism of advanced stats in the tweets and emails that I received. There seems to be a wide spread notion that folks in the advanced stats crowd begin and end all analysis with the numbers. Perhaps it comes across this way because there just are not that many people in each team’s fan base, at least for the American teams, that focus on this information. Being one of the very few who do stats analysis for a team may lead people to think that stats are the only thing that particular person looks at when in fact it is simply the lack of that type of information from other sources making it stand out.

For the past year, I have followed along on Twitter and frequented the websites and blogs of as many advanced stats people as possible. That is a very short time and happens to coincide with the amount of time I have been on Twitter. In that short time, I have learned an amazing amount from people who have revolutionized stats in hockey and people who use stats as part of their analysis of the teams and players. In that year of paying close attention to and having frequent discussions with these people, not once have I ever heard even one of them say that advanced stats are the end all be all in analyzing hockey. Never.

I think the “end all be all” argument against stats is more a function of perception than reality. Often the advanced stats pack provides a counterargument to more “traditional” analysis by citing ways that the numbers show a different reality than what is being alleged. If the majority of what you have heard in the way of hockey analysis is not numbers related and then it is attacked based upon numbers, it makes sense that you may develop an aversion to the numbers. Again though, I have never heard any in the advanced stats crowd say that numbers are the only way.

I know of several hockey sites that do a wonderful job of breaking down plays and strategies. They are not all that plentiful so people have to search them out. Hockey is so often presented as hit, shoot, score that the actual strategy to the game is left by the wayside fairly often. Further, there are people who are doing tracking projects for zone entries, zone exits and passing. These manual tracking projects require a lot of time to carry out and frankly, I do not think it will shock anyone to learn that not every NHL team has a member of the public that does this.

The long and short of it is this: Hockey is a tough game to analyze. It is more fluid than many other sports and lacks the technological applications that some other sports have to help track data. Even the data provided to the NHL is tracked by people, so as fans we have to make do with what we have. No, Corsi and Fenwick are not perfect, but they are the best tools we have at this point to analyze puck possession and puck possession is the name of the game. All told, I think that the more people are hearing about teams using advanced stats, the more they are coming to accept that they are useful, but they still have some reservations.

*reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on April 21, 2014

I Just Want To Talk About Hockey

Early last week, a male sports blogger wrote an article on an SB Nation site dedicated to an NBA team. One of his readers did not agree with his analysis apparently. From what I can gather from the writer’s Twitter timeline, the reader created multiple accounts to harass him and other men who contribute on to that site. He was also harassed on Twitter from what I can see.

The day following those incidents, of which I was not aware at the time, I was conversing with another woman on Twitter and she sent me a link for an article. The article was unrelated to the NBA story so I have to think it was not part of the reason I came up on this unhappy fan’s radar. The only thing I can come up with is that the reader searched Twitter for SB Nation.  I have SB Nation in my bio since I write for Second City Hockey, so I suppose this made me an easily identifiable target.

I do not follow the writer of the NBA article on Twitter nor do I belong to the section of SB Nation for which he writes.  As a writer for Second City Hockey, my focus is on hockey and the use of advanced statistics to analyze the game. I do not write about basketball, although I am a fan of the sport.

I’ve only been on Twitter for about a year. I only started writing about hockey in November of 2013 and was asked to write for Second City Hockey after my first blog article. My use of advanced stats has occasionally elicited some “watch the game you nerd” type of messages. Some have been a bit harshly worded, but easy to ignore. I had never even blocked anyone on Twitter until midway through the Winter Olympics when someone decided to prove that Phil Kessel is a better hockey player than Patrick Kane by being a misogynist. The funny thing about that was that I was not even making that point or its converse and during the conversation the guy asked me to prove his point using stats. It was bizarre and I ended up blocking him after he told me to get back in the kitchen.

I’ve dealt with unbelievable misogyny in the past having grown up a “tom boy” on the farm, playing sports, working on cars, being good at science, going to law school and to a great extent while practicing law. I’ve had judges scream mercilessly at me in front of a jury during a trial and later admit to doing so to see if I would cry. I didn’t and I won the trial. I’ve had male attorneys move lecterns so I couldn’t get behind them when trying cases very late in pregnancy. I was told on several occasions by named partners in firms I have worked for in the past that I should handle specific clients’ cases, client dinners and the like because the client’s decision makers thought I was attractive. You can take my word for it that I was told specific details of what made me attractive by the men with their names on the door of the firm. I have had male attorneys, clients and opposing parties openly question my ability based solely upon my gender. I proved them wrong by doing my job very well. Many of them admitted to me afterward that they were wrong and apologized. Some of them did not, but after I had beaten them in court, I did not really care.

The common thing in all of this is that not once did any of those people ever turn their misogyny into threats of physical violence. That is likely because most of those encounters were face to face and the other person was not emboldened by the lack of physical proximity. This is what made what happened recently so disturbing to me. Once the unhappy fan who had been harassing the NBA writer found me on Twitter, he sent me an aggressive and sexually explicit message. I had no idea of what was happening with regard to the NBA article so I thought it was a random spam bot.

He sent me another explicit message using the NBA writer’s name as his Twitter name. I blocked and reported it as abusive using the form Twitter provides, which I had never done before. Much to my surprise, the same guy made a new account and his messages increased in their aggressive and explicit nature. I took some screen shots and kept blocking and reporting the accounts. He started using Twitter handles made up solely to insult me as he created new accounts. The messages started including threats of sexual violence toward me and finally toward my children as well. While trying to screen shot one tweet, four or five more would pour in from him. I kept blocking and reporting these accounts and tweets.

Many people who know me on Twitter tried to help. A few of them did some digging and discovered the source of the situation. It appeared that this unhappy fan was trying to get the NBA writer in trouble by harassing me on Twitter using the writer’s name. Several people suggested that I report this situation to the police and at that point, my harasser stopped sending me messages.  I thought it was over with, but then he started back up again. The second wave of harassment was short lived thankfully and only involved two additional accounts made to carry it out. At one point the person told me that if I didn’t want to be harassed and “bullied” online, I should stay off of my computer. That reasoning is completely ridiculous, but I would not expect a person like that to understand why.

I did get an email from Twitter that basically told me to call the police if I felt the threats of violence were “credible” which, I understand, is a way to cover the company from liability. I do not expect Twitter to fight all of my battles for me, but it would be nice to have a policy that would have prevented this person from creating so many accounts in such a short time frame.  I will not be holding my breath for this to happen.

Several days have passed and now that I’ve had a little time to collect my thoughts, the whole situation is bothersome on an even larger scale. This is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle. The logical explanation for me being chosen as a victim of this harassment is that I write about sports on the same collective network as the person who angered this individual. I assume it was a man who was harassing me due to some of the details of the sexual threats but there is no way to be sure. I do not know if he chose me because I am a woman or not. I lean toward that answering being yes. The insults this person lobbed at the NBA writer involved questioning his sexual orientation. The threats of physical and sexual violence sent to me specifically drew upon the fact that I am a woman and also targeted my children.  The threats also involved racist comments about how when this person was “done with me” he would leave me to be gang raped by specific ethnic groups. Of course, he identified these groups with slurs and insulting language. He covered all of his bigoted bases to be sure.

Even keeping in mind that this person was trying to get someone else in trouble, his creativity and the ease with which he sent these threats at such rapid fire pace leads me to think they are not far off from things he would normally think or say. The fact that he immediately resorted to sexual messages and threats of sexual violence is a sad commentary on how he perceives women in the sports world and in general.

I know that I am not the first woman to experience this sort of treatment in life or online. This is my first online experience with this kind of vitriol being focused on me with such intensity, so I hope you will  excuse my lack of sophistication in how to deal with such attacks. I was not prepared to just ignore it or pretend it did not happen. I was not prepared for the way it made me feel. I had a fleeting moment of feeling that I was not safe, but it passed fairly quickly. The feelings that are taking longer to pass are embarrassment, humiliation, vulnerability and anger.

I interact with men and women when talking about sports all the time. It is a very rare occasion that I sense my gender has anything at all to do with the response I get in those conversations. The lack of gender involvement in those interactions made it particularly embarrassing and humiliating when it was suddenly put in the spotlight. I know that the people I interact with on Twitter would not even think of judging me based upon that but it is embarrassing and humiliating nonetheless. The men I interact with may be the subject of attacks but I have not seen them threatened with sexual violence. (This excludes those men who are attacked based upon their sexuality of course.)

The sexual nature of this harassment is what led to the anger I am feeling. I want to write about hockey. I want to talk about sports with other people. I want to argue my point and support it with facts. I want to be proven wrong by someone who knows more than I do. I want someone else to prove a point and show me how I misjudged a situation or misread or misused a stat. I do not want to be targeted for attacks based upon some person’s antiquated view of what parts of the world women are allowed to tread into. I do not want to feel a bit anxious when I open my Twitter account because some completely unstable person may do this kind of thing again. I will continue to write and talk about hockey and sports in general. I am sure this kind of attack will happen again. I hope I am more prepared for it when it does but I do not think I will be able to just ignore it.

I am tired of seeing other women treated this way whenever they open their mouths.  I am tired of seeing smart women who demand to be treated fairly held out as an example of a “hysterical woman” “outraging” over what some men consider funny or not a big deal. Whether it is a bad joke or the lack of women’s sized jerseys available online or just a misunderstanding, I am tired of seeing the men who are called out over their behavior make fun of the women calling them out and then posting every response from a woman who did not think it was a big deal.  This kind of behavior only reinforces these stereotypes and makes women think twice before voicing their opinions. I am tired of people calling these guys “internet trolls” and acting like that is an acceptable thing to be. I am tired of seeing people that say they support women’s involvement in sports and sports writing also supporting the men who make us feel that we are not welcome in their club.

Lastly, I am tired of having to get this angry about things like this, because damn it, I just want to talk about hockey.

*reposted to correct a bug with the sharing button **originally posted on March 9, 2014