Sports News I’m Reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sports News I’m Reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The LA Kings Do Not Prove Analytics Wrong

LA Kings nhl photoSaw this article over on the Hockey News site today and realized that while Ken Campbell does a nice job of not completely ridiculing advanced stats, he missed out on an opportunity to define them properly.

How did the best possession team in the NHL miss the playoffs, and how did one of the worst get in?

The point he makes in the last paragraph is the one that seems to be a struggle for those arguing against the use of analytics:

Usually, analytics are right, but sometimes they’re wrong. In this case, they were wrong. The Kings should have made the playoffs and the Flames should have missed, according to analytics. But you can’t control luck. And when so many games are decided by a goal or two, luck plays a more pivotal factor. The one thing is, and the Avalanche proved that this season, that luck will change. Being a team that gives itself the best chance to win by possessing the puck and having the best chances to score has the better chance for long-term success.

See that’s the thing about statistics, they can’t ever predict the future with 100% accuracy. The possession numbers of the Kings are very good, and usually teams with good possession numbers will win more than their fair share of games. But, in the course of an individual game, series, or even season, random shit will still happen. That’s why they play the games, right? If you gave me the Kings possession numbers and played out the season 100 times, they probably make the playoffs well more than 75% of the time. (Probably higher in truth). But, thanks mostly to shootout luck, this season fell on the other side of that percentage. It happens. Underdogs win games that they would lose 99 times out of 100 if you played 100 times, yet we don’t argue that anyone who predicted the opposite outcome simply shut up, do we? Of course not, because their prediction was based on the best evidence available at the time, which is that one team is clearly better than the other. But, occasionally, randomness strikes and those teams lose. It’s why we love sports!

Analytics are no different in that regard. They can tell us what is more likely to happen, but sometimes, randomness strikes. The Kings would seem to be a victim of randomness this season. (And a complete inability to succeed in shootouts!)

So keep up with the stats and know that they will help predict what will happen over the long haul fairly accurately, and also enjoy it when something completely random happens and surprises us.

If anything, the Kings season is not evidence that we should stop looking at puck possession as much as evidence that the shootout punishes and rewards teams based on something that is not an integral part of the normal the course of a game. That’s what King fans should be angry about!


Photo by Prayitno / Thank you for (5 millions +) views


The Argument for Brian Strait – Straight From 1975

According to various sources, the argument for the Islanders playing Brian Strait, lately in place of Calvin deHaan is one of balance. Coach Jack Capuano likes to have Strait in the lineup because he’s a more defensive-minded defenseman and the team has too many defensemen who are more offensive-minded.

That sounds logical, if advanced stats had never been invented, or the Red Winds hadn’t changed the hockey world’s view by adopting the playing style of the Soviet teams. Namely, that possessing the puck matters.

Since hockey hasn’t quite developed a stat like soccer where we can measure how much time each team posses the puck, we have to use the Corsi and Fenwick stats, which measure shot attempts, as a proxy for possession. (If your team doesn’t have the puck, you can’t really attempt as many shots, right?)2015-04-09_1617

According to those stats, Calvin deHann is the Isles 4th most-effective defenseman.

Brian Strait is the 8th. Behind even Matt Donovan and ahead of only Griffin Reinhart.

Go ahead, look for yourself at the two players in detail over at

Calvin deHaan

Brian Strait

So if you believe that it’s more important to have an extra defenseman who’s good at blocking shots and never getting caught up ice, Brian Strait is your guy. But, if you believe, like me, that all those blocked shots are a result of not being able to possess the puck, and that the best defense is to, you know, prevent the other team from having the puck to start with, then there’s no way to explain how Brian Strait is one of the 6 defensemen in the Islanders everyday lineup, let alone how Calvin deHaan is not.

The other argument is that Strait is a good penalty killer. Looking at the Isles dismal penalty kill all year, that one is hard to prove. Again, Strait doesn’t have any glowing stats on the PK that show him being better than any of the other defenders. In fact, it doesn’t look good for him at all. Of the 5 defensemen who have played more than 50 minutes of PK this season, Strait is 5th in relative Corsi, behind Hickey, Boychuk, Hamonic and, you guessed it, deHaan.

Between this inexplicable lineup decision, a sudden slump in offense and goaltending, and the injuries to Okposo and Grabovski it’s no wonder the Isles are limping to the close of the regular season. Let’s just hope they can get a few things squared away and get in to the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs altogether, that game in Philly the other night might become on of the most famous blown opportunities in the history of sports.

Annual Look at the Playoff Race Without the Loser Point

nhl shootout photo

Photo by slidingsideways

Every year, as the NHL winds down the regular season and the races for playoff seeding come to a close, I like to take a look at how much the “loser point” reeks havoc with the standings. Usually I do it before the final week of the season, but traveling out of the country for work has left me without access to games, or decent wifi, so this is it.

To keep it simple, I take a look at what OT and the shootout have done to the standings, comparing it to what it would look like if the NHL magically went back to ties after regulation and OT.

In the East the current standings look like this:

Atlantic Division

Montreal             48-22-10 (42 ROW)

Tampa Bay          48-24-8 (46 ROW)

Boston                  41-25-13 (37 ROW)

Detroit                  41-25-13 (37 ROW)

Ottawa                  40-26-13 (34 ROW)

Florida                 36-29-15 (28 ROW)

Metropolitan Division

NY Rangers        50-21-7 (46 ROW)

Washington        44-25-11 (39 ROW)

NY Islanders       46-27-6 (39 ROW)

Pittsburgh           42-26-11 (38 ROW)

Columbus            39-35-4 (31 ROW)

Actually, adjusted for counting OTL and shootout wins as ties, the playoff spots wouldn’t change much. The big change would be Tampa being clearly ahead of Montreal, Florida and Columbus would have been out of the playoff picture much earlier, and Ottawa would not be still be alive. So you could make the argument that the loser point is creating a playoff race that wouldn’t be there in the East. You could also argue that the extra points are artificially inflating the point totals of teams that don’t deserve to make the playoffs too.

In the West, however, where there is truly a race ridiculous race for playoff spots, the shootout rules are clearly having an impact.

Central Division

St. Louis            49-23-7 (40 ROW)

Nashville           47-22-10 (41 ROW)

Chicago              48-25-6 (39 ROW)

Minnesota        44-26-8 (40 ROW)

Winnipeg         40-26-12 (33 ROW)

Dallas                38-31-10 (34 ROW)

Colorado          36-31-12 (27 ROW)

Pacific Division

Anaheim         50-23-7 (42 ROW)

Vancouver      45-29-5 (40 ROW)

Calgary            43-29-7 (39 ROW)

Los Angeles    39-25-14 (37 ROW)

San Jose          39-31-9 (35 ROW)

The Central is being decided by shootout wins. Nashville has the most ROW, but find themselves second to St. Louis, and with Chicago right on their heels mostly due to those teams having 9 SO wins. At the edge of the playoffs, Winnipeg is clearly benefiting from both their 7 SO wins, and their 12 SO/OT losses. Their 33 ROW should have them out of the running (in fact, it’s one less than Dallas has and two less than San Jose, yet Dallas sits 6 points behind the Jets and the Sharks are 5.), but those extra points have them right there. Ironically, they are battling Los Angeles for the final wildcard spot, a team who’s real record is exactly .500. They’ve won 39 games and lost 39. But, they managed to get 14 of those losses to OT, so they sit with 92 points. Colorado is the team that should have been out of the playoff picture much earlier.

Oddly enough though, as of right now, the shootout rules appear to be a non-factor. The top 8 teams in ROW in each conference are, in fact, in the top 8 positions. The exact positioning is being altered slightly, but no one is missing the playoffs, as of right now. However, Ottawa and Winnipeg are still alive, so that could very well change.

Sports News I’m Reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sports News I’m Reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sports News I’m Reading (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

What Chris Borland’s Retirement Says About Football

Is the 49ers Chris Borland announcing his retirement after one year in the NFL because he fears the health risks involved with playing football a huge change for the NFL or nothing at all?

How about both?

Look, it’s a big deal because it is something we are going to see more and more. Guys choosing not to play any more as they learn more about head injuries and CTE, or going into a different sport growing up will, absolutely, become more prevalent over the coming years. Given what we’ve watched with Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Mike Webster and on and on, that is probably as it should be. At the same time, there will always be people willing to play the game, and it’s not losing popularity at all, despite this, spousal and child abuse, drug use, and all of the other junk that has gone on over the last few years.

This reminds me of something that I spent some time in High School researching as a project. The theory I espoused then, and had data to back up, was that kids who grew up poor were more likely to be professional athletes. I believed it was because kids with money had other options and didn’t commit to it as much as a kid who saw sports as his only way out of poverty. Look at Latin Americans and baseball for a perfect example of what I’m talking about, those kids dedicate their whole lives to getting a shot at being a professional in the US. Rich suburban kids, aren’t going to work that hard at it, in the aggregate.

It’s that same reality that will ensure there are always kids willing to play football, no matter how risky it appears to be. Professional football is a way to make big money, or it’s a way to get a scholarship to college when you normally wouldn’t have many opportunities to do either. How much would a kid in desperate poverty risk his health in order to get a shot at those things?

And, so long as there are kids willing to play, we’ll watch. The only reality that would change any of that is if the big money went away. I don’t see that happening any time soon, even if some kids who have other options, choose not to take the risks and play the game.