Perhaps the Nashville Predators need a new coach. Wait a minute, don’t go burning up the comment section yet… read on. I’m not talking about replacing Peter Laviolette. There is no doubt that both the Preds and their fans are quite happy with what he is doing with the team.
I’m actually wondering about something that is still quite controversial in the NHL; Analytics. The Pittsburgh Pens recently signed Sam Ventura, who has a doctorate in statistics from CMU in Pittsburgh as their “Analytics Coach”. He also helped start War-On-Ice, a web site that specializes in hockey statistics. He joins several other teams that have an Analytics Coach or Director of Analytics or at least some kind of full time analytical staff.
While other pro leagues have embraced statistical analysis for years, NHL hockey is in catch-up mode. The most famous analytical use was probably the 2002 baseball Oakland Athletics which was later described in a book and movie entitled “Moneyball”. It showed how they used advanced stats to their advantage to compete with teams spending tons more money on salaries and scouting.
In recent years there have been websites that have tracked and shown Corsi and Fenwick ratings for NHL teams. Last year, the NHL started showing their own Corsi and Fenwick although with different names. Corsi is called SAT (Shot Attempts) by the NHL and measures and counts shots on goal, missed and blocked shots by a player or team. Fenwick, called USAT (Unblocked Shot Attempts) counts only shots on goal and missed shots. These both show scoring chances.
Another one embraced by Stats Geeks is PDO which the NHL calls SPSV% and is an even strength sum of a team’s shooting and save percentage. It generally shows which teams are getting the breaks and which aren’t. There are also Faceoff Percentage, Zone Charts, Possession Numbers and any number of other analyses. There is a good description of some of these on the Fansided NHL site.
What does it all mean? It is becoming more and more accepted that some really smart people can take these stats and predict what a player or team will do both in the short-term and into the future. Coaches can also use different statistics to formulate and massage game plans and plays to cover deficiencies and enhance the strengths of a team.
The Predators have definitely at least dabbled in statistical analysis. Back in 2013 when Barry Trotz was still the coach, they consulted with hockey analytics man Eric Tulsky who was later hired by the Carolina Hurricanes as their Analytics guru. Tulsky is a nanotechnology researcher and an inorganic chemist and holds bachelor’s in both chemistry and physics from Harvard and a PhD in chemistry from Berkeley. That’s the kind of smart guy I’m talking about.
“We have people working on it, yeah. It’s very interesting. To me, it’s a lot like throwing spaghetti up on the wall. We’re trying to learn a lot of new things.” – David Poile – From ESPN’s The Great Analytics Ranking
Earlier this year there was an ESPN article, The Great Analytics Ranking of all sports teams. They ranked the Preds about the middle of the pack but admitted that David Poile was holding his cards close to the vest. In that article, when asked about the Preds and analytics, Poile remarked, “”We have people working on it, yeah. It’s very interesting. To me, it’s a lot like throwing spaghetti up on the wall. We’re trying to learn a lot of new things.” The article also rated the Pred’s big rival Chicago Blackhawks as not only the top team in the NHL on analytics but also in the Top 10 in all of pro sports.
When asked about his strategies for the new 3-on-3 overtime this season in the NHL, Laviolette told the Tennessean that he would figure it out “on the fly” and that “We’ll figure that out once we get going.” I have a feeling that a Statistics Coach would be sitting around drooling about planning this one out.
The Predators currently list six coaches and a few more assistants on their website. Maybe it’s time to officially add one more. I’m sure there are still a few really smart guys out there that love hockey and would jump at the chance to help Lavy and the boys out with their analysis.
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