During a recent casual conversation with someone who has been intimately involved in the NHL for decades, he jokingly said this: “You ever think that all of these off-ice officials are actually the same people in every arena?” It was a funny take on this gaggle of people in each city who keep the official stats for the league, sitting up in press boxes all clad in starched white shirts and black blazers with the NHL shield sewn to the breast pocket (and into their hearts). The overwhelming majority of them are retired white men with poorly veiled rooting interests in the home team. I laughed and added that I always thought the guy with the mustache was in charge. But the real point is that these are the people who are responsible for all the numbers that have such an influence on the perception of the game. A player and a team go into an contract arbitration hearing with reams of data to prove that he is either worth more or less than the money being offered, and all of that data is based on these off-ice officials properly recording a game that is damn near impossible to properly record. Goals, assists, and even plus-minus rating have been used forever, and are somewhat indisputable. But so much of the “advanced stats” are based on shot attempts, and those can be very difficult to accurately report. I like the idea of tracking possession, and I find stats like Corsi and Fenwick occasionally useful. But how about a shift when a player’s team has three attempted shots from the blue line that all go wide, and then he loses his man in the defensive zone and gives up a great scoring chance? He finishes that shift plus-2 in Individual Corsi. Was that a productive shift? But now we’re talking about the value of that specific stat, when the issue here is how the stat is actually kept. Which is why teams aren’t spending all day on the league’s website pouring over the section of stats they call “enhanced.” Goodness knows how much commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners paid the software company SAP in developing that and now maintaining it. Because the livelihood of those people who work for teams is based on winning, they track their own stats, keep them private and use them for their own internal evaluations.
A solution to the NHL’s advanced stats problem
New York Post | Oct 20