Colorado Avalanche: Is Roy’s Stance on Advanced Stats Uncommon?

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Oct 14, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy reacts during the second period against the Boston Bruins at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy is drawing heat for his remarks on hockey’s fascination with advanced stats. Is his opinion really that off-the-wall?

Third year head coach and former player-hero Patrick Roy has found himself in the hot seat with Colorado Avalanche fans and media after his October 21st press conference following the teams’ practice. Looking mildly irritated with the media whom have been questioning his every decision as of late, Roy found himself having to defend the teams’ statistical poor showing that has accompanied their season. Most notably – their Corsi and Fenwick %’s.

"“We’ve been looking at all the games. And obviously if you’re looking at our Corsi or Fen[wick], our numbers are not very good. I don’t think it’s because of the number of shots we’ve been getting, it’s more the shots we’re not taking. For instance if you’re looking at Corsi, the part I don’t like about the Corsi is you could shoot from the red line or from a terrible angle, and your Corsi will look good. Puck possession has nothing to do with it. Fenwick… there’s a bit of puck possession in there, but same principle. It’s more like shot attempt. If a guy shoots from the red line and it’s blocked, it’s still a shot attempt. This is something we don’t do very well, or we don’t think about doing a lot.”"

Mile High Sticking Editor Janik Beichler made some excellent points in dissecting the meaning of Roy’s comments and how both Roy’s comments and the statistical data itself can and is being taken out of context. Advanced statistics, or “fancy stats” as they are often referred to, have been gaining popularity in hockey for several seasons now, prompting hockey fans, critics and the organizations themselves to take heed of their interpretation.

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For the uninitiated, Corsi and Fenwick are the names given to statistics that track a teams’ shots on goal. Jim Corsi, the current goaltending coach of the St. Louis Blues, came up with the idea of tracking all shots on goal as a way to gauge how active a goalie was in a contest. Matt Fenwick, a Calgary Flames blogger modified the stat to a minor degree by tracking only unblocked shot attempts.

They are often referenced in regards to puck possession, which is a bit confusing, but mostly as a way to say that – if you are shooting more than the other team, your possession of the puck must be higher as well. The Hockey Writers did an excellent breakdown of how this is all actually figured, which illustrates why these are important stats to be familiar with.

If you’re feeling confused about what makes these figures so “advanced” – you’re not alone. Even the Hockey Writers admit it’s a bit of a misnomer. In my opinion, Corsi and Fenwick are a more detailed look at the old “shots on goal” tally with an emphasis on differentials between what the other team is doing and how the team has done against several teams over a longer period of time.

What happens, advanced statisticians will argue, is that you begin to see trends emerge. The point the media is trying to make, simply, is that the Avalanche are getting badly outshot from several teams over a long period of time. And they’re really not wrong if you look at the numbers. As head coach Roy tried to elucidate to the media in his conference however, being outshot is a symptom of the problem – not the problem itself.

So, it all starts to get rather sticky pretty quickly. As Roy pointed out, the team could “remedy” the statistical problem by taking more shots from low-percentage areas. The results, he would probably argue, is now that you’ve got great Corsi and Fenwick numbers, but you still haven’t fixed what’s broken. While he’s technically wrong about Fenwick and blocked vs. unblocked shot attempts, the overall argument he’s making is still valid.

The temptation in the hockey world is to say that you can mostly tell who’s a good team and who isn’t by looking at their puck possession, which is factored by advanced stats like Corsi and Fenwick %’s. For many players and coaches, this simple identification makes them bristle. Patrick Roy is certainly not the first former player to take contention with the analysis, and to make things interesting – he’s not even the most vocal opponent of them.

So who, you might be asking, is more passionate about the need to take the emphasis off of percentages and formulas to determine talent in professional sports?

Next: Analytics Most Vocal Detractor