Sep 24, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Marc-Andre Cliche (24) takes a shot on the goal of the Calgary Flames in the second period during a preseason game at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Full disclosure: I am not as smart as Patrick Roy. I don’t watch the team practice every day. I don’t have access to team meetings. I don’t review film with the coaches. I’ve never even had a conversation with anyone on the team. That does not qualify me to pretend that I know more about the team than Roy or the assistant coaches do. It doesn’t stop me from having my own opinion on the Avalanche, which is in part, formed around their advanced statistics numbers, however.
I think what Roy and Barkley were trying to get at in their comments is that advanced statistics are a good tool to use, but not the final product on whether a team is good or bad. If I were building a wooden chair, I would need to use several tools during different stages of the construction. If I attempted to use only one tool at my disposal for the whole operation, let’s say a hammer, I would yield a pretty awful chair. The same goes for coaching a hockey team.
While I certainly don’t discount the importance of analytics, I think it would be asinine as a fan to think that you can coach a team to success using only analytics or that analytics is the end-all-be-all determinate of success. The harsh nature of statistics to either be “good” or “bad” is a bit too simple in the NHL – now or ever. Context is always needed and several factors interplay to affect others.
Neither do I think that the Avalanche’s relatively poor Corsi and Fenwick numbers are to be taken lightly. I tend to think of them as the canary in the coal mine for the Avs. Something is amiss in the Avalanche’s game and the results are filtering through to their advanced stats. Roy points out that these stats can be cheated around by taking more shots from rubbish areas, but it would behoove him, in my opinion, to acknowledge that the stats are indicative of something much larger that’s gone afoot.
Jeff Van Gundy, the head coach of the aforementioned Houston Rockets who did compile his roster based on his statistical findings and found success doing so added this in response to Barkley’s comments on a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
"“It’s like we have a church of analytics and you have to be a devoted follower,” he says, to laughter. “You can believe in math, but also intangibles, he says. “I hear people here say things like, ‘Oh, you actually believe in hard work?” -Jeff Van Gundy"
Tyler Dellow, a hockey researcher recently hired by the Edmonton Oilers sympathizes with the resistance to the analytics movement. Regarding players and coaches interpreting the data, he put it like this:
“You have people who don’t speak the same language. They may not be very interested in your graph or your scatter plot…There’s a saying in British soccer that the table doesn’t lie. Well, it doesn’t in that the numbers are added up correctly, but it does in terms of telling you who is good.” – Tyler Dellow
At the end of the day, Patrick Roy is paid to help the team obtain favorable results. Lots of teams struggle with puck possession and limiting other teams’ scoring chances, but when losses start to pile up, the odor of these sorts of things begin to ripen. Winning, above all else, will serve as the best deodorant for Roy’s stats detractors. As fans, let’s try not to miss the forest for the trees. Roy is making adjustments and we should all avoid jumping to conclusions prematurely.
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