Hockey Analytics And The Winnipeg Jets

Have the Winnipeg Jets delved into the world of analytics? —

Even during a quiet off-season day in Jetsville, interesting hockey conversation can still be found on twitter.  That’s what we hockey fans do.  We can’t help ourselves.  If something actually newsworthy happens, the conversation will probably get ramped up ten fold.  Well, the other day something that was actually newsworthy did come up.  The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Assistant General Manager, Claude Loiselle and V.P. of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin and hired young gun Kyle Dubas as their new Assistant General Manager.  Why is this news worthy?  Kyle Dubas is supposedly the new wave of hockey executives that use “Advanced Stats” and “Hockey Analytics” as an evaluation tool.  Supposedly, you ask?  Well, it is Toronto and anything that happens in the center of the hockey universe is noteworthy even if they are a little late to the dance.    

Was I surprised by this announcement?  No, not really.  I believe that most, if not all, teams use one form or another of hockey analytics.  They may not be the most commonly known ones like Corsi or Fenwick but a hockey analytic all the same.  I believe that most smart hockey people realize that the plus/minus for the most part isn’t a very good indicator of a players true value.  Otherwise, how would Olli Jokinen keep getting contracts?  He is the poster boy for a BAD career plus/minus.

Coaches like Arizona Coyotes, Dave Tippett, have been using their own form of analytics long before it was popular with the “fancy stat” crowd.  He is the Messiah to the advanced stat community and they cling to his twenty year quote like a child to his blankie.

Dave Tippett –

“We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman.  He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen.  But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can’t move the puck.

“Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn’t defend a lick.  Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he’s making good plays out of our end.  He may not be the strongest defender but he’s only doing it 20 percent of the time.  So, the equation works out better the other way.  I ended up trading the other defenseman.”

NHL teams use all kinds of methods for evaluating hockey players that the average fan may or may not understand but I do know two things for sure.  Every team in the NHL does a thorough job of player evaluation and they don’t feel the need to share it with anyone outside of their own four walls.  I’ve been of the opinion that most teams use some sort of analytics in todays NHL and I’ve even stated so on twitter.

When it comes to advanced stats, I would say I fall into the middle of the spectrum.  I chuckled when I read this tweet from New York Islander columnist, Daniel Friedman.  

I think Daniel represents the attitude of a lot of the newer “potential” converts in the advanced stats debate. 

The advanced stat community seems to have tunnel vision on certain players and hone in on the underlying numbers like that is the only thing going on.  I do understand the underlying numbers tell part of the story and the advanced stat guys will tell you that it is only a “tool” in player evaluation.  BUT, it’s often the first tool out of their box and it is the tool that carries the most weight in their eyes.  As an ex-WHL scout, my eyes were my window into evaluating players and I love that I can now look at players differently especially when an advanced statistic will confirm what I’ve just watched. 

What I find particularly interesting is that the advanced stat community somehow think they have discovered “puck possession”.  Over the years, the best teams in the NHL have been teams that had superior puck possession going back to the Stone Age when Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey played!  Some of the advanced stat gurus don’t take into consideration that since the 2004-05 lockout, the game has evolved especially with the new obstruction rules put in place and the new icing rule.  This has drastically changed the NHL landscape.  Now your defence partner can’t run a pick against an on-coming forechecker, you can’t hook a player through the neutral zone, you can’t hold the man in front of the net, and you can’t fire the puck off the glass and ice it to relieve pressure in your own zone.  Some teams have adapted better than others but it is definitely a different game now.

There has always been skilled players in the NHL but teams also needed the big power forwards (grinders) that could cut through the obstruction.  On any given night in the NHL, you didn’t know what kind of officiating you were going to get and multiply that times five in the playoffs.  The NHL finally figured out that the grinders were becoming the stars in the playoffs and the skill players were being mugged into submission.  Not a very good way to showcase your star players, is it?  That’s something the NBA recognized and they have done a fine job in rectifying that problem.  Hockey fans pay big money to see the stars not a mugging every night.  

I tend to look at hockey people that get paid to do their jobs as pretty astute, for the most part, but I definitely disagree with them from time to time.  Many fans, myself included, often wonder why certain roster moves are made and not made. That’s our nature.  It’s easy to be an arm chair G.M. when it’s not your ass on the line.  

Paul Maurice on advanced stats:

On Wednesday, July 24, 2014, Rick Ralph aired an interview on his show “The Rona Roundtable” (on TSN 1290) from March with Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice.  Rick Ralph asks Paul Maurice about analytics and then asks Winnipeg Jets right winger Blake Wheeler about advanced stats.  I found Paul Maurice’s answers from Rick quite enlightening.

Thanks to TSN 1290 and for the following audio clip.

Approximately 5 minutes: ☛ ☛  Listen here.

After listening to Coach Maurice’s interview, I felt okay with where the Winnipeg Jets were in regards to hockey analytics.  I don’t know how they feel as an organisation but at least the guy behind the bench doesn’t seem to be leaving any stones unturned. 

I’m quite happy where I am in the world of advanced stats and hockey analytics. I’d like to think that I am somewhere in the sensible middle.  For my age, I think that’s pretty good!



  1. Darryl Manchulenko says

    Nice piece. Without a doubt the analytics of the game will continue and need to evolve. There needs to be a balance of Corsi and Fenwick with another piece of information…like goals and assists and wins to drive the analytics. There just seems to be something missing.

    • Mitch Kasprick says

      the advanced stats are based on 5v5 so what players do 4v4, PK & PP aren’t considered. With PP and PK being a big part of a 60 minute NHL game, how much time is spend 5v5?

      • I believe about 80% is 5v5…
        We look at PK and PP, just not for Corsi as it’s unfair to those who are being used differently.

        • Mitch Kasprick says

          Sure that makes sense. The 5v5 at 80% sounds about right. Coming out of the lockout those first couple of years I’m guessing it was much lower as the players adapted to the new rules.

  2. Rick Fritschy says

    Interesting to note that Bob McKenzie stated that what and how NHL teams use analytics is far beyond what the perception by the general public or fan is .

    Rick Ralph played a little audio interview he had with Paul Maurice about this . It was more a general conversation as opposed to an interview about a subject. Maurice stated that they , he looks at the stats the next morning , they are compiled for the team , but that in virtually all instances they just confirm what was seen and that he felt he already knew. Specifically he mentioned Mark Scheifele and the information they looked at just reaffirmed what they were seeing during the games , and in a very positive way.

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