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The pre-determined outcome and other logical fallacies

Josh Hill

There is no denying it, the Rangers are a difficult team to watch right now.  While the defensive ineptitude has been mitigated for the most part as players learn their new roles in AV’s system, the offense has continued to be putrid.  We can point to various injuries plaguing the top-6, the inexperience of the kids we expect to step in and soften the blow of those injuries, or the glut of semi-useful bottom-6 guys that are having expectations ramped up to levels that their abilities can’t back up.

We talk about depth quite a bit around here.  It seems that since the season started, and more importantly, the losing started, the definition seems to have gotten lost.  When we refer to depth, we talk about the ability to either 1) plug holes in the lineup in the case of injury, or 2) have multiple players that can play different roles in different situations, allowing the rest of the personnel to be deployed optimally.  No team can absorb the type of high-end losses the Rangers have and expect the depth to cover.  Imagine if Boston lost Lucic, Marchand and Bergeron all at once?  While maybe not fatal, it would be an uncomfortable time in Beantown.

As New Yorkers, we feel a comfortable attachment to knee-jerk reactions and placing immediate blame for circumstances that disappoint us.  We have countless sports radio talking heads, muck-raking beat writers and multiple boroughs full of people who like to shoot their mouth off around the water-cooler about their favorite teams.  They conveniently disregard things such as sample-sizes, available resources, advanced statistics and other useful analytical tools to appropriately determine what has gone wrong in a given situation.  It’s much easier to assign blame to an overly-simplistic and often erroneous source, or to simply play armchair GM.

When examining these claims (or blames, in this case) there are a multitude of logical fallacies that are employed to create the impression of a well-reasoned argument.  One of the most common is known as the fallacy of the pre-determined outcome.  Basically, this line of thinking implies that if you make one major change to a scenario, that all other variables remain constant and you can predict the outcome accurately.  For example, if someone was to claim that the Rangers current malaise wouldn’t have happened under continued leadership from John Tortorella, it makes the assumption that all of the underlying events that lead us to this point would have happened exactly the same way, with the exception of the result.

In reality, however, if Torts had remained on board, the situation would likely look nothing like what we are looking at now for a myriad of different reasons.  For example, Torts might not have had Nash on the ice when the Brad Stuart hit took place.  It leaves an infinite number of possibilities that would have changed the entire course of events leading up to last night’s game.  The universe would have taken a completely different road to get here, and we have no idea what these collateral factors would look like.

Another common fallacy seen in the sports context is the fallacy of the non-testable hypothesis.  This fallacy relies upon the assertion that something you can’t prove to be false must be true.  Alternatively, you will also commonly see this type of assertion used to back up a claim that cannot be adequately tested or is completely untestable.  This usually rears its ugly head in the Glen Sather context.  Claims that Sather has no plan, or that he is a terrible GM for assembling the team this way, or my personal favorite “Sather wrecked the chemistry of the team”, utilize this fallacy.

It’s not that folks who do this don’t have a valid reason for feeling the way they do, or that there is no truth in the assertion.  It is simply a cheap way to make your point, and leaves you seemingly impervious to valid counterpoints because the objectivity of the argument has been completely lost.

I apologize for the pedagogical mini-rant, but its when these fallacies are utilized that arguments tend to devolve from intelligent and thoughtful, to vitriolic and meaningless.  Considering the massive gulf between the expectations for the 2013-2014 New York Rangers and their actual on-ice performance, I think its important to be able to identify and neutralize these caustic tactics that add nothing to our collective knowledge about the game we love and the team we support.  Without that, we are nothing more than Flyers fans.

33 Responses to “The pre-determined outcome and other logical fallacies”

  1. Dave says:

    This club is missing four Olympians. No team can handle those types of losses.

  2. VinceR says:

    Brilliant Justin, thank you.

  3. Spozo says:

    I have one question I hope you guys can answer. Our defense has been horrible so far and that’s something no one would have predicted before the season started. In a nutshell AV changed the defensive system from a zone to man-to-man. (Yes I understand this isn’t the complete reason they have sucked in their own zone since regardless of the defensive scheme, an NHL player left alone in the slot is going to score) but why did AV have to mess with something that was the Rangers strong point? Was it to help facilitate the transition from defense to offense? Is that the whole point of overloading one side and trying to cause turnovers?

    Basically my question is: if ithe defense ain’t broke why fix it?

    And could they still execute AVs transition/offensive game if they kept the old defensive scheme?

    And before people jump down my throat I’m not implying that if they played a zone defense that they would be 7-0 since you can’t win games without scoring goals. And Hank hasn’t been his normal self as well.

    • Ray says:

      I think there are two answers to your question. One is that the Ranger defense did give up goals and I and others didn’t like the fact that they played so deep. Yes, the defense didn’t give up lots of goals, but there seemed to be room for improvement.

      Second, a coach plays his own systems. Sometimes you have to adapt to your personnel, but there seems no obvious reason why Ranger personnel is wrong for this coach’s systems.

    • Bob says:

      I thought the rangers played an overload defense?

  4. Chris F says:

    I’m curious on everyone’s thoughts regarding playoff expectations.

    With the new alignment in place, the top 3 teams in each division head to the playoffs, and then the next 2 best records in each conference get Wild Card placement. So, with that in mind, the way things are shaping up, the Atlantic Division looks quite poised to potentially snag both of those Wild Card slots in the East. With the exception of Florida and Buffalo, every team is playoff caliber in the Atlantic.

    I would not expect any Metropolitan teams to get those last 2 spots. So, to err on the side of caution, if I were management for a Metro team, my goal would be to slide into the top 3 of the division standings.

    The way things are going, how confident is anyone really that the Rangers can accomplish that? We have to expect that the Penguins are finishing first. So, that leaves Carolina, Washington, NYI, Columbus, NJ, Philly and NYR competing for the 2nd and 3rd places. I foresee Carolina falling off eventually, but the Caps, Islanders, Blue Jackets and even the Devils, potentially, are going to fighting to the end for those positions. Philly is up in the air, but doubtful. So are the Rangers, in my opinion. They have to really turn things around. There will be no more sneaking into the playoffs under this system. You have to earn a spot.

    Thoughts?

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      It’s a fair question, albeit a little early to makes these types of estimations. You’re right, though, that the weak will not make the playoffs in the East (especially with two more teams than the West).

      As of now, it’s all projection for the Rangers since they will absolutely not make the playoffs as currently constituted (obviously). Getting Nash and Callahan back changes thing quite a bit in my mind. The saving grace is the division is weak and talent-wise the Rangers are right there with the non-Pitt teams.

      Bottom line, the Rangers need to get healthy and stay healthy. That’s no groundbreaking statement, but health permitting, this team is a playoff team. Big if though.

  5. Mike O. says:

    Amen

  6. Arisrules says:

    We were 3-4 last year, with a full lineup, and were blown out in several of those losses. Yet this blog didn’t call for Tort’s head.

    Right now we are missing 3 of our top 6, our best center missed all of training camp, and our best player by a country mile is playing the worst hockey of his career. combine that wiht a radical system change defensively, and our usually rock-solid defenders are making uncharacteristic mistakes on switches and coverage.

    Maybe our record would be better under Torts (we’d be better defensively, but it wouldn’t make a difference as our offense would be about the same and our PP would be even worse), but as we saw in the playoffs we weren’t going to win on that horse.

    Our possession stats in the playoffs fell drastically as torts resorted to some of the most extreme tactics imaginable. We were pretty poor all year, and then we nearly lost to a horrendous Capitals team, before the Bruins took us out to the woodshed and had our way wiht them.

    I’m giving AV time. if he fails, he fails. but the Torts nostalgia needs to stop.

    • VinceR says:

      I agree mostly with what you said, but as a point of clarification because I wasn’t sure, they are not calling for AVs head either. The commenters are, just as they did for Torts…that’s the point.

      • Arisrules says:

        Let me clarify, I was talking about the posters more than the blog itself. Post itself was largely fair. So when I said “blog” I was talking about the whole thing.

        AV may fail. This team may not be good enough, and we may need to blow it up. Torts may in fact have gotten the most out of the team that was possible.

        But there was no way Torts was going to win, not with how he was having the team play in the playoffs, and not with him losing the lockerroom.

        It sucks. It’s part of the game. I actually liked Torts. But I thought his time had come.

        • VinceR says:

          Yeah, I think I may disagree with you on Torts, but I see where you were coming from…and if he did indeed lose the room, it’s disappointing, but then he would have to go (but would also say that if he did lose the room, these guys need to learn how to self-motivate without the fire under their butts).

          Other wise we are where we are now and while it’s ugly as hell, nothing has been determined as far as where this season ends. And as ugly as it is and for how much yelling I do at the tv (at least I get to yell in person on Monday) there is nothing but upside left for this team and I think there is a quite a bit of it.

        • AD says:

          I definitely disagree with you on Tortorella. The media, MSG personnel and most of the fan base got suckered into thinking AV was going to improve upon what Tortorella accomplished here. We heard silly things like “there are more smiles coming to the practice rink now” and “the team was unwatchable” and “AV would bring a faster game to the Rangers.”

          B.S.!

          An objective assessment of AV’s coaching style and record showed he is average at best with developing youth; he did not hold players accountable; is a defensive-oriented coach (not a believer in “safe is death); and, while his teams were marginally more productive offensively than Tortorella, they gave that all away and then some with more goals given up.

          This season is a waste, thanks to Mr. Glen Sather, the laughing stock amongst the GM community (after Holmgren).

        • Mikeyyy says:

          I think torts turtles for wins.

          When he first came we were getting beat. We had no offense. Sather got him the tools, he couldn’t put it together. Period. When you field a top line of br, gabby, and Nash and can’t get them to score…that’s bad.

          You need a tough d, but you also need to score goals. Torts system wasn’t about defense as much as it was about puck possession. That opposing team can’t score if they don’t have the puck.

          The reality is, av has less than torts had. 3 of the top six players are out and out goalie was playing injured.

          All healed up, I really thunk av can put together a good team on the ice.

          We also have to remember torts gave up on being creative, he wanted to dump it chase it, and control it. And that’s it. He even went so far asto say, I don’t practice offense. If that’s your weakness you need to practice it.

          The woes we have are from years of not needing to play creative. It takes time to tap back into that.

          If your really going to say this year is hosed because of the start of this season, your very short sighted. As I gave torts time, I will give av time. Let them get at least hags and Nash back healthy with a healthy hank, and we will start rolling. It will all click at some point and we will forget how bad the season start was.

          Even now torts is getting ready to turn van into a joke. Aka read about diving. And his pathetic attempt to get the refs to call more penalties on the other teams.

          • VinceR says:

            For eff’s sake, can the both of you just re-read the post and try to learn a single damn thing from it? Oh, sorry, I forget you are both swamis who know what goes through Tort’s/AV’s/Sather’s heads You have both have an amazing ability to view the past with x-ray ability and accuracy and know the future outcome of the season!

            Unfortunately, despite these amazing gifts the both of you possess, reading comprehension is a bit lacking.

            • Chris. C says:

              Wow, nice one Vince. Gonna have to say silk tie for that one.

            • AD says:

              I read the post — it was an artistic form of writing but no compelling point, I thought. But I enjoyed the post – it made me think at the very least.

              Perhaps you ought to read our replies; they were “replies” to someone else’s comment, about the coach.

              Thanks for the comment about my amazing gifts.

    • Ray says:

      Actually Washington was about the hottest team in the NHL when the playoffs started.

  7. BobM says:

    AV wanted more offensive, less defense, and the Rangers responded with no offense and less defense.

    Many where critical of Torts for not adapting to the situation and was stubborn beyond belief.

    I never saw so many times that the defensemen could not keep the puck in the offensive zone by the blue line. It is quite apparent that either the whole team has some medical condition or more to the point, it is in there heads. They are playing uptight and out of sight.

    This team was not built for this style of play.

    It is like at the end of the movie Slapshot where the Chiefs were trying to play “ol’ time hockey, Eddie Shor” by their coach Paul Newman and they were being outplayed and out matched.

    Hockey is a team sport, and this team is in total disarray. A successful team has balanced lines, if one it not doing well or someone is injured, the others pick up the slack.

    Not one Ranger has a positive number in +-, Nash, Miller and Mashinter are all at zero.

  8. Ray says:

    Wonderful post Justin, but I want to take issue with Ranger depth. Take the last 20 forwards on the training camp roster (includes Step, Cally, Hags) and throw in Haley and Kristo and you have 22 forwards who might be credible NHLers. That seems awfully deep — but that presumes that most of the guys can really play. Six of them – Miller, Kreider, Fast, Lindberg, Hrivik, Kristo – are unproven kids who either lack NHL experience are flopped last year. If these kids are ready, yes the Rangers are deep, but we don’t know that yet. If they’re not, well Mashinter and Haley strike me as in Kris Newbury’s league. Asham seems old and done, perhaps Powe isn’t much better. Has Moore returned to NHL form? I have my doubts about Dorsett.

    We might wonder if the Ranger even have twelve true NHL forwards, never mind the fifteen they need to cover 3 injuries or the 22 we imagine.

    I’m not saying the Rangers are definitely not deep, just saying they might not be. Last year, the Rangers got all their scoring from two lines, this year it’s from one.

  9. bloomer says:

    Rangers fans have a vaild reason for their critism of Glen Sather. The team over the years has underperform with him as Gm and he should be replaced. Isn’t that how it works in the real world?

  10. Walt says:

    Justin

    Great write up, and some very valid points. New York is used to winning, and when they don’t they whine. That said, with all the injuries, and lack of quality play from Hank, this may well be a whining season.

    I’m willing to give the team 20-25 games under their belts before I give up on this team, and season. By then, Slats has to do an over all evaluation of the talent we have, and or don’t have, address our needs, and make moves accordingly.

    In closing, the worst thing you ever wrote was calling us to Philly fans, man that was a low blow!!!!! Now just say your sorry, and all will be forgiven.

    • Justin says:

      Ha, my apologies, Walt. No disrespect intended. Simply pointing out if we use these tactics, we put ourselves on the level of Philly fans.

  11. bloomer says:

    Walt, Sather may not be around after 20 to 25 games to make an evaluation.

  12. Marc Weissman says:

    “non-testable hypothesis?”…”vitriolic?”…since when did Doc Emrick start writing…I mean…commence expounding for BSB? ;)