Jul
15

The Tides of Change

July 15, 2016, by
@GraphicComments

@GraphicComments

The concept of change is not a complicated one. One thing becomes another. Yet, out in the real world, change embodies complication. It can be lengthy, violent, compromised, terrifying and exciting. It tends to affect most things, some more than others. Some is met with little resistance, some with the greatest force you could ever imagine. The way it effects you will be determined by your investment, your willingness to adapt, and what you stand to lose. It effects economics, politics, art, religion and yes, sports. At this juncture, our beloved sport of hockey is at such a crossroads of change.

It was brought to light yesterday that Matt Pfeffer, an analytics consultant for the Montreal Canadiens was let go from the organization for his impassioned plea for the club to reconsider trading PK Subban. Now, in a vacuum, while it raises operational questions, it is not a big deal. Any employee who does not see eye to eye with their employer can be let go. However, this situation is emblematic of hockey’s growing civil war between the current powers that be and the emerging sub-culture of analysis-driven management.

This type of division is not a new concept to baseball fans. For those who have seen or read Moneyball, baseball has been evolving for over a decade now. The power to cultivate and manage talent fell to “baseball people” who spent their time on and at the field, who had developed a keen eye for talent that would translate to the big leagues. These traditional models were challenged when Ivy League PhD’s were brought in to do statistical analysis of player performance. The process unearthed inefficiencies and helped understand the value that certain skills were bringing to the field.

Hockey’s traditional power structure is similar, although different than that of baseball. Hockey, overall, consists of an incredibly open, welcoming environment for players and parents, creating an almost instant family when you become involved in the sport. However, the powers that be hold that control and influence very close to the chest with a closed, borderline elitist upper crust, who hide behind vague and misbegotten notions of what makes “hockey people” more knowledgeable about the game and its management.

This exists because these people are scared and insecure. If they don’t allow access to their inner-workings, no one smarter than they are can come in and tell them they are doing it wrong. In the wake of the hiring of John Chayka, the 26 year-old GM wunderkind of the Coyotes and the firing of Pfeffer, the old-guard has come out as especially defensive and intolerant.

Corey Hirsch, he of my previous ire and ridiculous equipment videos, has come out very strongly against the gall that Pfeffer had to speak up to his employers. The audacity of one of these analytics people to actually open their mouth in a management discussion about a player should make you sick as a true “hockey person”.

On Wednesday, a scout and player development director for the Kingston Frontenacs tweeted this:

If this isn’t someone who feels that his job is threatened, I don’t know who is. It is cleverly disguised as a plea to parents not to sweat independent website rankings of prospects, but what is really is, is telling the world not to trust anyone but “credible hockey people” like himself, when determining who is knowledgeable about the sport. That’s not to say that Mr. Moyer here is not intelligent. This is simply to say that he represents a mentality that is slowly but surely being chipped away in the hockey world. He has a family to support and it would be devastating for him to lose his job to a kid from Harvard with an Econ/Statistics PhD.

What it means is that his opinion is literally dripping with bias. When you, as an industry are that resistant to letting smart people participate in the discussion, you are hiding something. Ignorance, bias, self-interest or flat out stupidity are the common culprits. I know several people who have level 5 USA Hockey coaching certificates that I wouldn’t trust to watch my fish. It was a matter of paying for the symposium and sitting through all their classes. It has nothing to do with knowledge and certainly doesn’t test your ability to accurately observe or analyze what is happening on the ice.

Whether you believe in the merit of advanced statistics or not isn’t really the point of this discussion. The point is that, not only is the game changing on the ice, the game is changing from an analysis, managerial and administrative perspective, as well. This also isn’t to say that people who currently find themselves in positions of power don’t know what they are doing. This is to say that professionals from different, and highly educated walks of life are beginning to take an interest in the game and its analysis, and I find it exceptionally alarming that the “establishment” does not want to hear what they have to say.

Which brings me back to the concept of change. For those of you who have watched this game for 40, 50, 60 years, you have seen this game evolve greatly over time. Being in my 30’s, I don’t know how jarring the transformation has been for you. For me, having begun watching hockey in the late 80’s, the transformation has been plenty jarring for me. The point, though, is accepting that change and understanding that nothing stays the way it was. Everything moves forward. Fighting that in the face of everything we know to be true and in the face of true momentum and progress just paints you as a willfully ignorant participant in holding meaningful advancement back.

You may not like the direction that the game is moving, and that’s fine. But, understand that it is moving. Those who stand to be marginalized by this momentum have every right to fight it, but it doesn’t make it the right thing to do. We all love this game and try to improve our understanding and our experiences. I fear that hockey’s civil war is just getting started, and I hope that those in charge will evolve, themselves, rather than create bitter division within the sport. As we have already seen with baseball, eventually the desire of ownership to win will ultimately be the deciding factor, and my money is on in-depth analysis being a more consistent recipe than the eye test of a “credible hockey person”.

"The Tides of Change", 5 out of 5 based on 16 ratings.

35 comments

  1. amy says:

    there is change coming the draft you had a lot of kids from the usa being drafted

  2. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Meh….. your article doesn’t pass my eye test ; )

  3. AD says:

    with all due respect, this article is as arrogant as the “hockey people” you write about

    as for Pfeffer, I don’t know the parameters of his role at Montreal but if he made a strong plea against the trade, he did exactly what his job should require

    btw, do we know if Pfeffer was fired or was this “mutually agreed” If I am Pfeffer and my analyses and advice was not taken on perhaps the most significant trade the organization has or will make for the next 10-15 years I don’t see how I could continue with that organization

    • Dave says:

      How is this arrogant?

      • AD says:

        the article is laced with demeaning and condescending adjectives to describe what is simply an inherent divide between the “qualitative” and “quantitative” approach to hockey management. It is similar to the approach so-called “hockey people” use to demean the “analytics” group

        that’s how the article reads to me

        • Dave says:

          I’ll let Justin comment on that, since it’s his post, but it didn’t read that way to me.

          • AD says:

            well, the last sentence of the article is typical, as it states:

            “…..my money is on in-depth analysis being a more consistent recipe than the eye test of a “credible hockey person”.”

            the arrogance is in the implication “hockey people” do not rely on or even use in-depth analyses. they absolutely do; it just isn’t the type of analyses the “quants” use.

            but this is just 1 example. regardless, the battle will rage between the two camps, I suppose.

            • paulronty says:

              I agree with you AD. No doubt Justin is a thoughtful person, but it is clear that he speaks for one side & demeans the other. He states that “This also isn’t to say that people who currently find themselves in positions of power don’t know what they are doing.” Yet he then undermines that position by stating “my money is on in-depth analysis being a more consistent recipe than the eye test of a “credible hockey person”., implying that those people don’t know what they are doing in Justin’s opinion.

        • Justin says:

          It’s not simply a divide between quantitative and qualitative. The article was meant to illustrate the defense mechanisms that the current hockey hierarchy uses to maintain their standing and so-called expertise, without having to quantify their knowledge.

          They do this to those who bring quantitative analysis to the table, which could poke holes in their supposed superior knowledge of the sport.

          • joe from newburgh says:

            My issue with this post is that, without having been privy to the conversations that went on in Montreal, you assume that he was let go solely because of his commitment to the use of analytics. While that may be true, it is equally probable that this was just part of the reason, and may, in fact, simply have been just the last point of several that tipped management’s decision over the edge, or even a simple excuse used to avoid having to delve into deeper issues. I really doubt that there are many people left, in any sport, who dispute the value of analytics, but I also doubt that are many who, after careful consideration, see them as the be all and end all of decision making for a front office.

            • Dave says:

              I think Justin is saying it appears he was let go because he disagreed with management. Seems old school hockey folks don’t like to be questioned.

              • paulronty says:

                This happens all the time in life, people get fired because they disagree with management. It happened to me too, but I went on to bigger & better things, and maybe Pfeffer does too. I wish him the best and if fate shall have it, perhaps he gets the last laugh like I did.

          • AD says:

            And, as stated, the article is laced with similar defense mechanisms the article is trying to illustrate; hence, my comment it is equally arrogant

          • paulronty says:

            You know it strikes me that for all the hoopla about Billy Beane & Moneyball, what have the A’s really accomplished, which justifies his mythical aura.

    • CK says:

      This is the problem with most advanced stats bloggers – the moral superiority that comes with using advanced stats. They all think “well, because I am using these numbers, I am obviously right” and there is no way to dissuade them of this belief. It also extends to every other opinion they have, regardless of topic. All the people riled up about JT Miller getting a bridge deal refuse to accept that there’s a chance he might not continue to develop and grow. Maybe 20g/40p is his ceiling, and you don’t want to be paying $4m/yr for that for an extended period of time.

      • Dave says:

        Justin? Morally superior? Seriously?

        I mean, if you said that about me I wouldn’t disagree, considering how my posts come off. But Justin? Come on.

      • Justin says:

        As I mentioned before, this has nothing to do with advanced stats being the end all be all of analysis. This has to do with refusing to accept the advancement of analytical tools that will become the norm in the sport at some point in the future.

        It’s basically the world is flat argument because the current powers refuse to educate themselves on new ways to improve their analyses.

        • paulronty says:

          Maybe but doesn’t the hiring of Chayka & other analytics people suggest otherwise?

  4. Roger Domal says:

    Branch Rickey, a famous GM, once said to Ralph Kiner, who was looking for a raise after leading the league in homers, “I can finish last with you, or I can finish last without you.” Then he promptly traded his best player.

    Same thing in Montreal. Didn’t make the playoffs with Subban, so they trade him. And then they don’t renew a young data guy. Are these related? Kind of a stretch to say they are, looks circumstantial enough to say one plus one equals three!

    What I have found in the last year after reading as much as I can on the subject of advanced stats, is that there are many in the advanced stats camp who are just as rigid and dogmatic as those who hate anything about Corsi. I have always found it hard to read a chart, but I can read a paragraph or two about the chart and figure out finally what the chart means. Makes it take twice as long, but I hated math growing up and loved sports. So, for you graph makers out there, it would be nice if you Occassionally told all of us WTF you mean with your latest diagram, chart, graph or creation of your own. All it takes is a little paragraph for those who absolutely hate math!

    And for those on both sides of the discussion, actually listen Occassionally to what the other side is saying. Maybe somebody out there is really hoping #5 has a bounce back year, and the stat guy knows that it has never happened ever, but both can still root for NYR and hope that a miracle occurs (if we get stuck with him again).

    It used to infuriate me how the stat guys would fixate on Tanner Glass (like the 12th forward was going to be the difference!), but now I stop reading any analysis which includes his name because I realize the writer has missed the point. Yes, he sucks, no we don’t need to be told everyday! The problems are much deeper and more complex than “TG needs to go!” (And Victor Stalberg leaving is not going to cause us to miss the playoffs!)

    But the stats are extremely telling, and a lot of questions remain unanswered. Like, for the last two years the NYR got 78 PP goals in total. In those two years, they finished 25th and LAST in total time spent on any power play. I have asked several stat guys for a reason why they don’t draw penalties. No one really has an answer. But NYR are in some cases over 100 minutes LESS with a man advantage than better teams. The power play was middle of the pack last year. Did you think that with the eye test? Did you know that TBL’s power play sucked last year? Did you think that with what you know about Hedman, Stamkos, the three young guns? TBL had over a 100 more penalty minute time than the NYR last year and scored 2 goals more, but J. Cooper is a genius and AV is a moron. Does anyone know why that is?

    Did you know that the Rangers were one of the best 5v5 teams in the league last year? Over a whole host of variables. Close games, up one, etc. So, is it truly the power play/PK that is the difference maker for this team?

    NYR penalty kill save percentage ranked 25th. Dismal. We were the only playoff team ranked that low. What kind of PP goals did we give up? Tons of rebounds, tips, short siders, Hank misses? Don’t know. Does anyone?

    Stuff like this seems more important to me than arguing about TG. I would rather like to know how important PP/PK is to end results than arguing about the 12th forward.

    And all of this goes back to my Branch Rickey quote, and it pertains to Yandle. Yes, he is fantastic on the power play. One of the best in the league. But, if we are last in PP opportunities, maybe the money should be spent on other areas, and hopefully we get to a point in the next few years where we draw penalties and kill penalties with greater efficiency. Florida paid big for Yandle because their PP sucked last year. Should be interesting to see what they do on the power play next year.

    So, truce, guys. Don’t dismiss out of hand. Look stuff up. Your eyes aren’t as good as you think. Your stats aren’t as good as you think either.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Roger, I think this is the first time I threw you an up thumb lol. Great post.

    • jeff says:

      Dude! Powerful missive, nice job!

    • Ray says:

      I don’t like possession stats very much, but the 5 v 5 +/- numbers of the 2015-2016 are slightly misleading. One of the things that happens 5 v 5 is penalties and the failure of the Rangers to draw penalties is a weakness of their 5 v 5 game – a weakness which leads to losses.

      It would be interesting if one adjusted 5 v 5 stats to account for both goals and penalties. I do think possession stats do some of this as you commit penalties against the team with the puck.

    • RANGERS_UNDERSCORE says:

      I am insulted with this drivel! Do you make logical conclusions on feelings? Are you telling me that TG, the weak link is not a problem? I wish you wear jewelry and the 12th link is weak. Are you telling me that I should believe Leopold and that I have lying eyes and lying stats?
      When 2 or more information correlate with each other we should abandon it because why? Your fweelings are hurt and Leopolds feelings are hurt? So my eyes and my stats are not as good as your blind allegiance to Leopold! When I give up on logic I will listen to you.
      What nonsense! Cindy was playing like shit. Do you think they should have traded him? He turned it around with the right coach. The whole team gave up on Leopold, should we get rid of the whole team?

      • RANGERS_UNDERSCORE says:

        Branch Rickey also said
        Things worthwhile generally don’t just happen. Luck is a fact, but should not be a factor. Good luck is what is left over after intelligence and effort have combined at their best. Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. The law of cause and effect and causality both work the same with inexorable exactitudes. Luck is the residue of design.

        Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. I see that as Leopold.
        Because you are as strong as your weakest link!

        • paulronty says:

          Hey Rock, great quote there from Branch Rickey. As you know I’m not an AV fan for many reasons. but I know that a coach makes all the difference in the world to the success of any team. It made my heart glow when Rashad Jennings recently said that McAdoo has “a presence which commands the room.” That is exactly what AV lacks IMO.

    • paulronty says:

      Terrific post Roger! Why the Rangers don’t draw penalties(which I didn’t know) is a great Question. Did they draw more penalties under Tortorella? Is it their style of play? Are they too easy to take the puck away from, so fouls are not required? Somebody should look into the data or come up with a theory. Anyway it’s something we can turn the “brain test” to(eye test is a misnomer, because perception must be INTERPRETED). I’ve always thought the PK was essential to success, & maybe Rangers management feels that way too, since they are signing up penalty killers a lot.

  5. sherrane says:

    You’ve really missed the mark with your criticism of Beau Moyer (Director of Player Development / Toronto Area Scout). Juniors is a development league. Players are developing their game and trying to become more complete hockey players in order to make the NHL. I strongly disagree that developing players should be focusing on improving their STATISTICS.

    • AD says:

      ding! ding! ding!

      we have a winner!

      • Justin says:

        You have both missed the mark on my point. My point is, no one besides a “credible hockey person” could ever pass judgment on the talent level of a player from a scouting perspective? Really? There are plenty of people who live and breathe this game who do other things for a living that could give you a very accurate scouting report on a young player. He is deliberately dumping on those who he feels have less “expertise” in order to keep his own skill set relevant.

        • AD says:

          Or, maybe he was dumping on a fallible ranking system?

          Or, maybe that ranking system has not been thoroughly back-tested?

          And, quite possibly, that coach is familiar with rankings from years past and it was well wide of actual results?

          These possibilities seem at least equally as plausible as being able to discern his feelings and thoughts from a tweet.

  6. 43 says:

    I noticed you guys keep using this phrase “begs the question” incorrectly. It’s here, it was in one of the J.T. Miller articles, and I’ve seen it here many times before. Begging the question does NOT mean some issue or event leads to so and so questions. Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which a claim postures itself as true without any supporting evidence other than the claim itself.

  7. Ray says:

    Justin

    One problem is that we really don’t know what happened with Pfeffer. If I am an administrator who has to make decisions and must rely on advisers, yes I absolutely want a broad spectrum of advisers who will give me different kinds of advice. I want someone who will tell me things I don’t want to hear.
    B U T — when I get advice that I deem wrong (and of course this is just my judgment, but one I must make) and choose to disregard it, I need for that adviser to shut up. Having your advice ignored is hard, but an adviser needs to understand that his role is to advise and not to demand that management follow his advice.

    Neither of us knows what happened of course, but we both know that advisors are fired because they become unbearable. Alas, we also know that some administrators just want yes men.

  8. Egelstein says:

    Excellent post. You can’t see me right now Justin, but I’m giving you a misty-eyed slow-clap at my desk at work.

  9. Mikeyyy says:

    Hirsch should shut his yap.

    The analyst would be negligent in their duties to not bring up a potential gaffe when they see one.

    That is the job of the analyst. Shame on Montreal