The Sabermetrics Movement changed baseball. Now, a cousin movement is about to do the same to hockey.
Bill James, the man who is usually credited with starting the SABR movement, searched for a way to find objective knowledge about baseball.
The SABR movement was initially met by fierce opposition from baseball purists, but over the years has been accepted as an important part of baseball culture. Baseball people are now separated into two camps, those down with the movement and those who aren’t. The SABR community and the ‘old school’ community have found a way to coexist.
Hockey is in the middle of undergoing a similar revolution. The past decade has seen the advent of what hockey people call “fancy stats.” These are possession and shot based statistics that help the hockey community come to a greater understanding of how to succeed in the sport.
The most famous of these “fancy stats” is Corsi — a stat named after Buffalo Sabres goaltender coach Jim Corsi. Corsi is a plus/minus statistic that takes every shot attempted by a team and adds/subtracts it. If you’re team shoots you get a +1, if your team is allowing a shot it is -1. This includes shots that miss the net as well as blocked shots.
Corsi and it’s sister stat — Fenwick which is the same thing as Corsi except it doesn’t count blocked shots — became hockey buzzwords over the lockout shortened season thanks to the growth of the “fancy stat” community and how they persuaded a bunch of hockey writers who are looking to be a part of the cool crowd.
Now, the hockey world is starting to split apart at the seam. Hockey pundits are deciding where they stand on the issue of advanced stats and it is causing a lot of backlash between the two camps.
Middle ground can be reached. The first step towards coexistence would be to remove the “advanced” label on Corsi, Fenwick, etc. They are simple stats, just like time-on-ice or penalty minutes. Smacking an “advanced” label on these pretty-easy-to-understand stats creates a wall of separation between those who enjoy these stats and those who choose to ignore them.
Unintentionally, this gives those who belong in the ‘advanced’ community the right to feel like they are better than everyone else. If you were considered an “advanced” student in school, you were considered to be better than the rest of your colleagues. So instead of calling them advanced stats, why don’t we just call them stats — since, you know, that’s what they are.
What advanced stat communities — whether it be in baseball or hockey — do well is gather and share information for everyone so they can understand the most efficient ways to measure success in a sport.
What they don’t do well is understand that hockey can not be measured entirely via objective statistics.
Hypothetically, let’s pretend you, the reader, are a Maple Leafs fan. You hate Tyler Bozak because his Corsi is terrible. And so what if a fellow of the Maple Leafs likes Tyler Bozak, despite his terrible possession numbers. Maybe Bozak tossed them a puck or they are drawn to guys who can win face-offs and not much else. So what, they love the Leafs, you love the Leafs — that should be enough. It is not like either one of you have any effect on what management does. Your tweet about Bozak’s terrible Corsi and their tweet about Bozak’s terrific face-off percentage will ultimately change nothing.
Every action in hockey plays a role in determining whether or not a team scores more goals than it’s opponent. Shots are very important since they are what leads to goals, but this obsession with Corsi can lead to overlooking important things that hockey purists love. Defensemen who can make a good first pass out of the zone or smart pinches in the offensive zone, bottom six guys who stick to their role and play mistake free tough to play against hockey. These things will ultimately lead to shots, which means that there is absolutely a place in hockey for Corsi, Fenwick, and other stats.
The NHL would go a long way in calming down this nuisance by recognizing these stats immediately.
This way it can be easier for people outside the Corsi Community to learn about these new-age statistics. Those who are well-read in these stats should help them along the way, not mock them for being ignorant. That condescending attitude can make this revolution unbearable for the majority of hockey fans, the ones who just want to root for their guys.
Hockey is a physical, gritty sport. It is a sport that rides on momentum, finesse, and toughness. It is an emotional roller coaster from puck drop to puck pick-up.
Next time you hear someone talking about their love for a player with a bad Corsi rating, don’t geek out on them and tell them they are a ‘bad fan.’ Just be happy they are a hockey fan.
It takes a special person to love something as masochistic as hockey and be glad that you are in this together.