Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The NHL’s embrace of advanced stats took another significant step forward today, with blogger and analytics advocate Tyler Dellow joining the Edmonton Oilers.

Dellow joins an increasing number of stats gurus holding front office jobs, but the battle between the ‘old guard’ and this new wave of number crunchers continues. And it’s starting to get a little embarrassing.

There was a sense of inevitability about this summers events. Team and player analytics have improved year on year, and an increasing number of champions have emerged to promote their virtues. And whilst advanced stats in hockey still have a significant way to go to get anywhere near the level of baseball; clubs are beginning to take notice of these advancements, and the people driving them.

Toronto hired Kyle Dubas last month, New Jersey added Sunny Mehta to their staff and SB Nation’s Eric Tulsky is also working with a franchise. With Dellow also on board, many feel that the tides have turned.

It feels like a natural step though. With the improvements in the quality and availability of advanced stats, why wouldn’t clubs want to pay closer attention? Surely it’s only natural to want to access anything which could help make your team better?

It’s no secret that the NHL is playing catch up in this field. The MLB went through this transition 20 years ago. The NBA has its own advantages as well, with superior tracking of player movement in games.

And this means the stats being touted are not perfect – but then, no one claimed they were.

But that’s where the trouble starts.

There are still a number of veteran writers, executives and pundits who remain unconvinced by the value of this new wave of analytics. And unfortunately it seems to have become a rather ugly split between the two parties.

Dellow is no stranger to confrontation with those who are, shall we say, unconvinced by the numbers. His clashes with veteran journalists like Marc Spector demonstrate a microcosm of a problem which is splitting the sport.

Whilst debate over the value of analytics, the quality of the data being recorded and the application of these stats is welcome; too often these ‘debates’ descent in to mud slinging and personal attacks.

Whilst arguments amongst fans, those that embrace the new wave and those who prefer ‘the old ways’ are nothing new (see the debate on fighting), high profile spats between Dellow and Spector (to stick with my previous examples) do little to further either argument.

And that’s where it gets embarrassing.

A valid discussion about how clubs make use of advanced stats, how they fit in to the modern game, is there to be had. But it is often lost through stubbornness and all too quick desire to run for the pitchforks in the name of ones cause.

It’s cringe worthy how thin skinned some folk are when it comes to ‘their side’ of this debate. How quick they are to point fingers, call people names and engage in cheap points scoring when the analytics are ‘right’ or something happens ‘against the numbers’.

Advanced stats are here to stay. Love them or loathe them, people need to accept them, accept that they are not perfect but that things are getting there, clubs are embracing them and times are changing.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on August 5, 2014, in Hockey, NHL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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