What We Learned: Do NHL players actually care about Corsi?

Ryan Lambert
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The now-over debate about the efficacy of advanced stats was, at its core, really about the practical application thereof. There was no disputing the numbers being spit out; maybe a team here or there over-counted shots for or against (i.e. Florida in Tomas Vokoun's heyday) but for the most part the data collected on that front over the past seven or eight seasons has been solid. That was never in dispute.

But whether it mattered at all, and what it meant if it did, was a whole different issue entirely, but clearly the nerds have won and all that stuff. So now the hockey world is going to shift to an entirely different debate about the practical application of corsi numbers and the like, and to some extent, that is already under way.

During the NHL's media week, ESPN's Craig Custance took the time to ask the many NHLers who came through the league office what they knew about advanced stats. Most claimed, or perhaps feigned, ignorance to some extent — as an aside: I find it extremely difficult to believe Sidney Crosby is not deeply aware of what corsi is — and maybe that's to be expected.

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Taylor Hall and Patrick Kane were well aware of them, and PK Subban knew that zone starts might affect his possession numbers. One of the questions Custance asked, though, is an interesting one: “How useful to a player are the public analytics like corsi, fenwick or PDO? How aware should they be of where they rank?”

That's a fascinating topic. On the surface, it's easy to see things both ways. One might think that it's important to have an understanding of the things that go into influencing the final decision of a game, but as Justin Williams told Custance, players can't go into a shift thinking about their corsi share. Not that any of them do inherently, but guys who are good at driving possession tend to know what they're doing right or wrong to push the game in the desired direction. They can't talk to each other on the bench about how they're going to drive up the number of shot attempts for over the next period. Hockey just doesn't — and, on a players' level, can't — work that way.

Likewise, being a good hockey player isn't as simple as “getting more pucks toward the net.” If all it took to be successful was to bomb in a slap shot the second you crossed the blue line, it would be a lot easier to get paid in this league. There are roles to consider, and also talent levels. A George Parros type can't suddenly be given first-line minutes because he starts shooting more, with little consideration for the propriety of a shot attempt in that given situation.

But that Kane and Hall knew what the stat meant and could cite chapter-and-verse where things might have gone well for them to get the puck toward the opponent's net is telling. It shows just how much their coaches do to make them aware of the usefulness of possession, as well as doing all they could to improve that on a tactical level.

And that's where the real practical use of even the simplest advanced stats comes in: It is now no longer simply a coach's job to look at the roster and decide who plays with whom, and develop a system that the team sticks with come hell or high water throughout the season (we call this the “Randy Carlyle approach,” and you see how well it works). Coaches must now continually tweak what they're doing in terms of designing systems, so that they can be more fluid and responsive to the team's situation at any given point in the season.

For instance, it's all well and good for critics to sit at home and say, “Randy Carlyle's system, specifically, is why the Leafs get crushed in possession every night.” It's another to look at video and identify patterns that, in specific instances, may contribute to positive or negative possession numbers. That's where the league's game data becomes married to coaching: You look at the information and say, “This is where we're giving up a lot of opportunities,” whether it's on draws, through the neutral zone, etc. Likewise, you can examine why you may or may not be getting those chances yourself. Then, you think about the ways to fix problems or promote positive play.

This is, of course, why the Oilers hired Tyler Dellow over the summer: a lot of his work was based on this type of thing specifically. And if coaches can take that kind of research on something as simple as how players that enter the zone effectively are able to do so repeatedly, they can then craft their teams' approach to better suit those needs. Of course, that kind of thing also requires the right roster pool from which to choose, and that means the general manager will have to be on board as well.

The point being: Players cannot be allowed to think on the ice. When players start thinking about where they should be positioning themselves mid-game, and what it means for the rest of their teammates on the ice, their reaction times will necessarily be slower, putting them and their team at a greater disadvantage. It must all be driven by instinct, which is drilled into them in every practice from the first day of training camp until the last day of the season.

So really, the advanced stats “revolution” only falls on coaches and general managers to make things work. The thing we're going to find about this sport in the next few years, as more teams begin to rely more heavily on this data, and the deeper information that springs from it, is just how important coaching really is. Bad staffs and executives — those who can't adapt to the new environment or changing situations — are going to get trampled, and new, smarter coaches and analysts are going to be brought in to replace them.

A lot of the time, players don't have to change who they are or what they do, because they likely cannot. Their bosses, on the other hand, have no such luxury.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Expect a lot of “rookie game” information in this week's WWL, because almost the entire league is playing in one. The Ducks, for one, are probably happy with how things went, as Stefan Noesen had a goal and two assists after sitting out all of last year with serious injuries.

Arizona Coyotes: It's always really smart to be like “Hey you know who's gonna need to score a ton for us is this 19-year-old rookie.” What could possibly go wrong?

Boston Bruins: Speaking of which, the Bruins media wants to kiss this David Pastrnak kid right on his lil forehead. Given all the buzz it's starting to seem likely he makes the team. It's up to you to decide whether that's good.

Buffalo Sabres: Like father, like son.

Calgary Flames: Another super-hyped rookie this year is Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau (you'll see why in the Play of the Weekend). How hyped is he? Sam Bennett earnestly compared him to Connor McDavid, adding, “but, still, I don’t even know if he has some of the moves that Johnny can pull off.” But hey let's not get our hopes up or anything.

Carolina Hurricanes: Does it surprise anyone at all that Rod Brind'Amour was one of the top finishers in a recent 5K race? It surprises me, but only because I figured he would have won it by a good minute and a half.

Chicago Blackhawks: “Too many good prospects” is a nice — and unfair — problem for one of the three best teams on the planet to have.

Colorado Avalanche: Something you don't see often: Someone not thinking Patrick Roy was a jerk to them when he was in fact kind of jerk to them. PA Parenteau is very forgiving. (And I still can't imagine why Colorado made that trade.)

Columbus Blue Jackets: Hey not for nothin' but they make you wear a full cage in college.

Dallas Stars: Tough bounce for Brett Ritchie, who's going to miss the rest of the Stars' rookie tournament with a bum pinkie. Probably not out long, but better safe than sorry.

Detroit Red Wings: Anthony Mantha is unsurprisingly destroying the Traverse City tournament, and might actually make the Red Wings think twice about cramming him into the minors for the next three seasons just because that's what they've always done.

Edmonton Oilers: Write it down. Craig MacTavish on the Oilers next season: “We are for sure going to be better, it's just a measure of how much.”

Florida Panthers: The Panthers are basically penciling Aaron Ekblad into their lineup for next season, which, you know, gets back to that old “Should he play 13 minutes a night in the NHL or 25 in the OHL?” The Panthers aren't competing for anything next year. Let him develop, push his UFA date back a year, etc. Don't see the harm in that.

Los Angeles Kings: Serious shade being thrown by Darryl Sutter here. Damn.

Kings Sutter on defending "we know what's going on. Anaheim, St Louis and Chicago made changes to emulate us"

— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) September 14, 2014

Minnesota Wild: A guy that has an outside shot to make the Wild's big club as a bottom-pairing defenseman is Christian Folin, who has apparently been very impressive in Traverse City so far.

Montreal Canadiens: How long until the Canadiens just don't have enough un-retired numbers to field a team?

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: How is any team gonna let two kids fight in a rookie camp? It's embarrassing in this day and age. These games mean so much less than nothing, especially if you feel like you have to fight someone to be noticed. The league needs to ban this kind of nonsense.

New Jersey Devils: How are contract negotiations going with Eric Gelinas? Sounds like “not great.”  (UPDATE: He signed, according to Lamoriello.)

New York Islanders: So many guys fighting for so few spots. Isles camp is gonna be cutthroat.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are expected to name Ryan McDonagh captain later this week. Totally unsurprising.

Ottawa Senators: Paul MacLean thinks the Senators will be good this season. It all comes down to what they do in goal, really. A full year of Robin Lehner seems advisable.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ed Snider says the team traded Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky because he wasn't going to re-sign with them anyway. How much do you believe that? Zero? Yeah.

Pittsburgh Penguins: If you think Marc-Andre Fleury is a $5 million anchor on the Pens' Cup hopes, it turns out you're right. (Of course you are.)

San Jose Sharks: Mirco Mueller apparently put on 30 pounds between last year's rookie camp and this one. Good lord.

St. Louis Blues: Another good young player without a contract is Jaden Schwartz, and people in St. Louis are starting to get nervous. As is so often the case with these things, it seems the two sides agree on term but not money.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The fact that the Lightning even invited first-round bust Leland Irving to camp is weird.

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Toronto Maple Leafs: Great camp storyline in Leafs land: For what silly reason will the Toronto media decide it will hates William Nylander? This kid looks super-impressive.

Vancouver Canucks: Eddie Lack is looking on the bright side of the team being awful last year.

Washington Capitals: Barry Trotz stars in this week's edition of When Corporate Speak Goes Too Far: “My job is to make the players’ brand really good within the concept of the team.” Players' brand? Come on, bud.

Winnipeg Jets: Josh Morrissey (and the Jets themselves, most likely) hopes he can do this year what Jacob Trouba did last year.

Play of the Weekend

Let me tell you about the number of times I've seen Johnny Gaudreau do more or less this exact thing to an opposing defense and goalie: It's a lot.

(P.S. It is nice to have real North American hockey highlights back, isn't it?

Gold Star Award

The Dallas Stars' new mascot is so fantastically bizarre. Does any part of it make sense? Nope. The Stars rule. That's it.

Minus of the Weekend

 (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Tomas Vokoun wants to play one more year, but he's turned down contracts and training camp invites alike. Umm? “The right situation” is “a team wants to pay a 38-year-old who missed pretty much all of last season.”

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “mymerlincat” is kiiiiiiiiiiiiiilling it.

To San Jose:
Jeff Petry
Tyler Bozak
Edmonton's 1st round pick 2015
Toronto's 1st round pick 2015

To Edmonton:
Joe Thornton

To Toronto:
Joe Pavelski

That's all-time great trade proposal stuff. It might be the Platonic ideal of a trade proposal.

I only floss on my birthday, so I can look back at the past year and remember what I ate.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is hereand his Twitter is here