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Babcock on analytics: ‘I love the information’

Jul 23, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

mikebabcockgetty Getty Images

It might be hasty to call him “Moneyball” Mike Babcock, but the Detroit Red Wings’ head coach is a fan of analytics.

He told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen as much, noting that the Red Wings don’t have an analytics guy on staff yet, but also stating his belief that it’s just a matter of time.

“I love the information,” Babcock said.

The two-time Olympic gold medal-winner, one-time Stanley Cup champion and all-around decorated bench boss believes that teams will have more resources to spend on stats-minded staffers as time goes on.

Those interested in “fancy stats” will probably find themselves nodding at this statement, in particular:

Indeed, it might be a work in progress, as Red Wings GM Ken Holland seemed reluctant to fully embrace “advanced stats” according to what he said to The Hockey News.

“We’ve been talking about it, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big factor in any of our decision making,” Holland said. “Let’s say you’re Pavel Datsyuk’s linemate. You move to another team and not playing with Pavel Datsyuk is going to have an effect on your lack of success. With baseball, it’s more black and white because the pitcher is on the mound and he’s going against the batter. But in hockey, you’ve got four teammates and five opponents who are going to have some impact on what’s going to happen.”

(If you hear some grumbling, it’s likely from those who are going great lengths to account for context or merely people who note that there are other stats out there beyond Corsi and Fenwick-related numbers.)

Of course, it could also be a matter of semantics, as many simply prefer to refer to Corsi or Fenwick events as “shot attempts.”

Either way, it’s probably a step in the right direction for Babcock at least to be intrigued by it all. Red Wings blog Winging It in Motown seems excited by the potential:

Is it happening? Are the gut analyses on their way out? We aren’t too sure, but as a fan of analyzing players using advanced statistical data, I sure hope so. It shows signs of forward-looking enlightenment for a team who is in need of a new approach to player analysis. With advanced statistics, you can see that players like Luke Glendening are badly overplayed (even though it should be obvious by the common eye-test), and players like Riley Sheahan are turning to prodigious possession powerhouses. Is this it? Is it time for the advanced stat revolution in Detroit? Don’t know.. But boy oh boy, do I sure hope so.

Overall, we’ve seen some surprising revelations in teams embracing new ideas lately, maybe most shockingly in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ decision to hire Kyle Dubas as assistant GM.

If nothing else, we can all amuse ourselves imagining Babcock making these faces while pouring over a spreadsheet:

source: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

source: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

source: AP

Credit: AP

  1. milkmemalkin - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    “Babcock on anal.”

  2. rbbbaron - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    Good stuff. He’s right to point out that it’s more complicated than in baseball, but that just means there’s going to be a lot more to parse through in order to confirm a thesis or catch something that’s overlooked/disregarded in a player’s game. We’re living in a data rich environment and it’s encouraging to see the progress that have been made in hockey analytics over the last few years.

    • ryanprzy - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:52 PM

      This is all true, and I wish it were possible that we could somehow see the Corsi/Fenwick numbers of all players from the 50s until throughout the 90s. It would be interesting and also help to get a better view of how these metrics correlate to success. But unfortunately, the stat-keepers weren’t watching for these things at the time and the games then were not as well-documented as they are now.

      • rbbbaron - Jul 24, 2014 at 2:48 AM

        Well, given that the games from years past are recorded and archived somewhere, they probably could go back and collect the data on those. But given that they’d likely only have access to the broadcasted recording, there’d be a lot of measurement error to contend with. It’s gotta be worth someone’s time though :-D

  3. ryanprzy - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:47 PM

    I believe there is some merit in these shot-based advanced metrics.

    Sure, you see a lot of games where a team might out-shoot another team something like 37-21 and still lose, but over the course of an 82 game season (or even a best-of-7 series), these things tend to normalize and they’re usually indicative of whom the better team is.

  4. avscup - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    I find it hilarious that Holland says four teammates and five opponents who are going to have some effect on what’s going to happen. Seems to me he is not counting the players that might have the most effect, the goalies. Five teammates and six opponents ken!

    • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      most of these stats involve shots directed at the net, possession, face offs/zone starts, blocks – none of which are goalie stats. in fact the stats reveal that goalies have better save % with certain players out there. certain players are better at letting goalies see shots, therefore increasing their save %. these are all things coaches should be aware of in my opinion, hard to gauge in real time as the game is going on but if you know who does what better you can implement them in those situations more effectively. it would require a commitment to the study and then implementation of the strategy vs going off the naked eye or instincts for coaches in game

  5. pigeonbutt - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:28 AM

    This is a great off-season article, I appreciate the work in providing links and statements to create something to talk about.

    It’s inevitable that increased interest and time committed to statistics will provide something of relevant value to teams. I love that the game and the way we perceive it has constantly evolved since its beginning. Those who try and stay on top of the state of the game have a real advantage.

  6. blomfeld - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:28 AM

    YOU’RE WRONG BABCOCK AND YOU KNOW IT !

    The bottom line friends is that Babcock essentially ‘ruined’ the winter games with his stupid ‘systems’ in Sochi ! … and now he’s trying to shove ‘analytics’ up our backsides, whether we like it or not ? Yeah, well check this out you stupid ‘data’ freak ! We the people, lovers of the way the game ‘ought’ to be played game (à la Béliveau, Orr, LaFleur, Gretzky, Doughty, etc) collectively say that you make us positively ‘sick’ and the sooner you’re ‘dealt with’ the better !

    DON’T EVER LET BABCOCK PUT SPREADSHEETS ON YOUR FAMILY’S TABLE !!!

    • hockey412 - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:17 AM

      Puhlease – you’re just mad that the advanced stats don’t take into account how many opposing players’ knees are taken out. And that’s ok…you’re a Kings fan, not a hockey fan. For many of us, strategy is a great part of the game.

      • patthehockeyfan - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        Please, hockey412, don’t lump all of us Kings’ fans in one category because of blomfeld.

        Once analytics become commonplace in the NHL, all of the arguments for and against will be forgotten. I don’t believe that analytics should replace the human factor of gut analysis (as referred to in the article); however, as an addition, they can only help.

      • hockey412 - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:36 AM

        Don’t get me wrong, by any means – I know plenty of people who are Pens fans, not hockey fans…not lumping you in with him or addressing ALL Kings fans with that comment.

        And also I’m just busting his junk – I don’t really think that about him…it’s been a while since I’ve done it and let’s just face it, it feels really good :)

      • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM

        hey, kings fans should love the advanced stats…their guys lead in most categories every year. its always kings and bruins at the top of the heap. you take a guy like Justin Williams off the kings and I guarantee they don’t win those cups, you watch the games and most of us fans who know hockey know why but if you look at the advanced stats you really see why.

  7. lakeshoreleafsfan - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    This is probably not the case at all, but with some of Babcock’s comments over the past week or two (which would imply that he wasn’t happy with the Red Wings and sounding like he wanted out of Detroit) and, now the day AFTER Leafs hire Kyle Dubas, we now hear from Babcock again, saying how much he likes the information of analytics. Anyone else seeing a pattern here

    • pjblake2redwings - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      this wishful Leafs fan… I dont know if you heard but they did just resign the great randy carlyle lol

      • lakeshoreleafsfan - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:39 AM

        All they did was give Randy Carlyle a two-year contract extension, as he’s entering his final year of his current contract. And that means nothing; MLSE can still fire Carlyle tomorrow if they wanted to. They would just have to pay Carlyle for the duration of his contract

      • garn53 - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM

        You mean the guy who finished the conference final against Boston with his time out in game 7 still in his pocket? Oh yes, that guy. He’s a bright one – a real keeper.

  8. garn53 - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Some stats are over done and should be ignored. But there is no denying their value.

  9. rbbbaron - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    From the Hockey News article:
    “[The player's agent] was negotiating with the team and it was pointed out to him the player had one of the worst plus-minus figures among forwards on that team. The agent pointed out that, for whatever reason, the goaltender had a worse save percentage when that player was on the ice than he did any other player on the team, which contributed to the bad plus-minus.”

    Shallow argument. We could use some better theory to support the empirics.

    • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      lol. the goalie had a worse save percentage when he was out there because the player was giving up golden chances for the goalie to have to contend with, or keeping him from seeing the puck, or wasn’t backchecking, or wasn’t clearing the crease…man…..i would’ve loved to hear that agent try to continue to make that argument…..

      • rbbbaron - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:20 PM

        Yeah, it’s not clear from the article whether that argument held any sway in the negotiation, I’d have to believe it didn’t (or was turned against him). Damn if this guy can represent NHL players…

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