Rand: Hockey is the final frontier for stats

  • Updated: May 16, 2014 - 12:19 AM

Soon we’ll know a lot more about Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Blackhawks center Joakim Nordstrom as hockey delves deeper into advanced metrics.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt • Associated Press,

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The great sports statistical revolution began with baseball and stat mavens such as Bill James. Advanced metrics in baseball are now part-industry, part-mainstream, but they are no doubt here to stay.

Part of it is the static nature of the sport. There is a pitch. And then everyone rests. And so on. Statistics are accumulated, and it is very much possible to assign numbers and values to specific players and situations.

Go to an easily accessible site such as Baseball-reference.com and you will find just a sample of the many ways we can measure things now: WAR (Wins Above Replacement), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and so on.

WAR is a cumulative stat, meaning that someone with a career WAR of 27 has been deemed to have contributed 27 more “wins” over that span than a theoretical replacement call-up from Class AAA. It can be used to spark all sorts of fun debates about player value (Joe Mauer and Kirby Puckett are remarkably similar in this category).

Baseball’s list of stats is exhaustive; gaining steam is the NBA, which has shown to be the next big U.S. league to embrace advanced stats as a means to more accurately measure just what is going on (and therefore potentially gain an edge in player evaluation). Visit Basketball-reference.com and you’ll find PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and Win Shares sitting next to points, assists and rebounds. And again, there is much more out there.

The NFL? We’re pretty much using the same stats as always, save for Total QBR — a new way to measure a quarterback’s contributions that may not be any less flawed than passer rating. Advances in that sport have come in schemes, size and strength, not stats.

The next frontier, then, is the NHL. Hockey-reference.com right now offers the usual array of goals, assists, ice time, the unreliable plus-minus and one advanced stat: point shares, an “estimate of the number of points contributed by a player.” (Ryan Suter led the Wild in 2013-14, by the way.)

But a revolution is coming, according to an excellent recent piece in Canada’s The Globe and Mail. According to the story, the NHL next season is testing a system to “track players in action and produce a vast new array of information — a boon to teams seeking competitive advantage and astute fans placing bar bets.” It could be in full effect by 2015-16.

Give it a few years, and the NHL will look like the NBA when it comes to stats. I, for one, actually look forward to tracking Mikael Granlund’s NZIPPR (Neutral Zone Independent Puck Possession Rate), or some such thing, when that day comes.

Michael Rand

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