A few weeks back I wrote an article about how analytics might fit into the world of fantasy hockey going forward. If you're not aware, we also do a weekly Roundtable that we publish on the Season Pass side and last week it was my turn to host it, so taking inspiration from my recent column, I made advanced statistics the subject of the discussion.
That led to a passionate debate about its potential usefulness to fantasy owners and we've decided to share some of that conversation here. If you have the Season Pass and want to see the full discussion, please click here. Otherwise read on...
Ryan Dadoun: If we went back even five years, analytics in hockey would have been viewed as fringe statistics with questionable value. Now most teams look at fancy stats and they've become accepted to the point where NHL.com is going to start publishing them. Even still, there relevance is still a topic being debated in some circle and their role when it comes to fantasy hockey is undefined.
My question to the group is do you see value in analytics when assessing players and are there advanced statistical categories that you would be interested in using in a future fantasy league?
Michael Finewax: Analytics shmanalytics (now I know how Cliff Fletcher feels). I don't see the value of Corsi etc. in fantasy hockey. Most stats that people play are straightforward and it really does not matter to me if someone is on the ice for more shots on net or the play is in the other teams end more often. A goal is a goal and an assist is an assist. The only advanced stat that makes sense in fantasy is plus/minus and that has been a stat for decades.
Kevin Brown: Even though stats like Corsi and Fenwick don't have any direct correlation to fantasy, there are other novel numbers that I have found useful in player evaluations. Zone starts, for example, provide a glimpse into how coaches deploy the players on their roster. I have often identified players whose zone starts have become more weighted towards the offensive end as breakout candidates before their traditional offensive stats have shown this.
Corey Abbott: I see value in using some advanced stats categories to assess players and predict what they are capable of. Obviously, nothing is an exact science, but I find zone starts, PDO (combination of a team's save percentage and shooting percentage at even strength when a player is on the ice) and on-ice shooting percentage (used to see how well a team scores when a certain player is on the ice) to be interesting tools.
Adjusted save percentage is a different take on the goaltending position that I like as well. It attempts to create a more even playing field for goalies by giving a save percentage if they faced a league average amount of shots from each of the three shooting zones (high, medium, and low probability of success). It was introduced to account for teams that give up more and less high-quality shots. Thanks to war-on-ice.com for the glossary help.
I don't really know which advanced stats would work in fantasy leagues, but I do think it's possible that tracking Corsi and/or Fenwick will lead to the elimination of plus-minus ratings and I'm OK with that. I think I'd rather have a plus-minus represented by shots than by goals because it steers the conversation more to the individual and less to the team.
Ryan Dadoun: A goal is a goal, but I think there's value for digging a little deeper for two reasons. One is to attempt to determine if a player is playing over his head (which we can attempt to with PDO, although as Corey said it's not an exact science) and is thus over or undervalued. The other is as an alternative to traditional stats.
Just like some people prefer using Hits as a category over PIM because they see hits as a useful player quality while PIM is more controversial, I think there's an argument to be made, as Corey mentioned, for replacing plus/minus with either F+/- or FF%Rel. The first one is just the Fenwick version of plus/minus but the second one is more interesting because it measures how your team does while you're on the ice, compared to how it does when you're off of it. More often than not, your plus/minus is a reflection of your team as much as it is of the individual, but with FF%Rel, you're forced to evaluate the player based on his value to the team - both offensively and defensively. Suddenly a good player on a bad team might have value over a great player on an elite team - at least as far as that statistic is concerned. It's different enough from the other statistics typically tracked to potentially add another layer of strategy to drafting.
Ultimately though, the statistics tracked by War-on-Ice might just be scratching the surface of what's to come. The NHL is stepping up its game when it comes to tracking players on ice movements. It's not unrealistic to believe that puck possession itself will be a category that we can accurately track (which is what Corsi/Fenwick are trying to approximate now). We might also be able to track passing (the percentage of successful ones executed, the percentage intercepted, etc), and maybe even some form of drives (the distance you successfully move the puck away from your net/zone). Is there an aspect of the game, where if it was quantified, you would see value in it either in terms of determining a players fantasy worth or for use as a category in fantasy leagues?
Finewax: Ok guys. Prove it to me. I still think that while the advanced stats are a useful tool when actually playing the game, I cannot see the value of it in fantasy hockey.
Dadoun: Are you talking about the value of it when assessing players or for use as categories? If it's the prior, then the easiest answer is that a lot of what we award in fantasy hockey is the final result of something larger. A lot can go into the production of a goal and analytics can give us a fuller picture which can be used to give us more insight towards future trends. A guy that gets 20 goals one season might get just 10 the following campaign and analytics can give us a better shot at predicting that.
Even if you don't buy into that argument, the fact that teams are putting more weight into is noteworthy by itself. In some cases lines have been evaluated and formed in part due to analytics, so knowing which players look good in that regard can give you insight into what players are likely to get more/less minutes.
Here's the shorter version of that: At the end of the day, fantasy hockey is about predicting future value. Given that, any tools that are useful in assessing value are useful to fantasy owners.
If the question is why use them as categories, then that's more subjective. If you like the current statistics counted then that's fine, but some of these categories (or categories that could emerge in the future with better player/puck tracking) can give us a different spin on things and challenge people to evaluate players in different ways, like I was talking about with FF%Rel.
One thing I'd personally like to see is an evaluation of current/future statistics with an eye towards better quantifying the work of defensive defensemen, because in my mind that's the group that gets ignored most by fantasy owners. Hits/Blocked Shots help, but I got to believe there's more out there.
Finewax: The bad thing about hits/blocked shots is that it is so subjective because a hit in one rink is not necessarily a hit in another rink depending on who is keeping those stats in an arena. I remember growing up that there used to be phantom assists given to some star players (the Rangers come to mind) so players on other teams would have to be even better than that because their stats guys were above board. That has changed with the NHL really taking charge of scoring.
A lot of the analytics are subjective, and although some are not, I still have a hard time thinking they make a difference in fantasy hockey.