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Roy, Sakic dig in their heels against ‘fancy stats’

Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, left, and head coach Patrick Roy watch players during the first day of NHL hockey training camp Thursday, Sept. 19, 2014, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


Heading into last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs served as a guinea pig for “traditional vs. advanced stats” debates, but that obviously changed in a big way this summer. From the sound of things, the Colorado Avalanche are content to fuel such discussions in 2014-15.

Well, at least Avs GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy seem steadfast in doing things their way, as this great piece from Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika illustrates.

The Avs think stats like Corsi (percentage of shot attempts), Fenwick (percentage of unblocked shot attempts) and PDO (combined shooting and save percentage) do not accurately reflect their performance.

In short, they believe in shot quality, and their system is designed around it.

For anyone who’s followed the “old guard” versus “stat nerd” debates, the words “shot quality” produce a here-we-go-again feeling. Bloggers (including many who became future team employees when the smoke cleared) tore through these shot quality arguments over the past few years and then watched as last year’s Leafs and the 2011-12 Minnesota Wild regressed as predicted.

Could Colorado buck this growing trend?

Saving the day

Even Roy didn’t deny that the Avs leaned heavily on Semyon Varlamov, who who faced 125 more shots than any other goalie in the NHL last season. Their current paradigm would seemingly call for more great work from Varlamov, which raises some concern considering the fact that 26-year-old struggled with injuries and inconsistency in Washington. Colorado’s head coach is unfazed, however; Roy merely said that he expects him to “do the same thing.”

Interestingly, not every Avalanche member is taking the “Varly can handle it” approach, according to Cotsonika’s report (which you should read in full here).

“Obviously we need to help out Varly a little bit more,” Nathan MacKinnon said. “We can’t give up 40 [shots] a night.”

Perhaps it’s a matter of pride or even semantics for Roy and Sakic, then, as it seems like the players might have a more progressive approach to improving in areas like puck possession.

Gabriel Landeskog even stated goals of holding opponents to around 20 shots and even (gasp) mixing in “boring hockey” to take the next step. Then again, maybe the Avalanche’s captain is still reeling after finally seeing how his team stacked up in “advanced stats” categories last season:

Expanding the conversation

One interesting thing about this “summer of stats” is that hockey conversations aren’t just focused on Corsi and PDO-type numbers any more; people are breaking down the game from zone entry and exit standpoints or even providing some fascinating X’s and O’s studies in mainstream media. Just imagine how deep analysis might get if computer tracking technology enlightens the community even further?

In other words, the resistance that the Avs and other teams show might start to slide as sophistication only grows.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello shared what might become more of a “hybrid” approach with the Toronto Sun (H/T to Draglikepull):

“I personally think (analytics) is an area that is going to make people better scouts,” Lamoriello said. “It’s going to make people better at what they do because they’re going to be looking into things and reading about all of these things that are out there, all these different theories, all these different hockey buffs.”

Will the Avalanche be the next cautionary tale for such stubbornness? Only time will tell, but if nothing else, it keeps the window open for ridiculous Twitter arguments for at least one more season.

Follow James O’Brien @cyclelikesedins