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The Fine Art Of Lying With Hockey Stats

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For fun and profit!

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Hockey Blogosphere is a wondrous place. It is filled with smart, creative and curious people who are doing what they can to further our understanding of the sport, who are using mathematical tools, play-by-play and tracking data, and firsthand reporting to look at old things in new ways.

There are also people who are there to own somebody online. This, I can tell you from experience, is way easier and more fun. You take the stats you want, and you...massage them a little bit until presto, your narrative is done, your enemies lay prostrate before you, and you do a victory lap.

But how, you may ask, can you turn hard numbers into the soft clay from which your Tweets can be molded? Let’s explore!

Sample Size

If you’ve spent some time around nerds (gross) you may have heard them go on and on about something called “sample size.” Sample size, in statistics, is the concept of getting enough time or examples so that the results you measure become meaningful and informative. It is your enemy.

Last season Justin Holl led the Leafs in CF% and scored at a goal per game pace. That’s awesome! This year Justin Holl is middling in CF% and is scoring at a zero games per infinity pace. That’s not awesome! And it’s not going to help as much in establishing why Babcock is an idiot for not playing a 27-year-old AHLer. See how much more fun it was when we just talked about the year where he played two games?

The more advanced way to do this is by using rate stats like goals per 60 minutes. These are perfectly fine numbers, but they’re especially good for one thing: finding a guy you like on the fourth line who’s on a shooting heater. The top Leaf forward in goals per 60 at 5v5 this year is Nic Petan. Pick someone you don’t like and replace that player in your mind with Nic Petan. That feels better, doesn’t it?

Endpoints, Choose Your Endpoints

Thanks to Katya I always hear this phrase to the tune of the Flintstones theme song. Endpoints, choose your endpoints/they’re the easy way to make your case!

Stats over a long period have a pesky way of looking “normal” or “reasonable.” This is inconvenient, but you can work around it. Look at the Game Log on NHL.com for a player. If you like him, go back to the last time he had a multi-point game. If you don’t like him, go back to the game after that. Then triumphantly/ominously say the player is hot or cold. Make up a reason for it if you want about linemates or secret injuries or whatever, or don’t. The numbers, they don’t lie!

Finding The Stat That’s Right For You

Who knows the difference between Corsi and Fenwick? Trick question, it doesn’t matter. Which is the best play driving metric between Evolving Wild’s RAPM, and Micah McCurdy’s Isolated Threat? Trick question, it also does not matter.

Some people will try to tell you things about the strengths and weaknesses of these numbers, but that’s not important: the important thing is which one tells you things you like. If a number says the players you like are good, it is good and should be quoted as long as it does that. You can do this with Corsi or Fenwick, goals or assists or primary points, at 5v5 or all situations, adjusted or not adjusted...the possibilities are endless. It’s like the theory of infinite universes. In one of these universes you get to be right about any given thing.

If anyone asks you why you used one stat and not the other, just say “it’s more predictive.” 90% of the time, people will not challenge you on this.

Context Is For Suckers

A fun thing to do, when discussing contracts, is to compare them to Nathan MacKinnon’s contract. “Well,” you will say disdainfully, “how can [guy you don’t like, probably William Nylander] be valuable? Nathan MacKinnon has 194 points the last two seasons, and he only makes $6.3M a season!”

Well, you might say, was he doing that before the contract was si—

This is context. Context doesn’t matter. If it did it would just be text. Further, context is basically forbidden on Twitter, where the character limit prevents it unless you’re one of those weirdos doing 200-Tweet conspiracy threads about game theory. If there is an inconvenient fact that undermines your point, ignore it. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Compare players who are in totally different situations or stages of their career, and treat them as the same. Use flukes as standards. Cherry pick. You already know you’re right, so get to the point and quote things that back you up.

If people insist on raising things that don’t suit you, ignore them. They are haters. Haters gonna hate.

Focus On The Goal

In the end, sports are mostly disappointing and public discussion is a hellscape. You may often wonder, why am I on the Internet at all? It is bad.

And it is! But we can find brief moments of happiness by winning hockey arguments against people we find annoying. And really, that’s what counts. It’s all worth it when you get those fleeting retweets. So get out there, and remember Mark Twain: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.