The Changing World of Sports Journalism

RexLibris
August 22 2014 01:30PM

Some of you may be keeping up with the ongoing diatribes occurring in Edmonton following the news of the Oilers' hiring of Tyler Dellow as an analytics advisor to coach Dallas Eakins.

For those of you who unfamiliar with Dellow, he is a longtime member of the sports bloggerati, an Oilers fan, advanced analytics guru and a pretty sharp-minded (and sharp-tongued) fellow at that. He ran his blog, mc79hockey, for a long time and used advanced stats to answer questions that would honestly make most everyone else’s eyes glaze over. Questions such as how the Anaheim Ducks handled faceoff losses in the seconds immediately following puck drop, or zone entries with and without possession, or why Taylor Hall, a phenomenal puck possession and scoring chance player, suddenly dropped off early last season were meticulously researched. He’s also the one who broke the story on Colin Campbell’s e-mails to Stephen Walkom about “little fake artist” Marc Savard.

Why I’m writing about this topic here on FlamesNation isn’t to post an apologia to Dellow or advanced analytics in general. My opinions are on record elsewhere and I’m hardly the voice to put to rest any debate over analytics. Rather, I’d like to bring up the issue here because of what it means in relation to the world of hockey, journalism and as a bellwether of things to come for the Flames organization.

Throughout this drama there has been a consistent tone taken by many members in the media with whom Dellow had had a confrontation, usually through Twitter. They have tended to frame the conversation as being an existential struggle between the traditional media members who have access to the team and see all the practices and games versus an antagonistic, arrogant blogging community who don’t see the game for what it is and would operate the sport based entirely on arcane metrics and vague mathematical terms prone to self-replicating errors. Steve Simmons has voiced his opinions on the matter previously and to Dellow personally. For those unfamiliar with Simmons or Dellow, I'd strongly recommend listening to the audio clip of their conversation. It helps to illustrate the animosity from many in the media and gives one a take on Dellow's personality as well. 

Some in the media have attempted to boil down the entire conversation to a confrontation between the played-the-game, saw-him-good crowd versus the arrogant, pretentious, cheeto-eating, mother’s-basement-dwelling number crunchers.

This is not the case, at all.

Most proponents of advanced analytics, especially those involved in the blogging community, have a strong democratic inclination due in part to the nature of the medium. Contributors and commenters will often participate in the process by watching the games, using the numbers to clear the noise from the picture, and then arriving at a reasonably sound conclusion on what is lacking or desirable about a given player, team or situation. These opinions are typically shared on an open forum. For the most part those participating in the discussion have a measure of respect for the work being done and the potential value in the data gathered. Discussions often get heated and sarcasm and ill-will is always available, but provided the comments are well-moderated, good blogs usually promote good discussion.

This bilateral arrangement is antithetical to the traditional media model where a professionally trained collection of sports journalists are given preferential access to the team, report on what they see and offer opinions based on their personal history and observations. They construct a narrative that tells the story of sport using tools they have learned from experience and professional training.

When things work well you get Peter Gzowski’s Game of Our Lives. The best of these journalists can raise the level of discourse and inspire respect and admiration for the game, the athletes, and the fan community. In my lifetime, John Short was an prime example of one such sports journalist, and he told a story that I’ve taken to heart as a general philosophy in the sporting world that can be paraphrased thus: “you can cheer for whomever you want, as loudly as you want. But if you boo, we’re done.” Short had time for everyone's opinion provided it treated the topic and people involved and he extended the same courtesy. 

It is generally when the less-admirable aspects of the two differing perspectives of traditional media and blogging collide that trouble occurs. The blogging community, steeped in a more egalitarian environment, can often become adversarial with the mainstream media members who construct unassailable narratives when those stories run counter to empirical data. Greg Wyshynski mentioned in conversation with Dustin Nielsen on TSN 1260 on August 12th, (to paraphrase) that the blogging community had its roots in being an ombudsman to the mainstream media, calling them out when they eschewed logic and facts for convenient narratives or lazy reporting.

In the end, they can end up in shouting matches where positions become polarized and entrenched and the opportunity for compromise and understanding dwindles. 

So where does this all-or-nothing idea come from? 

Nobody, at least not a single person I can find, is suggesting that advanced analytics should be used as a sole source for all hockey decisions. Instead, they are being suggested as a complement to aid in separating the signal from the noise, when it comes to reviewing games or making player asset decisions.

A while back I was listening to Lowetide’s show on the radio when he was interviewing Bruce McCurdy from Cult of Hockey. Bruce had mentioned that the best description of advanced stats he had heard was from someone in baseball (if I recall correctly) who described them as being excellent diagnostic tools, but poor predictors. It struck me how appropriate that description was, and while I would suggest that advanced analytics can provide a measure of predictive value to a team’s decision-making process, they are at their best when they are being used to dissect trends and provide supplementary information to improve player deployment/situational strategy. Advanced analytics also have a very strong role to play in player assessment and acquisition. Instead of talking about a team getting an “ugly win” in vague terms, they can now look at the numbers to see where they got lucky and try to mend bad habits before they become ingrained.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that one statistic in particular has had a surprising relevance in relation to the recent Stanley Cup winners of the past few seasons: 5v5 FenwickClose, an offshoot of Corsi. This suggests that there are some predictive values in the statistical data being gathered.

In all the years I have been reading sports blogs, especially those that make regular use of advanced analytics, I have yet to read any one of the major contributors argue that the entirety of roster decisions should be made according to advanced statistics. Coaching strategies, deployment strategies, and general priorities employed by teams in their approach to the game have all come under scrutiny and been the target of those who suggest that these would benefit from a healthy dose of Corsi, Fenwick and QualComp perspectives. Certainly there have been voices arguing for the acquisition of a player here or there based on some analytical models (think of Kent Wilson's long-distance man-crush on Frans Neilsen a few years back), but this hasn’t yet been taken to the extreme of constructing an entire roster. For illustration, this is a project I have recently begun and whose results I will post at a later date.

So why do some in the mainstream media perpetually frame the issue as though this is a zero-sum game where either the old school method wins out or the soulless mathematical approach bleeds the game of any passion and fun and reduces every match to an equation?

Well, it fits a nice narrative for starters. However, if we dig a little deeper, I think we could uncover something of a psychological motive that isn’t uncommon in professional circles. Specifically, that the resulting affirmation of the blogging community implied by the Dellow hire may be interpreted as undermining or at the very least diminishing the information monopoly traditionally held by mainstream media. Seems kind of far-fetched but...

Remember Napster? If you don’t, Google it and read up. Napster fundamentally changed the business model upon which over half a century of the music industry had been built. And what really galled the music industry was that they had absolutely no say in how it happened.

Some artists and companies recognized that this genie was not going back into the bottle, so they accepted their new standing in the music world and what that would mean for their revenues and adapted. Others had a hissy fit, stamped their feet and effectively shut Napster down. It didn’t stop file sharing and the hegemony enjoyed by online music sites like iTunes today is a direct result of how the companies willing to keep an open mind and look for opportunities in the new model gained an advantage.

Sports journalists are facing a similar problem today in that the information being gathered by the NHL isn’t going to stop. In fact, it is going to increase. A lot. And this information is going to be made public, which means that a whole bunch of bloggers sitting in their proverbial mother’s basements around the globe and eating the figurative cheetos of life are going to write algorithms and code to sort, sift, diagram and extrapolate that data six ways from Sunday. Some already have. Most other areas of the journalism world have already adapted to the extent that unverifiable, and alarmingly limited, social media outlets like Twitter are accepted as bonafide sources of information.

Professionally speaking, sports journalists have a choice, the same choice every profession has when faced with a technological movement that alters existing paradigms. They can challenge themselves to understand the thinking processes behind the analytics movement, attempting to discuss them on the same level as the bloggers with respect for the data but disagreement over its finer interpretation, adopting an inclusive attitude towards the community and their informed opinions (Scott Cullen of TSN and Elliotte Friedman of CBC are two excellent examples of this); or journalists can double-down on blocking out the advanced stats community and refudiate the arguments with clichés and straw-man arguments about having superior perception borne of their unique experience that makes them able to innately determine the finer details of the game and its talent. 

If you think the latter is really an option I would invite you to explore the history of human reactionary movements and counter-revolutions for successful examples. It makes for a quick read.

The disturbing part of the latter response is that the responses from media have thus far, at least in the case of Tyler Dellow, been disturbingly personal. Mark Spector and Derek Van Diest have been the notable examples.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that not all of the Edmonton media are critical of the Dellow hiring, and Robin Brownlee wrote an insightful and outstanding piece over at OilersNation about the situation from the more traditional side of the fence, that is, setting personal motives aside and getting to the actual topic at hand. 

What the Dellow hiring means for hockey isn’t so much that it will be a watershed moment in the sport, because several teams have been working with advanced stats people for a few years now. What makes it different is that Dellow is/was a major presence in the blogging community, a harsh, some might say caustic, critic of the traditional decision-making processes in the hockey world, and that this was, or at least quickly became, a very public hiring.  

Adding a blogger to any aspect of the hockey operations department is going to be noticed around the league. That Dellow was a noted critic of many hockey observers and media members was only going to ruffle feathers. All of this happening in an intense hockey market like Edmonton, with a rabid media industry and intense blogging community both focused on a franchise whose last glimpse of competitive relevance was nearly a decade ago meant that any story written about the addition of Tyler Dellow to the organization was going to be less about the position he was meant to fill than the person in question and the countless emotional investments in the team disguised as editorial pieces.

In the short-term this hiring may mean more for the blogging/amateur statistics community than hockey. Why? 

Start by carefully considering the following: the Oilers, under the leadership of Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and Bob Nicholson, agreed to hire blogger Tyler Dellow as an analytics resource on the advice of head coach Dallas Eakins.

Craig MacTavish was an NHL player, an NHL and AHL coach, and is now an NHL GM.

Kevin Lowe was an NHL player, an NHL coach, an NHL GM, a member of the Hockey Canada selection committee for several Olympic tournaments, and is currently an NHL President of Hockey Operations.

Bob Nicholson was the head of Hockey Canada for many years and is currently working alongside Kevin Lowe as Vice-Chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group.

Dallas Eakins was an NHL player, an AHL player and AHL coach, and is now an NHL head coach.

Those are all men with a vested interest in the traditional NHL practices, the way they used to do things when they were players, coaches, and so forth. The NHL is historically averse to change (glowing pucks notwithstanding), and these four men have been steeped in North American hockey culture.

All these men looked at what Tyler Dellow has done with advanced statistics and felt his work merited adding him to the organization and that his input held value, to the extent that the Oilers now appear to have proprietary rights to Dellow’s previously-posted work.

Taken in tandem with the hiring of Kyle Dubas in Toronto by Brendan Shanahan, another former NHL player and former NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, as well as the purchase by the Leafs of sites like Extra Skater, these moves signal that the window into the historically-closed world of NHL management has opened, if only slightly. To quote a modern media sage: this is kind of a big deal.

It also indicates that the management of hockey is perhaps moving in a direction that those who claim to be closest to it are vocally opposed. This is a disconnect between the institution and the professed expert observers and that is very important. Usually that kind of noticeable demarcation presages a significant shift towards a new working model. Be aware of this as the next few years of media coverage unfold.

Journalism, the News, and the Industry of Information

Now, this brings me to another point in regards to journalism to which I had alluded. Specifically, legacy, expectations, and message control.

Alain de Botton, in his book News: a User’s Guide, writes of the nature of media in presenting selected world events within a marketable context. In other words, how the news corporations keep themselves financially viable by picking out what stories they believe you need and/or want (if only subconsciously) to hear about and then presenting them to you in order to ensure that you feel it is important that you read (ie: buy) more news. 

Within the landscape of the 24-hour news cycle, the serial demands upon virtually all media today, create a situation wherein perspectives and narratives will be constructed with an inherent short-term viewpoint in mind in order to maximize the attention span of the audience. 

Solutions to problems or projects that are likely to take decades or even centuries to alter or correct don’t sell and are therefore less likely to be trumpeted as positive, viable options. Catastrophes happen in an instant and are compelling, putting things back together takes much longer and nobody is really all that interested. What can I say? Entropy sells.  

This is how news media typically deal with expectations, by keeping them short but inflated. Grand solutions on the immediate horizon make for far better reading than incremental improvements spread over an entire lifetime and beyond.Think Obama and Change, or the War on Terror (Drugs, Crime, <insert vague noun here>). They are presented as defined events whose progress can be quickly and efficiently tracked through discrete incremental stages when in fact they are amorphous, shifting, deeply complex issues that require generations of smaller changes and countless backwards steps before any end result can be reasonably anticipated.

Nobody wants to try and sell that to an audience.

On another note, message control is ubiquitous in the modern media landscape and it extends from the commercial and business world to politics and the sporting world as well. It is often believed that message control is in the hands of those doing the delivering.

It is not.

It is in the hands of the one receiving it: you. It is extremely important that the audience be able to discern when they are being told something sincerely and factually, and when to suspect that the message or messenger is not being so. This isn’t just critical thinking, but parsing the message, messenger, and the medium in order to properly appraise the information being conveyed. It is a lot of work, but necessary given the extent to which information is often parsed in order to achieve political and social goals. 

Take the following hypothetical as an example of how this relates to the topic of hockey journalism: when the Oilers encounter struggles during next season there may well be those within the media who will attempt to weave a narrative that equates the team’s situation as being the result of misguided influence from advanced analytical work. Kyle Dubas and Tyler Dellow could end up being fired and the entire advanced analytics movement appear to be a catastrophic failure. But it won’t be, because another team will hire another statistician or another analytical specialist and try again. The legacy of this change is most likely to be incremental and meandrous, but it will be, regardless of how the story is framed at the time.

Okay, enough of my rant about the modern philosophy of news media.

Back to hockey

Consilience – loosely translated it means taking a collection of information that appears to be unrelated  or is separated by various fields of study and deriving from that pool an inference or conclusion.

Consilient intelligence is, in my opinion, one of the great strengths of mankind. Gone haywire it can result in absurd conspiracy theories, but when manifested correctly it is tremendously rewarding. Pythagoras, Newton and Einstein all displayed aspects of consilient intelligence in developing their mathematical theories. Today, the specialization and compartmentalization of expertise is dominant and that can deliver highly intricate results in a narrow field, but the cross-pollination of human knowledge is where the really great leaps forward often occur.

Consilient thinking in hockey is also a necessary development that perhaps the advanced analytics movement could help usher in. Putting together the old and the new, the scouts who see the players and can absorb information about a player’s ability from countless small details of the way he plays, alongside the statistical models that inform the observer about how a player may perform in the more mundane aspects of the sport or provide methods of quantifying that player’s decision-making processes.

For my part, I think that the best scouts are those who intrinsically see some of the things that the advanced analytics tease out, if only on an unconscious level. For instance, Nicklas Lidstrom is arguably one of the best defensemen to have played the game of hockey, yet he did not boast many of the traditional assets considered to be key for NHL defensemen. He did not hit, fight, block a great many shots, possess a powerful slapshot, or tower above everyone in a display of raw physical force. Yet Hakan Andersson saw enough of him to recommend him as a 5th round pick for the Detroit Red Wings. I believe Andersson saw Lidstrom play and understood that when he was on the ice, his whole team got better. Better at defending, better at scoring and better at passing. He saw in a holistic sense what the numbers would later reveal. Andersson may have understood on a deeper level that Lidstrom was a player whose greatest strengths were to improve the play and effectiveness of the five other teammates on the ice with him in such a nuanced way as to be almost invisible to many other observers.

Andersson's draft record suggests that he is able to observe and process information that would score well on an advanced analytics study as evidenced by his selection of highly skilled puck-possession-type players like Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, to name a few examples.

Scouting, be it professional or amateur, is a tough business and the margins on return are typically very slim. The salary cap structure of the league has levelled the playing field significantly, although internal budgets can provide the illusion of greater parity than actually exists. Consider that the league average success rate for finding a player through the draft who can post a career of at least 200 NHL games is approximately 18%, depending on the year, with no more than five percentage points separating the high and low end of the spectrum, If a small portion of the overall hockey operations budget were dedicated to one or two individuals tasked with providing some quantifiable information based on clear, empirical data that increased the rate of success in this area by even 2%, it would seem irrational not to pursue it on the basis of an ideological or personal basis.

Granted, this is the sports business we are discussing here, so nothing is too irrational or illogical not to be considered a good idea by some, nevertheless, it would seem the road ahead is clear to a growing number of people.

The Calgary Flames will eventually follow suit in some form or other by hiring an analytics specialist, whether that be in the area of scouting, development or coaching, it doesn’t really matter. What will matter is what the response will be from media community and the fans.

In Edmonton’s case, there is a fairly clear disconnect between the two. The media have stated their case and it has largely been found to be wanting, both in perspective and professionalism. The blogging community, the closest things fans have by way of representation within a public forum, are generally quite supportive of the decision and have stated their case in a far more objective manner than the media. The fan not connected to the blogging community and advanced analytics doesn’t really seem to care much either way, preferring to wait for results before passing judgement. 

The schism between traditional journalism and the blogging community is nothing new. The case of the Oilers hiring Tyler Dellow merely exposed the rift and brought forward the arrogant and uninformed opinions on one side of the floor. What is needed is for both sides to make the other better. Reporters have access that bloggers do not, while the online community can crowd-source ideas and information-analysis in a way that a single reporter cannot. No one group controls the truth of the matter but collectively the sport itself could benefit tremendously from a more…consilient approach.

All this gets back to the underlying fact that sports journalism has historically reached some pretty lofty highs (Gzowski). Over my lifetime I have seen a fair bit of evidence to suggest that the standards have been steadily slipping.

Allan Mitchell, aka Lowetide, a man with a foot firmly planted in both worlds of media and blogging, wrote this piece about the general trend of modern mainstream media back in 2012. To quote him directly: “I’ve been reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching television since the 1960′s and the trusted voice of (mainstream media) seems to have grabbed a cab downtown and headed for someone’s house. Call me crazy but the one thing mass media had as an advantage–staff size, fact checkers, balance and truth–seems to have slipped away one night not so long ago”. (parentheses added)

Did I mention that Tyler Dellow is also a practicing lawyer based in Toronto? No? Would that change your perception of his opinion and work in this area? Interesting, because it is also notably absent in many of the articles critical of Dellow and dismissive of his work. But I suppose some facts are more important than others.

*Note - Steve Dangle has his take up on the Nations. You can read, well, actually watch it here.

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#1 Kent Wilson
August 22 2014, 01:41PM
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*scrolls down* *grabs a drink* *prepares for long read*

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#2 bookofloob
August 22 2014, 01:48PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

*scrolls down* *grabs a drink* *prepares for long read*

exactly my thoughts. See you on the other side

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#3 Clay
August 22 2014, 02:29PM
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Wait, I'm confused about the movie. So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?

Great read

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#4 redhot1
August 22 2014, 02:43PM
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Flames should jump on the bandwagon and hire a stats guy. If they don't already have one

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#5 Rickithebear
August 22 2014, 02:58PM
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While Analytics is labelledBasement boys.

Saw him good is feelings.

My wife was an editor of a Quebecor newspaperuntil the local staff was reduced from 4 to 1.

She made me away of key things.

1. People trained in writing are of the Language side of brain.

Analytics Math side.

2. Media is told to write to a Grade 5 audiance.

Analytic blogging is counter to what they were taught and told to do by bosses.

3.Analytics is a pairing of visual with Supporting math.

Saw him good is visual paired with feelings.

Which leads to basement (living room) analytic types to realize what saw him good guys are a bout.

Self afirmation of there feelings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ldAQ6Rh5ZI

the resemlance to PJ Stock is scary!

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#6 Kendu
August 22 2014, 03:03PM
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Good read, thank you. Pretty much captured my thoughts on this debate.

Will be interesting to watch the debate play out over the next few years, though i wonder if it will be as acrimonious here in Calgary as it is in other places (Toronto/Edmonton).

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#7 Walter White
August 22 2014, 03:50PM
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Rickithebear wrote:

While Analytics is labelledBasement boys.

Saw him good is feelings.

My wife was an editor of a Quebecor newspaperuntil the local staff was reduced from 4 to 1.

She made me away of key things.

1. People trained in writing are of the Language side of brain.

Analytics Math side.

2. Media is told to write to a Grade 5 audiance.

Analytic blogging is counter to what they were taught and told to do by bosses.

3.Analytics is a pairing of visual with Supporting math.

Saw him good is visual paired with feelings.

Which leads to basement (living room) analytic types to realize what saw him good guys are a bout.

Self afirmation of there feelings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ldAQ6Rh5ZI

the resemlance to PJ Stock is scary!

Nicely put Ricki!!!

You have a nice and clear communication style.......

WW

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#8 Parallex
August 22 2014, 04:12PM
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All I have to say about this is a link...

http://hottakery.com/

... hilariousness to be found within.

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#9 Kenta
August 22 2014, 04:23PM
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redhot1 wrote:

Flames should jump on the bandwagon and hire a stats guy. If they don't already have one

Feaster and Weisbrod were all over advanced stats well before the bandwagon started. The dinosaurs running the team now don't appear to be. Also interesting to note Benning hired Weisbrod recently.

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#10 Kent Wilson
August 22 2014, 04:25PM
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@Kenta

No they weren't. Which isn't to say they weren't into some sort of analytics, but the stats we know as "advanced" currently? Nope.

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#11 Tach
August 22 2014, 04:33PM
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Dellow was a lawyer but isn't now and wasn't for some time (to my understanding, I remember vaguely him posting or tweeting about quitting) before these recent events.

http://www2.lsuc.on.ca/LawyerParalegalDirectory/search.do?memberType=B&lastName=dellow&firstName=tyler&city=&postalCode=&serviceInFrench=false&method=Submit

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#12 BurningSensation
August 22 2014, 05:08PM
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I think the article hits the nail on the head. It's not that stats guys are overhyping the value of analytics, its that the older breed of journalists *cough*stevesimmons*cough* are deeply threatened by the emergence of them.

What was once a job that involved putting the game as viewed into an easy to digest narrative ('the Flames just wanted it more tonight' type of BS), now has people punching holes in those narratives, and even more frightening, constructing new narratives based on actual evidence, evidence that the traditional journalist either doesn't possess, or can't understand.

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#13 beloch
August 22 2014, 05:30PM
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First off, the Flames have employed Chris Snow as their "Director of Video and Statistical Analysis" for three years now. Does Snow use the publically available advanced hockey stats to supplement the other stuff in his arsenal? He's not saying. Once these guys are on a team's payroll what they do is secret sauce. I have no idea if Edmonton employed someone similar before now, but it's interesting to see an independent blogger get tapped for the position as opposed to someone who is more of an insider. You can bet your booties that Dellow is going to be much quieter in public channels from now on, at least with regards to what's not already well known. Also, you can probably expect the hockey guys to completely ignore Dellow most of the time. At least, that's what it's going to look like while the Oilers continue making dumb trades.

As for old-media vs bloggers...

I'm not a journalist, but to me, the job entails disseminating accurate and understandable knowledge to the public, ideally in an entertaining manner. When the average person was not very educated this was a job anyone with a journalism degree probably could have done. Today, the average journalist struggles to understand the material they must convey at the level of their audience. It has reached the point where public outreach from experts in their fields is far, far more reliable than the output of a professional journalist. The articles on science and technology you find in old media today are typically abominable. It's rare that I see an article in my own field that isn't riddled with errors, misunderstandings, and outright falsehoods. I can usually spot almost as many in articles that aren't in my field! Jouranlists don't even understand basic stats. Just read any report on a political poll and see if uncertainties or confidence intervals are even mentioned (without these, the poll results are usually pretty meaningless)!

The case can easily be made that, as humanity's pool of knowledge expands and average education levels have risen, so too must the qualifiactions of the journalists striving to be the link between them. Unfortunately, old-media is in financial crisis and the pay for journalists has been sinking steadily. The days of kids getting a journalism degree and making that their full-time career are basically over. The gig is for dinosaurs, kept wives/husbands, hippies living in communes, and hobbyists.

This is why bloggers piss off old media journalists so much. They often have education and qualifications far beyond what any journalist can have and still be employable. Bloggers have day jobs and can afford to write about only what interests them. Because they write about what they're insterested in, bloggers tend to produce high quality copy, at least in terms of content, and they give it away for free!!! Meanwhile, the professional reporter struggles to meet quota's and deadlines and continually compromises on quality for the sake of making a living. As the saying goes, nothing sucks the joy out of a hobby like making it your job!

Bloggers, on the other hand, hate it when old school journalists get stuff wrong, which they so often do. Too many bloggers lack self control or any concern about disgracing themselves as professionals, so they sling mud in the vilest possible manner. Bloggers are also often not well trained in communication and often have poor form, which no doubt annoys journalists as much as inaccuracies and errors annoy bloggers! Bloggers who give their work away for free might also resent journalists for being paid and for getting the many perks a press-pass confers, nevermind that they'd never switch careers if they knew how big a hit it would be to their bank account!

Journalists vs bloggers boils down to a conflict between form vs content and compromised professionals vs uncompromising amateurs. There is still some value in old media, but it is fading with their revenue streams. There is a great need for innovation, and I feel that bloggers are a resource that old media needs to tap, just as NHL teams are starting to. It will be interseting to see what happens!

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#14 MontanaMan
August 22 2014, 06:50PM
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Yawn. I can see why teams use it but I have no interest in reading about it or discussing it. Give me hockey topics, discussing draft picks, who will be on the blueline and what pieces the Flames need to be competitive. Call me a dinosaur.

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#15 The Last Big Bear
August 22 2014, 08:58PM
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As an academic exercise I constructed a completely anonymized 2014 Canadian Olympic roster based only on advanced stats.

The forward roster was entirely guys that either made the team, or were in close running for the roster. Corsi-based metrics, combined with QualComp and special teams performance created a roster that was shockingly similar to the real deal, with only (IIRC) 2 exceptions: Evander Kane (who in my anonymous analysis was identified as a scorer who could deliver goals against the world's best opponents) and surprisingly enough David Perron (a gritty goal scorer who looked like he was doing the heavy lifting on a terrible team).

The advanced-stats chosen defence looked terrible. Phaneuf, Subban, TJ Brodie, it was pretty much all offensive-defenders, with very little defensive substance, and unlike the forward ranks it looked almost nothing like the finished product. I think Duncan Kieth was the only regular roster defenceman for the actual Olympic team that my anonymous advanced stats selection identified.

I say it almost daily: The advanced metric based on shot-counting are a great basis for evaluating forwards, but fall flat for defencemen. I don't know why, and I wouldn't expect it to be the case, but when i actually look at the evidence it is the conclusion I come to, again and again.

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#16 beloch
August 22 2014, 09:24PM
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@MontanaMan

I'd never call you a dinosaur. I think dinosaurs are fascinating!

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#17 Lober
August 22 2014, 09:40PM
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I love Mark Cubban

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#18 BobbyO
August 22 2014, 11:00PM
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This article is too long. It's quicker to read a book at the library..thanks

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#24 PerryK
August 22 2014, 11:53PM
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Great article Rex! You've done a great job of covering this issue and why it is important that we take a look at it from all perspectives.

I especially loved that Mark Cuban / Skip Bayless repartee! Amazingly, Skip actually believes what he is saying! He uses other inane generalities to back up the inane generalities that he is espousing.

Beloch,

Edmonton Oilers have used Darkhorse Analytics, Michael Parkatti, and Bruce McCurdy in the past. I believe that they continue to do so still.

As for your thoughts on Journalism in the modern age; very well put. Thank you.

(I can't believe I am posting on this Flames site!)

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#25 mattyc
August 23 2014, 12:07AM
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@The Last Big Bear

I think you're misunderstanding the utility of stats like corsi. It's not a holistic stat (like GVT or WAR). You also don't really have an objective way of evaluating the 'advanced stat team' you come up with.

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#26 mattyc
August 23 2014, 12:09AM
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MontanaMan wrote:

Yawn. I can see why teams use it but I have no interest in reading about it or discussing it. Give me hockey topics, discussing draft picks, who will be on the blueline and what pieces the Flames need to be competitive. Call me a dinosaur.

I don't see anything wrong with this. Personally I find it interesting, but thats my opinion. I don't like talking politics but people can do it ad nauseum. Doesn't devalue them though.

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#27 beloch
August 23 2014, 12:26AM
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@RexLibris

My main point was that today's journalist needs to know more than a liberal arts college can teach to be effective in most fields, but old media's dwindling resources make it impractical to hire experts or even grant their writers enough time on a given story to do their due diligence.

As for seeing greater questioning amongst the citizenry, I see bloggers and internet media in general taking the mantle of journalism onto themselves because they question the basic competence (and motives) of old media. The internet took away the exclusivity of old media's distribution channels and their grasp on wisdom went right along with it.

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#28 Kenta
August 23 2014, 01:37AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

No they weren't. Which isn't to say they weren't into some sort of analytics, but the stats we know as "advanced" currently? Nope.

You are off base on this Kent. See the attached and link to Globe and Mail article naming Feaster's Flames as league leaders in analytic sas far back as 2012 : http://www.matchsticksandgasoline.com/2012/6/11/3078865/the-flames-use-of-advanced-stats-and-pucks

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#29 Burnward
August 23 2014, 03:46AM
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@beloch

While you have that brush out, there are plenty of incompetent bloggers out there too.

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#30 Alt
August 23 2014, 08:53AM
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Why would a team need to hire a analytical stat's guy? There are plenty of sources that are free.

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#31 Baalzamon
August 23 2014, 10:53AM
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Alt wrote:

Why would a team need to hire a analytical stat's guy? There are plenty of sources that are free.

There are plenty of free scouting services too.

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#32 mattyc
August 23 2014, 11:15AM
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@Kenta

my understanding of PUCKS/Decision Lens was that it essentially aggregates scouts ratings and then ranks players (draft picks) based on given weightings for each skill.

Also worth noting that using analytics doesn't equal using possession metrics as a proxy for goal scoring (which is what I think Kent's saying). Just using analytics isn't enough, they have to be the right ones.

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#33 BobbyO
August 23 2014, 11:32AM
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RexLibris wrote:

That is an interesting perspective, but I'm not entirely in agreement.

You believe that alongside an ever-increasing pool of knowledge, humanity (to generalize) is also accumulating an ever-increasing ability to process and cognitively metabolize that information.

I would argue the opposite. The information is absolutely staggering, on the scale of grains of sand along the beach in terms of sheer numbers. But that implies that every bit of information is necessarily of equal value/weight to the human situation and that the education of the average person is keeping pace with this increase to the effect that people today are better equipped to suss out when they are being lied to.

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but it appears to conflate society's increasing ability to create and record information with society's increasing levels of basic education and awareness.

Granted, general education is further ahead than it was a hundred years ago, but the general populace is not, in my opinion, any better equipped to separate the informational wheat from the chaff.

Take the WMD informational blitz that preceded the Iraq war. Very intelligent and respected people, Mohammed El-Baradei and a host of others within and without the UN and those with no political advantage to be had in holding an opinion either way, voiced very strongly that there was no evidence to support an invasion of Iraq.

The media, however, chose their sources very carefully (albeit amidst an environment of patriotic fervour and fear) and either directly related or personally constructed a narrative to accommodate what large portions of a frightened and angry society were perhaps unconciously asking to believe.

Hardly the first time a populace has been led into a conflict by a manipulative government aided by a complicit news media, but if you're statement about a population's general aptitude for factual information were true, ought we not to have seen a greater questioning amongst the citizenry?

It does raise another interesting question, though. What might the Bush administration's response been in 2001, 2002, 2003 and onwards, had there been more uncontrolled media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and so on?

Now, maybe I've gone out of bounds by comparing sports media and what the consumer there manages against larger, and more frightening topics in the geopolitical sphere, so I'm not trying to change the rules of this game as we go, but the underlying premise of your argument, that people are smarter consumers of news today than they used to be, I'm not sold on.

I don't have any numbers at hand, but if I recall correctly, the average grade level that North American newspapers are written at (implying the level of reading, and to some extent education, expected of their readership) has dropped over the past few decades and is now somewhere in the range of a grade 7 vocabulary with many tabloids typically closer to grade 4.

Some respectful advise...you and beloch should learn from Kent Wilson's exceptional journalism knowledge and skills.

Before typing he gathers his thoughts with focus on key elements only. He is clear and concise with his thoughts that results in interesting brief read with plenty of depth of knowledge.

You guys have way too much time on your hands. Please they to be brief when sharing your thoughts.

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#37 MontanaMan
August 23 2014, 12:13PM
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What analytics are used to gauge a player's heart, team player, attitude, coachability, determination and mental toughness? I've played with and watched a number of players that on paper are world beaters but you wouldn't want them on your team or on the ice when the chips are down. Yes, there's a place in the game for analytics but top scouts will figure out the important characteristics of a future NHLer.

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#38 Alt
August 23 2014, 12:28PM
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Baalzamon wrote:

There are plenty of free scouting services too.

True ,and neither one of them are very good at projecting talent past the second round of the draft.IMO opinion they never will be ,as young people have varied growing habits.

Actually scouting players will always play a bigger role, and that doesn't mean I'm against analytics ,quite the opposite. I believe in process and know that the gathering a maximum numbers of inputs always makes for a better output.

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#40 ChinookArch
August 23 2014, 03:26PM
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Napster is an excellent anology for how hockey Analytics is challenging the old way of viewing the game (through the eyes of insiders vs. through non-proprietary analysis on the www).

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#41 Alt
August 23 2014, 09:58PM
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RexLibris wrote:

The data is free. The interpretation of it is not and that is the key element in using advanced analytics.

HMMM ,I don't know, Wilson has convinced me that he can interpret that free data and read it as well as anyone. We're all grateful for that. I'd also bet that Flames management is also aware of Wilson's ability to evaluate from a different perspective.

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#43 Oilers
August 29 2014, 12:22PM
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Hi, originally from Calgary, but now living in Edmonton.

2 points.

First, look at Oakland. Based on analytics, not on the "previous Baseball experience" and feelings. Best record since this approach has started, but not translated into championships.

Second, with the media (both local and national) telling us how smart the hockey brains are in Edmonton and the bloggers pick the team apart. Given the Oilers record for the past 6 years, I wonder who is right. Since they are dead last and the worst team in the NHL over the past 9 years under Lowe and Mac T. I would say any blogger out there would run the team better than the current management. Statistically speaking, I would bet my retirement on it!!

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