Hockey fans are used to seeing Patrick Roy upset.
Montreal Canadians supporters remember the day in 1995 when he skated to the bench and told team management he would never again play for the Habs after coach Mario Tremblay refused to pull him on his way to letting in nine goals on 26 shots in a game against Detroit. More recently, the fiery, petulant former goalie lost it in his NHL coaching debut, shoving the glass partition that divides two NHL teams towards the doughy and unthreatening Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.
These days Roy, beard flecked with grey and once winking eyes blank and slow-moving from the demands of his current position as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, has a fresh target for his ire: advanced stats. A recent press conference revealed a new kind of acrimony; he wasn’t raising his arms in mock victory, slashing Warren Babe or grappling with Chris Osgood. Following a 1-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on October 21, Roy’s mood tuned sour when assessing another unfavourable result for his side.
“We’ve been looking at all the games,” said Roy to a scrum of reporters. “And obviously if you’re looking at our Corsi or Fenway (sic) our numbers are not very good. I don’t think it’s because of the number of shots we’ve been getting, it’s more the shots we’re not taking. For instance if you’re looking at Corsi, the part I don’t like about the Corsi is you could shoot from the red line or from a terrible angle, and your Corsi will look good. Puck possession has nothing to do with it. Fenwick… there’s a bit of puck possession in there, but same principle. It’s more like (a) shot attempt. If a guy shoots from the red line and it’s blocked, it’s still a shot attempt. This is something we don’t do very well, or we don’t think about doing a lot.”
Roy said the team simply had to “put more pucks at the net” and simplify its offense.
The trouble with Roy’s reasoning, argues hockey writer Janik Beichler, is that hockey already has a stat that accounts for where shots are taken from, called “adjusted save percentage”, which places more value on shots that have a higher probability of scoring.
In Colorado, at an October press conference, one reporter wrapped up by chiding the Avalanche head coach. “Are you going to put Corsi and Fenwick on the same line as (Nathan) Mackinnon?” “What’s your point?” asked a straight-faced Roy.
“Roy might as well just admit that advanced stats make sense,” says Beichler. “He says Corsi doesn’t make sense, but the team should reduce shots against and put more shots at their opponent’s net — which is literally what Corsi describes.”
The use of advanced stats is relatively new, but has swept up the NHL the way it did with baseball a decade ago. Stats geek Tyler Dellow, famous for his “old guard vs. new guard” Twitter feud with Steve Simmons, now works for the Edmonton Oilers. Another geek, Kyle Dubas, is the assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And former professional poker player, options trader, and hockey blogger Sunny Mehta, is the New Jersey Devils’ director of analytics.
The NHL is on board, too. The league partnered with SAP and added advanced stats to its website including Corsi, which estimates puck possession by totaling shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots, Fenwick, which does the same minus the blocked shots, average shot distance, goals and assists per 20 minutes and 60 minutes, and PDO, a combination of shooting and save percentage while on the ice at even strength.
Roy remains part of a dwindling group of advanced stats-deniers.
The odd thing about Roy’s October 21 press conference is that no one in the media scrum actually brought up advanced statistics in questioning the Avalanche loss to the Hurricanes before Roy launched into his critique of the metrics. The reporters asked regular questions about the health of certain players, the team’s transition game, and the status of its backup goalie. It’s clear the man Don Cherry calls “Patty Roy” has advanced stats on the brain, and there’s a reason why.
Roy is upset because advanced stats correctly predicted that his rookie year, in which he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach, was a statistical aberration and that the team was due for a big fall after winning 52 games and finishing first in the Central Division. The following year the team won just 39 games and missed the playoffs.
It’s the same kind of embarrassment that writer and “fancy stats” doubter Steve Simmons suffered when he gloated about the Toronto Maple Leafs hot start to the 2013-2014 season in the face of poor advanced statistical numbers.
“Good thing the Leafs don’t play in the CHL,” tweeted Simmons.”The CORSI hockey league. They’re doing just fine in NHL, though.”
The Leafs, of course, tanked the rest of the season, proving the stats-geeks right. Simmons says the tweet still haunts him.
“Do you know many times that’s been retweeted? It’s in the thousands,” he told The Hockey News. “Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get a tweet with somebody chuckling, ‘How’s the Corsi hockey league going?’ That was daily to the point of that moment. Them being 10-4. It wasn’t a broad statement. It’s 140 characters, so you can’t explain yourself.”
In Colorado, at the October press conference, one reporter wrapped up by chiding the Avalanche head coach. “Are you going to put Corsi and Fenwick on the same line as (Nathan) Mackinnon?”
“What’s your point?” asked a straight-faced Roy.