Nonis also looks back on a time when the Leafs had a better Corsi rating than they do today – and were losing a lot more games. Back in 2009-10, Toronto generated a lot of shots on net but was let down by its own goaltenders.
That period seemed to create skepticism for the Leafs GM about stats that he believes have grown so much in popularity because of fans and media.
“We were outshooting teams on a nightly basis and losing every night,” Nonis recalled. “Our so-called Corsi stat was probably pretty good and right now our Corsi stat sucks. But we’re winning hockey games.”
Credit to Nonis for actually getting at the crux of the issue here. While I’d rather spend my days researching hockey statistics than defending the validity of statistics, ultimately widespread acceptance of the numbers that myself and many others use is going to come down to how well we predict things.
Just to point to what Nonis is talking about, here is the Leafs’ so-called Corsi (shot attempts for divided by shot attempts for plus shot attempts against) for the last six seasons, along with winning percentage:
|Corsi %||Win %|
|2008||51.6% (10th)||43.9% (24th)|
|2009||50.3% (13th)||41.5% (26th)|
|2010||52.8% (4th)||36.6% (29th)|
|2011||47.8% (25th)||45.1% (23rd)|
|2012||48.9% (18th)||42.7% (24th)|
|2013||44.1% (30th)||54.2% (9th)|
They don’t line up at all.
Without getting too deep into it or by quoting correlation co-efficients at you, I can say that for the most part, you can predict the future performance of NHL teams by looking at its Corsi number. Edmonton, for instance, started 9-3-2, Minnesota was first in the league in mid-December, and the Los Angeles Kings slumped to a 15-14-4 start, good for the 10th in the West, and fired their coach.
We all know what happened to those teams in the end. The Oilers wound up in the draft lottery and the Wild missed out on that by a single point, and the Kings recovered and went on a tear down the stretch and won the Stanley Cup.
Over the last three seasons, since I’ve been really into this stuff, I’ve watched collapses and rises from teams predicted to do well… just by looking at something as simple as shot differential. For the Leafs, I can understand the hesitation, because they just don’t do what we think they’ll do, and this has gone on for years. When they team was out-shooting opponents, they were losing. Now that they’re being out-shot by historical margins, they’re winning. You take the winning over the losing any day, and why would Dave Nonis mess with success? The bets he’s taken on players have worked out extremely well thus far. David Bolland had recovered back to his 2011 self before he got hurt, Mason Raymond has been a dear so far and David Clarkson has, uh, well, it was a real valuable assist. Point is, the team is winning and there’s no reason to change it.
Funny, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was quoted in both that Chris Johnston piece, and the coach Mike Yeo was quoted in an Elliotte Friedman 30 Thoughts yesterday at CBC:
“We do some advanced analysis,” Yeo said. “But there wasn’t one or two stats that told us to do this.
“It was recognizing we weren’t going to get better without doing it … We use what the defence gives us. If there is opportunity to carry the puck, [to] allow our players to use their creativity … wait and find the open spaces, they can do it.”
It helps that the Wild are now a much faster team. Up front, there’s been a veteran makeover in Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and an infusion of youth with Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. These five have joined captain Mikko Koivu to form two strong lines.
That philosophy seems to be opposite of the style of game the team was running with in 2012, when the Wild got off to a hot start despite a dump-and-chase style that didn’t put up good Corsis, but put up good win totals early on. The Wild allow bloggers in the press box, and were probably tuned to the massive debate that was surrounding the validity of their record going on during the early part of the 2011 season. I wouldn’t be too surprised if during the lockout, Fletcher took some time to read back on some of the major points during the large debate and decide to change the organizational philosophy a little and focus a little more on possession. He had a great opportunity, since there were two teams with public zone entry data published by bloggers during the fall of 2012, and one of them happened to be Minnesota.
You can only care about something if you have a reason to care, and as long as the Leafs are winning, why should Nonis give this a second thought? At this point the only concern should be that the Leafs have trouble against some top teams like Boston and Chicago, and the focus should be on banking points during this easy part of the schedule before December when they face all of San Jose, Dallas, Ottawa, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh in a 14-day period. That’s a stretch of the schedule to keep your eye on since it will really test the mettle of this team, especially if they’re still down a couple of horses.
And yes, both you, Mr. Nonis, or you, Mr. Snarky TheLeafsNation Commenter, are perfectly in the right to ignore the mortars being fired between traditional analysts and bloggers, until there’s kind of a reason to, you know, pay attention. Right now, if you’re in Leafs management or a fan… there really isn’t.
Also in the meantime, please refrain from calling much of this stuff “advanced”. Corsi is literally addition and subtraction, and sometimes a little division. It’s nothing a third grader couldn’t do on her cheap, solar-powered calculator.