Interview with Globe&Mail: Hockey's Numbers Game

Here's a link to the interview.  My quote:

"In baseball, you had Neanderthals working as GMs, and they were ignorant of a lot of things that helped their team win.  Hockey teams, by and large, do know what they are doing. Coaches have a very good understanding of their players."

And I firmly believe that.  The inefficiencies in baseball were massive - 15 years ago, not one major-league team thought Matt Stairs had any value.  And he was hardly the only valuable player who was freely available.  Those inefficiencies closed quickly as a handful of general managers began to understand the obvious things that Bill James had written about in the 1980s.

But hockey?  Not so much.  Coaches and GMs in hockey have been systematically recording important on-ice events for decades.  We don't know a whole lot about what goes on inside hockey, but Roger Neilson appears to have pioneered quantitative scouting in the 1980s: watching video and recording the important things that go on during a hockey game.  We're talking about subtle things - not just the real-time stats that the NHL publishes, but rushes, passes, defensive miscues, scoring chances.  Everything. 

In baseball, you could sit down with a spreadsheet for 20 minutes and prove that on-base percentage was the most important thing in the game.  What are you going to tell a hockey coach who has already been breaking down video for decades?

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