The Battle Royale

Marianne Helm

Or a plea to both sides of the analytics battle to put down the arms and cease the war because the combatants will not negotiate peace anytime soon.


Hockey is an interesting sport as it is easy to like even if you know very little about it. Soccer announcer Ray Hudson has spent the past week watching hockey games and tweeting about them with the same excitement as a small child on Christmas morning, but beyond the excited new fan there is a battle brewing that should not be. The battle is between the "fancy stats" crew and the main stream media (MSM). The battle is brewing because there is little respect for either side for the others work, possibly because MSM has mocked advanced stats when they don't work in a small sample size.

These types of comments only make the mainstreaming of these "fancy stats" a longer battle. This battle is coming to a head though with Sportsnet bringing in two weekly columnists (Chris Boyle and Tyler Dellow) who write on their research and journalists like James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail, as well as Bruce Arthur at the National Post. These writers bring analytics to the common hockey consumer. Though there are many layers to analytics this article that teaches you the basics.

The Combatants

Anywho, back to the debate at hand. Hockey is an old boys club, see who gets consideration for GM jobs and head coaching jobs. Guys who screwed up another team get their chance to screw up another team because why bring in new blood with a new mindset when the old blood is so familiar. So when new writers start to come in and write smart pieces that cut through the narratives of size, grit, and truculence it makes them uncomfortable and when you are uncomfortable you get defensive.

The changes in thinking that have to occur when accepting analytics also works against the writers who utilize them in their everyday writing. Going from thinking that good defending means blocking shots to good defending means having the puck is an incredible leap for someone who has been watching the game their whole life to make. If someone are stubborn, it may not be a leap that they are able to make. That is okay. Accept their writing for what it is and move on. You don't even have to read that writer if you don't want to. No one is forcing you to consume work that you do not agree with. Because some journalists dismiss analytics and instead want to focus on the story for that particular game. Let them, it will not kill you. Don't send them an angry email telling them that they are wrong. Just let them be. If they are on twitter, ignore their rants against analytics. Let them think that they are right in their analysis. It won't hurt anyone, trust me.

Who Should be Targeted?

I am lucky in that I only started watching hockey in 2011. Previous failed attempts in me watching hockey included the Salt Lake City Olympics when I thought that icing was the ice shavings that came up when players stopped and Vancouver when I was just starting to gain an interest in hockey. I am the perfect person for analytics to target. I like knowing the why behind everything "why is the sky blue?" was a legitimate question for me. The logical sense of wanting to have the puck more than the other team made sense to me once it was explained using terms like possession instead of Corsi and Fenwick. Instead of trying to reach fans that believe that GMs and coaches can never be spoken ill of because they are the all knowing, find the curious fans and introduce them to analytics slowing, answering all their stupid questions. If someone is serious about learning about analytics, they will ask a bunch of stupid questions.

How to Approach a Newbie

When someone shows interest in learning about analytics, be patient and answer their questions. They are showing an interest so much like with a child showing an interest in books for the first time 50 pieces of information cannot be shoved in their face. Send them the Down Goes Brown piece on analytics as it gets the basics out of the way. After that let them pester you. I have pestered many people to learn more and thanks to them I am comfortable in saying that it is not like I am trying to understand a foreign language anymore.

The key breakthrough for me was analytics in they are in their most simple essence counting and I am very good at counting. In the next simplest form analytics are adding and subtracting, something else I can handle. I quickly learned that the math wasn't always some big, scary thing that wanted to eat your brain. This is important because people are more likely to be receptive to something that they can conceptually calculate (who am I kidding though, I never will unless I use them to teach percentages to school children). Sometimes making something seem friendlier makes it easier for them to understand.


If the writer is going to continue to belittle the consumer by not trying to learn what they are talking about, marginalizing their work, or simply ignoring what is said to them then there is no point in trying to get through to them. Some conversations are going no where and at that point you can politely see yourself out and move beyond them.

The role of media is to inform the media of is to inform people of information that they would not otherwise know. There is not a lot of that type of information in sport anymore. There are pieces that fascinate us like the pieces by Kevin Allen and Scott Burnside, but those types articles are few and far between. Instead they need to find an angle that will get them readers and one of the downsides of that is they may stoop to writing antagonistic pieces.

The alternate route is courtesy of friend of the blog and Winnipeg Free Press columnist Melissa "Money Phone" Martin.

Background: her boyfriend is from Owen Sound and went to high school with Bobby Ryan.

So remember to ignore people who call you stupid because you insist on using different numbers than they do to talk about hockey and the Brian Burke may be right; Bobby Ryan may not be able to spell intensity.

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