The Future is Already Here: Advanced Stats and BoltProspects

The revolution in hockey analysis, late-developing and centered around the increased reliance on statistical information, has been underway for some time now. A small and marginalized movement in the past for various reasons, advanced analysis has gained such widespread traction that its relevance and influence is no longer deniable. That isn't to say that advanced stats are close to or ever will be the panacea for evaluating hockey players and teams. As Robert Vollman, one of the leading hockey statisticians out there, explained in the foreword to his recently-released 2011-2012 Player Usage Charts:

"...objective hockey analysis acts a useful supplement to everybody’s own experience-based understanding of the game..."

Part of a larger sports trend, this shift, predictably, has faced some well-reasoned skepticism (for example, Daniel Wagner's Kierkegaard, Choice and the Limitations of Advanced Statistics) and, from traditionalists, prolonged resistance and outright disavowals (here's looking at you, Brian Burke and Mike Milbrury). At present, there's a very charged discourse surrounding the merits of advanced statistics but, no matter one's take, clearly a new era in professional hockey has dawned when the powers that be are attending conferences on sports analysis, teams (including the Lightning) are adding analysts to their operational staff and mainstream sources are catching on. For these reasons alone, it's worth keeping up with the times.

What's particularly exciting about these developments is that the field is still in its infancy. It may seem odd to suggest that, but for all parties--teams, players, agents, the media and especially the fans--there are implications and possibilities. All stand to benefit from exploring and finding uses information that's already out there or in development. Again, we've only seen the tip of the iceberg; take, for example, the profound potential that the SportVu technology, initially introduced a half-decade ago, already established in soccer and football coverage and now being deployed for basketball), presents for hockey analysis. How teams conduct their business--scouting, signing free agents, conducting trades, preparing for opponents, evaluating their own personnel--is evolving; advanced stats, even if flawed, are here to stay and only to what extent they'll be useful remains to be seen.

I've long been interested in seeing something on par with baseball sabermetrics developed for hockey, but, admittedly, when first exploring the work being done several years ago (particularly Gabriel Desjardin's, I found myself discouraged and dismissive, perhaps partially due to my non-mathematical background but largely because I was bothered by how problematic it seemed to me to develop reliable, individualized advanced stats for a team sport. It wasn't until last summer that I began to revisit many of the concepts and, accepting their limitations and understanding their intended usage, really started to embrace the advanced stats available.

I was in the midst of initially building my own Lightning site, Electric Blue Hockey Test, and, though I found plenty to read on other teams, there seemed to be a lack of advanced analysis specifically devoted to the Lightning. I spent this past season beefing up my own comprehension with the intent of helping fill the perceived void once I fully committed to writing. Fortunately, Clare Austin of Raw Charge got the ball rolling on this ambition with an intriguing breakdown of Guy Boucher's player usage and evaluation of their resulting performance for last season.

It's in this vein that some of my contributions to this site will be made, as Chad explained in my introduction and it's my hope that those in the community here will find such work stimulative, regardless of whether one's prevailing views are challenged or reinforced. I expect, given the nature of focus of this site, exploring the concept of league equivalencies as a predictive tool for NHL production will, in particular, be an enjoyable addition to the existing dialogues concerning those in the Lightning's prospect pool.

If you aren't already familiar with advanced stats, here's a brief selection of informative readings to guide you:

Following are a few sources of publicly-available advanced metrics: