Welcome to the Department of Hockey Analytics

By IJay Palansky

The Department of Hockey Analytics, or “The Department,” as we affectionately refer to it, has a simple mission:  to use advanced statistics and our unique experience to develop innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey.  This is our first blog, but we’ve been working on this for a while, and we’re going to keep doing it in a fun and entertaining way.

The field of advanced hockey stats is in its infancy, and just like “Moneyball” in baseball, it’s been met with reactions ranging from skepticism to outright hostility.  But if you’re reading this blog then chances are you’re one of the fast-growing band who has come to realize that advanced stats and the analysis that goes with them are the wave of the future.  NHL front offices have finally started to take notice en masse, and on game broadcasts you’re even likely to hear the odd reference to certain basic new stats like Corsi.

Despite the painfully slow acceptance, now that they’ve got some traction advanced hockey stats are here to stay.  They’re going to shake things up, and we at The Department of Hockey Analytics plan to do a lot of the shaking.  “Old school” business as usual in the NHL is a recipe for failure.  GMs and scouts will soon have a whole new tool box, with entirely new ways to evaluate and quantify player contributions to wins and losses, which will inevitably change the way GMs build their teams.  Coaches will gain a better understanding of the drivers of success (or failure).  Player utilization, team tactics, and even supposedly foundational hockey philosophy are going to change -- maybe radically (look out Don Cherry).  And as evidenced by the exceptionally wise decision by the Toronto Star to give The Department of Hockey Analytics a weekly column (!), advanced hockey stats are on the cusp of becoming mainstream.

The Department of Hockey Analytics is going to be at the center of this transformation.  It is the brain child of an eclectic group of professionals, each bringing different expertise to our common passion of hockey.  The three founders are myself, Ian Cooper, and Dr. Phil Curry.  All of us grew up in Toronto, loving hockey, and enduring the intense and seemingly endless torment of being Maple Leafs fans.   But that’s where the similarity among us ends.  And that diversity of expertise and experience is our strength.  We’ll all probably blog in more depth about who we are and what we hope to accomplish here, but the big picture is that there may not be a group quite like The Department anywhere, doing anything, let alone focusing on hockey.  We combine the stats expertise of an economics professor; the game theory/decision theory chops of a former world-class professional high-stakes poker player; the experience of a former hockey agent and a former hockey player (ok, I only played as high as Tier-2 Jr. “A”, but still . . .); the arrogant douchebaggery of Harvard Law School and Wharton Business School graduates; and the creativity, know-how, and intellectual horsepower of a team of economists at the University of Waterloo who are going to blow the lid off what most people think hockey’s all about.

We’re going to apply that expertise and experience to examine hockey in ways no one has before.  We want to unpack the game.  To figure out what really makes it tick.  To take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head.   To break some eggs, and then build a better mousetrap (yummy omelet hockey mousetrap).

We’re already developing a bunch of interesting analyses.  As just a few examples, in the coming weeks we’re going to roll out some surprising results relating to player height, the actual effect of fighting on game momentum, a more accurate method for determining the value of a player’s goals scored, and some interesting insights on streaks and momentum.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Everything’s on the table and we’re getting ready to feast.

Above all, we’re going to try to be fun and entertaining.  We’re talking about sports here, not world politics, metaphysical nihilism, or whether the UK version of Top Gear is better than the American one.  Love us.  Hate us.  Love us and hate us.  But if you stick with us we promise you won’t be bored by us.

We’re excited to finally be sharing our work with the world.  So hop on board and keep visiting us at www.depthockeyanalytics.com.

1 Comment

  1. Ian's Gravatar Ian
    September 3, 2014    

    Hey, I am a Junior Physics student at DePaul university and I am a die hard Red Wings fan. I have been doing some basic data analysis for the last few months and I am really enjoying it. Your blog has been extremely helpful and incredibly interesting to read, it has really helped me to understand how to think like a hockey analyst and to ask questions about how the game works. I was wondering if you had any recommendations of things that I should be doing in-school or out of school that could help me or prepare me for a job in hockey analytics one day. Also, I am currently using Matlab to code, this is just because it is what I use every day for class and it started as a way for me to practice coding over the summer, is there a different language that you would recommend that I learn now?

    Tanks so much!!

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