Talking Corsi, QualComp with Behind The Net's Gabe Desjardins

FTR continues our part in the SBN Hockey Summer Fill program (you'll start to see it pop up around your favorite SBN hockey sites by now if you haven't already). Yesterday, we kicked things off by talking international hockey with Bruce Peter of Puck Worlds. Today, we'll chat with SBN's resident stats guru, Gabriel Desjardins of Behind The Net. Behind The Net is unique in that it focuses on the statistical aspect of the game, creating an online sabermetrics-for-hockey bible.

And without further ado, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Gabe...

Many hockey fans are still unfamiliar with the concept of Corsi and Fenwick numbers. Can you give a quick Dummies overview?

Here's the 10-part series on advanced hockey analysis.  it's a year old, but it answers most of the basic questions.

(Mike's note: If you're new to these concepts, it's probably best to go check that out now for some background before reading the rest of this, as you'll better understand why certain players are mentioned.)

Update: If you're looking for specific info, here is the index of Gabe's series:

Part 1 - Plus/Minus statistics

Part 2 - Quality of Competition

Part 3 - Corsi Number

Part 4 - Zone Starts (or Offensive/Defensive Zone Faceoff Ratio)

Part 5 - Penalty +/-

Part 6 - Shot Distance

Part 7 - Goals and Points per 60 Minutes

Part 8 - Scoring Chances

Part 9 - Quality of Teammates

Part 10 - Wins Above Replacement

What do you say to fans that claim that hockey can't be quantified with numbers in a way that baseball can?

Do they still say that?  MLB has had play-by-play scoring since 1987,  which the NHL started doing in 1998.  This has greatly improved our understanding of the game.  You've also seen guys like Derek Zona, Scott Reynolds, Kent Wilson and many others start recording scoring chances.  There are no fancy numbers here - Scott and Derek are keeping track of who's on the ice when their teams get or give up a scoring chance.  Watch enough games that closely and you'll be able to quantify what's going on on the ice.

The next step is to take the observation out of the equation.  MLB introduced Pitch-F/X a few years ago, which gives you objective information about pitches, and analysts have really run with it.  We now know things about pitchers we never could have contemplated just five years ago.  MLB is going to add trackers to batted balls and fielders in the next couple of years, which should really close the loop on a lot of things we couldn't quantify before.  The NHL has been running a trial project with electronic tags on players to generate location data that could tell you anything you wanted to know about player positioning, passing, speed, etc...

Fans may think that hockey can't be quantified like baseball is.  But General Managers around the league sure think it's true (or hope it's true.)


You've written about how these numbers can show which players have inflated or undervalued contract. Who's the best and worst deal by your analysis these days?

The worst deal is a no-brainer: Vincent Lecavalier, who has $75M remaining on his contract.  Brian Campbell is pretty bad too - $42M left.  Also, any long-term goaltender contract from before last season is a big overpay: Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury, Niklas Backstrom.

The good contracts are all young guys.  Drew Doughty has provided the best return on investment of any player in the league the last two seasons.  Among guys who are old enough to be free agents, Henrik Zetterberg/Pavel Datsyuk/Nicklas Lidstrom brought a lot of value for their high salaries.

Who's on your starting lineup for your All-Corsi team this year?

It's not all that different from the regular All-Star team.

Up front, if they can decide who gets to center: Datsyuk and Zetterberg and one of Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews or possibly Patrice Bergeron.

On D: Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, with Shea Weber the #3

In terms of sleepers, anyone on the Nashville Predators.

Finally, how do you feel understanding these types of statistics can help the casual fan enjoy and understand the game better?

I think all fans can benefit from understanding one concept, which is that the game centers around controlling the flow of shots.  The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are great examples of this.  They had weak goaltending but dominated the shot counts and so they won all the time.  There's only one Dominik Hasek, but there are lots of unsung guys who can get the puck moving in the right direction.  Everything else is a slight adjustment around the edges.

I know that fans get excited about their teams, but they have to get excited about the right things.  When a guy comes out of nowhere and scores a bunch of goals, you can't be emotional about cutting your losses with him, because odds are it's not going to continue.  You want forwards who play defense, draw penalties and win face-offs - I'd take Sammy Pahlsson over a lot of big goal-scorers.

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