Hockey: A Numbers Game?

By Savannah Malnar

February 2, 2015

Statistics play a large role in sports. People are hired just to analyze stats and make team and player predictions based on simply numbers. For a long time, baseball has been the frontrunner in using more advanced statistics as a part of the game. Whenever a player is up to bat, dozens of numbers appear on your television screen; combinations and decimals all formed from a few swings of a bat. While baseball has embraced this sort of statistical nature, other sports have been slow to adopt it. One of these sports is hockey.

When it comes to hockey, most fans have only wanted to know three things on a player-to-player basis: goals, assists, and penalty minutes. As for teams, they just want the points and maybe some fact mentioned by their Fox Sports announcer about a winning or losing streak. But that has been slowly changing over the past few years.

Analysts have emerged themselves in the sport of hockey taking advantage of and perfecting some of the more “fancy” stats that have always existed. The most predominant being corsi and its variations. For being an advanced stat, corsi is extremely simple (and maybe that’s why it’s become attractive to the hockey community): blocked shots + missed shots + shots on goal. Usually shown as a percentage or a decimal compared to total shots in a game and is the best available statistic to measure puck possession. Mess around with the numbers a little and you can calculate individual corsi, team corsi, and see how it changes in different stages of the game.

Now with that sliver of context, it’s time to ask: why does it matter? And the answer is an honest one, it hasn’t, at least to the league. Until now, these stats have been calculated and distributed by fans. Some coaches and players have said they pay attention and use them, some had no idea what they meant. But fans have a growing desire of a better understanding of the game past the “score goals and maim the other team” mentality, and the NHL has decided to cater to that. The league has promised a revamp to their website’s stat page, and it will include corsi and many other statistics that seem ridiculous to the casual fan but craved by the diehard fan.

This news isn’t getting much coverage. Yahoo! Sports and NBC Sports both featured a short article about it, but that was it. No local media from any team picked up on the fact that the NHL is finally accepting that the game is moving towards a more statistical standpoint thanks to a fan-based push for it. This should be a much bigger deal, it shows just how powerful the fans of any sport can be in determining how it is analyzed and, eventually, coached and played across professional leagues.