Hockey Numbers & Narratives

This is a repost from a few years ago, but it remains true and I thought it would be a good follow up to my last blog on how I became a Bruins fan.

Back in high school, I avoided maths and sciences at all costs.

After barely surviving both of these areas in Grade 10, I completed the minimum requirements – Grade 11 math and chemistry – in order to graduate, and focused instead on the arts in the latter years.

Languages, history, music, geography and law were more in my wheelhouse, leading me to start a degree in the latter at Carleton University in Ottawa.

(My time there lasted less than a semester, but that’s a story for another day).

My first sports love was baseball and the Blue Jays, but my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has to tell ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me, and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

My statistical focus didn’t go much past wins, losses, goals and assists, to be honest, and that’s the way it remained for years.

But as I got more into hockey writing several years back, I was exposed to the analytical developments that were changing the way some looked at the game. By all accounts, it was solid, important and meaningful work, much of which (and here’s the confession part) I simply didn’t understand.

Perhaps it’s not prudent to admit you’re not the sharpest pencil in a certain box, but again, I’m simply not much of a numbers person. I can certainly wrap my head around the more basic advanced stats – shot attempt differential, PDO, whatever/60, situational production etc. – but when it comes to the fanciest of stats, I get lost.

This is in no way to pick a side in the tired old debate of stats vs. the eye test. Quite the opposite, really. It’s acknowledging my place on a spectrum based on how my brain works, appreciating how advanced stats help tell better stories, and seeking out well-spoken folks who can articulate them for us lay folk.

And that’s why I follow a plethora of start-minded people online, who devote time to writing and sharing articles, and answering questions from us dummies who don’t get it the first three or four times.

During my time at theScore, I tried to sprinkle a measure of advanced stats into my work in order to give proper context to the stories I was writing.

And while I was by no definition an expert, I didn’t feel hindered in my ability to enjoy and cover the game despite a limited knowledge of the deepest ins and outs, numbers wise.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe this has to be an either/or conversation. Our brains are wired in certain ways, and it’s quite possible to enjoy and appreciate the game on different levels.

If something doesn’t fully compute, there’s no need to close the door completely one way or the other. And if someone doesn’t assess the game as deeply as humanly possible, it doesn’t necessarily diminish their passion for and understanding of the game.

As for me, I understand my limits, and am perfectly fine working within them. But again, I very much appreciate those who put in the work to expand our understanding of the game we all love so much, and especially those who can explain it in terms the rest of us can grasp.

This is why I love the offseason, by the way. There’s no games, but plenty of drama.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s