Wednesday, February 25, 2009

RTSS = Home-Cooking?

The question arose while watching the latest Bruins-Canadiennes tilt at Montreal. After the first period, the hit totals in the game were 27 to 10 in favor of Montreal (shocker!) which put the Canadiennes on pace for 81 (!!!!) hits, only slightly above their home-average of 28.5 hits per game. The final hit total came out to 48-25 which is still a ridiculous total with an unrealistic difference between the two teams. Are we really to believe that the Canadiennes were TWICE as physical as the Bruins? Or was this just another instance of the home-town scorer being generous and stretching the definition of a hit?

This all got me thinking about statistics when involved with sports and how subjectivity should be avoided at all costs. The other major leagues rely primarily upon objective stats (the MLB error is the only subjective stat that comes to mind) as does hockey for the most part (goals, assists, +/-, shutouts, wins, losses etc…). However, lately there has been an increased interest in RTSS (Real-Time Scoring System) stats and I have seen these metrics used more and more when comparing players and teams. For those unfamiliar with the concept of RTSS, it is the use of a dedicated scorer to record the total number of hits, blocked shots, missed shots, giveaways, takeaways and faceoff outcomes for each team. It has been in place since the beginning of the ’97-’98 season but has only become accessible to everyday fans in the past year or so. Every NHL boxscore on ESPN features these statistics prominently, alongside shot and PIM totals, above the scoring summary. The placement of these subjective figures atop the page next to more traditional, objective statistics gives them an importance and legitimacy that is not truly deserved. Thankfully, the other main hockey/sports sites (SI, TSN, NHL) do not list this ‘information’ at all, or make it difficult to find as is the case with NHL.

Now don’t get me wrong... I am a big proponent of using statistics to compare players and teams. I love the fact that more and more statistical analyses are becoming available and that hockey and the NHL are moving in that direction. The game of baseball has changed dramatically over the past decade or two thanks to the advent of SABRmetrics and similar statistics which delve further into how the game is played. These advanced analyses have allowed for the objective comparison of players from any era by measuring those players against their peers (the only possible way to legitimately compare players of different eras). I have seen a similar approach taken with RTSS stats by adjusting the numbers to remove any inherent bias from certain arena scorers. However, too many questions arise with their methodology and the concept in general...
  • What equations are to be used?
  • How is a bias judged?
  • How is it to be done?
  • Will it be a rolling adjustment done after every game?
  • Will it be based off last season's biases?
  • Will it have to wait until season's end when all the numbers have been accumulated?
  • What happens if the scorer, and thus the bias, changes mid-season?
Even should acceptable responses be established for all of these questions, there still remains a major flaw… the subjectivity of the original RTSS stats! The difference between adjusting RTSS stats and baseball’s ERA+, OPS+ and other SABRmetrics is their basis in facts; their basis in objective data. Consider adjusting statistics to be like building a house on a weak foundation… no matter how perfect the design (the adjustment equations) it is still doomed to collapse due to its poor foundation (RTSS stats). Here is an illustration of WHY they are such a poor foundation…
Hits – How do you define a hit? How hard does it have to be? Does a player have to be knocked to the ice or does a simple two-handed shove count? Sure, there are plenty of bruising hits with solid contact but there are just as many instances where some level of contact is made… how much constitutes an official hit? Also, while there are plenty of instances where there is a clear-cut aggressor, what happens when both players are trying to be physical? Does the hit get credited to both players or only to one, and if the latter who ‘wins’ the hit?

Blocked Shots – Is intent considered or does dumb luck play a role in this stat? Does the shot have to actually be on net (or appear to be doing so) to count as a block or is it merely recognition of the bravery to step in front of that vulcanized rubber disc, regardless of its destination? If the shot is blocked and caroms into the net, does it count as a blocked shot, a positive stat, despite the negative impact of the play?

Missed Shots – Same issue as the blocked shots but in reverse… does a shot not on net count as a miss even if blocked? And what about shots that are clearly going over the crossbar (and thus not on net) yet are gloved by the goalie… is that a shot or a missed shot?

Faceoff wins – How is a faceoff win determined? Is possession the only important thing or does it have to do with which side of the dot the puck ended up on? In other words, if the Boston center knocks the puck back towards his side but an opposing player is the first to gain possession who gets the win? The opposition clearly has the puck and thus won the faceoff and yet the Boston center did nothing to merit a loss since he controlled the puck better than his opponent.

Giveaway/Takeaway – Once again… what is the definition here? Apparently the two are mutually exclusive (a play can only be one or the other, never both) and therefore the two numbers do not have to balance out. Still the question becomes what counts as what… does a failed dump-in count as a giveaway or takeaway? Does an intentional icing or slow-roller (to prevent icing) count as a giveaway? What about errant passes… do they count and if so, who gets (dis)credited with it, the passer or intended receiver? Not always clear who is at fault for the missed opportunity. Or do they simply count as a takeaway regardless of whether the pass would have been ‘completed’?
Admittedly, the extent of the subjectivity in these statistics varies with hits, giveaways and takeaways having the potential to be ruled by scorer bias while the other three instances are more clear cut. However, the situations where each stat is opened to subjectivity (bias) are enough to skew the data over the course of the season and make them statistically useless. To prove the deficiencies of these stats, I will provide examples in my next entry...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Let's go Huskies!

Ten minutes til the puck drops on the 57th Beanpot Finals and I am praying NU can pull out the victory over the #1 team in the nation. If only the game could be based on best and loudest fanbases... Northeastern would win EASILY!

4:00 - Quiet game thus far... some decent back and forth but really nothing to report. No surprise the NU fans have been the more vocal thus far.

7:01 - NU gets the first penalty after a neutral-zone hook from BU. The Huskies immediately put themselves in the box, taking an interference on a short-handed rush. NU starts off 0-1 on the PP thanks to the 8 second duration. Only been one shot on net per side at this point...

9:52 - No scoring on the 4x4... only good chance came at the hand's of NU's Wade McLeod but his pass didn't connect. BU takes another penalty... maybe NU can have more success than 8 fruitless seconds...

16:08 - MERDE! BU scores on the 5-on-3, beating Thiessen from the point high blocker-side. Still a minute left on the second penalty... bad news is a clearing attempt just drilled the referee in the eye-area and there is clearly blood on the ice. Brutal play and one you never want to see... 1-0 BU

19:34 - Northeastern with the man-advantage... McLaughlin roofs a juicy rebound to tie the score at 1. Interesting bit is that there was a delayed penalty on BU on the play so what is the manpower going to be? Parker and BU are trying to get the delayed penalty wiped (leaving BU with 1:16 PK time) but the refs disagreed and posted the new penalty. NU will go into the break with 1:34 remaining on their power play and the score tied at 1. 1-1 EVEN

0:27 - FUCK! NU guy breaks a stick and thus leaves the ice, allowing for a BU shorthanded breakaway. Thiessen stops the intial shot but the rebound is left floating for Bonino to bury top-corner, banking it off the crossbar and post then in. 2-1 BU

3:24 - Another Northeastern penalty in the defensive zone. BU is starting to take control of the game and NU is not helping their cause with sloppy play. McLeod just had a beautiful shortie attempt but lost control of the puck after cutting in front of the net and beating Millan... all he needed was a tap towards the net to get the equalizer.

11:06 - Back and forth action... NU is unable to capitalize on a power-play but score seconds after to tie the score. Unfortunately, a couple minutes later, BU comes in a takes the lead back. Hard to blame Thiessen though as he wasn't given much of a chance on the play. 3-2 BU

13:27 - Northeastern keeps up the sloppy play, giving BU yet another power play. Brick says the call was crap (worded it a bit different) and I would have to agree with him... hopefully this game won't be decided by the referees (as I feared may be the case for BU...).

15:44 - Wonderful... the officiating is stepping in once again. Huskies managed to kill off the man advantage but shortly after, there is a pileup in the crease... all 10 skaters appeared to be crammed into that 6' by 8' blue real estate. There is no possible WAY that the ref could see that puck and CLEARLY the play should have been blown dead. Thiessen literally got assaulted(making it a perfect 2 for 2 in Beanpot games!) with people crashing in on his neck of all places. Then the BU guy manages to get a nice little slash in at Thiessen's neck after the officials finally realized the puck was at center ice. Somehow, after this blatant assault on Thiessen (and his potential injury) the only penalty call made is a misconduct to NU's McNeely. Strange... the same thing happened last game... Thiessen gets assaulted, NU player defends him and gets tossed for it while the true guilty party gets off scott-free. Makes me fucking sick.

Second Period Recap:
Apparently the Beanpot refs feel that Thiessen is so good, he doesn't need any help from them. This is the second game where he is brutally attacked by the opposition and yet in both instances it is a Huskie who gets tossed from the game. This one was especially impressive as a BU player (Yip?) has his stick under Thiessen's neck and just keeps tugging away... looked as if he was trying to strangle the man! Of course, this is perfectly within the rules for Terriers while Huskies are barely allowed to play with any physicality...

0:57 - Amazing... as soon as there is any pressure on Millan, the whistle is blown. Can you say double standard? Good news is a Terrier penalty is called on the play, giving NU the 5-on-3 for 45 seconds. NEED to capitalize on this... NU calls their lone timeout. Surprised to see it called so early and not sure I agree with it... gotta think there will be a time later in the period where that timeout would be more valuable.

4:29 - Timeout didn't help matters as Northeastern is unable to convert on the 3+ minutes of man-advantage despite taking 7-8 shots. Getting that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach now... just not going to pull this one out...

10:02 - Nice little dive in front of the NU net by Saponari to get the interference call and BU power play. Not looking good for the Huskies...

13:54 - And thats the game folks... BU gets a 2-on-1 shorthanded bid and Warsofsky opts for the shot over the pass. That makes it two shorthanded goals allowed by Northeastern. Can't expect to win like that... Oh, wait... let's make that THREE shorthanded goals! Absolutely fucking atrocious... how do you let up TWO 2-on-1 shorthanded breaks inside of 30 seconds. Bloody miserable. So much for #5...

So much for the Hockey Gods looking kindly upon the Huskies...
Final score: lot to little, BU

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm a celebrity!

Ok... not really. Well, actually, not at all...

I did, however, get my question answered in the latest Bruins mailbag which is quite pleasing since it has been something I have been wondering for some time but unable to get any news on. Here it is:
Any word on the Glen Murray appeal? Last I remember hearing, it was scheduled for January 16th. Did something change or has the verdict simply not been rendered? Also, regarding the appeal, am I correct in believing that the best option would be for Glen to win? That way, he could be placed on LTIR this season, wiping his salary off the cap and taking the $1.4M buyout figure off of next season's cap as well?
Dave, Natick

A: Dave, the second installment of the Murray hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12. There might even need to be a third day of hearings. But once the hearings are complete, I'm told that a verdict will be rendered shortly after. And yes, in terms of cap purposes, it would be best for the Bruins if Murray won the appeal. They'd have to pay his full $4.15 million this year, but his buyout money would be completely off the 2009-10 books.

So the good news is that Bruins fans should have a definite answer in a week or two. Glad to see my understanding of the situation was correct and that a Bruins 'loss' would in fact be a victory! C'mon Glen! (and your lawyer/agent) Help the Bruins out one last time!

Edit: On an editorial note, I have a monster in the works but I am still crunching numbers and trying to decide how best to attack it...

Monday, February 2, 2009


Lord I hope Northeastern can claim the title. They are more than overdue... 21 years is far too long. Road won't be easy as they will have to go through #11 BC and likely #1 BU (NU is ranked #3).

Harvard is the tough-luck loser to BU, 4-3. The Terriers were handed a power-play with 2:10 left in the game after a Harvard player hooks a BU forward who grabs the stick and falls on it, selling the call. BU's first goal game due to a similar penalty call behind the BU net. Harvard deserved better tonight...

3:24 - NU on the 5-on-3... win the faceoff, cycle down low to the right of Muse... Ginand, team leading scorer, beats Muse high glove-side with a hard-angle shot. NU unsuccessful on second PP opportunity. 1-0 NU

8:06 - BC just finished with the power-play, delayed penalty on NU allows for the 6-on-5... Price, the extra skater winds up from the point, Thiessen appears to make the stop but it trickles through five hole and barely crosses the line with two Eagles racing to help it in. 1-1 Even

8:54 - Great save by Thiessen on a near breakaway by Bradford, BC's leading scorer... leads to NU's transition game, Costa puts it in on the third try. 2-1 NU

15:00 - NU penalized shortly after the goal... able to kill it off with some good netminding from Thiessen who had to hold the post on another impressive scoring chance from Bradford. Near breakaway from Donovan of NU but puts it over the net, glove-side. They seem to be going glove-side on him a lot.

End of first - Impressive goaltending from Thiessen keeping NU in this game. Very vocal NU student contingent so far with "Let's go Huskies" chant clearly audible on the NESN feed... not so much for BC. Solid period though has to be more disciplined if they expect to win. Shots are 9-8 for NU.

3:22 - BC has owned the period thus far and NU's Chisholm just got rung up for Interference. BC is 0-2 on the PP with 1 shot.

6:14 - NU escapes the PK unharmed... finally get their first shot of the period and not surprisingly, they went high on the glove-side. Muse made the save on a shot that appeared to be wide of the net.

12:02 - NU on the PP... BC's Almeida guilty of the trip on Costa off the faceoff. NU is 1-2 with 2 shots on the man advantage. On a side not, some rather disturbing news... turns out NU freshman Steve Quailer is property of the enemy! He was a 3rd round selection of the Canadiennes in the 2008 Entry Draft... I am saddened by this. Not saddened though by NU putting in another PPG... odd bounce behind the net off the boards puts Muse in an awkward position, opening the hole for Liotti's blast. 3-1 NU

12:44 - Drive by McCauley from the point. Two goals in 42 seconds... York takes the TO to calm Muse and the Eagles down. Shots are now even at 17 apiece 4-1 NU

18:19 - So that bit about not liking Quailer? Yea... completely disregard that! He puts in NU's 5th goal, their 3rd goal on 4 shots and another shaky play from Muse. NU on the PK though with a roughing call... game is getting chippy now. 5-1 NU

19:57 - Thiessen with another save on a breakaway. Scrum in front of him after Bradford slams into Thiessen. Problem is, he didn't even try to slow down heading in but instead slammed right into Thiessen's upper torso and head... he deserves to be tossed for that in my opinion. NU's Chisholm brought his own form of justice with some punches to the downed Bradford... he is heading to the lockerroom and it certainly seems like he was tossed. Can't comprehend how Bradford doesn't get the same punishment since he obviously didn't even TRY to slow down or avoid blind-siding Thiessen.

End of Second - Period ends on a nasty note with the melee in Thiessen's crease. It was started by BC's captain who made (in my opinion) a blatantly dirty play that could only have been born of frustration. Thankfully NU is dominating the period despite being soundly outshot (22-11) with three goals to none, two in large part to misplays behind the net from the sophomore Muse. Did not expect that out of him, seeing as he has played, and won, in the pressure-cooker of the NCAA finals. Thiessen has been dominant, taking the first shot with ease and allowing very few rebounds... hopefully no harm done by Bradford's charge.

Final results of Melee:
NU Chisholm - 5min punching, game disqualification
NU Vitale - 2min hitting after whistle
BC Bradford - 5min charging
BC Atkinson - 2min hitting after whistle

No power plays from the mess... still don't comprehend how Bradford is still in the game after sparking the brawl. Even the USCHO blogger is in agreement:
"Bradford ran goalie Brad Thiessen while he was covering a puck amidst a scrum. The intent was clear as day..."
I am less than pleased with the official's handling of that play and the end results. Thankfully, NU has a 4-goal lead and should be able to hold it so long as Thiessen is unharmed.

8:00 - NU kills off the second penalty of the third... BC is quickly running out of time in this one and is still no closer to solving Thiessen. The NU defense reminds me somewhat of the Bruins... allow lots of low-quality shots and few juicy rebounds and those few rebounds that are allowed are quickly cleared out by the defense. Just as with Boston, there are a couple times each period that the goalie is relied upon to make the spectacular save and Thiessen is delivering just like Thomas, though a little more composed...

12:04 - NU fans sound like they are a little bored... the last few minutes they have been counting down the last ten seconds of each minute then repeatedly chanting the minutes left. Rather amusing yet sad at the same time... have hardly heard a peep from the BC crowd over the telecast... really quite pathetic, especially considering they are reigning NCAA champs. As I am writing this, Donovan pots killer and gets his 4th point of the night (1G, 3A). Finally, the NU fans have something real to cheer about and Muse has been pulled from the game in favor of the local kid Venti (Needham) who is seeing his first collegiate action. Donovan then gets his third minor penalty (talk about filling up the stat sheet!) but is not too concerned since BC is 0-6 tonight on PP. 6-1 NU

5:00 - Five minutes also the chant from the Huskies fans, anticipating a spirited matchup with their Comm Ave rivals. Thiessen must have broken 40 saves by now, which is made all the more impressive by the fact BC scored on their first shot (and even then just barely). He certainly looks to be in line for his second straight Eberly Award (given to the goalie with the best save percentage).

Final - NU closes it out on the man advantage. Just an impressive, dominating effort from the Huskies (6-1 victors) and their fans rewarded them with some raucous cheers. Impressive bit is they are the first team to chase John Muse in his 67 games at the Heights... he had yet to miss even a second of play for the Eagles. Strange bit is, NU was outshot 45-26 but you wouldn't have guessed watching the game since BC was clearly suffocated by the Huskie defense. Goes to show you how shots don't truly tell the story of a game... what really matters is the quality of those shots! Was nervous heading into this game with BC and was concerned throughout the first period but once NU got that third goal, I felt a lot more comfortable.

Now the question is... do I try and get tickets for the final and risk severe disappointment or do I stick with what worked and live-blog the game again? Decisions, decisions...
See running commentary here...