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Advanced analytics intrigues Babcock

Several NHL clubs have hired math gurus to analyze stats-based numbers

Thursday, 07.24.2014 / 12:38 PM ET / News
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Advanced analytics intrigues Babcock

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is of the belief that the more information he can gather the better he will be at evaluating and running his team. That's why Babcock is interested in the growing movement of advanced statistical analysis in the NHL.

"Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't (start using analytics) you're going to fall behind," Babcock told NHL.com. "You have to be on the cutting edge. It was Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'"

Babcock said the Red Wings have not yet hired someone to serve as an analytics guru, but he indicated such a move is coming.

"Not quite yet, but 'yet' is the key word there," he said. "We will, for sure. We just have to."

The Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils this summer have hired or promoted from within executives with statistical backgrounds. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has talked about how he will incorporate analytics into the team's front office. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have used analytics to win the Stanley Cup twice each in the past five seasons. St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is on record saying he uses analytics as part of his decision-making process for match-ups and chemistry.

"I've seen so many analytics presentations it's not even funny," Babcock said. "Some of them have been very impressive and some of them I wasn't as impressed with, but I love the information. I absolutely love the information. We're in the information business, so how do you get it? And then you have to use your expertise to sort it out."

A basic element of the analytics movement happening in the NHL is possession-based stats featuring shot attempts-for versus shot attempts-against in 5-on-5 situations. Understanding the positive effects of possession and shooting the puck is not new to the hockey community, but stats found through possession metrics such as Corsi and Fenwick are relatively new and still are being examined for their usefulness and effectiveness.

Babcock said a key to using stats-based analytics, whether it's Corsi, Fenwick or another form, is making sure the numbers are accurate.

"The best analytic groups are getting the best information, so you have to make sure the stats you're using are correct," Babcock said. "When a guy tells you how good this player is stat-wise and you and your general manager don't agree with him, well, we better go back and assess it. Just because the analytics like the player and we don't, well, then we don't. We'll make the decision. But if you're wrong, go back and take a look at it so you know why."

That way he gets more information, which is what Babcock craves.

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