On The Notion That Players Are Gaming The System

The optimist in me would like to believe that we as a group collectively get wiser and more informed over time, gleaning things from the past so as to not make the same mistakes over and over again.

And yet, even though it’s now almost 2017 we’re still somehow casting aspersions against shot differential metrics, disregarding them as meaningless numbers artificially engineered by a group of nerds who don’t watch the games despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen was the latest to dip his toes into the cesspool, scrounging together some select quotes from people ‘in the game’ in an attempt to prove that we are in fact barking up the wrong tree as a collective. Players, GMs, and coaches all provide their own cautionary tales about how Corsi and Fenwick are flawed tools for evaluation because they’re easily manipulated.

Take a shot on goal, from anywhere on the ice, even if your team is struggling to move the puck into the offensive zone, and it will help your Corsi.

“They don’t get a scoring opportunity and we get the puck back, and all five of my guys get a minus because a guy makes a poor play at the red line,” Trotz said. “Plus, he and his teammates get rewarded for that.”

A player may get rewarded in contract negotiations as well, using a positive Corsi rating as leverage.

“We have businessmen” in this league and “they will throw pucks from anywhere to get a better Corsi,” Trotz said.

Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal agrees that “probably some players might shoot a couple extra to maybe get that (Corsi) up.”

If all of it seems highly anecdotal, it’s because it is. There certainly isn’t any tangible evidence to back up these assertions. Shot metrics being vaulted into the public eye over the past couple of years may have raised the awareness of the players playing the game, but it hasn’t appeared to have translated into a noticeably higher volume of attempts for nefarious reasons like is being implied by the author:

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To be fair, it doesn’t really pass the sniff test just purely from a common sense perspective either. The pushback against more nuanced analysis is especially bizarre because it’s typically just old school hockey types dismissing concepts that they themselves have been regurgitating for ages. 

At the root of it, all we’re really doing is taking intuitive things that have been talked about in hockey circles for years – think about the most obvious cliches in the sport, and ‘just put the puck on net’ is near the top – and just putting names and numbers next to them in an attempt to quantify and contextualize them. 

If a player is making a habit of meekly firing the puck from bad angles and long distances, that’ll eventually be reflected in his underlying numbers. He’ll ironically wind up being caved in on the other end of the ice because he’s been routinely ceding possession of the puck to the opposition. There’s different ways to achieving the same goal, but generally speaking the best possession players and teams are the ones that are able to string together long sequences in the offensive zone.

This isn’t to say to say that every single shot is worth the same, because despite the fact that we’re still working on properly accounting for the concept of shot quality on a grander scale, it’s pretty obvious that your typical shot from someone like Steven Stamkos (a career 17.1% finisher) is more likely to go in than one from Dustin Brown (who has shot 6.2% during his 4-year spiral into irrelevance).

On a team-level, the Toronto Maple Leafs are another great example. Despite being a solid possession team last season because of Mike Babcock’s system and structure, they were a team sorely devoid of offensive talent up front and wound up shooting a league worst 6.36% at 5-on-5. They added a ton of young dynamic talent to their lineup this season, and sure enough they’ve seen their shooting percentage as a team spike up to 9.11% (3rd best).

Corsi doesn’t capture everything. Which is fine, because no one with any shred of credibility has ever claimed that it does. It requires context and adjustments, and it’s just another piece of the bigger puzzle. But it’s a distinguished piece of said puzzle over the long haul because it’s shown an uncanny ability to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, who’s is good and who’s not, and where and when the future goals will be coming.

Just something to remember the next time someone tries to tell your otherwise from inside their black box.


One thought on “On The Notion That Players Are Gaming The System

  1. me says:

    That comment of Trotz cracks me up. If shooting the puck from anywhere results in more goals for the other team, it’ll most certainly also result in more SOG for the other team. So how on earth would that help a player’s corsi rating?


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