As a person who is fortunate enough to host baseball and hockey shows on CSN, there is one major difference in covering the two sports: available numbers.
For baseball, there are dozens of universally accepted statistics that easily quantify the performance of an individual hitter or pitcher. Batting average, earned run average, fielding percentage... it's quite easy to reference stats, and say one player had a good game, or not.
But in hockey, judging success by basic numbers alone doesn't always do players proper justice. It's just the nature of the game. For example: last week in New York, Logan Couture goes out front of the crease and screens Jaroslav Halak, resulting in a Patrick Marleau power play goal. What does Logan get on the stat sheet? Nothing! On television, what more can we say than... "Nice job there, by Couture"? Not much. Beyond the video of it happening, it's almost like Logan's effort doesn't exist in hockey history.
Enter advanced stats. Things like "Corsi,” which measures puck possession. "PDO" which values even strength shooting/save percentages. And "Zone starts,” charting which players are selected to be on the ice for faceoffs in all three zones. These have all been emerging and maturing in the last few years, and have captured the attention of hockey's top minds.
"I firmly believe in analytics”, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan recently shared.
"I think the most precious analytics that I have, are my eyeballs to begin with. Then we've got four more sets of them in assistant coaches. Then we turn to the paper and the pen. When we look at the stuff that is presented to us, it should support what we're seeing. If it doesn't then, we've got to ask the questions,” explained McLellan.
In the same way that baseball purists initially resisted "sabermetrics,” it's not surprising "advanced stats" are finding their way to hockey... with a cautious optimism.
Said McLellan: "Analytics can't become the be-all and end-all. It can't be the lazy way of doing things, it still has to be the work. Watching and feeling."
I'm positive advanced stats will continue to expand in the hockey world, if they can (at minimum) do the following things:
1) Explain trends which were previously unexplainable
2) Put a value on players who do the intangible things to win
3) Remain easy enough to comprehend, and accurately track