By John Scappini, Media Analyst
Hockey is a game deep-rooted in tradition and as such, “advanced” statistics are still a ways away from reaching a tipping point with fans. There was no Moneyball moment for hockey, just a slow and steady drumbeat by passionate fans who espoused foreign-sounding things like Corsi and Fenwick over the traditional attributes like grit, toughness, and heart. The prime target, for lack of a better term, this season of the advanced hockey stats crowd are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have stacked their team with traditional, old-school -type players, who are just as likely to drop the mitts and get into a fight as they are to score a goal. As you might imagine, the advanced statistics folks weren’t too high on them at the beginning of the season, predicting a rather dire year for the Maple Leafs.
And yet here we are, with a quarter of the season played, and the Leafs are in third place in their conference, with the sixth-most wins in the league, and 23 total points. That’s better than the Pittsburgh Penguins and level with both the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings—advanced stats darlings. So, what gives?
In reading the debate over the Maple Leafs, I couldn’t help but think of media measurement done through automated, computerized aggregates. Sure, you can collect the data—the wins, the losses, the hits, the saves—but without someone there to explain the story or the narrative to you, you’re getting an incomplete picture. A deeper look at the Maple Leafs reveals that they have atrocious puck possession numbers, their shooting percentage is down from last year, and their lofty early-season penalty killing statistics are already regressing toward league averages. In other words, they have been incredibly lucky so far this year and that luck is due to run out soon!
Recently, a CARMA client experienced a huge surge in social media coverage that barely moved the needle in terms of favorability. The incomplete, automated/aggregated picture would tell the client that they generated a volume surge with not much change in favorability: there was a lot of moderately favorable coverage this month. So, what gives? A deeper look showed the client that, in fact, the coverage was as favorable as it could be—the surge resulted from a large number of retweets on the client’s participation in a charity event!—and that the moderately favorable coverage had been constricted simply by the 140-character limit of Twitter.
Of course, the bottom line is important. You have to win enough games to make the playoffs, no matter how you win them. But in our measurement world, you also have to dig deeper than just the standings or a box score and provide clients with data-driven insights beyond just wins and losses. It’s those details that matter too.