Over the past few seasons, one of the fastest growing trends in hockey has been the rise of "advanced stats", or hockey analytics. Sites like Extra Skater helped spread the gospel of Corsi, with other stats such as Fenwick and PDO following shortly behind. While fans and writers were some of the first to jump on the analytics bandwagon, over the past year we've seen NHL front offices hire many of those same writers and bloggers to help with newly formed analytics departments.
The Sabres do have one such department, though we rarely hear about what exactly they do or track. In fact, a Google search for "Sabres analytics department" brings up links from this site and WGR, as well as a number of links about the Buffalo Bills analytics department, but nothing about the Sabres more than a few LinkedIn profiles.
Yesterday, Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan was asked about his views on the growing analytics movement, and he had this to say:
"The information I use is with my eyes and my soul and my heart," he said. "If I see someone who’s competing and I know he’s competing, that’s good enough for me. I don’t need a machine telling me how hard he worked. I can see it for myself.
"…My No. 1 analytic is, you score one more goal than the opposition, you win."
Since the Sabres hired Ted Nolan midway through last season, one word has described his coaching style - compete. It's been been repeated so much on this site and others that it's become something of a running joke among Sabres fans. We can win any game, with any disparity of talent, as long we COMPETE hard enough.
Nolan's blinders when it comes to analytics are troubling - not because Corsi, Fenwick and the like are the be all and end all of the hockey world, but because they're very useful tools in determining which of your hardworking players are contributing most effectively to your team's production. Corsi can confirm things you already know, like how last year's Sabres team was terrible, or it can help more clearly reveal things you might suspect, like how last year's Maple Leafs team was playing way over their own heads for the first two months of the year.
Competing hard is important in any athletic endeavor, whether it's hockey, track and field, or competitive horse dancing. But like analytics themselves, competing hard is one piece of the puzzle, not the whole picture. Nolan's public refusal to consider them means his picture will be incomplete. With how progressive and confident Tim Murray has been in his short time here, I'd like to think that he understands the value of what advanced stats can offer.
If he can help Nolan see their value as well, we might have another word besides COMPETE to help describe the Sabres decision makers.