Thursday, July 30, 2009


I'm almost certain that this is Roger Neilson.

Kevin Leonard published this paper in 2004: Critical Success Factors Relating to Healthcare's Adoption of New Technology: A Guide to Increasing the Likelihood of Successful Implementation.

You may or may not care about management technology in health care, but Case Study 4 is hockey related.

It is excerpted below, click to enlarge.

Roger was so far ahead of the curve it was frightening, and he had a tremendous impact on NHL coaching that is still felt today. In an age when change and quantitative player evaluation, beyond newspaper stats, was mocked in every sports league except the NFL, Roger was changing the game from the inside. And over a decade later the lessons he learned, from the implementation alone, are being used as a case study for other industries.

The consultants that built the NYR database were hired to do the same for other teams. Tonnes of people can program a hockey database, but few bring Neilson's insight with them (even if they didn't understand it, they have the model). So the ideas spread through the NHL pretty quickly.

In this corner of the internet, I think we're starting to catch up to the hockey stuff Roger was doing 20 years ago. More correctly, once we have fully implemented Dennis' scoring chance data, then we'll be getting close. I would like to think so, anyways.

The last sentence of the case study is interesting, from a hockey point of view. "The most important part was that the new technology not only provided insight into the team performance but also became the only way to ultimately measure the team's success over time". At a point in time when using anything other than wins and losses to assess an NHL team was considered asinine, Roger was at least two steps ahead of the pack.

MacTavish and Keenan would have inherited this database as a Rangers coach. Much more importantly they would have inherited access to a way of thinking about the game and evaluating players. Tom Renney too, for that matter. Unless, of course, Glen Sather cleared out all of Neilson's old stuff to make room for a new walk-in humidor.


Blogger Kent W. said...

Speaking of which, I'm looking to do some scoring chance tabulation for the Flames this coming season.

Did Dennis ever publish a definition of a "scoring chance" or did he go by a "I know it when I see it" kind of strategy?

7/30/2009 11:00 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

That's Dennis' thing, not mine, Kent. Hopefully he writes something to engage all of the fans who are planning to tally scoring chances for an NHL his year.

7/30/2009 11:08 am  
Blogger Scott Reynolds said...

Kent, I don't believe Dennis ever published a definition of what counts as a scoring chance. That said, if we have enough people doing it and those folks are consistent, it shouldn't matter too much if people count a bit differently. There will be several games done by two people and we can use those results to see who is generous and who is stingy and adjust the numbers accordingly. I actually like the "I know it when I see it" method because it keeps a certain level of humility when looking at the results. There will be explicit acknowledgment of "many different sets of eyes" and we'll be forced to go the extra mile to make inter-team comparisons instead of getting lazy and just comparing before making any adjustments.

7/30/2009 12:13 pm  
Blogger Kent W. said...

Fair enough. In thinking about it, I came up with a few scenarios that could be tallied differently across knowledgeable observers and potentially cause some issues.

For example, do you consider any 2on1 a scoring chance? Even if a pass is bobbled and the puck isn't directed on net? I don't think I do, but others probably would.

If I go forward with the scoring chances thing, I will likely publish a rough guide of what Im counting (and what Im excluding)...

7/30/2009 12:18 pm  
Blogger Olivier said...

I did score chances for the habs last 40 games or so. It isn't tough, really, and the "I know it when I see it" is actually a good method. The fact is, I was far more generous in my first few games, but then I think my judgment got better. My scoring of both Habs-Oilers contests were fairly similar to those from Dennis. So it's a matter of practice as much as a matter of definitions I think. Going back on the discussions in posts relating to the subject on helped me tremendously tough.

7/30/2009 1:02 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Good stuff Vic. I have no idea how you managed to find this but it's certainly interesting. I'd love to know what Keenan or MacT have to say about Neilson.

Incidentally, I was thinking of this the other day: are there any quotes or other proof that MacT put any faith in some of the more advanced statistics? I've been debating this back and forth and I'm not sure. Surely he cared about the concepts that matter (which is most important of course) but I'm not sure about the data.

7/30/2009 2:00 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


I found it because the same author, Leonard, published an article about the implemention of a database for the NYR. It was published well into Keenan's tenure as Rangers bench coach, but the thinking meshed so well with Neilson's verbage that it had to be him. That article, not so much the verbage of Leonard and his associates, but the poem that can be revealed by looking at the structure of the database itself, from a distance ... 90% of everything I've ever written here can be traced back to that.

Roger Neilson never actually verbalized any of this with numbers, and MacTavish is twice the poet. Still, it must be Roger's voice behind the thinking, surely.

7/30/2009 2:44 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Also, your post moved me to google "MacTavish" "territorial advantage". Terrific stuff, I recommend it. And is the bomb. I wish they transcribed all press conferences, and not just the playoffs.

jonathon has a hit there, actually. A quote from Tychkowsky that he posted on OilersNation (shudder). Well noticed, good for him.

7/30/2009 2:50 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

As I'm rambling:

Pat Quinn is a 5v5 scoring chance fiend. He regularly spouts them off in pressers.

I think he claims that he was logging them before Neilson, at Shero's behest. Shero had Russian parents I think, in any case he stole a lot of stuff from them. He's famous for studying the Russians and bringing off-ice training to the NHL, but my hunch is that he brought a lot more than that.

When Ted Nolan was struggling as a head coach in the OHL, he wrote a letter to Fred asking for advice. Turns out Fred had already passed, but his son Ray (now Penguins GM) sent Nolan "a big box of notes and stuff". Ted claims it turned him around.

I think Roger took it to another level, though.

7/30/2009 2:57 pm  
Blogger mc79hockey said...

Vic -

I'm pretty sure you agree with me that GM's are generally terrible at turning this stuff into contracts. If I accept your premise that the coaches use it, why do you think that the GM's aren't?

7/30/2009 5:32 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Willis said...


I know you mentioned ASAPsports before, but I didn't look it up then and thank you for mentioning it again.

I've just read everything they have on Pat Quinn, and it's been very, very instructive.

I think I'm starting to like the guy.

7/30/2009 10:28 pm  
Blogger Moneypuck said...

@ mc79:

Look to baseball for your answers.

@ Vic: For some reason to the timeonice and head to head link is broken for me, is it working for everyone else?

8/01/2009 12:37 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I think it has been, that is why hockey is so far ahead of baseball in this regard.

The baseball sabermetricians take a spectacular pounding on predictive value when the oddsmakers are taken as the benchmark. There is a reason for that.

And let's face it, if I wasn't around here, Gabe would never have run qualcomp, he would have accepted javageek's math that showed quality of competition and faceoff zone starts to be irrelevant.

I actually think that Feaster did heavily apply sabermetric principles to hockey, btw. Partly from hearing his interviews, but mostly because (although budget cutting surely played a part) the fall in Lightning underlying numbers from 03/04 is spectacular. I doubt that it is possible to crash that badly by using Bill Barber's 'gut feel'. He had help, methinks.

When TomTango started quoting specific Lightning player analysis at your blog a while ago ... that iced it for me.

My fear, actually, is that the Oilers are employing baseball-style sabermetric methods. Because there is often a gap between the reality and the narrative, and another between that and the math. And we know damn well that the metaphor is the only thing Lowe and/or Tambellini is going to follow.

I'd feel much more confortable knowing that they work on 'gut feel'. Because there is usually only one or two degrees of separation from Roger Neilson and every coach and executive in the league ... so I suspect that a lot of the thought process on player evaluation is sensible.

8/01/2009 1:58 pm  
Blogger Moneypuck said...

Well Vic, I know for a fact that teams like Minnesota use metrics like Shot Quality, Goals Created and such.

The issue which you raise (I think) is using the stats properly. If a guy who doesn't understand the stats and how to implement them tries to do some sort of advancd quantitative anlysis hes surely to get burnt.

I think hockey is ahead of baseball too, because baseball took decades to implement sabermetrics, whereas I don't see it taking that long with hockey. The problems still lie that in the limited amount that we have to work with.

Good call on the qualcomp btw, something I found interesting when looking at that, is that top players COMFGAON isn't that far greater than most of the players on the team, maybe suggesting the myth "The top players suffer from tight checking" isn't all that true.

Wow I went off-topic.

8/01/2009 2:39 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

We're seeing a lot more people running series of regressions on the stats. I think that most of these folks have come over from the baseball side of sports stats.

8/02/2009 11:21 am  
Blogger Moneypuck said...

Yes and in some cases regression doesn't work on hockey stats because something like On/Off ice +- isn't a staight yes or no.

Baseball guys have to understand hockey stats are different.

8/02/2009 9:39 pm  
Blogger Julian said...

Kent W said :
For example, do you consider any 2on1 a scoring chance? Even if a pass is bobbled and the puck isn't directed on net? I don't think I do, but others probably would.

I certainly would. The point of the exercise is to determine defensive breakdowns, get an idea of who's on the ice when something you don't want to happen happens. A two-on-one is never something you want to happen against your team, so for the purposes of this exercise, I think it needs to be counted.

It'd be the same thing as a player wiffing on a cross-crease tap-in... he didn't get the shot off, but there's no way he should have been left alone at the side of the net. It was a defensive breakdown, and that's sorta what's being counted, no?

8/08/2009 2:41 am  

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