Nichols Notes

McKenzie on analytics and his belief in ‘really complex shades of grey’

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Politics. Religion. Analytics.

Looking to start an argument? Wade into one of those subjects, particularly on Twitter.

NHL Insider Bob McKenzie was doing a Friday morning radio hit on Edmonton’s TSN 1260 when the subject of Kris Russell and analytics was brought up.

Russell has been a lightning rod on that particular subject, and McKenzie was asked how much Russell’s poor numbers there may have hurt him during free agency.

Russell signed a one-year, $3.1 million contract with the Oilers on October 7.

“I think it was maybe a contributing factor, but I don’t know that it was the prime factor,” surmised McKenzie. “I think, like most things in life, it’s never as black and white as anybody wants it to be. Whether you’re ‘eye test’ or ‘analytics,’ the people who are really strong proponents of both really believe in black and white. And I don’t. I believe in really complex shades of grey all the time, on just about everything. Which makes for a really boring segment on talk radio, I guess.

“But I’ll put it this way. Kris Russell suffered from a number of different things. Not the least of which was his own desire and expectation that he was going to get the standard five-plus years at $5 million or more. He wanted that from the Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames weren’t prepared to give it to him. So he ended up getting traded at the deadline and he went to Dallas. And the fact that the Dallas Stars didn’t have success in the playoffs, that Russell was brought in to stabilize a defense that hadn’t been very good – although a lot of people said goaltending was the root cause. But their overall team defense wasn’t nearly good enough in Dallas. And Russell didn’t play really well in Dallas, and they weren’t successful. And now it comes to free agency and I think Russell still went into free agency expecting that getting a four or five-year deal at 4 or 4.5 or 5 or 5-plus could happen for him.

“And I think a lot of people said, ‘You know what? He wants too many years at too much money.’ And they went in different directions. And then all of the sudden it got to be July 5. It got to be July 10. It got to be July 31. And suddenly the music stopped playing and Kris Russell didn’t have a chair.

“Listen. I’ve heard the argument raging on all week about how good or bad Kris Russell is in Edmonton. Put it this way: He wasn’t so good that anybody wanted to give him a job until the regular season was beginning and he got a one-year deal on a lot less money than anybody would have anticipated three or four or five months ago.

“The flip side of that is I never buy into – I think analytics are probably a really useful tool on a lot of different fronts. I don’t understand a lot of them as well as I should. But I try to. And I’m really open-minded on having more information as opposed to less information. But I’ve never really subscribed to the theory that – and you see this all of the time on Twitter from a lot of people over analytics – they talk about players like they’re garbage. They talk about them like they can’t even play.

“Rasmus Ristolainen in Buffalo just signed a six-year deal at $5.4 million, and to read what some people in the analytics community think about him, they kind of portray him as the worst defenseman ever. And if you go to a Buffalo Sabres season ticket holder and ask them who’s one of your favorite players or the best player on your blueline, they’re going to say, ‘Rasmus Ristolainen because he plays hard minutes against the best players.’ And then the analytics is going to say, ‘Yeah, but the numbers are no good.’

“Well, whatever. And I’m not saying Ristolainen is a Norris Trophy winner, but I’ve never subscribed to the theory that guys like Ristolainen or Kris Russell or other defensemen whose numbers suffer badly when you use some of the standard analytics that are out there are hot pails of garbage either.”

Amen.

There may not be much room for nuance and shades of grey in 140 character bursts, but the caustic and divisive dialogue and tone from too many people on either side of these sorts of debates just ends up repelling more people away from what could be some really informative and spirited discussions.

Source: TSN 1260

For reference: Covering the Insiders

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