Scheifele, Dubois play hockey, not analytics, they say

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Mark Scheifele, the Winnipeg Jets self-proclaimed resident hockey nerd, doesn't have a whole lot of time for fancy stats, otherwise known across the sporting world as analytics.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2021 (636 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mark Scheifele, the Winnipeg Jets self-proclaimed resident hockey nerd, doesn’t have a whole lot of time for fancy stats, otherwise known across the sporting world as analytics.

And for someone who doesn’t swear — fudge is the F-word in the Scheifele household — he certainly had some choice words with how they’re being used to better understand and define the game.

“I don’t have much time for analytics. I don’t pay any attention to it. Any analytic, I could go watch a game and tell you how a guy played and I don’t think… I really don’t have any time,” Scheifele said following Thursday’s morning skate in Montreal. “I don’t understand them. I’d rather just watch a game and tell you whether a guy played well or not. The analytics is a bunch of hogwash in my mind.”

Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois don't put too much stock in analytics. (TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

It was somewhat of a surprising reaction by Scheifele, especially for someone known to put in a lot of extra time into watching film of players and finding different ways to improve at his craft. It was also somewhat predictable, as analytics are often used to evaluate a given player. Criticism isn’t always an easy pill to swallow for pro athletes, and it can be even more painful to see numbers back up a blemish in your game.

But while analytics are certainly useful and have helped grow the game to new lengths, studying them also not a perfect science.

Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois shared similar sentiments to Scheifele’s, even if they didn’t come across quite as critical. With hockey being such a fluid game, Dubois cautions that there are intangibles that take place on every shift that are just impossible to factor in to the overall data.

“There are some interesting stats out there,” Dubois said. “To be honest, with me, I’m more (about) what you see on the ice than statistically and stuff like that. There’s a lot going on in a hockey game that you can’t necessarily calculate.

“There’s a lot in a player that you can’t put a number on or a value on…. so many quick decisions you have to make. There is stuff like character and effort.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice has talked a lot about analytics over his tenure with the Jets. He’s often quick to point out that non-traditional statistics — numbers outside of the obvious goals, assists, points, etc. — have been in use for longer than a decade. What he said has happened is over the last few years the data has grown and grown, creating such a vast amount of knowledge that it can be difficult to identify what matters most to what team, or whether the numbers are as reliable as they might suggest.

“There’s a changing dynamic out there, that there’s so much information, and you do have to qualify it, that we aren’t all fully aware of the quality of that information. And I’m talking about the data. The things that get inputted into your algorithm to give you the answer that this is the holy grail of analytic stats and whatever team isn’t getting it done, and certainly this player isn’t getting it done. But I think there’s also a misconception about people in the National Hockey League that there’s kind of the old-school idea that we pay no attention to analytics,” Maurice said.

“The truth is we were doing that 10, 15 years ago. We’ve been into analytics, analyzing your chances, how they’re generated, who’s generating them, what teams are the best at generating. What’s different now I think is you get a way better relative understanding in terms of where your team is at on a specific data point compared to the rest of the league. If we assume that you appreciate the validity of the data.”

He added: “What’s kind of lost is what’s most important for your team. Because if you go back and look at Stanley Cup champions, and I don’t know how many different lines of analytics you would look at, but I think in one of our reports that we get there’s about 360. So if you go back and look at it, all these teams are different. Their strengths are different. General managers have been trying to find the holy grail of what’s the perfect player, what’s the perfect construction of a team. But it’s different. Each team is different.”

The end goal for analytics, at least to Maurice, is to identify your strengths and try to maximize them. It’s here where the Jets coach feels there’s a disconnect when debating what numbers are important. He also thinks a lot of the data seems to favour offensive output.

“A strength for one team doesn’t have to be a strength for the other. The one that I think is true is that most Stanley Cup champions are pretty darn good defensively, as well. We talk offence all the time, but the best teams are very good defensively,” he said.

“So we’re all now holding players, teams and coaches accountable to a standard I don’t think we fully understand, yet. I don’t think the data is of high-enough quality that you could bet a kidney on. You wouldn’t want to take that hard a stand with any of this information.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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