David Staples is a writer at the Edmonton Journal...no no wait come back!!! Stick with me...
He recently wrote his latest screed on apparent league MVP Kris Russell: "Why there's such furious disagreement on the merits of Kris Russell..." where he summarizes some of the different writings on Russell. There's no reason for me to try and rebut Staples' argument - others who are smarter than me, and better writers/educators have done that before, and this time is no different. See, for example, the series of tweets starting here by @DTMAboutHeart:
For all players, Staples has put his money on tracking Scoring Chances (as he defines them) and the Contributions and Mistakes that lead up to them. My point in this post is to highlight something that bothers me about Staples' article and his writing in general: the possible belief that *his* way of doing tracking is superior to others, and more specifically, that his way is better because its somehow *objective*.
My biggest issue is with the line "I use a clear set of criteria." To his credit, Staples links to those criteria for all to see. I believe all trackers should do that (and from what I recall, most who work in the public sphere, like @ShutdownLine and @RK_Stimp do).
And also to be fair, this is not to conclusively determine that Staples process and results are "bad". Stats can be descriptive, predictive, or both. I don't recall seeing any evidence from him or others that his work shows any predictive value - and maybe he doesn't care if it does or not. I'd guess he's wasting all his time tracking stuff that doesn't matter as much as he wants to believe. That's a different argument. But I'm confident he believes it shows some descriptive value, and I have some real concern with that.
Staples is trying to suggest that by using this "clear" criteria, you can *assign blame and credit* to individual players. When @ShutdownLine tracks passing and zone entries - he is simply recording what happened. He is not *during the tracking* assigning weight or value to the event. That is done after the fact, by the rest of us. Staples is going far beyond that by recording events as filtered through his personal view of those events' value. I think that is taking "tracking" to a different, more dangerous level, and it makes the tracker's motives and biases fair game.
It doesn't take long to look at the criteria document and see tons of wiggle room. Actually, you can just look at the use of "significant contributions" in the quote above to see that. And "wiggle room" is just a more fun way to say "possible bias." So let's take a look. Note: Each of these is a screengrab from Staples' criteria document, with *my* highlighting and underlining.
Hey look...Staples and I agree on something! Right off the bat, we see these are guidelines, and will be open to some interpretation. Good on Staples for recognizing it up front.
"Generally" from the homeplate area. We'll see him try to get more granular later. As for the 2nd underlining - he never explains what "weaker" shots means - is that by speed? location of shot? name on the back of the jersey of the shooter (Gomez v. Ovechkin?) or goalie?
Now we see that not only are there Scoring Chances, there are *3* levels of Scoring Chances. That's relatively well defined based on location of the shot. But then we see that the "most hard and difficult" shots "from just outside" the "very top" of the slot "may" also be Grade A chances. That's a lot of options for the tracker. What is a hard shot? Why is that hard shot difficult? Where's "just outside" the "very top" of the slot?
Deflections themselves apparently have quality. These qualities are not defined, but a deflection of some Quality can be a Grade A Chance...unless the deflection occurs "in tight to the net" which is generally *not* the Grade A Chance. I suppose it doesn't matter the quality of that particular deflection (though Staples seems to leave that up to the tracker).
If you thought trying to pin down Scoring Chances was fun, just wait. Now Staples is not only trying to define "mistakes" and "contributions" (again assuming that such assignments have some inherent value), he's going to separate those into Significant contributions and Significant mistakes. I am excite!
Are you an Old School Hockey Guy? Then you will love tracking for David Staples. A team needs to "win" the puck, "gain momentum" in a generally "continuous" manner to get a Scoring Chance. Apparently, momentum has been gained continuously unless the other team has "full" possession of the puck with "time" and "space" to "reasonably" end the "pressure" and the momentum. Good golly. What the heck is "time" and "space"? Is it measured by seconds? Distance to the nearest opposing player? Does it matter what zone the player is in? Should it take into account the stick length of the opposing player? How about something less obvious - like a fight, of a "good" penalty that saves a goal? How far back does the chain go?
Then we get to the last sentence. Now the poor tracker needs to know what an "average NHLer" would "reasonably" do to make a "safe clearance play". I guess you need to have Played the Game to be a Staples tracker. You also need to be aware of what the teams' particular breakout and forechecking systems are, so that you can determine what would be deemed a "safe clearance play." Or maybe not - maybe Staples has internally decoded the Ideal hockey play for every possible situation.
I assume by winning a battle, Staples means taking the puck away from a player who has control...or maybe just is about to have control..or hitting a guy and causing a turnover...or hitting a guy and causing a loose puck that someone else controls...or running a slight pick that gives a teammate more room...or who skates in front of a goalie and stops....or who skates in front of a goalie without stopping...or...oh c'mon now I have to determine if these are just "minor" contributions too? If Zdeno Chara screens a Darren Pang, is that a minor contribution? What if Mats Zuccarrello screens Ben Bishop?
You can see the pattern here. I find it kinda funny to think that any one of us can try to determine a "missed assignment" on every single goal scored, and that *every* tracker would do the same. So Staples tries to give examples to identify "culprits" - by using the same non-examples used earlier ("lose a battle", "make a turnover"). But wait - some "discretion" should be given to offense, since they are expected to take chances "at times". So please know when those times are (as they are not defined) since every offensive mistake (but not defensive ones apparently) is "sometimes deemed to be....a necessary risk to try to score."
On the defensive end, the mess continues, as you are expected to determine if a forward has allowed a player to skate through the neutral zone with "speed", or if the defender "give[s] too much gap." Its unclear if we are supposed to assume all players should be given the same gap, or if certain skill players are to be given more gap room.
Defenders make mistakes when they are "slow to defend" an offensive player. Sorry, Dan Girardi.
Also, wingers should never leave the defensive zone before the puck is out...if he isn't in the position to take a clearing pass? Staples sure knows a lot about breakouts and forechecking systems.
And yes, failed dump-ins are always a mistake. Not non-failed dump-ins, mind you. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the difference is.
"What we have here is...failure to communicate". So if you see a play and start whistling Guns 'n' Roses' "Civil War", give *yourself* a minus for not immediately thinking of Cool Hand Luke instead.
Takeaways need to be *decisive* takeaways. I assume that means the player who lost the puck has his pants fall off?
Well, at least he tried to address an issue I had earlier. But it hardly clarifies it well. "Briefly bothering the goalie" is my favorite line of the entire document. "Marty, when Avery was calling you a gelatinous sister-fucker, would you say you were briefly bothered, or permanently bothered?"
Getting deked by a "great" player is a mistake!
What's a pass a defender "should have blocked"? Is leeway given to a forward caught playing defense? Does the defender who pinched to lead to this situation get a "mistake"? What if he is at that time of the game when its ok to take a risk to score?
Finally, nowhere in this document does Staples address a really obvious question - does every Scoring Chance *have* to have an equal number of Mistakes and Contributions? Does every Mistake have an equal and opposite Contribution? Can a team do *everything right* and still end up giving up a Scoring Chance? This is important in this system - if a team can do everything right, and still give up a Scoring Chance, then doesn't that suggest it didn't do everything right?
Hockey is a fluid game with hundreds of factors leading to variable outcomes per game. It would be impossible to determine a clear set of rules for determining "fault" or "credit" on most of the events that happen in a hockey game. Again - I give credit to Staples for trying to lay out, in detail, his criteria. But it just shows me that his system is almost impossible to apply consistently, and riddled with opportunities for tracker inconsistencies and bias. If Staples' truly believes in the "clarity" of his system, that his "rules" make his judgment less faulty than others, I think he's wildly mistaken.
...Again I'm right in my analysis.