When Gary Bettman took to the podium and announced the NHL's new partnership with a company called Sportvision, who plan to place infrared chips into jerseys and pucks across the NHL in order to get more and better tracking data for everyone to take in, there were essentially three reactions.
The average fan either ignored it, or thought it might be a neat new thing. The statistically inclined fan of the game got a little excited about the new data to parse through to learn more about the game. Certain NHL writers with an axe to grind instantly wrote embarrassing articles on the death of the Corsi stat.
Ken Campbell is the one who got the most attention, beginning his column on the subject with a shot at hockey "nerds".
"The pocket protector crowd may be dismayed to learn this, but the Death of Corsi is on the horizon. Push up your spectacles and deal with it, people."
It's an odd sentiment. When I think of a writer for The Hockey News, I don't exactly think of a strapping jock who made high school hell for nerds, but then again, when I was in high school being smart was treated as a good thing. Maybe it's the age gap, but jocks, nerds, and greasers aren't the reality of the world anymore. In my high school, the popular group was the smart group, and included a lot of the athletes.
But high school-level insults is exactly what this is about, because like the nature of the word nerd, it is a defense mechanism from someone who feels threatened intellectually.
Campbell continues in his column to talk about how Corsi will be replaced by this new tracking system, in doing so, he continually shows us that he doesn't understand why the statistic is important, or how it's used.
"The process is still in its very early stages, but it involves embedding a microchip in players' sweaters and pucks that will be coordinated with infrared cameras around the arena that will be able to uniquely identify each tag, which will tell us exactly who was on the ice, who had the puck and for how long.
And really, isn't that what Corsi is doing right now? The game is all about puck possession and Corsi is a proxy way of measuring it. And while it has helped, this technology will allow the league to track it far more accurately. And once the league and Sportvision perfect this system, you don't really need Corsi anymore."
More accurate statistics are good, however getting time of possession doesn't eliminate the value of Corsi. Yes, Corsi is often referred to as a proxy for puck possession, yet accumulating shot attempts is more important when you're trying to win games than simply possessing the puck. As Campbell mentions further in his piece, tracking shot attempts and where they come from will be part of this new tracking system, which really means it will just improve Corsi's accuracy, not kill the statistic.
It's not really about Corsi
I could go on and continue quoting from Campbell's piece showing that he doesn't understand what he's trying to write about, but that doesn't really matter, because it's not what this is all about. The statistics in and of themselves don't really matter to people like Campbell, what matters is who created them.
The celebration of the death of Corsi isn't a shot at the impact of the statistic, but at the part-time bloggers who found its use for predicting future events in the game, and made such convincing arguments that it's now mentioned on television broadcasts. The subtext of Campbell's assertion is: with this new system the NHL is going to take over, and since they're the ones releasing the information now, those annoying bloggers are going to go out of business!
What he and others like him don't seem to understand, is that the data for Corsi, and Fenwick, and zone starts, and quality of competition, and PDO all comes from the NHL in the first place. The NHL publishes that data on their website already, just not in an easily consumable way. If the NHL is truly committed to making all this tracking data much more accessible to fans, then we probably are in for a new analytics revolution, from the same group that started the last one in the early 2000s.
New data will likely mean new and better statistics, but the likelihood of the NHL developing them before the passionate fans of the game, many of whom happen to be scientists, engineers, and lawyers, is extremely unlikely. If anything, this new approach from the NHL should have writers like Campbell shuddering, not celebrating, because new and possibly more complicated statistics being promoted by the NHL instead of ignored is only going to hasten the irrelevance of writers who can't wrap their brains around shot attempt differentials.