Pierre McGuire would fire coaches that rely on analytics for player review

Puck Daddy

In reading and hearing so many hockey analytics naysayers over the last year, we’re convinced that the divide between the sides isn’t as enormous as it appears. Provided one side stops being so short-sighted and presumptive about the other.

To wit: One of the constant reactions from anti-stats people is that they’re somehow “replacing” good ole fashioned game watching.

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Which they aren’t, at all – they’re augmenting what’s seen during games, seeking to guide coaches and scouts in what to look for in evaluating the performance of a team or player. What is the other team doing when he’s on or off the ice? Where is he starting the majority of his shifts, and what has he produced despite that advantage or disadvantage? And so on.

So we’re not going to label Pierre McGuire, NBC Sports analyst and Penguins general manager honorable mention, as an anti-stats guy, despite the negative reaction his words on TSN 690 last week have received.

They came to light in a Jack Todd piece on fancy stats published Monday, in which McGuire was quoted as saying:

“Any coach that uses analytics to show a player what he did right or wrong,” McGuire told TSN Radio 690’s Mitch Melnick, “should be terminated on the spot.”

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We were curious about the context there, so we dipped into the podcast archives and listened to the back and forth:

Q. “We gotta still be quite a ways away from at time when a coach is going to talk to a player after the game and is going to use analytics to explain what he did right or what he did wrong.”

PIERRE: “Any coach that does that should be terminated.”

Q. “HUH?!”

PIERRE: “You heard me. You challenge me all you want. Videotape is what they need to see. Players don’t think about, ‘If I block this shot, my analytic number is going to go five percent.’ Or ‘if I get five shots on goal, my analytic number is going to go up 10 percent.’ They have to look at the play. They have to decipher the situation. It’s about the play. It’s about the hockey sense. It’s about the peripheral vision. It’s about winning the race. There’s no number for that.”

“The tape doesn’t lie.”

“I will cede you this, because I was guilty as the next coach for doing this. You usually had eight 10-game meetings. You do the breakdown: ‘You were a plus-4 over these 10 games, you have five goals, etc.’ You have it all on a graph for a player, you break it down that way.”

“I thought the key to those meetings is that you’d have it all on a graph, but you’d have a video tape to back it up. The video was the key to the meeting. You’d read the numbers, but the tape was more valuable.”

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McGuire’s entire screed against hockey analytics is based on the fallacy that coaches that would use them to evaluate players would either value them over game film or disregard the game film altogether.

Does anyone that understands the analytics movement argue for that? Or believe it will happen? Tyler Dellow was hired by the Edmonton Oilers for that precise skillset: The ability to use video to either pull data from it or to confirm the numbers generated from game stats.

McGuire said the most effective player evaluation was when coaches went to the players with graphs and then used game footage to back it up; it boggles the mind that smart hockey people don’t believe this is EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN with advanced stats since it’s what’s always happened with more traditional stats?

McGuire also said in the interview that “the players don’t pay any attention to anything but blocked shots, goals and hits.”

Do the players know that only one of those can be quantified without the filter of subjectivity? 

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