What We Learned: How is player performance still so subjective?

We’ve learned a lot about the underlying functions of the sport over the past few years.

When more stuff gets quantified, it is meant to increase your understanding of the sport, right? Just as an example, we now know more or less how likely a wrist shot from a specific spot on ice at 5-on-5 is to get through block attempts, end up on net, and even beat the goalie. We can break down the quality of competition and linemate for literally every player in the league, and use that to inform opinions about how useful they are. We can also look at zone deployment information to determine how coaches use any given player when they have the option.

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It’s certainly a long way from being as scientific as, say, the breakdowns in baseball or even basketball, but hockey’s a lot more understandable than it used to be, and getting more understandable all the time.

The reason I bring this up is that I am still occasionally mystified by how much people only see what they want to see in the game. Take, for example, the long-standing objection to Erik Karlsson or PK Subban’s approach to the game. It’s certainly more high-risk, high-reward than the vast majority of other players have traditionally played, but they were very much among the trailblazers in making the NHL as fast as it has become in recent years.

But if you’re a person who doesn’t like to see hockey played that way, well first of all, sorry about How Hockey Works Now. Also, though, you’re mostly going to see the turnovers make — at rates far greater than, uhh, less flashy players. It may be true that John Tortorella used to say “safe is death” but his preferred style of play, and that of many (older) fans is that playing it safe instead of taking chances is the best way to win a game, because maybe winning 2-1 is always preferable to maybe losing 6-5.

It’s widely accepted in basketball that even the very best point guards are going to lead the league in turnovers every year because you can throw the ball around like the Warriors’ Lineup of Death and make it look easy, but you’re still gonna get it wrong sometimes. The top 20 in turnovers in any given season is usually going to contain a pretty good list of the league’s MVP candidates, and no one cares.

You can probably make the same argument in hockey, except that the list tends to be heavy on defensemen. The guys who touch the puck the most, and carry it the longest way, tend to be the ones who turn it over. Only stands to reason. But among forwards, Johnny Gaudreau, Mat Barzal, and Jonathan Huberdeau led the league in turnovers last year, and those are all elite talents (or close to it) and you don’t see any bottom-six forwards in the top 100 or so, it says here. Which also stands to reason, because there are only 186 top-six forward slots in the league, y’know?

But that’s kind of an antiquated complaint, mainly because the people who espouse it most are antiques themselves, or at least deeply stupid.

More recently, I saw some pretty dumb takes about the Bruins’ goaltending situation that has been festering for about as long as I can remember in Tim Thomas’s absence. Tuukka Rask, you see, is seen as being somehow inadequate for the Bruins’ needs by not just the market’s least-thoughtful commentators, but a good chunk of the fanbase as well.

This, of course, makes no sense. Since Rask became the Bruins’ clear No. 1 in the most recent lockout season, he’s one of nine goalies in the NHL to post a .920 save percentage, ranking sixth in the league in sv% overall (.921). People argue he doesn’t show up for a loosely defined set of “big games,” too, but over that same stretch, he’s one of just nine goalies to post a .920 in the postseason, ranking second overall (.927).

To be fair to these clowns, who have been banging the Rask Sucks drum since the Bruins lost the 2013 Cup Final despite Rask going .940(!!!) in that postseason — but only .932 in the Final — his last three seasons have been just a combined .916. That still places him eighth in the league over that stretch, but y’know, it’s not .920.

When Rask got lit up on opening night, surrendering five goals on 19 shots, the knives were out once again and they only got sharper when Jaro Halak pitched a shutout the very next night against the Sabres.

No one on earth is saying Rask shouldn’t have played better, but it was one game and these jackals were pouring over the horizon to grandstand over a guy who is, by any reasonable individual measure, a top-eight goalie in the world over five-plus seasons.

Last I checked, they play 82 of these things.

This is one of those things that sticks in my craw, I guess, because it’s one of those things that’s an objective truth: Tuukka Rask is and has been at least an above-average goaltender, and if you think that’s not good enough, or just about anyone could have done an equally good job, you’re entitled to your wrong opinion but maybe don’t subject the world to the same take every time Rask gives up 3 on 32 in a loss.

You can quibble with his AAV, maybe. You can say that he hasn’t been all-world the past few years. You sure as hell can’t say he’s someone you’ll never win with; since he became a starter, the Bruins play at a pace for 103 points every 82 games in his appearances.

It’s not quite the “Fake News” proclamation of the hockey world, but professional hockey people and diehard fans alike really have no excuse to keep their heads as buried in the sand as they seem to want to in 2018.

Simply put, there’s just too much information out there for you to pretend objectively true things are not so, and defiantly told-ya-so over any game in which he lives down to expectations, few and far between though those instances may be.

I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of hockey people don’t have a good excuse to be as dumb as they are, but they flat-out refuse to let that stop them.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: If John Gibson starts throwing 41-save shutouts with greater frequency, people might finally realize he’s an elite goaltender.

Arizona Coyotes: They’ve played two games so far, but the next Coyotes goal will be their first of the season.

Boston Bruins: The local media really has to stop bigging up Brad Marchand every time he does some rat stuff.

Buffalo Sabres: To be fair, we’re talking about beating the Rangers. To be fair to those being fair, though, we’re also talking about the Sabres beating anyone.

Calgary Flames: As long as the Flames keep scoring five-plus, they’re probably gonna be in good shape to win a lot of Mike Smith starts.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes felt good after an OT loss because sometimes you put up close to 50 shots and lose.

Chicago: Good news for the people who think Jonathan Toews is gonna become a 70-point player again.

Colorado Avalanche: Wow what if Carl Soderberg lives up to his contract? Huh? Wow.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This is the first one of these headlines I’ve seen this season and I’m gonna assume it’s absolutely not the last.

Dallas Stars: I’d say probably if you score five on the power play that’s good.

Detroit Red Wings: I thought about it and: Absolutely Not.

Edmonton Oilers: Big fan of the headline here.

Florida Panthers: Well, Roberto Luongo got hurt.

Los Angeles Kings: This is maybe a take for another time but “where to put Ilya Kovalchuk” is the opposite of a difficult decision. Here’s a hint: Not at the netfront on the power play.

Minnesota Wild: Get the feeling we’re gonna see results like this a lot this season.

Montreal Canadiens: Imagine believing this.

Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros is getting off to a good start.

New Jersey Devils: Hey that ain’t bad.

New York Islanders: Here we go folks hooray!

New York Rangers: This is a big no thanks for me.

Ottawa Senators: How many “Karlsson who?” takes are we gonna see every time Thomas Chabot has an okay game?

Philadelphia Flyers: Ahh, uh oh.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Would you believe Matt Murray might not be bouncing back???????

San Jose Sharks: Through two games, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns both have corsi-for shares north of 60. Just saying.

St. Louis Blues: I love to have multiple injury concerns two games into the year.

Tampa Bay Lightning: This is whatever you call the opposite of a surprise.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If you lose to the Senators you shouldn’t be able to make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson rules already. I love it.

Vegas Golden Knights: Looks like that second line is working out okay so far.

Washington Capitals: This is amazing.

Winnipeg Jets: In my opinion you can’t go 2 for 5 on the PK and expect to win.

Gold Star Award

Remember when people were saying Tyler Seguin needed to have a big season or whatever? He’s on 2-2-4 in two games. Not bad.

Minus of the Weekend

The Rangers insist on putting Cody McLeod into the lineup. He played 5:23 on Saturday.

Play of the Weekend

Real nice goal from Viktor Arvidsson. Real nice.


Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Voodoo Glow Skulls” is really shooting the moon.



Colorado 2019 2nd
Ottawa 2019 3rd


Huh. “Shakes.” You don’t know what you’re gettin’.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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