Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson -- currently experiencing a career year with 59 points in 57 games played in 2014-15 -- isn't much a fan of analytics, which have risen to prominence in the NHL over the past few years, coming to a head with NHL dot com adding "enhanced stats" to their website.
Asked by Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, Johnson added this on the subject of analytics:
"People talk about all these other (analytics), I can guarantee you go around this room, not one player knows what the heck you're talking about."
Good. This is a very good thing for the Lightning moving forward. Here's why.
Analytics are not a player's concern
A player's job is to perform on the ice. Prevent the opposition from scoring a goal while working to a score a goal for your team. That's it, that's the job.
Analytics -- specifically the most-used ones, Corsi (also known as SAT on NHL dot com) and Fenwick (USAT) -- measure puck possession, and have been shown to correlate very highly with winning. But they are tools for coaches, scouts, and executives used to analyze the game and evaluate players. It is information incorporated into the traditional scouting apparatus to make judgments on players and games, line combinations and match-ups.
This tool is not for players. Tyler Johnson shouldn't understand Corsi any more than he understands which detergent the equipment staff uses to launder his jerseys or which fry oil the concessions staff uses to make french fries. Those things are not a part of his job -- which is to go out on the ice and outscore the other team.
In fact, the whole thing breaks down if players are too invested in analytics
Part of the reason analytics are so useful is for the simple fact that players are unaware of them. The whole thing breaks down if players attempt to pad their Corsi number by skating in over the red line and firing the puck at the net (resulting in a +1 Corsi/SAT). Players -- playing the way they've always been taught to play -- allows us to use Corsi to objectively measure where the puck is and how often it's there. Who has it? Who never has it? Who is helping the team control play? Who isn't?
For the players themselves, the most important thing is still what it has always been -- focusing on the details, the process. Listen to the coaches. Do what they're being asked.
Process is still king
Consider this scenario.
Steven Stamkos is in a goal-scoring slump. It's been 8, 9, maybe 10 games without a goal.
What kind of advice does he need?
"Go out there and score a goal, Steven."
No, no, that's all wrong. "Focus on the little things. Get to the open space. Play a 200 foot game, defend well, move the puck up ice. Make yourself available for a pass. The goals will come."
This concept works exactly the same for Corsi.
No one should be out there looking to Corsi. Corsi is a record, a result of events that happened on the ice. As Ryan Callahan points out in Joe Smith's piece:
Veteran RW Ryan Callahan said while players use video in preparation, including watching clips of all their shifts, analytics and enhanced stats aren't really brought up by coaches ... "You watch video enough to evaluate yourself game to game."
This video work is exactly what the players should be focusing on. Making smart decisions with the puck, clean outlets, making yourself available for a pass on the breakout, understanding when to pinch in or rotate back or what your assignment is on the forecheck or in defensive zone coverage. These things will lead to good analytics. Process. Focus on the process.
As for changing hockey
There is but one disconcerting quote in that short interview with Tyler Johnson:
"It's one of those things that gives reporters and everyone else something to talk about. There's a lot more to the game than scientific things like that. I'm not a big fan of it, don't know many people who are. I think they need to keep hockey the way it is."
No one is trying to change hockey or the way it is played.
Only the way we view, analyze, and evaluate it.
Keep doing what you're doing, TJ. Don't worry about your Corsi*.
(*87th in the NHL among skaters with >500 5v5 minutes, 54.1% Corsi For at 5v5.)