An uproar from Blackhawks fans was started the other day when two writers wrote that perhaps Marian Hossa’s play was fading, especially this year. In the first article, the premise stated that if his struggling play continues, then the Blackhawks may be wise to trade him, buy him out, etc in the next couple of years. The second article was related to his value in fantasy hockey leagues. In both cases, the same reply can me made: relying on statistics to make an argument can lead to a false conclusion. This is especially true when you do not take the opportunity to actually watch him play.
I am going to tackle the fantasy comments first. He and the Blackhawks play in reality where the only thing that matters is wins, rings and cups. To that end, Hossa has earned a hat trick of Stanley Cup championships. Fantasy hockey focuses on player point production, not on back checking, hustle and leadership. If you watch hockey and your first reaction is to get mad when players on your fantasy team don’t produce, then it is unlikely you are watching the game. That is fine, but then you are a fantasy fan, and not a reality one.
This dovetails nicely into the first article that suggests that because Hossa’s statistics are down, his salary may be outweighing his value. Comments like these are easy to make given the plethora of statistics available at one’s finger tips. They also make for great headlines to drive debate. Can you imagine if using that logic, I were to say Sidney Crosby has outlived his usefulness in Pittsburgh? The dependence on these statistics is especially frustrating when writers, announcers and other so-called experts rely on them to support commentary on a player they do not WATCH on a regular basis.
My colleague and fellow Blackhawks writer Kristi Loucks recently wrote a great piece on Hossa and his value to the team. There isn’t much I need to add here to further support what he brings to the Blackhawks. I agree 100% with her comment that “The most important part of Hossa’s play cannot always be measured on stats sheets.” Players and coaches around the league constantly marvel at his skill possessing the puck, back-checking to create turnovers/stop odd-man rushes and his hockey IQ. He is leading by example. Young players like Panarin and Teravainen see his hustle and the results it produces and use Hossa as a mentor. Even Captain Jonathan Toews recognizes and appreciates what Hossa brings to the ice every night, and it has nothing to do with points. Consider what Toews said during an interview with Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times on April 20th, 2015: “He still seems to have that passion, that burning desire to be the best, and he just goes out there and does it. He makes it seem a lot easier than it really is.”
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 1, 2015
As for the statistics, I do not wish to argue about the validity of Corsi, Fenwick and the like. They certainly are useful to help analyze the game and add value to teams and coaches that look for every edge they can find to win a game. The possibilities for breaking down teams and players are literally endless, provided you can even understand what they mean. Before you argue that I just don’t understand them, please note that I am well-versed in statistics, having sat through one too many advanced courses in graduate school. It is absolutely true that you can essentially find statistics to support any point you want to make, no matter how silly. As example, how many times in the last six years has either the goal scoring or points leader in the NHL won the Stanley Cup? Get my point?
Perhaps the best argument for why it is better to watch the game to evaluate talent rather than rely on statistics comes from the NHL itself. They are called Scouts. The Blackhawks have twenty-seven, yes 27, staff members dedicated to scouting. That includes Amateur, European and Pro scouts. They are paid handsomely to watch games every day with the singular goal of identifying the next Marian Hossa. They trust their eyes, and so should you.