Saturday, October 25, 2008


BoA Review: Flames PPV

I can't say that it's the most I've enjoyed a Flames pay-per-view broadcast (that remains, and likely will for some time, the shooting gallery in St. Pete last season), but it was easily the highest quality broadcast the team has ever put on.

The HD picture was terrific, a massive improvement over previous seasons where the video seemed roughly YouTube-quality. There were no technical difficulties to speak of, another massive improvement. They left the PP clock on for 20-30 seconds after Arnott had scored, and that's it: basically, the product seemed technically equal to Hockey Night in Canada, or TSN (insert obligatory Hockey Theme riff).

I was fairly impressed with Rob Kerr in his play-by-play debut. He was wearing a suit that no doubt costs five times as much as anything he's ever owned, and looked sharp. I found his voice and commentary to be generally pleasant and informative. Though I realize it's a matter of taste, I think his WWF-mode for calling fights is ridiculous, and comes off very junior hockey. (The absurdity was underlined last night when Prust fought Tarnasky: he bellowed 'DOWN GOES TARNASKY'; simultaneously (to his credit) realized it wasn't really a punch; but then kept yelling at the same volume 'THOUGH I THINK THAT WAS A BALANCE ISSUE AS MUCH AS ANY PUNCH'.)

There was only one area in which Kerr was an utter failure, and that was in eliciting any insightful or entertaining comments from "colour" "analyst" Charlie Simmer. Seriously, sir, is there any point in the game where it's not especially important to really knuckle down and be solid? I heard some variation of that phrase after goals against, after goals for, at the beginning of periods, at the end of periods. Our last prime minister got mocked, and rightfully, for his penchant for saying that absolutely any issue he was asked about was a "very, very high priority". As such: if it's always a key time of the game, then it never is.

Also, momentum. Yeeaaaggghhh. Look, I'm not rabidly anti-intangibles, I swear. If a coach or fan wants to look at the previous night's game and say, "I thought that fight / hit / save / shift was what changed the momentum in our favour", then fine. Might well be true, I certainly don't feel the mood of the bench through my TV.

However, the concept of momentum in a hockey game as expounded by Simmer and some of his ilk is a real schmozzle. A semi heading westward along the highway has momentum, because even if you shut the engine off, someone is going to have to do a lot of work to get it going back eastward. Simmer assigns all sorts of importance to momentum, AND talks like it can switch back and forth on a dime, frequently and without warning, which must mean that (at the time) it isn't worth much. It has got to be one or the other, doesn't it?

But even forget that: can we all agree at least that the actual benefit to scoring the first goal is not that "you take the momentum away from the home team in front of the crowd", as Simmer was trying to convince me, but that you're up 1-0? Momentum, such as it is, can change back and forth, but that goal is staying on the scoreboard no matter what. It's permanent. Also, the object of the game is not to outmomentum the other team.

I think what it is is that "momentum" in hockey is a dressing room concept used to represent the idea of playing well (i.e. outchancing etc.). If you just had a really good shift but didn't score, what did you achieve? You grabbed some momentum for your team. It's immediate, and has at least the illusion of being tangible (if not actually true most times in the English sense, or ever in the physics sense). As a feedback mechanism, it's a lot better than the AC telling you, "if you have enough shifts like that over the next ten games, you'll probably score several goals".

In that context, it makes sense. But it doesn't excuse an analyst for beating the momentum drum all night, even if he is an ex-player. Not only is it nonsensical, it's boring.



As always.

Matt, you're my favourite Flames fan ever.

That coulda sounded kinda snarky, sorry. I was being quite honest, I'm a big fan of these sorts of posts.a

Momentum definitely exists in the athletic mind -- you have one shift where you outchance someone, you feel like the next line can take advantage, or like you can go back out the next time and do the same thing. Confidence is a proven factor in athletic performance, which is what gives the concept of "momentum" its scientific leg to stand on.

That being said, while all kinds of things can subtly alter momentum, leading to visible changes over time, the modern professional athlete is made of much sterner stuff than most broadcasters give credit. Not every shot, goal, save, hit, and fight is created equal. A lot of it is timing- and situation-specific, to the point where you largely have to go on "feel," because it's impossible to quantify. Even the obvious events (the MacIntyre hit and fight in last week's BoA) aren't always the key: the Oilers were playing much better for the whole second period, with the hit/fight serving more as an exclamation point than a turning point. The real turning point was probably something said during the first intermission that lit a fire under the Oilers' asses.

So to summarize...Charlie Simmer is still full of shit.

Oh, and even the real junior broadcaster in this city (Brad Curle) doesn't get nearly as, ah, excitable when calling fights as Kerr does, and Curle spends half the game sounding like he got caught in his zipper.

thought someone at BoA would like this...check out his answer to the third-last question

I remember when Anson Carter was an Oiler, he was asked about momentum during a radio interview. His answer would have made you a fan (of Carter, not necessarily of his game).

It was far too long ago to remember exact words, but the gist of it was that sometimes momentum changes for really tangible reasons, like you've had them pinned in their end for three straight shifts, and the next one is starting well. Sometimes for emotional reasons, like a big fight or a controversial hit. And a lot of times for no reason at all, you just seem to have better legs for a stretch, and things go your way.

He seemed to think that even over the course of even just one game, that momentum balanced out.

In another interview he pondered the whole notion of "being more ready for a game", the thinking being that most everyone playing in the NHL is a pro. They are ready for the games. And that being more psyched for some games, because of the coaching staff or other reasons, well that it does happen ... but it comes at the expense of other games. Because every game just can't be the most important game of your life, certainly not over an 82 game grind.

This was long before the Oilogosphere, of course, and at least a couple of times I posted his remarks on messageboards, thinking that they had real value. And it turns out that commentary like this makes Oiler fans despise you and question your intelligence, clutchness and character.

A shame, because I know Carter read the internet quite a bit. I was expecting the opposite response at the time I posted his remarks.

So maybe we get cliched answers from players and coaches in this country because we deserve them. And maybe we get Simmer'd because, collectively, we Canadians like it like that.

Just to add to that, you made a comment in a post below about the Flames EV shots metrics numbers (shots+/-, fenwick and corsi) being strong.

I don't know how many games the Flames had played then, maybe six? Whatever it was, I will look it up if you respond to this.

If those that had guffawed at the notion as they read it (most, I'm afraid), if they had wagered against you instead of rolling their eyes, how would it go for them? In your opinion.

Well, we won't know until the end of the season, of course.

But ... if we take six games (or 5 or 7, however many the Flames had played at the time of your comment) at random last year from the schedule, for any team, and apply your reasoning, then how well would you have done in cash terms using the aforementioned wager?

i.e.: Predicting EV results in the rest of the games (EV+/-) using undserlying numbers compared to just projecting EV+/- on to a larger sample.

Does that make sense?

SO ... if you take the underlying numbers of your choosing, then take six randomly selected games from last season, can you outperform Bruce and the PerformanceOilerites at predicting the season's results?

Do that 100,000 times, or more, as many as you want. Then what is the extent of the Fenwick beatdown?

I mean surely a fool can see that if there were money on the line, well the asskicking would be on a Biblical scale.

But just HOW Biblical? That's the question.

Fenwick beats Bruce/PO:

9 times out of 10?
99 times out of 100?
999 times out of 1000?
9999 times out of 10000?
More than 9999 times out of 10000?

I don't know the answer myself, Matt, though I'd have a pretty good guess.

And this isn't about Bruce or Performance Oil or the millions like them, unless they're bringing cash to the table they can stay out of this adult conversation.

Instinctively, where does Matt place himself.

N.B.: Don't think too much, quick answer from the heart.

And it turns out that commentary like this makes Oiler fans despise you and question your intelligence, clutchness and character.

Which is bizarre, because that right there is one of the smarter things a hockey player has said about momentum, that I've read.

Vic, without thinking about it too deeply, I'd say 9 out of 10. As I understand the "challenge":

Pick a team randomly and 5 of their regular season games randomly. Then see which of A or B (in those 5 games) correlates better to that team's EV+/- over the entirely of that season, where
A = EV+/-
B = Corsi or another shots/possession metric like faceoff locations

I'm interested to see the results if you run them, but I'd be surprised it was more than 9/10 (not that 9/10 is anything to sneeze at).

I predicted the Sharks/Flames would be a wash at evens last playoffs, because even though the "Bottom 11" forwards on the Sharks had better possession numbers than those on the Flames, they weren't any better in the GF/GA department, and I thought the latter was probably more illustrative than the former. (Correctly, based on eye and # in their 7 game series).

If the answer to your question was on the order of 999/1000, I think I'd have a hell of a time coming up with a counter-example.

On the other thing, I suppose it's just bad luck that those comments were made by someone with Anson Carter's rather languid-seeming on-ice persona... surely if they were made by Ethan Moreau, they'd have drawn a bit more (positive) attention. What with them being true, and all...

I enjoy Rob Kerr's excited and out of the norm fight calls. It is refreshing to hear someone become so emotionally involved in the game. Although it doesn't matter as I am sure it will not last for too long if he wants this job. I heard that someone from "above" came down and told him to tone the fight calls down a bit. Let the molding of Robb Kerr begin. Soon all he will be talking about is momentum.


I didn't explain the wager properly. This was for all 30 teams. So even in trivia craps, 15% of the time the previous history of luck with the dice correlates better future results for any one team. The bounces will still have their say in such a luck soaked game, of course.

But betting that collectively, for 30 trivia craps players, that the dudes trivia success rate will predict better for most of the teams ... well your chances of winning that particular bet are about 26,000 to 1. Ah, the power of the parlay wager. Intuitively nobody senses that, no matter how square their head.

In the case of hockey, well the dice aren't the same for everyone (some teams should be expected to have better goaltending and some teams should be expected to have better finish, and the systems play has a marginal effect as well). But if we pretend that they are (i.e. just use Corsi to predict), then I would have expected a bit less than trivia craps, because outplaying the opposition is still the best indicator of the quality of a team at even strength. So I was guessing 7.5 teams out of 10 to have their results gravitate towards Corsi (or any other underlying number for that matter, with such a small sample though, Corsi works best).

So parlay that through and the odds should be nearish 1000 to 1.

I ran a sim of that though, just crudely using Excel. I took 6 games, so that I could pick 3 home and 3 away. And in light of Riversq's recent post, I knocked out any games where there was a disparity in the amount of rest each team had.

I ran a thousand sims (my script is clumsy and slow), each picking six random games for each team using the criteria above ... and you would have gone 1000 and 0. Winning every time betting on Corsi+/- over EV+/- for the league as a whole.

In the thousand samples 23-7 was the most common, 24-6 the second most common margin of victory. 23.4 as an average. And 17-13 happened once, that would be the time that you came closest to losing.

This even though Corsi+/- had almost no correlation to winning in the six game samples themselves.

Makes sense, no?

The world is indeed round.

Also, Matt, going back to your "reasons for optimism" stuff before the playoffs last year (CGY was given a 34% chance of winning game 1 on April 9, btw, and a 37% chance of winning game 7 on April 22. And 3 percentage points is a hell of a swing, so props to you on that.

But if we reverse it, 72 games to predict EV results onto six, well it's damn hard to predict any playoff series between closely matched teams, but the underlying numbers still have the louder say.

So when Keenan next talks about a player's, or a collection of forward's, historic ability to finish ... someone should ask him just how 'historic' he's getting. Because I'm certain that he's meaning more than just the past month or couple of months, in fact I'm sure that he means more than just the past year or couple of years.

I don't want to pat myself on the back too hard for that either. Fact is, the Flames were eventually done in by the 2-cent "scoring chances" that I was discounting relative to the 10 and 25-cent ones.

Kipper's contribution notwithstanding, Cheechoo tied that G4 with a shot that wouldn't be considered a scoring chance had it not gone in, and a couple of the Sharks goals in G7 were of the same variety (Roenick's goal from the top of the circle, e.g.).


The other side of that coin is that Nabokov reminded absolutely no one of Bernie Parent in that series.

Having said that, I think that San Jose is wildly overrated by Canadian hockey fans every spring, simply because half of the Canadian media seem to like them to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the playoffs. I think Duhatshek (sp?) has picked them for 7 or 8 years running, no?

And not to be left out of the always fascinating "my word verification was ..." discussion:

'dismorla' is my current, and 'cersed' for the last comment I posted. And 'dismorla' really ought to be a word, in fact I think I'm feeling a bit dismorla right now.

The other side of that coin is that Nabokov reminded absolutely no one of Bernie Parent in that series.

That statement would have been inaccurate -- outrageously so -- after G2, but not so much thereafter.

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