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Islanders complain about NHL's 'flawed' analysis

Tampa, FL — Islanders don’t want to hear about your equations.

They acknowledge the important role analysis plays in hockey, but still emphasize vision testing and intuition over numbers.

“Our game has will and structure,” coach Lane Lambert said Thursday. “They aren’t really analyzed by analysis. We analyze it.”

The use of numbers in hockey has increased recently. All teams, including the Islanders, have staff with analytics as part of their portfolio. However, the NHL still lags far behind when compared to the other three major sports. This is partly due to the nature of the game. Hockey is continuous and random, and difficult to decompose into individual events that are easier to analyze mathematically (baseball pitches, soccer snaps, basketball possessions, etc.).

Most published numbers in hockey (individual teams track their own data) use shots as a proxy for possession. The widely cited goal expectation model is useful, but the lack of published puck-tracking data fails to take into account factors such as whether there was a pass before the shot. Such shots are difficult for the goalie to stop.

Islanders forward Matt Martin, 17, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Lightning on October 22, 2022.
NHLI via Getty Images

“You’ll see them because they’re everywhere these days,” says Matt Martin. “I definitely think there are flaws as well. I think sometimes you play a really good game defensively against someone’s top line. You lose a Corsi fight or something like that, but you keep them off the board and there’s a lot of danger.” And analytically, it can also come out as a very bad game, getting slapped behind the scenes by the coaching staff for how good a job you guys have done.”

The Islanders 4th line with Martin is a good test case. Their analysis negatively affects their play as they spend a lot of ice time in defensive zones and forechecks. But the goal of the 4th line isn’t necessarily to create offense, it’s to leave a physical impact on the game, drain opponents and keep them off the board.

“I think if you walk around the locker room, someone will tell you whether it was a bad game or a good one,” Martin said. “We know as professionals. …If you go up against Conor McDavid, you will probably lose the battle of Corsi. If you keep it away, we’ll take it every night.”

Martin said there isn’t much interaction between the Islanders’ analytical staff and players. When current Islanders general Lula Moriello, his manager, was in New Jersey, the Devils’ longtime video coach Taran Singleton is one of his five staffers dedicated to analysis.

“Analytics are not my thing,” says Zach Parise. “I think there are too many unexplainable elements in this game.

Like Martin, Paris cited factors such as opponents as reasons for poor analysis.

On Oct. 22, 2022, Islanders forward Zach Paris shoots Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott.
On Oct. 22, 2022, Islanders forward Zach Paris shoots Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott.

“Is it a battle? [Patrice] Bergeron and Selke [Trophy] winner? Or are you playing the 4th line all night long?” Paris said. “Where do you start the showdown? Do you start every shift with a controlled breakout? Do you lose the draw? If you lose the draw, you may not touch the puck for the entire shift.

“You don’t always reset and start over like a pitch [in baseball], you know what i mean? that’s my theory. i could be wrong. I’m sure there’s value in there, but I’m not stressing too much about it. ”