To Better Know A Blogger
With summer at its height and little hockey to follow, my attentions have turned to the strange creatures that populate the internet commentariat. The few, the proud, the fanatical, sports bloggers are an anthropologically interesting type, combining obsessive attention to minutiae with fanatical devotion to their subject matter.
But little is known about the faceless names that write so much. Are they mice or men, man or machine? Do they drink beer and party? Will they be benevolent overlords when the print media dies and they stage their inevitable coup? Just what kind of underwear do they sport when writing in their mothers basement?
To answer these questions and more, I have started a new regular series at A Winning Habit. Interviews with the best blogging names in Hab-istan.
Oliver Bouchard: En Attendant des Nordiques
Our first subject is the great Oliver Bouchard of En Attendant des Nordiques. For my dollar, Oliver is simply the best French language Habs blogger on the internet. Oliver is the Canadiens representative of Project Scoresheet, a collaborative project amoungst hockey statisticians to record and collect scoring chance data from each game their respective teams play. This data allows his readers access to a wealth of information beyond traditional boxscore stats about who was effective or ineffective, who drives the play, had a good game or is on a streak of bad luck. The recorded scoring chances allow for a much richer and in depth look at the nuts and bolts aspects of what makes a team good and bad.
Oliver also collects a wealth of information about things like line matchups and usage strategies, the effectiveness of various player combinations or usage as well as regular commentary after every game he views. He’s a real asset to the Habs-following hockey statisticians and a real class act to boot. He’ll always answer a question put to him and gives away his painstakingly collected data to anyone who asks without a moment’s thought.
A Winning Habit: So Oliver, what led you to start writing about the Montreal Canadiens? Were you sent from another planet so the people of Earth would be better informed about how the Habs did in each particular game?
Simple. I am an analyst by trade, I work for the “Centre d’études sur les médias” (Translates to “Center for media studies”, I guess, a research center in Quebec city, but I work from Montreal), mainly as an analyst. I work on the projects where we record TV and radio, scrape websites, collect newspapers and analyze the stuff. My job is all over the place: setting up the computer systems as needed, program the databases, take part in the actual coding, output the data, writing the reports. So a lot of what I do is about watching TV, taking notes and collecting data points, analyzing the data and recollect my notes, and write stuff about the whole ordeal.
I also had some interest in the analytical approaches to the game some bloggers put forward a few years back (more on this in the Blogger Q&A). When I came upon Dennis King’s scoring chances project over at mc79hockey.com, I was curious. I tried to score a few games, saw I could do it, then saw the kind of results Dennis could come up with when summing up the data. When the guys running the project modified the timeonice.com scoring chances scripts (the site where we can input data and get nice tables in return) so anyone could use it if they wanted to, well I knew I wanted to try it. I first thought I’d just publish the data and sometimes come up with some big analytical writedown, but if you go back in my site’s archive, you’ll see that I pretty quickly started doing a game-by-game commentary, which became the main focus of the site.
AWH: So transitioning to recording scoring chances sounds like it was pretty natural for you?
Well the hard part is finding a way not to fall behind. PVR are a godsend. The other thing is, it’s a fun way to learn about dealing with dataset how to represent what you see in the games and in the numbers. I’m very proud of those large tables I produce after every game. They aren’t easy to understand to the newcomer but they pack a lot of info. But what really made the whole ordeal easy (apart from the fact that it’s about watching hockey) is how it helped me (and still helps me) learn new tricks I can then use in my other jobs
AWH: Walk us through the basics here. What counts as a scoring chance?
A scoring chance is a shot, on goal or missed, taken from an area we call the “home plate”. Starting from each goalposts, you trace a line up to the faceoff dots and then up in a straight line from the dot to the top of the faceoff circle. Then every person recording chances has his own biases, some record as chances a screened shot from the point, things like that. I used to count most goals as scoring chances, even if they were shot from outside the plate, but won’t do this anymore after reading some arguments about it. In a nutshell, the objective is to record chances, not goals.
AWH: How good of a job do you think the scoring chances data does at expressing player value?
I think one of the main objective behind the whole scoring chance project was to find a more acute measure of a player’s value, being that there was a pervasive feeling traditional stats weren’t cutting it and the general uncertainty about shot metrics. With a couple of seasons worth of data, we now realize that over the span of a season, scoring chances don’t tell us much more than good old shot differential. Some might see this as a letdown, but I don’t. We validated a useful and available stats that allows us to better understand players contributions. I like that.
Over a short time span (say, a game or 10) scoring chances allows us to have a better idea of who was on the ice when the nets were actually challenged, and so it’s certainly an interesting data point to have on hand when analyzing a given game. We have to be careful about matchups, zone starts and line/defense combos, but it does help us zero in on who, beyond the bounces and skating around, actually made the goalies sweat.
AWH: Who is/has been the most impressive Habs player by your data?
Subban. Every time he steps on the ice, the habs outshoot and outchance the opposition. It’s that simple. Not only is he the most impressive right now, but his rise was awesome too. Martin started him as an offensive zone, 3rd pairing guy, playing mostly with Picard. They mauled whomever was up against them. Then Gorges got hurt. Martin paired PK with Gill and Hamrlik with Wiz and fiddled for a month or so and finally decided Hamr/Wiz were to be the offensive zone combo and Gill PK the defensive zone one. And PK took it in stride, just like that.
I think most people don’t know how good that kid is because he was sent early in hard defensive minutes. That depressed his offense and because we don’t have much in the way of real defensive stats (forget blocked shots, please) and because Subban came in the league with a rep of being more or less good in the defensive end (which obviously wasn’t true from the AHL onward), well those factors mean he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. And yes, I say so fully knowing he is one of the most sought after player in the media
AWH: At which periods in time since you started tracking the data has Montreal been the best by scoring chance measurements? When were they the worst?
The most god awful sequence was from November 2009 to February 2010. Some nice things were happening (Halak, Pacioretty already was showing glimpse of the puck carrying power forward he now is, the emergence of the Cammalleri/Plekanec/Kostitsyn line), but all in all, this was a team without depth and too many useless players. The spring of 2012 team was also pretty bad.
The 2010-11 team had some pretty good run but always seemed to have a few too many injuries. The early 2011-2012 team looked really, really good, but they lacked depth and some obvious needs (a 2nd pairing even strength defenseman, a real fourth line center) were never addressed by Gauthier. Once Gomez and Gionta went down, they sank like stones. Thinking about this some more, I think this team was both one of the best and one of the worst I saw
AWH: We’ve often discussed the impact of firing Jacques Martin last season. What kind of impact did you think that had on the Canadiens performance?
It all comes down to the souring of the Martin-Gauthier relationship. When did it happen, I don’t know. But it messed up their ability to assess the team’s needs. Gauthier made shrewd moves the last two season to tinker with the roster, but this time around, it was awful, period. Nokia was not the 4th line C Martin needed (Blair Betts was, but couldn’t play anymore) and Kaberle was not the defenseman they needed that is a 2nd pairing ES guy. The powerplay was generating a shit ton of chances and would have come around eventually, Kaberle was not needed. Then, shit hit the fan: Markov didn’t come back when expected, injuries hit and so on.
The team had already hit the skids when Martin was fired and putting Cunneyworth in there simply ensured they couldn’t right the ship once the injured came back in early January. That’s the big difference, at the end of the day. Martin could coax some pretty good performance out of a healthy roster because he’s a tinkerer, constantly sending this line against that line, adjusting to protect a floundering unit, giving more responsibilities, stuff like that. But Randy couldn’t adjust. He rolled out his lines 1-2-3-4 and really didn’t seem to pay that much attention to matchups outside of playing Subban-Gorges against the opposition’s best. Add to that the bizarre Blunden infatuation… And then there is the fact that pretty quickly Gauthier started butchering the lineup. That Cammalleri trade was brutal, just brutal and combined with AKost’s quick descent into irrelevance and Gionta’s injury, well…
The fact is, by February the team was so messed up even Martin wouldn’t have coaxed a playoff berth out of it
AWH: What do you think of the chances Quebec gets the Nordiques back? And if they do return, are you planning on defecting?
Quebec city is getting it’s shiny new arena and Quebecor is a pretty deep pocketed potential owner, so it’s all about the league’s ability to get some franchise out of the US without losing TV revenues, I guess. I think they stand a pretty good chance of landing a franchise in the next 5 years or so, especially with the kind of paycut the players are about to take.
I’ll probably end up sitting on the fence. I guess I’ll see when it happens. The Nordiques are the ones that got away, but I’ve been rooting for the Habs for almost as long as I’ve rooted for the Nords, so…
It’ll be an interesting feeling, for sure
AWH: There is a whole other world of Habs writing that English-speaking fans don’t have immediate access to because it’s in French. Is there anyone out there you’d recommend putting through Google Translate to read?
Believe it or not, I don’t read a lot of blogs and no French blogs. That’s would be another reason why I started “En attendant les nordiques”: never found anyone writing in French about the stuff I like. If anybody knows of any, please tell me so!
AWH: Which player gets the most surprising results from the scoring chance data?
Laraque was insanely bad. Like, you’d wonder if he even had skates on. But Gionta is the most surprising guy: we picture him as a second line winger, but he’s actually pretty darn good at everything, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Him and Plekanec all but hid the fact we didn’t have a legit 2nd defensive duo to begin with. Gomez used to look pretty good too, but last year, injuries I guess, he really stepped into the proverbial elevator shaft.
AWH: What do you think the Habs need to do to make the playoffs in 2013?
No injuries to the big 6 up front (DD, Max Pac, Cole, Gio, Eller and Pleks), no injuries to the big 3 on the back end (Subban, Gorges, Markov), Price goals 60+ games, and at least one kid emerges and becomes an efficient 3rd line player to help Moen and Eller.
But if one of our core players goes for 20+ game, I think we are in big trouble because both up front and among our defense, we lack Moen-type players, guys you don’t want in the big minutes but who will hold the fort and avoid giving anything embarrassing to the opposition if they must go there.
Just one more guy to push either Emelin or Bourque out of the hard minutes would help a lot. I just don’t believe Bergevin will go and fetch said guy.