Greg Zanon, Corsi Ratings and Mutually Assured Destruction

I feel like the world conspires against me sometimes. Anyone else feel like that? For example, I write a post simply showing that Dany Heatley scores more goals and does better than any member of the 2010-11 Minnesota Wild in a number of basic statistical categories. That post gets compared to another post using "advanced" stats, and a debate breaks out about the value of numbers in hockey.

My point, in both posts involving numbers, was lost. Both devolved into a debate over whose numbers are more important, whose are only used by morons and idiots, and who only watches the game while others "understand" it. Did any one win? Nope. Just like any other debate, all it did was pit two sides against one another, and no one was convinced either way. 

The reason I bring this up, is because today there is a new post out there that says Greg Zanon is "a defensive specialist who does not have tremendous value to his team." All this based on, get this, Corsi. 

People want me to respect the new advanced stats. They want to convince me how valuable they are, that champions can be seen in the Matrix. Until flat out incorrect conclusions are squashed out of the "advanced" stats, you are going to have a very difficult time convincing me they are so all powerful.

After the jump, a look at the post, and some conversation. Sorry Nathan.

First, take a read of the post over at The Puck Stops Here on Kukla's Korner. The post makes the case that Greg Zanon is the worst player in the NHL due to his "unadjusted" Corsi number. With a -429 rating, he does, in fact, rank at the very bottom of the league. Knowing what I know about Corsi, this means Zanon was on the ice for 429 shots "directed at the net" against than his opponent. 

Fantastic. Greg Zanon's job is not to shoot the puck. His job is to keep the puck out of the net. If a puck is directed on net, and doesn't go in, Greg Zanon wins. Is that not as clear cut to others as it is to me? 

Greg Zanon's job has it's foundation in defending the flank of Marek Zidlicky, the Wild's top offensive d-man. Zanon gives Zidlicky the freedom to attempt to be creative, and attempt to take chances. Zanon allows Zidlikcy to do his own job. This is a pretty standard strategy throughout the NHL. Pair a defensive minded guy with an offensive minded guy. Brent Burns with Nick Schultz, Jared Spurgeon with Clayton Stoner for those following the Wild. 

When this post was brought up on Twitter, I heard from a few people saying that the unadjusted Corsi does not take context into account, and other stats like his Fenwick score should be in play along with d-zone starts, and quality of competition. Awesome. Yawn.

Side note. A Google search for "Fenwick NHL" returns just three results that have anything to do with the NHL, and all three are useless. Either Fenwick users suck at SEO, or no one cares about it. Could be both, I guess. I also jumped into the site for "advanced" stats, BehindTheNet.ca, run by good friend Gabe Desjardins. I can't find a Fenwick rating. 

On that site, however, I did learn about Quality of competition, or QualComp as it is so nicely nerded up. Turns out, Greg Zanon ranked third on the team (for defensemen) in this metric (with a -.007), behind Burns (.003) and Schultz (.042). Burns & Scultz were the Wild's go to pairing, as Artem Chubarov noted on Twitter. They were the shut down pairing, without a doubt. No argument from me. Also, the difference between Burns and Zanon is .010. Unless you're taking a blood alcohol test or in an Olympic swim meet, that doesn't seem like a huge gap to me. 

Does this mean Greg Zanon, "does not have tremendous value to his team?" I still am not convinced. I would argue that any stat led by Antti Miettinen is flawed, but that would be purely anecdotal. 

Getting back to the post at hand, the author goes out of their way to show that Greg Zanon is a defensive defenseman, noting his seven points in 82 games. He loses me a bit when he says "He was second in ice time on the Wild behind Brent Burns and played a shutdown defenceman role." Yes, he was second in ice time, but no, he was not a shutdown d-man. He was protection for Zidlicky and a PK specialist. 

This next paragraph is when I really get lost:

Zanon is clearly not a good puck possession player but this is not a sign that he is the worst player in the league.  Adjusting his rating for team and zone starts clearly shows this.  For Zanon to be a successful player he must be able to reduce opponent's scoring chances significantly because he does not produce them.  The fact that he does not play against tougher than average opposition does not help his case.     

Zanon is not a puck possession player. Period, end of sentence. There is no good or bad, he just isn't. It is tough to control the puck when it is bouncing off of your body and deflected away from the net. Now, Zanon must reduce opponent's ability to score to be successful. Correct. Two hundred and twelve shots blocked, good for second in the NHL, tells me he did just that. His leading the Wild in PK time tells me he is trusted to do just that. 

There in lies the fault of QualComp, Corsi and others. They fail to account for special teams, meaning they marginalize specialists. The guy leads the team on the PK, but doesn't face the toughest competition? I'm calling "Bull Shit" on this one.

Also, if you refer to a stat in a post, included it. Show me the proof he doesn't play against tougher than average opposition. Show me the adjusted rating for his team. With the way this is written, you're blowing smoke. 

Finally, we get to the part that really scores me. The conclusion gleaned from all of this muddled statistical analysis:

Greg Zanon is a poor puck possession player.  His team (Minnesota) and his high number of defensive zone starts combine to make his Corsi (which would likely not be good in any situation) the worst in the league.  This makes Zanon a defensive specialist who does not have tremendous value to his team. 

First sentence is wrong, again. It's not that he is a poor possession player, it is that he is not a possession player. The team's defensive starts are to blame, but all Zanon's fault according to the next senetence. And finally, my favorite sentence in the entire post. 

This makes Zanon a defensive specialist who does not have tremendous value to his team.  

Yep, the second most TOI, top penalty killer, second in the league in blocked shots... completely useless to the Minnesota Wild. 

Look, I'm not saying that Greg Zanon is the top d-man in the league. In fact, he is far from it. But to says he does not have tremendous value based on what every one admits is a flawed stat? That's just poor form. The guy has a cap hit under $2 million, eats minutes like they are going out of style, and blocks shots like a brick wall. He wasn't hired to score goals, he wasn't hired to limit the number of errant shots, or to lead the charge up the ice. He was hired to block shots, clog shooting and passing lanes, kill penalties, and to make it difficult to put the puck on Niklas Backstrom.

I would say he does those things. All with, as was said on Twitter, "five broken legs, three broken arms, and a bruise on his left shin."

Author's note: Advanced stats seem to be a hot button topic, and I realize that by posting this, I assure the world of mutually assured destruction. Or something like that. I apologize in advance to the HW community for dragging you through another comment section of debate over the value of advanced stats, and ask simply that you forgive me. I simply wish to convey to my readers that the stats don't always tell the story. Please be wary of the numbers and ask yourself what they really mean, and do they match what you see on the ice before you draw conclusions.

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