Five Thoughts for Friday: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Also, were we too harsh on the Travis Green hire?

Five Thoughts for Friday: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
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Fridays at Silver Seven are fivefoldly fun! Here's a pentad of ponderings before your long weekend.

1. Three Kinds of Lies

Mark Twain has been credited with the quote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." (Though Twain curiously attributed the quote to British PM Benjamin Disraeli, despite there being no recorded instances of him having said it.) Stats are often used erroneously in many areas, and sports are no stranger to this, meaning I often think of this quote when listening to hockey commentary. With three teams having been up 3–1 in their series only to not close them out in Game 5, broadcasts keep reminding us that "91% of teams up 3–1 go on to win the series", which sounds like a dominant number. However, some quick context shows us it's not quite that true: if we were flipping a coin, trying to get four heads before four tails, and we'd got three heads and one tails, the odds of getting the fourth heads before getting three tails in a row would be [1-(0.5)3] = 87.5%. The difference between 91% (dominant hockey teams!) and 87.5% (random chance!) isn't actually that big. In actuality, the math works out to saying that the team with the 3–1 lead has a 55.2% chance of winning each game [1-(1-0.552)3=0.910]. I don't know about you, but to me, saying that a team that's won 75% of the games has a 55.2% chance of winning each of the next three possible games isn't that dominant. This was all a long-winded way of saying that, essentially, pro hockey is a slightly weighted coinflip.

This is in keeping with a lot of other studies on hockey, finding that luck is a much bigger component in the NHL (53%) than the NBA (12%), or that the NHL would need best-of-51 series to match the NBA's rate of the better team advancing 80% of the time in a best-of-7 series. People have also found that the advantage of home games is lower in the NHL than the NBA, MLB, or NFL – in part due to the randomness of hockey. After all, even the non-spherical shape of a puck adds an unpredictable element compared to a sphere. I guess my point is that stats need to be contextualized so as to not lead people astray. It's missing the point to say that the team that scores the first goal wins two-thirds of hockey games, because the team that scores the second goal wins tw0-thirds of the time, as well as the team that scores the third goal. Basically, goals are hard to come by in hockey, so scoring any goal means you're twice as likely to win; the first goal isn't magically more valuable than the second or the third. If your team scored the first, second, or third goal, and not the other team, that's a goal for you and not for them. Thus a 2/3 chance of winning.

In the same way, winning 3 of the first 4 games of a series doesn't mean you're some juggernaut; it means you're probably a slightly better team than the opponent, and your odds of winning the series are slightly better than if you just flipped a coin three times from that point on.

That was a lot of math – everyone still following?

2. It ain't easy being Green

I was very vocal about my dislike of the Travis Green hiring at first. After all, this was a guy who had a relatively terrible record as Canucks coach, and then also had an awful short stint with the Devils. However, I'm beginning to think I may have been hasty. We'll see, but there have been a few comments and articles, especially the Athletic's article by Thomas Drance, that have made me reconsider. After all, a coach is only as good as the roster they're given, and Green didn't get a tonne to work with in Vancouver; for his short stint in New Jersey, he inherited another coach's style and system and got a couple dozen games to try to put his spin on it, which isn't a fair way to evaluate anyone.

Also, coaches are hardly static. I'm sure Green has gone over his time in Vancouver and worked out what he'd do differently if given another chance. Ottawa should get a rounded-out version of Green, someone who brings in the same philosophy but with better execution. The list of guys who won a Cup in their second shot as a head coach is significant, including notables like Peter Laviolette (fired by the Islanders, won with the Canes), Craig Berube (Flyers to Blues), Mike Sullivan (Bruins to Penguins), Barry Trotz (though he had 15 seasons with the Predators before joining the Capitals), Jacques Lemaire (Canadiens to Devils), and even Scotty Bowman (Blues to Canadiens). Nobody thought Berube was a home-run for St. Louis after 2 seasons (1 OK, 1 awful) in Philly; now he's forever the coach that won them their only Cup in franchise history.

I think I'm also a little more positive on this hire because of word around the league. Michael Andlauer was cagey on his salary, but did clarify that he's the highest-paid coach in Sens history. We do know it's a four-year contract, and that was partly to gain a leg up over the Devils and Kings, who also reportedly wanted him. If Green was being strongly considered by these guys, that says good things about him. So do I think he was the best available coach? No, probably not based on his track record. But can I better see the Sens' reasoning? Yes. I believe that if multiple teams were kicking the tires on him, he must've at least said things right in his interviews. Here's hoping that translates into results on the ice. I'm not as hopeful as the last couple of years, but a summer of productive moves will probably set me up to be optimistic going into the fall. I'm not ready to consider the possibility of being let down by Christmas yet again just yet.

3. Team Can't-ada

By now, almost everybody's likely heard about that Canada–Austria game at the IIHF Worlds on Tuesday. Canada was up 6–1 entering the third, only for Austria to storm back and force overtime. Canada ultimately won 7–6 in OT but COME ON. Considering that Team Canada is full of NHLers while Austria has exactly two guys you've heard of (Marco Rossi and Michael Raffl), this was a stunning comeback (or choke). And you know what? It was really fun!

Seeing underdogs make games exciting is a lot more fun to me than watching yet another Team Canada do well. I'm not sure when or why this shift happened for me, but I can't muster that much excitement to cheer for Team Canada anymore. At the 2010 Olympics, I was super excited to watch Canada win the gold medal. By the 2014 Olympics, I was cheering for Team Sweden because I wanted to see Alfie and Erik Karlsson do well on the international stage, while Team Canada had guys like Drew Doughty, Corey Perry, and Chris Kunitz who I do not enjoy at all.

I find myself only cheering for the players I like, mostly Sens players. It was great seeing Tim Stützle at the World Juniors with Germany. This year's World Championships roster at least has Ridly Greig, so I'd like to see him do well. The real struggle this year though is that Team USA has Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson, and even has Brady Tkachuk as its captain. Can I cheer for the US? In the words of Alfie, probably not, but the fact that I'm even contemplating it shows how much my priorities of who to cheer for have changed.

4. No Such Clutch

It's been an interesting round for teams trying to close out series. Teams up 3–1 went 0–3 in Game 5s, after going 4–2 in the first round. Add in that teams up 3–0 in a series went 1–2 in the first round and 0–1 this round , and you have teams with a chance to win a series in Game 4 or 5 going 5–8, or winning 38% of the time. That's... whatever the opposite of clutch is. Is there a reason for this? I think you could argue that in some cases, it's that the difference between teams hasn't beent hat big to begin with: whether it was Nashville or Toronto in Round 1, and Carolina this round, each had a strong case that they deserved to win at least one of the games they lost. You could make arguments about cornered animals being the most dangerous, but I'm not sure these teams were suddenly better against elimination than they were in the previous games. It's probably also partly that there is a big element of luck, and luck means sometimes the bigger dog loses. Still, legends are made by being clutch in the playoffs (looking at you, Justin Williams). The way these playoffs are going, we're not gonna get any legends—Chris Kreider's series-winning natural hat trick notwithstanding.

5. RIP Dutchy

On a much more somber note, I want to send condolences on behalf of me and all of Silver Seven to the family and friends of Darren Dutchyshen. He passed away at age 57 on Thursday. It felt like he was on TSN for my whole life, having joined in 1995. While I associate so many people throughout my history of watching TSN with gimmicks, quotes, or weird personas, my association of Dutchy was as the guy who could cover any sport, who could be equally funny or serious, who was a good addition to any pair or panel. In hockey terms, he seemed like a glue guy, except that didn't mean he was old and washed up. He always had it. Looking for a clip to share, I came across this clip of him talking about his cancer recovery and felt it had to be the one to share here:

He focused on the positives of his situation and made sure to shout out the doctor who had helped him recover. There will be lots of tributes I'm sure from those who knew him best over the coming days. Let's all take this as a reminder to hold your loved ones close. We shouldn't live in fear of death, but we also shouldn't live putting things off as if we'll live forever. Hug your family and tell them you love them. Try to celebrate and enjoy as many moments as you get with the people you care most about because life is precious. And what better time to remember to have fun in the little things than the long weekend that kicks off summer. Whether you've got big travel plans or are just chilling at home or are even one of those who has to work, I hope you have a great long weekend full of laughter. And if you feel up to it, bench press 25 James Duthies just like Dutchy used to do.

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