Friday, February 06, 2015



I’ve been interviewed a number of times in the past six or so months about the metric that bears my name, the history behind it, and miscellaneous things about hockey analytics. And I feel like I haven’t done a great job of explaining some things.

Until now, though, I’ve resisted the urge to write more about it. I don’t want to be accused of, or even perceived to be, re-writing history to flatter myself. It really is all there in the blog archives (at least the ones whose owners haven't taken them offline). But I do feel like there’s a bit more to be said that might otherwise be forgotten or misunderstood, so consider this post to be footnotes.

ONE. The short story of the invention of the Fenwick number is:

Vic Ferrari invented the Corsi number. The first time he showed his results was for the Oilers players at that time, in an Excel table embedded as an image in his blog post on Irreverent Oiler Fans. His method counted all recorded shot attempts from the NHL game sheets (goals, saves, goalposts, misses, and shots blocked). I either initiated or pushed a discussion about whether it was right to include blocks with those other four things.

Meanwhile, Vic was fiddling with things such that he could show his work better, and that others could replicate it or try their own thing. It was a bit of programming code that read the NHL gamesheets and presented the results in table form on a webpage. It wasn’t the most accessible interface for noobs but suffice it to say that is one of my top 10 favourite websites ever.

Anyway, we (mainly me and "RiversQ" (@ThomsonCam)) were having these discussions in a couple of comment threads on Vic's blog. One day, had an additional column: instead of deciding one way or another whether Corsi should include blocks, he just added a column called "Fenwick" that excluded blocks, and we pretty much moved on.

TWO. In Bob McKenzie's recent book Hockey Confidential, he had a nice interview with Vic Ferrari, now known to be a fellow named Tim Barnes. Tim said some very kind things about me, and for that I'm extremely grateful. I bring this up mainly to point out that my 2nd best serious answer to the question, "Why is it called the Fenwick number?", after the whole long explanation above, is "Because I was nice to people on the internet."

THREE. An old discussion that seems long forgotten but that had a significant impact as I recall things was Goalposts. NHL gamesheets track posts and crossbars; they're still categorized as a MISS, but it does note Post or Crossbar. Tim looked at these, using the same tools he used to assemble & present the timeonice pages, and concluded that it was all awfully random.

This general relationship helped lead us towards a couple of concepts which are now very familiar:

  1. If posts come partly (or significantly!) at the expense of goals, then maybe the coach-y approach -- you can't score if you don't hit the net -- is not the right approach for the analyst who's trying to guess how things will go in the future.
  2. The hockey gods are hilarious and cruel and all that. Strange things, including those that might have an attractive subjective explanation, often regress.

FOUR. Corsi was invented to look at players, not at teams. Since that time (barely 7 years ago), the perspective on it and its application seems to have revolved almost 360 degrees around the sun. But at the beginning, it was about Tom Gilbert and Ales Hemsky and Daymond Langkow and David Moss being underappreciated. It was about exposing an ailing player before his injury became public (or acute). Soon enough, we started realizing the effects a player's usage can have on his Corsi, and we started looking at teams more closely (wow, Detroit is good at this) which led to the doomed Minnesota Wild, and the 2012 8th Place Stanley Cup champions, and Oh Those Leafs. And now we are onto the significant effect that coaching can have, and the idea that your Corsi is your Destiny has fallen out of favour somewhat.

I watch it all with great interest, and I'm looking forward to the next leap. My own view is that there are certain skills that make a player "good at Corsi" that overlap but are not identical to the skills that make him or her "good at hockey". The chief of these skills is being able to disrupt what the other team is trying to do with the puck, while not allowing them to disrupt what you're trying to do. I think of a younger Robyn Regehr always making a calm, quick first pass to exit his own zone, and David Moss knocking down pucks with his stick, hands, legs, skates, whatever. These players will be good for you no matter what system you coach them up into because being good at hockey is much more "real" than any coach or system. For the same reason, every megastar in the last 40 (70? 100?) years of the NHL has been famous by his 14th birthday, if not earlier. 

FIVE. This isn't a confession exactly, but a clarification, or a reminder: I'm not an analytics guy. I'm lousy at the math and I have no coding capabilities. Once my spreadsheet gets past about column J, I can't use it effectively anymore.

It's not false modesty, because I do think I was a pretty good blogger. I did try to explore objective realities, and to use logic, and avoid doing the opposite. But I'm not an analytics guy and really I never was. Thank you to everyone who has told me that they enjoyed the blog back in the day, and that they miss it. Go Flames.

Friday, January 18, 2013



Last time the Oilers finished ahead of the Flames in the standings: 2002-2003
Closest since then: 2005-2006 (8 points back)

Last time the Oilers finished first in their division: 1986-87
Closest since then: 1987-88 (6 points back)
Closest since the NW Division was created in 1998-99: 1999-2000 & 2005-2006 (8 points back)
Position of OKC Barons in their AHL division (there are 6) the day the lockout ended and Eberle/Hall/Schultz were scratched: 3rd

Most sensible Oil fans are consciously tempering their own expectations.This can't be easy, given that the Oilers have five guys age 18-22 who are very likely to be above-average NHL players in their primes. There is probably no other franchise in the league that can say that.  But the only thing a heap of young talent guarantees you is pre-season hope. Hope! Hope, that the Oilers will compete for a playoff spot, not unlike what 22-25 teams do every season.

Show me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Free Stanley

I was shocked that this site still gets 100 or so page views a day.  Especially since I haven't really visited the place in years. 

However, Cosh's Clarion Call to Free the Stanley Cup requires broad circulation. 

Are we the doormat of nations? Let us at least begin to murmur angrily. The Cup is ours. When we say “Not again” as the NHL’s negotiations with its players bog down, let our tone be wrathful, poisonous, rather than despairing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Eric Francis Is Wrong

The frustration and loss I feel from the Flames missing the playoffs again this year is really being compounded by the chatter around the path ahead. I know this sounds crazy, but I find that a lot of hockey analysis lacks clarity of thought... Anyway, here's some questions for the group:

Most of these questions are not rhetorical; I obviously have my own thoughts, but I'm interested in the discussion. Where I am pretty firm in my convictions:

1) I don't see any problem in trying to improve the team's future while still retaining Jarome Iginla. Rebuilding adjacent to him is not much different than rebuilding around him is not much different than rebuilding without him. Insofar as this represented a chunk of the philosophical difference between Feaster and Brent Sutter, I'm on Feaster's side -- trading Iginla is not a prerequisite for successfully moving forward.

2) I understand the sentiment, and even admire the patience, behind someone like Eric Francis propounding that a team take two steps backward in order to take three forward. Where he loses me, and frankly, goes wrong, is in failing to properly appreciate the difficulty of taking three steps forward, regardless of where you're starting from. Getting better is hard! Getting a LOT better is really hard.

3) I'm thrilled for Kipper that he had a good season. I didn't think it would happen again, and I was wrong. But it's quite possible, bordering on likely, that the Flames could replace him next season and get better goaltending than what he provides next season for his new team. His recent performance, his contract status, and the team need for some young pros (notice I didn't say draft picks) mean that now's the time to trade him. Then he can come back in a few years and receive a hero's welcome when he's honoured as the greatest goalie in team history.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


There's a buzz on the street,

**The Flames are doing it with mirrors right now, or if you prefer, some shockingly wonderful results from a handful of guys in their mid-30s, but I'm not that pessimistic.

For one, teams really do get better and worse just kind of organically. We (and here I basically mean bloggers) tend to pretty arrogantly think that the relationship between the independent variables and the dependent variable is a tighter formula than it actually is.

Add known good players, have young guys predictably improve, get better and move up the standings; take the opposite actions, and observe the opposite results.

Reality, though, is that teams get better and worse, often times in mid-season, for reasons we don't understand. And I'm not talking about Wow, what happened to the Wild! situations, where the underlying numbers told the tale the whole time -- I'm talking about genuine improvements and drop-offs.

One of the teams currently battling for 7th & 8th positions in the West on merit could easily be one of the four best teams come playoff time. I don't like the chances of the February 1st Coyotes against the February 1st Red Wings in a 7-game series, but it could look different on April 15th.

But the second and more heartening thing is the schedule. Do you realize that after tonight, the Flames next 14 games are ten home games, plus road games vs PHX, ANA, MIN, and EDM? No Wings, no Preds, no Blackhawks, and no Canucks. If the lads can scrape through that with their heads above water (say 8-5-1), then suddenly it's March 20th and they're right in it. Which leads then to the third thing, which is Glencross, Moss, and Backlund back from injury -- and suddenly depth is a strength instead of a (glaring) weakness.

However it goes (obviously they could lose 5-0 tonight in LA and look like they deserved to lose 15-0), it's fun. The fight for a playoff spot is a lot more enjoyable than the most common alternative.

Brent Sutters 3 (Cammalleri, Tanguay, Kostopolous)
Darryl Sutters 2 (Kopitar, soon-to-be Oiler Jack Johnson)

Go Flames.

Friday, December 23, 2011



So having seen most of these teams a couple of times (on top of everything else we know, or think we know, about them), it looks a lot like there are five WC locks to make the playoffs: Canucks, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Blues, and Sharks.

I'm not about to put money down against the Preds, but they sure haven't looked like much against the Flames this season. Full respect to Daymond Langkow's Coyotes, and I think they have a fine chance, but it'll hardly be a smooth sail for them. And though I'm probably projecting the sins of last year's Stars on to this year's squad, it's still hard to love them much; a -7 differential, and -- c'mon -- 11 goals from Eric Nystrom.

On the Wild, I'm not sure I'd use Zona's inflammatory language, but they have not looked very good at all most times I've watched them. Part of that recently is them missing their best player (Koivu), but I didn't think much of them in their 3-0 win over the Flames last month either. Colorado, on the other hand, has actually looked not-too-bad, even though I've only watched them in losses to the Flames.

What it all adds up to is eight teams (I'll include the Oilers for karmic reasons) competing for three playoff spots. The Kings have the pedigree and the underlying numbers, so you probably have to like them for one of those spots, but really, the hockey gods could smile (or frown) on anyone.


A propos of nothing -- really -- I'm enjoying being a Flames fan this season. It's too bad we're likely going to miss the playoffs for the 3rd straight season, and I'm not a big Feaster booster, and GAAAH have those losses to the Canucks been painful, but yeah. I'm having fun.

I'm a bit older, and our family has more things going on in the evenings, so I miss more games these days, and I certainly don't live & die with the team quite like I used to. This helps, I think! But really:
Merry Christmas, and Go Flames.

Thursday, October 27, 2011



All of economics is devoted to the proposition that there is no such thing as a free lunch. All of politics is devoted to the opposite conviction. All economics teaches that you can't get something for nothing. All politics supposes that you can -- or that you can at least persuade other people that you can. Economics is about scarcity, universal and inescapable. Politics is about limitless plenty.

Consider that 98% of all bad policy amounts to nothing more than ignoring opportunity costs: the simple axiom that the cost of something is measured not just by the actual sum of money used to produce it, but what the same funds might have purchased, diverted to another end...


Friday, June 24, 2011


Welcome Home Big Fella!

In what is, without a doubt, the best sonnet I've ever written about a traded hockey player (from this March 5, 2007 thread on CinO), I predicted Smyth would be reborn in Oil.  Nice to be right for a change.

Smytty Sonnet #94

So crude we drilled his heart, and crude distilled
Flowed from his eyes, tempered and dilute.
His labour deemed unskilled, instead rebuild
With cheaper lubricant that won't pollute. 

The Oilers' Brass elected to go green
With virgin teen unsoiled by stinking oil
To cap the well that burst them on the scene 
Return the heartland to its prairie soil

So riches of the north go down in flame
While southern Flames rise up like northern lights
Smyth's combustion heart enkindles shame, 
Though primed and set, no broken hearts ignite.

But! Baptismal fonts flow with oil refined,
And so, with oil, is Smyth's rebirth entwined.

4-2 Oil (Smytty with the hattrick, assisted on all three by D-vo)

Friday, March 18, 2011


Friday Baseball Standings

**Whoops: that should say Thru Mar.17, but I'm too lazy to fix it.

**If the Canucks can beat Phoenix tonight, it'll still be a 2-game spread between 4th and 10th; five get in and two do not. I'm petrified about this California trip that could obviously sink the Flames' season for good, but most of the other teams have some challenges in their schedule as well. I think if the Flames can even go 3/6 in Cali plus a win in Edmonton, then they're in OK shape. More than one reg.L vs ANA/LA/SJ, or (god forbid) a loss to the Oil next week, and they're in pretty terrible shape.

**Rick Nash this season is the same age as Jarome Iginla was in 2004. It's a serious bloody waste that Howson & friends haven't been able to build a decent group around him (yet) to take a couple runs. I know the hockey gods have frowned on the BJs for a few years now, but at the same time, they've done some pretty indefensible things with their money.

**I'm not sure what the proper order is, but Ottawa, Colorado, and Edmonton are definitely the three worst teams in the league. I hope the Islanders win the lottery as a reward for resembling an NHL team the past 2-3 months.

Go Flames.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Face: red

So one of these days, I have a rant I need to post reminding the statzis that what they don't know could fill a warehouse, but the fact remains that if you just looked at Corsi numbers to predict a particular player's performance next month, you'd win a lot more than you lost.

I tweeted on December 24th (@FenwickMatt btw) the following:
How bad are the #Devils? The *best* of 1000 'simulations of remainder of season' gives them 70 points (worst = 34).

That projection/simulation is at, and with due congratulations to the man behind it for winning the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown in both 2007 and 2008, it's useless. Ultra-useless. Somehow, a mathematical(?) model of an NHL team produced a result saying that the best of 1000 scenarios for the upcoming 48 games is that they would be 4 games over .500.

This shouldn't even pass the smell test for this year's post-apocalyptic version of the Oilers, let alone mine or anyone's smell test for the team that had the lowest SA/gm in the league. And yet it's on a really good hockey website. Puck Daddy is the most indispensable hockey blog, period, and yet they run an article every 2nd Thursday recommending someone who had a good +/- the last two weeks as the possible solution to your fantasy hockey +/- problems.

You can ignore the shot differential stuff if you like, but if you're actually interested in who's going to help your team tomorrow, ignore it at your peril. Unrelated, I hope Tambellini agrees with Jim Matheson that the Oilers need to find money for Ryan Jones, because this is totally different than Brule at the end of last year. Just because it's easy to like a player who's scoring goals doesn't mean that you won't like him when he's scoring fewer goals.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Thursday Baseball Standings

**It was with their win over Nashville on Sunday night that the Flames finally moved into a WC playoff spot by this measure. With a win tonight in Phoenix, they move into a tie for 4th. BONKERS. On the other hand, if they lose tonight and the Wild beat Nashville, they're back into 9th on tiebreakers.

**Would you say that the Toronto Maple Leafs are pretty close to being the best team in the league? No, not really? Me neither. I have nothing against the Maples per se, I just bring this up because they are 13 games behind the Canucks for best record in the NHL, and this 13 game spread is the same as the gulf between the Oilers and the Flames. So, naturally, the first random Oilers conversation I overheard after the Penner trade included the phrase, "Now we just need to get rid of Horcoff".

**Flames president Ken King is not perfect, and lord knows that the whole push for a new arena is headed to Calgary in short order, but I still like to think that he would die of shame before publishing a letter with an opening sentence like the one from Pat "Patrick" LaForge yesterday.

**Is someone going to stop Vancouver from winning the Stanley Cup? Please? This run the Flames have been on has been a lot of fun, but the stature of the Canucks is really casting a dark shadow over the season.

**"...Gordie Howe's professional career spanned 34 years, just 4 more than Hasek's to date." Wow.

**Go Flames. Watch out for Hanzal and Whitney.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Friday Baseball Standings

**The Flames' standing continues to improve by this measure, even though they still haven't made it back into the top 8 at any point. They're closer to 4th place today than they were to 8th place on January 24th.

The bad news, such as it is, is that the schedule gets tougher when the calendar flips. It's not that bad opponent-wise, but they play 8 road games in March, and six of them are in back-to-backs -- and the Flames haven't played back-to-back on the road since before Christmas.

Fortunately, if they start to struggle, they have an ace-in-the-hole: the general manager can just head into the dressing room and ask the players to crank up the effort and intensity!
Homer: Um, are you guys working?
Programmer: Yes sir!
Homer: Can you, uh, work any harder?
Programmer: Sure thing boss! [keyboard clicking intensifies]

Darryl Katz is Hank Scorpio!

**I don't have much comment on today's trades, except that I'm becoming less and less impressed with Brian Burke all the time. It's not so much that I think he made a lot of bad moves the past week or so (he might well have made more good than bad), just that it's increasingly clear that he does not have a real overarching plan that informs his decisions day in and day out. These days I see him kind of like a long-time gambler at the track; he knows things about horses and horse racing that a casual fan or less experienced enthusiast doesn't even know there are to know, but has accumulated superstitions from ten thousand wins and losses too. In the end that gambler has to follow his gut -- there's no way to process all the information sensibly, and the results could be worse -- but there's sure no explaining his method to an onlooker.

**Also, Scott Reynolds nails the Avs-Sens goalie trade.

**I haven't loved Justin Bourne's stuff at Puck Daddy since he started, but man do I think he nailed "Why dealing players for picks is painful":
...if you ask me, when you're shivering in the cold, it makes a lot more sense to purchase a home with the foundation poured and the frame built than going out and buying a lot.

**I didn't get around to posting this until late, and tonight's out-of-town scoreboard was nice for a change! Minnesota and Anaheim are tied for 8th, 1/2 game up on the Flames. And the Hawks & BJs are T-11th, 1 game behind.

**As I recall the last Heritage Classic, Montreal won, and then the Alberta team's season went in the toilet. Let's not have history repeat itself, please. Go Flames.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Friday Baseball Standings

With a win tonight over the Ducks, the Flames would move into a playoff spot even factoring in games-in-hand. I wouldn't have guessed it, though I was sure cheering for it. And I remain pretty pessimistic (in the superstitious sense), for now... I was sure they were going to lose to Chicago on Monday -- sure. I was pretty sure they were going to lose to Ottawa on Wednesday, especially after they went down 2-1. And right now I'm thinking Jeez, you could sure lose a ton of ground with back-to-back losses here, couldn't you!

They already miss Tanguay, and my God do they miss Daymond Langkow this season, but if the hockey gods are willing, they're certainly good enough to get into the playoffs and have some fun.

**I wouldn't bet a nickel of my own money on Dallas making the playoffs. Steinberg and Kent talked yesterday about the possibility of the bounces turning vicious on the Stars, but it's already happening. They're 1-5-1 in their last 7 (the W was vs. the Oilers, in a game where they were outshot 35-21, by the Oilers), and their cushion is pretty much gone. They host the 11th-place Blackhawks tonight, who they only lead by 3 games. If they lose, that's down to 2.

**So the distance between the 14th-place Avalanche and the top of the Western Conference is the same as the distance between the Oilers and the final playoff spot. The Oil has had some injuries this year but they've also had a lot go right, and some pleasant surprises.

I'm deeply disappointed and irritated that Taylor Hall looks like the real deal, and they have a lot of popcorn in the pot, but it can hardly be understated just how big a gap there is between where they are and where they hope to go.

**Haven't caught much Eastern Conference chatter lately -- are the Thrashers still in a slump, or are they just the same bad team that started the season 7-9-3 and then had one great month?

**Beating the Ducks would be the right result against the right opponent, and would be a hell of a relief before tomorrow evening's almost-certain L (I also wouldn't bet a nickel on holding off the Canucks PP again). Go Flames.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


League at a Glance - All Star Break

The Flames are this close to being right in the middle of the pack, with as good a chance as anyone for a 5-seed. But they aren't there.

**This Lowetide blurb from last week deserves a Word, or Amen:
The Memorial Cup, The CHL top prospects game and most of the Canadian NHL games are the only items Sportsnet has in their hockey arsenal at this point in time. Rogers must pay far less money, because the talent pool heavily favors tsn and whenever there's a raid it's SN talent headed to tsn not the other way around.

I'm okay with, don't care really. But I do wish Sportsnet at least tried to make their between period experts and their play by play men world class. The fact is that many of the American pbp guys are better than the current bunch who man the mics for RSN and that's a crying shame. No disrespect, these men worked hard to get where they are today and credit where due they made it. I do wish Rogers would at least respond to the challenge, though. Maybe upgrade here and there.

I'm not really OK with it. Yes, it pales next to the serious issues of the world, but the squads and the network want us watching 100+ hours a year of local team coverage, right? And not to put too fine a point on it, but the present on-air personnel makes me measurably less likely to do so.

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