Playing The Numbers — In Hockey Mike Smith knows hockey. He's played, coached and managed — most recently for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003. Now he has a company that analyzes hockey statistics and advises clubs — but doesn't use the statistics you might think.
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Playing The Numbers — In Hockey

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Playing The Numbers — In Hockey

Playing The Numbers — In Hockey

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Mike, thanks very much for being with us.

SIMON: Scott, glad to be here.

SIMON: First off, you got any clients in the playoffs this year?

SIMON: We had five clients this year. All five clients made the playoffs.

SIMON: So, that noted, do fans look at the wrong statistics?

SIMON: What we do, we measure each player who's on the ice. And so you take that one shot and you have 12 players; you have goalies and - the 10 skaters. And then you can begin to break it down to who the opponents are - conference, division, non-conference. And pretty soon you build that matrix and that one little stat, that Scott Simon blistering shot on goal becomes hundreds of stats.

SIMON: Did you say that this kid Simon had a blistering shot?

SIMON: Well, I heard that when I was in Chicago on the North Side...


SIMON: You had a blistering shot.

SIMON: Well, let's put it this way. Is a goal scored when a team is three goals behind worth as much as a goal scored when they're one point ahead?

SIMON: No. Among the different things we do is break the game into low pressure, normal pressure, and high pressure. And we can track how players perform - plus, minus, shots, turnovers, points, et cetera, et cetera. And it's very interesting to see which players - you would expect the best players in the league to raise their level of play in high pressure. Many do but also many do not.

SIMON: Are general managers always grateful for the information?

SIMON: No, most general managers don't want it.

SIMON: Now, why is that?

SIMON: I think there are lots of reasons. But just generally, hockey is a very conservative sport. People are tied in tradition. Not a lot of people want to be on the cutting edge.

SIMON: Hmm, so to speak. What about owners though? I mean it might be good news for them that, or is it good news that they're spending too much money on all the wrong things?

SIMON: My partner, Richard Coleman, he thinks that's part of the reason some GMs don't do it. They want their owners to know it's out there. Conversely, we have a coaching product.

SIMON: Yeah?

SIMON: We've never had a coach and his team that used the coaching product not make the playoffs.

SIMON: My gosh. Now, what kind of information is this?

SIMON: For example, your opponent may be very successful shutting down the other team's top lines...

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: the coach would do his best to either break up his top line or get his top line out against the weaker line.

SIMON: Mike, is it a conflict of interest for you to tell us who you like in the Stanley Cup finals?

SIMON: The last three games are going to be very interesting because it's a clash of two very good teams, two different styles of play.

SIMON: So in other words, all you'll tell us is it's going to be very interesting...

SIMON: Well...


SIMON: ...normally in interviews people then say - like answer the question. I kind of like the Detroit style.

SIMON: Alright. Well, you did answer the question.


SIMON: Alright, good. Mike Smith, former NHL player, coach and general manager, now co-founder of Coleman Analytics, thanks so much.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott. Glad to be here.

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