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Statistical Insanity

I have been pretty good lately, giving Messrs. Arace, Portzline and Reed some credit for being generally more positive and informative in their coverage of the CBJ, appreciating the nuances of a professional team and a team that has turned over half its roster. But today, I’m sorry, I have to call Arace on the carpet for today’s blog, which promotes goal differential as an indicator of playoff qualification.

O.K., deep breath here. First, let’s be clear what we mean by goal differential. Simple — Goals Scored minus Goals Against. No brainer, right? Absolutely. Looking at this, he finds, with amazement, that every team that made the playoffs last year in the NHL had a positive goal differential. Wow! At Last!! The Statistical Holy Grail! But wait . . . uh, aren’t you just saying that the teams in the playoffs scored more than their opponents? That’s what it means to me. To get into the playoffs, you need to have more wins than the other guys. To win, you need to score more goals than the other team. Ergo, any team in the playoffs should have more goals.

To make sure I was not missing anything, I pulled out my trusty Google and checked a couple of things. Yep, every team that made the playoffs in the just-concluded NFL season scored more points than their opponents. Likewise, every team that made the playoffs in Major League Baseball scored more runs than their opponents. Wow!

Arace didn’t even look hard at this year’s standings in the NHL. As Exhibit A, I offer the NY Rangers, currently in 6th in the Eastern Conference, with 63 points in 53 games, 8 points better than the CBJ at the same point in the schedule. Yet, they are -11 in goal differential, with 135 goals for and 146 goals against. How? Simple, really. They won a lot of 1 goal games early, then started losing by wider margins. Teams with wide open offenses tend to have skewed statistics this way. You can even argue that the CBJ is not fairly portrayed by this stat. Due to Hitch-Hockey, we don’t tend to score 5, 6 or 7 goals that often, and win a lot of 1 goal games as well. While we seldom are blown out anymore, there has been the periodic 7 – 2 stinker. Just a couple of those, and -10 is easy.

Ladies & Gentlement of the Jury, I respectfully submit that goal differential as a predictor of playoff standing is rubbish. Rather, it is the inevitable result of winning. With statistical analysis such as this, Mr. Arace should immediately abandon his journalistic career in favor of one more suited — perhaps as a Canadian cancer researcher, or a member of the Council of Economic Advisers?

Love ya, Mike, and I know it was a slow news day on the hockey front, but please . . .

I rest my case.

3 Comments

  1. Rick

    February 10, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Definately a slow hockey news day. To his credit (and the rest of the staff) we don’t have to put up with kind of reporting on a regular basis. Reading some other newspapers (U.S. not Canadian) stories makes me very happy we have these guys! Keep up the stellar investigative reporting JAL!!!

  2. soultrain

    February 10, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    JAL,

    I definately agree that this will work itself out in the end, because simple math says that if you win more than you lose, your going to have more goals than you allow. I don’t really have a problem with this article other than the time of it. If this was done before the three game skid then the Jackets numbers would have been at lot better. Right around the allstar break they were sitting at -2 (I believe right after the Sens win). Then they get smoked by Dallas and Pitts and you are now looking at the 8 goal difference. This was another panic inducing blog in that the Jackets below everyone else and comes right after a 3 game win streak. I would have less issue if it were done after a 3 game win streak because it would be more indicitive of this team which is that they are hovering around that 0 mark. They need to come out and play again tonight and complete the series sweep against a really weak opponent to help offset that egg they laid against Pheonix all season. Don’t look now, but the Kings are playing themselves back into the mix as well, 2 points back and 2 games in hand.

  3. JAL

    February 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Good points — I was simply picking fun at Arace for reallly reaching for something to write about. Tommorows Headline: Sun Rises In East!

    The Kings have been playing well of late, but it is going to be awfully tough for them to do anything down the stretch, since almost 70% of their games are going to be on the road. That wears on a team over time. If they do it, they will sure have earned it.

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