Skip to main content

Vancouver Canucks Manny Malhotra practices his face offJONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

You may have missed it, but Manny Malhotra (headed to retirement after being put on injury reserve by Vancouver) was a revolutionary figure in today's NHL. Manny Malhotra? Really?

Till Malhotra, no one in the modern game was ever started almost exclusively in his defensive zone by his coach. Or sacrificed offence for the team as successfully.

So what's the big whoop? As had demonstrated, Malhotra's dominance of Vancouver's defensive zone faceoffs since 2010 (he was winning over 60 per cent of faceoffs with only one good eye) allowed Canucks coach Alain Vigneault to start his offensive stars like Henrik and Daniel Sedin almost exclusively in the offensive zone, giving them more scoring chances and keeping them fresher as the game wore on.

Apparently it worked. The Sedins won the scoring title and Hart Trophy (Henrik) for their play since 2010. The Canucks captured back-to-back Presidents Trophies and came within a game of the Stanley Cup in 2011. Now teams around the NHL are adopting the Malhotra splits for zone starts with their own defensive specialists.

Happening on a Canadian NHL team, you'd think this research might be manna from heaven for the legion of "analysts" employed by the TV networks. You'd be wrong.


The insights into modern hockey being produced online by hockey number crunchers such as , Thomas Drance, Tyler Dellow, Cam Charron, Kent Wilson, and our own James Mirtle (among many) almost never find an audience on HNIC, TSN, Sportsnet or other networks doing NHL coverage.

It's a major failing. HNIC, TSN and Sportsnet do a decent job breaking down highlights, as Glenn Healy did Saturday, showing how a poor faceoff caused Colorado's first goal against Edmonton. But like a traffic camera pointed at a single intersection it doesn't tell you about traffic in the rest of the city.

So Saturday we had analyst Kelly Hrudey tell us that Jamie McGinn is fitting in really well on Colorado's top line and Garry Galley saying that all of Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov's goals have all come on the power play.

Does McGinn fit in better because he shoots more/ less? Is Markov's goal split unusual? We weren't told.

Not to pick on HNIC. It's largely the same for TSN and Sportsnet where the business of hockey is exhaustively covered, and chalk talks about" fast starts" or "taking the crowd out of it" are numbingly repeated. Likewise, raw stats are recited.

But analytical insights found online about zone starts, how puck possession affects scoring (what makes teams like Vancouver, Chicago or Detroit successful) rarely get more than superficial mention. When the useful CORSI rating (all shots attempted/ time of possession) made it to HNIC it was with predictable results from Don Cherry.

Maybe, as some online folks have suggested, the stat categories need sexier titles like Killer Factor and Death Zone rather than Rel QoC and Shifts Ending with Faceoffs by Zone. But the networks ought to adopt one of the brighter analytical minds to interpret this stuff. Especially on dedicated regional networks, a higher standard than amiable banter should be demanded of "experts" covering 50-60 games of the same team.

But it's easier to kibitz about P.J. Stock's collar than rethink your biases.

"@Kent_Wilson@dowbboy[The data] are counter-intuitive unless you've bothered to study them. Would be rejected by casual fans/viewers as hokum."


The fault for this, dear friends, lies in ourselves. And our Don Cherry addiction. Cherry is the Wazir of imprecision, an oracle of gut feelings and blood feuds. When he deigns to speak about someone other than the Maple Leafs, it's going to be about the etiquette of fighting or putting tape around the top of your skates to prevent cuts.

Hey, he's 79, it's been a good gig and you're not changing him now. But Cherry's dissection of the NHL has lowered the bar for analysis to such an incredible degree that any former player can mumble a few NHL's statistics and be considered a sage. In this world, tonight's hero is elevated, tonight's goat is vilified.

"@mc79hockey@dowbboyBiggest [error] is not recognizing randomness. If a guy has a good day it's because he's awesome and should be playing more!...There's no recognition that things happen sometimes. Difference between a good goalie and a bad one is 2 saves on 100 shots. Small."

Hockey is not baseball. There is imprecision and flux built in the nature of the game. Unlike a batter, your statistics can be helped or wrecked by a teammate. Yet truths do emerge from the crunching of data that pull the blinders off your eyes. Such as how Malhotra changed the game.

It's not too much to ask networks who desire to be interactive to look into the rich vein of data available on the web to tell us more Malhotra stories. /@dowbboy

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct