Tortorella: Hockey analytics are ‘media driven’

John Tortorella joins Prime Time Sports to talk about being named the coach of the US World Cup hockey team and his thoughts on analytics in hockey.

John Tortorella has spent a lot of his time away from the game trying to determine the value of analytics, but the former NHL coach isn’t inspired by his findings.

In an interview on Prime Time Sports Tuesday, Tortorella, who on Monday was named Team USA’s head coach for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, explained his stance on analytics and why he’s not ready to buy into the numbers game.

“Everybody thinks I’m an old school guy and won’t buy into it. I’ll buy into it if I think it works,” said Tortorella. “I think quite honestly it’s media driven.”

Analytics have made major inroads into hockey’s mainstream discourse in recent years and have changed the way many people analyze the game. Most teams have created entire departments dedicated to crunching numbers and the league has beefed up its stats page to make analytics more accessible to the average fan — even broadcasts are beginning to incorporate them into their coverage. But for Tortorella, there are things he discovered during his studies that didn’t sit right.

“Vancouver, who I coached and was fired because we ended up in 28th, were ninth in puck possession,” said Tortorella. “L.A. didn’t make the playoffs last year, and I think they were ninth last year.

“Jonathan Toews is way back in the pack [in Corsi], Ryan McDonagh is way back in the pack. Do not any red flags go up here?”

The counter argument most used when discussing the value of analytics is that there is no substitute for the eye-ball test. The way hockey is inherently played it’s difficult to quantify certain events that take place during the course of a game, and according to Tortorella the only way to truly determine the value of a player is to devote countless hours watching him on the ice or on tape.

“I’m not criticizing the guys that do it … everybody’s looking for an edge,” said Tortorella. “But you can’t spit out numbers 30 minutes after a game on a player and a team and say this is what happened.

“There are way too many variables and it’s way too instinctive, so you have to spend some time watching that particular player if you want some thoughts on him and watch your team and not convolute it with getting a little too crazy here with the technology.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t metrics that Tortorella finds useful when analyzing his team.

“Scoring chances for and against, if done correctly with depth, you can find out about your player individually and your team — what’s going on, good and bad,” said Tortorella. “From a coaching point of view, you can’t lose your stomach on how you coach.”

Tortorella won’t be leaning on numbers when he steps behind the bench for the first time since being let go by the Canucks in 2014 at the World Cup of Hockey. Instead, the 57-year-old plans to be more of a general than a strategist.

“I think in these short tournaments, the biggest thing is mindset. Do they believe they can win it, can you instil that in them?” said Tortorella. “Are you going to be a team that’s worrying and showing tape of the other team, or are you going to be a team that’s going to inflict and play your game and be aggressive that way. I think that’s crucial in these types of tournaments and it doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s.”

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