I write this one with the understanding that every Nashville Predator fan will use the 2016/2017 playoff run as a standard for how they’re playing right now.
First off, I understand why statistics are important and how these statistics can be used as the best predictors for the future. That’s how I contribute to the PBR radio show every Wednesday; my partner and I write down numbers in a notebook and hand it to Justin, who in turn uses those numbers to further a point he’s making. There are mountains upon mountains of information to be gathered from statistics, and undermining statistics is both idiotic and insulting.
I’m required to take statistics as part of my senior year- that’s part of the reason why I love being the intern with the numbers at the studio. I can apply new knowledge I learned seven hours earlier to the sport I love to watch and talk about. Statistics are apart of sports- they legitimize specific players and teams, and illuminate their talent.
I get it. I really do.
But at the end of the day, we tend to love the games where statistics are challenged. That was the story of the 2016-2017 playoffs for the Nashville Predators, or the metric every Predator fan uses for success. Once a fanbase gets a taste of the Stanley Cup, it completely changes the expectations, and that’s what the Predators fanbase is experiencing right now: high expectations that aren’t being immediately met.
The thing I hear most right now is “the Predators are a good team who are underperforming.” There are many factors why a player or a team isn’t performing the way they should be. Statistics amplify mistakes on a loud speaker, and unfortunately, players hear more from the little voice inside their own head more than anyone else.
You might read Calle Jarnkrok played horrible statistically on a given night. What you don’t see is him “gripping his stick” too tight which contributed to him missing the net; perhaps a really good shift before a minor mistake that people point to; perhaps the biggest one: him reviewing film harshly to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes again.
Maybe this article will provide some hope for the people who are legitimately concerned for their beloved team; maybe it will upset or aggravate the statisticians who dedicate most of their time to the nature of how a team could predictably do; maybe it will make me look like an idiot if the team performs poorly in the playoffs.
Either way, here’s some food for thought.
Turn Back Time
Let’s wind the clocks back two years ago today; the Nashville Predators responded from a four game losing streak to defeating the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames back to back, and continued to win one and lose one until the playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks were the top seed in the Central Division with a record of 50-23-9 and 109 points, whereas the Predators were 41-29-12 with 94 points. The highest scorer for the Blackhawks that season, Patrick Kane, had 89 points. Nashville had a tie for their highest scorer: Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson both had 61 points.
The teams were lopsided on paper; statistically, the Predators had a slight advantage on the Blackhawks on special teams, but overall, the Blackhawks were better. They’d even handled the Predators four times in the regular season with ease. One might even say it only made statistical sense Nashville would see an early exit.
The Predators then swept the Blackhawks, outscoring them 13-3 with goals from guys like Harry Zolnierczyk and Kevin Fiala, who had little impact in the regular season. Pekka Rinne held the top seed to three goals in four games, and even recorded two assists.
If anyone predicted that performance from both the Predators and Pekka Rinne, I sure don’t recall reading about it.
Then the Predators faced the St. Louis Blues, who were also better on paper. Guys like Vernon Fiddler and Cody McLeod scored game winning goals. Given the statistical impact those two players had in the regular season, that wouldn’t have made sense either. Pekka Rinne held the Blues to 11 goals in that series, and they advanced to the Western Conference Final.
Remember this? Really? Cody McLeod? Who could’ve predicted that?
Much like the past two series, the Anaheim Ducks were the better team on paper. Then, much like the past two series, guys like Colton Sissons and Austin Watson stepped up and scored big goals at big times. They even lost Ryan Johansen, one of their top scorers in the regular season and their number one scorer in the playoffs that year, and guess what? That team still found a way to send arguably the toughest team in the Western Conference that year back to southern California for the summer.
They eventually lost to the Penguins in six games after the team finally cooled off.
If anyone had predicted the Nashville Predators, the second Wild Card, would go 14-7-1 in the playoffs and claw through the toughest teams in the Western Conference to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a run for their money, I sure didn’t read about it. No statistical analysis would’ve ever pointed to that performance.
No logical, statistical reasoning would have alluded to Colton Sissons netting a hat trick against the Ducks in Game Six. Additionally, Sissons scored more goals than Arvidsson, the leading goal scorer in the regular season.
Harry Zolniercyzk, Cody McLeod, Austin Watson, Vernon Fiddler, and Kevin Fiala, who had combined for 24 total goals in the regular season, all netted at least one goal. Mike Fisher, who was fourth on the team in goals in the regular season, scored zero goals in the whole playoff run.
The mathematical probability of everything that happened in those 22 games were alarmingly low.
Great Story; What’s Your Point?
Earlier this year, my statistics teacher said, “You can make statistics say anything you want.” Samuel Clemons once said, “There are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics.”
Stats are historical data. They are used to predict what happens; they can be indicators; they can be anything you want them to be. But stats do not always determine what will actually happen, and to say the Predators defied statistical reasoning in their playoff run that year would be an understatement.
I’ll admit I’m biased. Perhaps my bias comes from a love of teams defying incredible odds by doing incredible things. Big players were once unknown until they did something big in a big moment (cue Viktor Arvidsson’s 30 foot backhand in Game Six against the San Jose Sharks).
Some Final Thoughts
Back in September, I said the Predators would prevail this year and win the Stanley Cup Final, and until they are eliminated or until Pekka Rinne shows Lord Stanley’s Cup to Bridgestone Arena, I will stand by that statement. This team has enough talent to make a deep playoff run, and the players in the locker room feel the pressure of success breathing down their neck.
The line combinations have to be finalized before the season ends- that’s one thing that’s bothering me. But don’t forget this: they’re a good team, and they’re better than the team that went to the SCF.
A lot of the goals scored in that playoff run were purely lucky, but they still won, and luck is a product of hard work. This team is working hard, they will gel at the right time, and they will statistically defy odds beyond 82 games. I sincerely hope they prove me right, and I will gladly eat my words should this article age badly.