I have spent a bit of time perusing so-called advanced stats this off-season. I say "so-called," because other than the complex nature of how the numbers are perhaps derived, there is really nothing advanced about them. Certain events happen in a hockey game. These events can be quantified - a hit, a shot, a blocked shot, a goal, etc. Advanced stats are tabulations of those occurrences, with more relevant parameters added to distinguish them from traditional stats. But they are inherently meaningless except as just that: numbers that said this or that happened. These numbers do not determine the future - only the gnomish unicorn princes of Pandalornia can do so, as we all know.
Now, I am not a stats person. I do not think in numbers. I think in words, sometimes in comic book pictures with really heroic poses and stuff, but yeah mostly just in words. For me, the very simple way to make sense of all these advanced stats in words is this: they are numbers that correlate to possession. Possession, like in soccer, is good.
That seems way too simple, right? Well, yes. There are a lot of different stats. I do not understand them. I have things to do, pizza to eat. No time. So instead I seek to understand how stats are used, what they can mean - why they matter to me, the second period pizza destroyer. It really is as simple as teams with good possession have strong numbers in these tabulations, and teams with less decent possession do not.
Soccer, the biggest and most popular sport in the world, tracks possession as a major metric. This speaks to its importance. Soccer just calls it "possession," because it is easy to see when one team has the ball over the other. Hockey is much faster, and it is less obvious to see as simply. Hence why there are all these difference possession methodologies and measurements and numbers - and probably why there is so much argument and confusion about the validity of them as viable stats.
Let's stay simple then. Possession means that if you do not have the puck, you cannot do very much other than defend. Defense is a very nice way to make a living and is-bahaha no just kidding, defense totally sucks. It is tiring, because defensive zone play is more taxing than attacking zone play; it requires more thinking, lessening pure skill play and breeding cautious play; it makes the goaltender work more, even without shots on goal; it happens in front of Jonas Hiller, which is of particular importance to us because this dude thinks about eating pizza at the oddest times; and while on defense - and this is the most important - goals cannot be scored. Scoring wins games.
So more possession=good, less possession=bad, just as more pizza=good, less pizza=bad. Everything else is basically noise. That noise is very interesting to lots of people, but the noise itself is not the music. The music is how the noise makes meaningful sound.
Meaningful sound is possession. While lots of possession does not equal lots of wins per se, it makes winning easier. This is because possessing the puck makes you 100% more likely to score than the team without it at that given time, unless you are Chris Phillips in Game 5.
So remember: possession is good, lots of possession is great, and sustained possession over time (within a game, through stretches of games, during an entire season) generally falls in line with correlated findings in advanced stats, not sucking, and pizzas. Now what the hell is possession, anyway? That's up next.