Or, how hockey is like the weather
The debate over advanced stats in hockey is by now well-established, but it is also still young. The usual positions have been staked out by the usual suspects, with the old school predictably favouring their own intuition and experience while the outsider stats nerds lead a slow insurgency based on numbers and cold method. What we essentially have here, then, is a debate between subjectivity and objectivity. Don Cherry knows a player’s value by what he sees on the ice. He sees the guy block shots. He doesn’t need a complicated calculation to tell him what he sees with his own two eyes, which he can trust because they’re honed by his longstanding and intense interest in the game. The stats people, though, don’t trust their eyes, and they don’t trust Cherry’s. Instead, like Charles Sanders Peirce before them, they rely on a more perfect method, one that is disinterested, separated from human imperfection.
This opposition, between the subjective and the objective, makes the debate over advanced stats essentially a debate between science and mysticism. Mysticism isn’t a much-used word these days, but what is a creationist if not a mystical thinker indebted to a belief in a world beyond the physical realm? But you don’t have to reference an evangelical sermon or a new age microwavable Buddhist self-help book for evidence that science has failed to wipe mysticism off the map. Science cannot eliminate mysticism because it is, by definition, limited. Human beings, not to mention nature and the universe, are incredibly complex and mysterious, making it impossible to reduce everything into testable chunks. So, while we may trust science, we rely on its objectivity only to a certain extent because there are certain movements, certain transitions—both profound and everyday—we experience that simply cannot be tested or quantified.
Likewise, it would seem likely that as the objective perspective on hockey continues to evolve, we will slowly accept its importance, along with its limitations. Read more of this post