Monday, June 8, 2015

The Schism of Fandom

Okay, schism is way too strong of a word.  Hockey fans aren't exactly Catholics and Protestants, but the divisions that exist seem to be so pronounced on social media.  Should it be as easy as it is to divide fans of the same team into so many categories?  Should't we all have some type of bond over the highs and lows of being a sports fan over the course of the season?

I used to use this blog to share post game reactions.  It was never meant to be like most of the hockey blogs out there.  Now, I'm just using it to express my thoughts in more than 140 characters.

Most of the discussion lately has been about "new" fans versus old fans.  Of course this has been largely exacerbated by the Tampa Bay Times printing the list of rules in the newspaper.  The immediate reaction that I saw on twitter was to mock the people of Florida....Florida, a place that is warm most of the year and perhaps doesn't have as many residents who are passionate about a sport on ice as a city like New York or Chicago.  Their team made it to the Stanley Cup Final.  As of the time I am writing this, they are three wins away from the second Stanley Cup in their franchise history.  What's wrong with wanting to bring more people into the fun?

I know that I have been guilty of making jokes about bandwagon fans.  Even though it is enemy territory, I have been to a lot of Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum over the last few years.  When the Islanders were hanging out in the basement of the standings, that building was pretty empty.  The people who were present were all passionate fans.  They were used to the losing and excited about the future they knew was coming.  Things changed this year.  The building was packed every night with people who didn't know the rules or even the players on their teams.  I heard conversations about how Kevin Okposo shouldn't be on the top line or how Michael Grabner being scratched was a reason for a loss.  The sideline refs wanted penalties every time someone tripped over the blue line but chanted against the refs on textbook calls.  I would spend time with some season ticket holders wishing that these people weren't getting in the way of the experience at the arena.  This actually makes me commend Tampa, at least they recognize that new fans come when you are winning and these people need to learn many of the rules.

People all become fans at different times.  Maybe they choose a team based on who is winning at the time or maybe they choose the closes team geographically.  They're still fans.  If they want to learn, help them learn.  If they don't want to learn, I guess we need to accept this and not tell them that they aren't real fans.

Anyone who supports a team is a real fan.

Even passionate fans who know the rules are told on twitter that they aren't good enough fans.  I know that I bring a lot of things back to the fancy stats community, but here I go anyway.

I am constantly seeing tweets about fancy stats that don't even just imply, but explicitly say that if you don't care about fancy stats then you don't care about the sport.  Of course, you can't just know the rules and get enjoyment out of watching in order to be a fan.  You have to analyze what goes on the ice using numbers.

Real fans have to analyze players by the numbers and then make general manager decisions based on that.  Liking a player because of his heart is not acceptable.  Finding a player fun to watch and exciting doesn't matter at all.  All that matters is that more shots are generated by their team than against their team when they're on the ice (of course adjusted based on the score, time in the game, and what zone the shift started in).  If this isn't the main statistic you use to want a player on your team, then you're not a real fan.  Doesn't this make so much sense?

Seriously - it doesn't matter what made you a fan, why you're a fan, or how long you've been a fan.  If you want to learn more, then ask questions and do some research.  If someone else wants to learn the sport, then help them out.

Anyone can be a fan.  There are no rules to fandom and no one is a better fan than anyone else.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Final Thoughts of the 2014-15 season

It has taken me three days to figure out how to put my thoughts on this past season and the way it ended into words…but here it goes.

Starting with the reaction of the hundreds of fans packing Hudson Station the moment Alex Killorn scored the opening goal and ending when I got on the E train outside of Madison Square Garden just before midnight, I witnessed all five stages of grief.


Was it really over? Did the Rangers really decide that putting in any type of effort was really too much for them in a game seven that would allow them to return to the Stanley Cup Final?  It was incredibly hard to believe in that moment.  This team had overcome so much since the start of the season. 

It started when Derek Stepan, one of the most consistent performers over the last few years, broke his leg in training camp.  Then it seemed like the defense couldn’t catch a break, or maybe caught too many breaks in their bones, muscles, and egos.  Finally, come December, the ship seemed to take a right turn and everything was working out.  We all know what happened next, Captain Murder took his first victim.  McDonagh’s accidental lifting of the plastic guard allowing Brad Malone’s shot to hit Henrik Lunqdvist and it seemed right there that the season was over.  The magic started very soon into Cam Talbot’s reign as starting goaltender.  On the way to the President’s Trophy, the team seemed destined for victory.

The series against the Penguins wasn’t as easy as a five game victory would seem, but once again luck was on the Rangers’ side.  Then Captain Murder struck a second time and shot a puck right at Zuccarello’s head.  Many people wrote the team off again because they did not believe the Rangers could beat the Capitals without Zuccarello.  The doubters seemed to be right as the Capitals were manhandling the Rangers into a 3-1 deficit.  No problem.  The luck of the Rangers and dominance of Lundqvist led to a series victory.

With all this luck, how could anything have gone wrong?  Game one against the Lightning made it look like the series would end quickly and it would be time to get another shot at the Stanley Cup.  As the series progressed, the Rangers showed their faults.  I don’t want to pretend that I know more than I do because I watch games and know the rules, but I didn’t see a team that wanted to win.  It hurt to watch games five and seven.  My heart and soul were poured into this team, but none of theirs were on the ice.

That’s why when it ended, no one seemed to want to believe it.


There was yelling.  There were people walking down 35th Street that looked like they were reading to start punching walls and kicking street signs.  People were yelling at each other.  Why shouldn’t everyone be angry?  The team didn’t perform for the fans…or for themselves.

On top of that, there’s the anger caused by just glancing at social media.  There are Rangers fans who are taking the loss so badly that they are saying whatever comes to mind.  Then there are fans of the other teams who seem to pathetically get joy out of the loss.  I honestly wish that I could get so much joy out of hating something.  The reactions out of people who are fans of teams who didn’t even come close border on hilarious to me.  These people take to social media so that they will get attention for their cheering of the loss.  There are two ways that this call for attention works: first, acceptance from others who also get more joy out of hate than anything else and second, they want to get responses from fans of that team just in an attempt to knock them down.  This is seen on all forms of social media whether Facebook statuses or going and finding the Rangers’ instagram account just to leave comments.  Regardless, I think it all borders on pathetic.


This is the fun one.  Throughout the season, I love mocking people for thinking they know more than general managers.  Or maybe I mock them for believing that their whining and opinions will actually have some type of influence on the future of any NHL team.

Of course I believe 100% that keeping Stralman and not signing Boyle would have been hugely different (not even taking into consideration that he saved at least two goals off the goal line during the Conference Final).

Others are looking ahead to the off season.  Fans are deciding what moves should be made to make the team better and find a way to get to the Cup next year.  Sure, it can be fun, but there’s definitely a line.  When you cross over from “I hope this gets done” to “this will happen because it’s the best and only option,” you truly overvalue yourself.


Most of us haven’t reached this point yet.  Some people did right away though.  Maybe because there was a sixty minute game that seemed to imply it would end the way it did.  I’m not sure I have hit acceptance yet.  It’s kind of funny, I still have a horse in the race.  My other favorite team is very much alive with a chance to win their third Cup in five years.  However, I wasn’t elated when the ‘Hawks were eating the Ducks alive early in their game seven.  Instead, I wished that the Rangers put forth that kind of effort.

Eventually though, everyone should reach this point.  Accept that the season ended and try to be excited for the future.  This is a Glen Sather/Jeff Gorton world.  You never know what the team will look like.  Say whatever you want about the lack of first round picks and the lack of depth in the system…they are never afraid to make a trade and often, it’s one you won’t expect.  Don’t try to predict anything.  Sit back and watch the show and just hope that next spring, the season doesn’t end so soon.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fancy Stats: An Average Fan's Perspective

I wanted to tweet how I feel about fancy stats, but it's just too much for 140 characters.

A great divide has come between those who use fancy stats and those who don't.  There has been discussion lately on my timeline between the two sides and it seems that the attitude and "smugness" is what's turning more fans away from learning more.

I understand fancy stats and their usage.  I believe that they are a wonderful tool for coaches and GMs to use, combined with watching players closely for whatever other intangibles that specific player can bring to the game.

I am not a coach. I am not a general manager. I have no desire to be either.  I also have no desire to be hired by an NHL team to work in their analytics department.  Perhaps this separates me from the people who are obsessed with using these statistics to create a story.

For the past few days, I have been trying to figure out why I am so bothered by much of the fancy stat discussion that I see on twitter.  Then I saw one tweet that made me just stare at my timeline for a minute.  I had to process this because it felt almost like a personal attack.  Of course, it was a tweet from someone that I do not communicate with and someone who likely does not even know that I exist.  Regardless, it gave me insight into how the other side feels.  To paraphrase, it said that people who don't want to use fancy stats are comfortable in watching the game without completely understanding it.

I understand the game.  I watch the game and see what happens.  I understand what fancy stats mean and why they are useful.  While I do not necessarily agree that shot attempts for and against are a perfect measurement of possession, I do see the correlation.  I also completely understand that there is a correlation between having the puck and winning the game.

Tweets like that however, are why people feel that there is an aura of superiority within the fancy stat community.  The tweets and blog posts filled with charts and explanations of why that chart is more important than what you saw when you watched the game.  They imply that if you don't care about the stats then you are comfortable being an ignorant fan.

Here is my response.  I am a fan of hockey.  I am a fan of both the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks.  I watch the game for the intensity of hockey as a sport.  I watch the game to be frustrated when there's a lane open and no one shoots the puck.  I watch the game to laugh at the people who yell "shoot" when every lane is sure to produce a shot block.  I watch games that don't even involve my two favorite teams because I love the sport.  The fancy stats community is telling me that I enjoy the sport wrong because I don't have any interest in analyzing who was on the ice for the most shots for or shots against.

It's no secret that Derek Stepan has been one of my favorite Rangers since he put on his first blueshirt.  This year, fancy stats tell me that he has been one of the worst players on the ice.  Fine, let the stats say that.  Let those who tweet about how important these stats are telling me that he has been awful this year and isn't worth the contract that he is sure to get in the off season.  I will watch him on the ice and enjoy the way his incredible vision and intelligence are on display.  I will look at the stupid, boring statistics like how many points he has and how drastically different the team's record is with and without him in the lineup.

I don't think Tanner Glass is a very good hockey player and I don't need numbers to tell me that.  However, Alain Vingeault has won 500 hockey games as a head coach in the greatest league in the world.  While he has not won a Stanley Cup, he has brought two different teams to the Final.  He has won President's Trophies.  I have to believe he knows what he's doing.  But what do I know? I don't want his job.

Here's one last thing that I learned in law school that seems relevant: there is always going to be a statistic available to support the story that you want to tell.