The New York Islanders are gearing up for 2016-17. The hope is that players who had a statistically sub-par season are able to bounce back. To do so they’ll need to be more consistent. Right?
Consistency is a term that gets tossed around fairly liberally when pundits and fans speak about players. “If [Player X] wants to have a good year he needs to be consistent”. But is that really the key, because last I checked goalscoring is random.
This is going to be a two-part series. This first part will focus on the theory behind why criticizing a player’s consistency isn’t the most valid. The second part will delve into the numbers to prove this further.
The Star wrote back in March of 2015 that Tavares was the “Model of Consistency”, never going two straight games without a point that year. Then there’s this NESN piece about Frank Vatrano showing improved consistency because he’s got four points in five games. When it comes to consistency, the measure is points per game.
Measuring points per game is just taking an average. Taking the total number of points scored over the course of the season divided by the total number of games played.
I don’t want to make this a lesson in statistics, but an average isn’t the greatest measure of accuracy. An average is inherently flawed because it’s skewed. It masks the actual results for the convenience of readability.
It’s easier to see that on average Patrick Kane scored 1.29 points per games last season. Rather than explaining that had he fewer games where he didn’t record a point than the ones where he did. I get it it makes sense, it’s easier to explain.
But Patrick Kane isn’t consistent. He’s definitely more consistent that other players in the league. But being consistent would mean that he’d have either an ongoing pattern of goalscoring or he’d score every game.
If it sounds like I’m parting hairs, you’d be right. This is an argument in semantics. But it’s an important one to have. Criticism over consistency is used pretty frequently and I frankly feel like it shouldn’t.
Goal Scoring is Lucky or Random
Goalscoring is lucky. It’s tough to hear but it is. We know that goalscoring is inherently lucky. Getting a shot past a well-padded goaltender isn’t something that can be repeated at will. A player in the right position gets himself closer to a chance, but the odds of it going in aren’t great.
Just in case you didn’t like that last source here’s another one that states goalscoring is primarily luck based.
Let those two statements sink in for a second. Unless you’re already knee deep in hockey analytics this may take a second to grasp. Deep down we all knew this, but formulating it this way generally strikes a nerve.
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No player is actually consistent. But some players are clearly “luckier” than others. The likes of the aforementioned Patrik Kane come to mind. Jamie Benn and even our captain John Tavares would be some of the luckier players.
These players are “luckier” for a number of reasons. They generally find themselves in goal scoring positions more frequently and are generally able to get a quality shot off free of coverage. Two factors that significantly increase the likelihood of scoring a goal.
But stating that any player should be held to these standards is rather careless.
Work on the Fundamentals of the Game
I say it’s careless because we all know that there aren’t a plethora of Patrick Kanes, or John Tavares’ out there waiting. Consistency has a meaning and it’s not being used correctly to assess players.
Don’t use consistency as a blanket statement to critique a player’s season because it doesn’t work. What you’re trying to say when you use “consistency” is that you want the player to get back to the basics; work on the fundamentals.
Look at this criticism of Josh Bailey’s season in 2009-10. The critique was that Bailey should work on a number of things, none of the wrong by the way. And then they end it with a blanket we want him to be consistent. One could only assume that was because Bailey’s “[…] scoring and points went through empty stretches.” Which again, is fair, becuase scoring will go through empty stretches.
Because goalscoring is random, but to increase the probability of it occurring a player needs to work and improve on aspects of the game such as positioning, reading the game, and identifying gaps. A player that can exploit those will find himself scoring at a higher rate.
This was the first part in a two-part series on what “consistency” actually means as a critique. The second part of this series will focus on the statistics to reinforce this statement.