It’s late June 2014. Tyler Dellow and Steve Simmons want to kill each other. Hyperbole? Probably. At the very least, though, Simmons is about to boil over and Dellow calmly relishes it.
Dellow, a Toronto-based lawyer, and Simmons, a Toronto-based sports columnist, are debating the validity of advanced statistics on a radio show and, more specifically, statistical darling Mikhail Grabovski versus clutch playoff performer Dave Bolland. Simmons tells Dellow, one of the leading voices in the analytics community, to throw his stats out the window and look at Grabovski’s lone-wolf tendencies as a center.
“I just judge hockey players based on whether their team scores more goals than the other team,” Dellow says, “and when Grabovski’s on the ice, that happens.”
“One guy, who won a Stanley Cup scoring the game-winning goal in the final minute of Game 6? The other guy’s never been close to that,” Simmons retorts, twice as loudly.
“Yeah, and what did Dave Bolland do?” Dellow teases. “Is he Jonathan Toews’ dad? Because I’m not sure how you’re giving him credit for the team he played on.”
The tension is palpable and very much what we’ve come to expect from a rivalry that exploded over blogs and the social media universe in recent seasons.
“It’s kind of like the Hatfield and McCoy feud,” said Globe and Mail hockey columnist David Shoalts. They went on so long, nobody can remember how or why it got started.”
Little did we know the advanced statistics versus old-guard debate, the nerds versus dinosaurs war, would go from hot fad to revolution over the summer.
It was a full-on NHL takeover for the stat heads. Dellow now works for the Oilers. Sunny Mehta, a pro poker player turned Oilers blogger, was named the New Jersey Devils’ director of analytics. Whiz-kid stat guru-turned Ontario League GM Kyle Dubas, 28, is now the assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who also launched an analytics department and poached the minds behind extraskater.com.
The slew of hirings brought validation to the growing community of thinkers who believe possession-driven statistics like Corsi and Fenwick are the best predictors of success in the NHL. And they poured gasoline on the fiery fight emerging between the stat heads and the traditional-thinking journalists.
“They think I’m a moron, to be honest,” Simmons said. “Not someone who’s covered the NHL for 34 years, not someone who coached hockey for 25 and is a level 3 instructor, not someone who ran hockey schools. I’m a moron.”