Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?

Ottawa Senators vs Sports Media

The Ottawa Senators are up 2-0 in their round 2 playoff series vs the New York Rangers; but when it comes to sports media in Canada at least, it feels to some fans like they’re in a hole 0-3.

For the Senators, it’s always been an uphill battle for respect in the league.  They’re roughly in the middle of two franchises with huge fan bases – the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Naturally, this tends to create media bias toward these two clubs, simply because creating content geared toward them will bring more eyes to the major networks.

I think what’s happening is a little bit of bias on the part of Senators fans.  I think a lot of what the mainstream media is saying about the team is largely objective.  There was a piece on TSN with a headline relating to something about “cause for concern” after game 2 – and I think it’s justified!  Game 2 was a mess for both teams, and there will be adjustments.

The real problem, I think, is on Twitter.  I hear about some of these “battles” after the fact, because I tend not to follow a lot of hockey reporters.  But there are a select few reporters who claim to be neutral but carefully choose their words in order to incite angry reactions from Senators fans – and laughter from non-fans.

It’s these irresponsible tweets that have most Senators fans up in arms.  I don’t blame them either, but the best way to deal with them is to just ignore them and not give them anything to deal with.  They want you to be angry at them and read their pieces and generate ad revenue.  They know what they’re doing.

Bottom line for Sens fans – the most important thing for the team is that they win.  Who cares what outside voices say about the team?  Does it matter if the team is respected by people who don’t follow the team?  I don’t think it does.  What matters to me is the team’s performance.

The NHL – 2016 Mirror Universe

I recently found a free hockey simulator called “Hockey GM“, which is an off-shoot of Baseball GM, which itself is an offshoot of Basketball GM.  It’s a fun text-based simulator where you run a team, and control everything from ticket prices to player movement.  I uploaded a fan-created NHL database to Hockey GM, and ran the Ottawa Senators for the first season.  Here’s what unfolded in this mirror universe!


The season started on a sour note for the Ottawa Senators, playing to a 2-5-3 record after 10 games.  In those games, the Sens allowed 36 goals while scoring only 18.  The worst loss in that stretch was a 7-0 thumping at the hands of Colorado Avalanche.

After 35 games, the Senators sat with a record of 10-18-7, good for 27 points and last in the NHL overall.  That 35-game stretch included a 10-game winless streak, which started with the 7-0 loss in Colorado, that wasn’t snapped until a close 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers.  Craig Anderson made a solid 21 saves to earn the victory, while Ryan Dzingel and Zack Smith picked up the goals for Ottawa.

While Ottawa hoped the victory would be a turning point in the season, they continued their poor play going into the half-way mark of the season to sit with a record of 13-19-9.  Still last in the Atlantic Division, but at least 3 points up on top of the New York Rangers for second last in the Eastern Conference.

In the end, the Sens finished with a record of 34-35-13, good for 7th in the Atlantic Division / 11th in the Eastern Conference.  They did NOT make the playoffs, though they did hold the 8th spot for a few games as they climbed their way back to respectability.

Unfortunately for the Senators, Craig Anderson decided to retire so the priority for 2017 is to find a new number one goaltender.

Team Leaders:
– Points – Erik Karlsson – 66 (37G-29A)
– Goals – Erik Karlsson – 37 (Finished 10th in scoring)
– Assists – Mark Stone – 40 (25G-40A-65P)

Some individual game stats of note:
– Mark Stone scored 4 goals and Derek Brassard had 3 assists in a 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild
– Erik Karlsson scored 3 goals in a 4-3 OT win over the Nashville Predators
– Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson each had 3 assists in a 6-5 OT loss to the Montreal Canadiens
– Erik Karlsson scored 3 goals in a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Wild

Awards:
Stanley Cup Champions: Dallas Stars
Playoffs MVP: Tyler Seguin (DAL) (10G-12A)
Best Record – East – Pittsburgh Penguins (60-18-4)
Best Record – West – Chicago Blackhawks (53-24-5)
Regular Season MVP: Ryan Getzlaf (ANA) (65G-39A)
Defensive Player of the year: Erik Karlsson (OTT) (279 Hits, 337 Blocks)
Goalie of the year: Braden Holtby (WAS)
Rookie of the Year: Connor McDavid (EDM) (43G-32A)

Notable Retirements (* Demptes players named to Hall of Fame)
Jaromir Jagr*
Joe Thornton*
Roberto Luongo*
Vernon Fiddler*
Chris Neil
Henrik Sedin
Craig Anderson