We all use math every day. To predict weather…to tell time…to handle money. Math is more than formulas and equations. It’s logic; it’s rationality. It’s using your mind to solve the biggest mysteries we know.
-Charlie Eppes in Numb3rs
One of my favorite television shows of all time is Numb3rs, of which the above quote came from. In it, the FBI utilized consultants from CalSci (the fictitious California Institute of Science) to solve criminal cases. The math used in each show was valid and applicable to each situation. P vs NP, a mathematical problem discussed in the first season, is a real thing. But more than just using these random mathematical terms to solve cases, the show would apply real life meaning to them. For example, game theory:
More than just an interesting crime drama, Numb3rs was my first experience that an interest in math was okay. That there were things that I could do with math that weren’t just limiting me to teacher, or accountant. As Charlie Eppes said and I quoted above, we all use math every day.
Fast forward a few years (okay, nearly a decade) to the current status of how people watch hockey. Even your most casual fan uses some math to enjoy the game. Shots, scores, hits, etc. Let’s not forget that the “advanced stats” Corsi and Fenwick really only boil down to shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts (aka SATs and USATs, thanks for that NHL).
The “eye-test” as so many call it is simply our brain making a logical mathematical conclusion based on information that it has on hand. That “clutch” player that is defying the odds? The reason why we as fans find it so enthralling is because we know the odds of him making – or not making, as the case may be – that amazing play. It’s clutch because it is against the norm, thanks.
I wrote a post in February about how the hockey community needs to stop “fan-policing” how people enjoy the game. I said then that there’s no wrong way to be a fan and this applies to how they watch. Stop making your narrative about “stats-shaming” and making people feel bad for being interested in the math behind the magic. It’s unacceptable that outlets continue to publish these pieces. Even your most casual hockey fan knows that the stats are here to stay. Stop pretending that that’s not the case.
Yes, this is sports. But sometimes the only way people know how to communicate with others is through sports. When you tell people to stop talking with the general public (or their neighbor) about stats, you’re taking away one of their avenues for expressing themselves. When you say that stats are taking the romance out of hockey, you’re limiting the conversation. I feel that it should go without saying that you shouldn’t do that, but alas, here we are.