Northern Ontario man creates hockey version of 'Moneyball'

A Lakehead University math grad will have a hand in some of the trades made today in the National Hockey League.

Stats created by former Iroquios Falls math teacher helps NHL teams make trades

CBC News in Thunder Bay spoke to a northern Ontario man who is behind the rise of using statistics in hockey.

A Lakehead University math grad will have a hand in some of the trades made today in the National Hockey League.

Kevin Mongeon and business partner J Michael Boyle created the Sports Analytics Institute to provide NHL teams with special statistics so they can apply an economic value to players, and determine which players will help them win.

"Sports has a production process to win games and we want to know how much each individual player contributes to that," said Mongeon, who has a PHd in economics. "Fortunately there's sufficient amount of data in sports that allows it to be done."

'Moneyball' vs. 'moneypuck'

Analytics have been slower coming to hockey because it's a more complex game, he noted.

"Baseball is, you pitch and hit and throw and everything stops," Mongeon said.

"Hockey is everything happens at the same time and somehow we have to untangle all of that data."

Mongeon said traditional hockey statistics — such as shots on goal — aren't really helpful in assessing individual players' talents.

So the Sports Analytics Institute created a statistic called 'predicted goals scored' and calculates it for goals both for and against while each player is on the ice.

Removing randomness, emotion and luck

"Predicted goals scored calculates the probability of any shot going in the net from all the different places on the ice," he said. "We know all the players on the ice when the shot was taken, so every player we know the predicted number of goals that should have been scored when the player was on the ice both for and against.

"And that removes all randomness or luck."

Arm chair sports fans wanting to remove the emotion from their perception of players skills, can watch for whether "good things are happening when the player is on the ice regardless of whether they scored a goal," Mongeon said.

Northern connections

Mongeon said his math degree from Lakehead set him up well for his career. He taught math briefly in his hometown of Iroquois Falls before heading to southern Ontario for an economics degree, and later he earned his PHd in economics at Washington State.That's where he developed his business concept.

Mongeon's business partner, Boyle, is also from Iroquois Falls.