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Professor Quick Lectures on Time and Advanced Stats

Professor Quick Lectures on Time and Advanced Stats
Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick reveals the mind behind the mask in his Players’ Tribune article.

Jonathan Quick’s smooth, powerful physicality is elite. No one has a better ground game, and no one gets back to angle faster from his knees. He devours space. But of course we’ve said all this before, in exquisite detail.

So it was no surprise to see Quick’s Players’ Tribune article leading with a breakdown of an incredible stack save on Patrick Kane. Like Kane’s hands, Quick’s push into the stack is smoother than an oil slick. The save is even greasier.

What’s more surprising is Quick’s attention to the psychological. The best parts of his article aren’t the technical descriptions, but the insights about perceptual and experiential aspects of the position played at the highest level.

I was expecting to learn something about snipers. Instead, I learned to see time differently.

Objective vs Subjective Time

After his self-analysis of the Kane stack save, Quick invites us into the Matrix:

“You can call it lucky if you want, but it actually involved four different variables that unfolded in a matter of 1.5 seconds. For some reason, when you’re on the ice, time tends to slow down and it actually feels like about seven seconds.”

Objective time (regular clock time) moves almost five times more quickly than subjective time (Quick’s sense of how time is passing) in the situation.

We’ve all had moments in “the zone” when a complex eyeblink sequence unfolds in slow motion and your body just leads you where it needs to be. You’re right there in it, and at the same time watching it happen in impossible, perfect detail. These are rare moments you remember.

For Quick, this rarest of states occurs “when you’re on the ice.” I’m sure it’s not constant, but this ability to routinely enter a different temporal setting is a huge part of what makes him successful. Quick isn’t sure why it happens, but his description suggests the kind of training in focus that makes the extraordinary routine.

Two Kinds of Hard Minutes

Quick credits Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with stretching subjective time, but in a very different way, which he labels “heavy minutes”:

“A minute of them playing in your zone is equivalent to a minute and a half of another team, just because they play behind your net so much. So you have to be deep in your stance and on full alert a lot more and your legs start to really feel it by the third period.”

Every goaltender knows this feeling: it happens against any effective powerplay, when you find yourself desperately willing the clock to tick off the seconds more quickly. Crediting Anaheim’s snipers with this ability at even strength is high praise.

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane generate hard minutes as well:

“If Anaheim is hard minutes physically, Chicago is hard minutes mentally. You have to constantly be tracking the movements of Kane and Toews because you’re paranoid that Kane is going to float back door and Toews is going to know he’s there without even looking up.”

Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the NHL game featuring the Vancouver Canucks against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Rogers Arena on November 23, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Jonathan Toews (left) and Patrick Kane are mentally taxing to play against, according to Quick.  (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Kane and Toews don’t wear down a goalie’s body like Anaheim’s duo. There is no insistence on grueling netback play and physical power. The Chicago snipers’ mere presence on the ice is enough to lengthen Quick’s perception of their shift. Because he knows what they can do, he is on constant alert. Powerful focus, as we saw in the stack save breakdown above, can lead to a sense of slowing time. Kane and Toews are so dangerous, intelligent, and intuitive that they end up turning Quick’s excellent concentration against him. Zoning in can be a powerful tool during short sequences. Trying to maintain that level of focus for a full shift is incredibly draining.

Acknowledging Advanced Stats

The fact that Jonathan Quick, a player in the NHL, has freely chosen to mention advanced stats is already unusual. His having something interesting to say about the movement is surprising:

“There’s obviously a ton of emphasis on puck possession in the media and in NHL locker rooms with the advanced stats movement really growing. But I think it’s about the kind of possession you have. Some teams might have a lot of puck possession in your zone, but they’re really not in threatening positions. [….] With Getzlaf and Perry, it feels like every second of their in-zone time is threatening.”

I initially assumed this was Quick dismissing advanced stats, but I believe I was wrong. Later in the article, Quick says he hates to use a word like “intangibles,” and puts it in quotation marks, showing how much he wants to distance himself from the term. In the ongoing feud between traditionalists and analysts, “intangibles” is a battleground; the former embrace it, while the latter denounce it.

But Quick realizes he has no choice but to use the term. His experience, which he has been able to describe so effectively throughout the article, simply cannot be articulated in other words. He’s left characterizing Toews as somehow psychic, which is the only way he can describe the uncanny anticipation he exhibits.

Raising Good Questions

The kind of detailed descriptions of his experience Quick provides are very rare among elite athletes. Being able to do something at a high level does not involve the same skills as being able to describe it effectively. Quick manages to point out some important distinctions that coaches and data trackers alike could find useful.

The most interesting avenue for statistical exploration is Quick’s concept of “hard minutes.” Corsi, or shot attempts, is a way of measuring a team’s puck possession. It usefully predicts a team’s success more accurately than goal differential. Is Quick’s sense that certain players and duos have a higher quality of possession measurable? It’s certain that the players he mentions score more goals than others. But what is it about the way the players move, pass, communicate, and shoot, that makes them so deadly? How can we determine if Getzlaf and Perry’s work down low makes their attempts more successful? What, precisely, are they doing? How are Kane and Toews able to make themselves constant threats? What have they intuited, and how can we describe and track it?

Quick’s lecture has left us with more questions than answers. But, like any good professor, he’s got us thinking about things at a deeper level of understanding.

About The Author

Paul Campbell

Paul Campbell is a writer at InGoal, and a former CIS goaltender and women's goaltending coach for Mount Allison University. He occassionally moonlights as a university literature instructor.

5 Comments

  1. Brett Silver

    This description is exactly the problem with advanced stats: perhaps the greatest puck possession team of all time, the Soviets of the 1970-80’s, would have had dismal stats. They were constantly outshot and out-chanced often by ridiculous amounts. But read the way Ken Dryden speaks of playing against them in, “Faceoff at the Summit,” in 1972, and he was almost in anguish by the third period of games because of the mental strain of their passing and puck control. Where Tretiak was facing thirty bombs from 40-60 feet out, Dryden was constantly faced with a swirl of red, yet very few actual shots, until a glance behind him found the puck buried.

    • Paul Campbell

      Corsi’s value is predictive: there is no better stat for projecting future team success.

      However, Corsi (shot attempts) only tells part of the story, as you say. For goalies, it’s almost useless. But there are advanced stats that are not only shot-attempt based. There is some great work happening now with pass tracking, and I bet it would have told us a lot about those Russian teams. Shot location danger zones would also reveal a lot about those teams. You add up enough measures, and you start to get a fuller picture.

  2. Matt in Montreal

    Excellent observations and insight Paul. I’ll read Quick’s thoughts now

    • Paul Campbell

      They are definitely worth the read. I’ve isolated a key theme, but he gives you a lot more.

  3. Ben Fash

    Great to read such a coherent, cerebral analysis of the goaltending position by a current elite NHL goalie. Between Quick’s insane athleticism and his obvious intellect, it’s no wonder he has brought the Kings so much success over the past few seasons.