Fun Friday: The Science of Mike Fisher
In which Eamon continues his endeavor to make everything fun about hockey a math problem.
Hello, everyone, I’m Eamon Smith and this is Fun Friday. If you’re not familiar with this series (fair, it’s been a long hiatus) it usually involves me asking a very arbitrary question, attempting to answer it using a frequently futile semi-scientific approach, and ultimately coming up with some incredibly silly (but entertaining!) results.
For a bit of background on what this revived series is going to be bringing to your wonderful eyes, I’d recommend reading up on some of my previous nonsense: there was when I attempted to make the Predators better and accidentally created the worst team in NHL history; the time I assembled a team made to play boring hockey that would make Barry Trotz squeal in delight; and last but not least, my quest to project the career of NFL cornerback Jalen Ramsey as an NHL goalie.
Now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way, let’s dig into this week’s topic. It’s the end of the week, y’all; let’s have some fun.
The Friendship Formula
Fan favorites in every sport have always fascinated me, simply because they’re of such varied traits and backgrounds; hard-hitting enforcers, speedy wingers and acrobatic goalies have all shared this mantle, despite being about as disparate a group of archetypes as you could assemble.
Naturally, I wanted to break down why people like these players because I just want everyone to like me too; your friendship and love, like anything else, can be won using a specific formula developed through a loosely scientific method. Taking this idea and running with it, I set out to determine which players in Predators history were considered to be most beloved by their gold-clad supporters and broke down the position-by-position requirements for people to like you in this town, even after you’re gone. Below is my process and the results.
Finding The Favorites
I started this project by narrowing down the group to only players who wore a Nashville uniform for 164 games; we’ll call this unit a “Kariya” because that’s exactly the player I based it around. I considered calling it a “Franson,” but I felt that would incite riots in the anti-analytics community so I decided against it. Sorry to all the big Brian Boyle fans out there (I know you exist, I’ve seen you), but I needed to at least slightly narrow my search pool to make this project a bit less grueling. I was now looking at 67 possible players who could qualify.
Next, I Googled “Eamon Smith fan favorite Predators” while substituting every single qualified applicant for my own name. If the first page of results didn’t have a single quote referring to the player as such during their tenure in the Music City, I eliminated them from my list. This cut the total down to just 34 candidates, making this an actually feasible process. Notable omissions included David Legwand, Martin Erat, Ryan Johansen, JP Dumont, and Tom Fitzgerald.
Producing a Model
Taking the career statistics that these players had with Nashville, I produced a 164-game hypothetical player for each position (center, winger, defender, goalie) based upon my sample. Below are the results.
Your ideal path to being a well-liked Nashville Predators winger is bringing a mix of grit, solid goal scoring and middle-six production.
The closest comparables to the season-by-season stat line were Craig Smith and Joel Ward, but they didn’t fulfill the penalty minutes mark; Scott Hartnell also sat comfortably within this region, but for me the closest fit to this archetype we’ve established is Patric Hörnqvist. To anyone in the NHL who’s willing to just stand in front of the net and take Shea Weber slapshots off their shins, I say this: come home. You’re a born-and-bred Nashville Predator.
Your second option is to be feisty and win a whole lot of your brawls; this is the patented Jordin Tootoo method, although it’s a bit inadvisable due to the physical and mental health risks.
So, you want to be an all-time favorite Predators center? Well, that’s not an easy path to walk...oh wait, it kinda is, my bad. The idea here is that Preds fans like bottom-six guys who win faceoffs and play solid defense; you probably want to chip in with some points on occasion, but it’s not absolutely crucial as long as you’re physical and have some memorable moments.
Okay, maybe I lied about not using Cody Franson earlier. Whatever, he’s a defender, this is a defender’s metric, it makes sense to me.
Looking at this graphic, the bar for defenders in Nashville is quite high, as expected; even a guy like Kimmo Timonen didn’t make the cut. The bottom line here is that you have to be very good while maintaining longevity, something easier said than done in a league where you’re getting slammed into by dudes built like a stack of bricks.
This method of becoming endeared to people requires a lot more consistency and ability, so it’s probably off the table for the likes of me. I’ll stick with the simpler path of punching people so others like me, thanks.
After some heavy calculations I determined that I have no shot of matching the traits that made Pekka Rinne and Tomáš Vokoun into fan favorites, simply because I am not flexible, nor am I gifted with angelic looks or a cool name. All of this, compounded with my inability to do anything particularly impressive when attempting to stop a hockey puck, made me think that maybe I can’t really apply what made fans like professional athletes to myself. Huh.
What have we learned?
I once heard Mike Fisher referred to as “a guy born to be a fan favorite.”
What that means to Predators fans according to the model is a mildly-productive center who can do the dirty work in the bottom six, but in reality that’s not why people liked Mike Fisher at all. For anyone watching him in awe it was all about his visible effort, the way he looked on the bench, the clutch goals, and his understated yet fundamentally sound approach to playing hockey.
I guess in the end this game really does have segments of it that can’t be fully understood, regardless of any statistical analysis (I wouldn’t call what I’ve done here “analysis,” but I digress). You can’t quantify what makes a fan favorite because it depends upon the fan, and I think that’s what remains beautiful about sports regardless of the amount of data being used to interpret play nowadays. The heart of a player is what makes people fall in love with them, so even if their charts underwhelm you can look past it.
Steve Sullivan says hello.
Thanks for reading everyone; have a great weekend. Go Preds.
All stats via hockeydb.com.