Linus Omark, Shooting Percentage and The Illusion Of Validity


Photo Courtesy Candace Riley, A New Ice Age, All Rights Reserved.

I recently got into it a bit with a couple of commenters over at OilersNation about the issue of Linus Omark.

As luck would have it, this particular discussion coincided with a discussion I recently had in my Psychology class about a certain cognitive fallacy that is very prevalent in hockey analysis circles.

With Linus Omark being demoted to OKC, I figured now would be a good time to contribute my first FanPost to the Copper & Blue.

After the jump, I'll explain what the illusion of validity is, and make the case that Tom Renney's decision to make Linus Omark the 13th forward makes absolutely no sense.

Confidence is generally a good thing. In my experience, I perform better on exams when I am confident in my intelligence. Confidence is also a good thing for hockey players to have. There is no way Jordan Eberle scores the goal of the year last season unless he is confident that he can pull off the deke.

But confidence is only useful when it is warranted. I am confident when I walk into an exam because I know that I went to my lectures, took notes and studied. Jordan Eberle is confident in his stick handling prowess because he spends hours upon hours practicing it.

Problems arise when confidence becomes arrogance, and arrogance is most likely to be seen in someone who considers himself an expert.

The illusion of validity is a cognitive fallacy characterized by supreme confidence in one's own predictions even when those predictions turn out to be no better than random guesses. The striking evidence of it's effect on investors is detailed in this NYT piece that Arctic Ice Hockey linked to last week.

What does all of this have to do with Linus Omark? Well, when it comes to hockey everyone is an expert, and so everyone -- coaches, GMs, pundits, fans -- believes that they are right no matter how much evidence there might be to the contrary.

In the case of Linus Omark there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

The "anti-Omarks" (as I'm going to call them) have three arguments: A) Omark is not good offensively, B) Omark is not good defensively and C) Omark does not fit on the Oilers current roster. Essentially, Omark is one damn terrible hockey player. He's the product of some mad experiment that combined the DNA of Robert Nilsson and Rob Schremp.

We can dispatch with the argument that Omark can't score pretty easily. Here are the even strength points-per-60 minutes of three Oiler forwards who played at least 40 games last year:


I don't see how you can make the case that Omark is ineffective offensively without also arguing that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle can't score, but that's why Psychology is a profession I suppose.

Anyways, here's those three players again with their PDO numbers included:


Would you look at that. All three guys were fighting the percentages to a certain extent, but none as much as Omark. Curious.

When the anti-Omarks said that he couldn't score, they actually meant that he couldn't score goals, but take a look at that shooting percentage column. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on hockey statistics, but there is a ton of analysis out there that shows how much shooting percentage, and therefore goal scoring, is driven by luck and randomness.

Linus Omark has played a grand total of 56 games in the NHL. Before coming over to North America, Omark had two seasons where he shot over 18 percent in the SEL and KHL. After being sent down to OKC last year, he proceeded to shoot 19 percent through 28 games in the AHL. Then he came to the NHL and shot 6.5 percent.

There are two possibilities to explain this phenomenom. Either Omark is talented enough to feast on the lesser competition in the minors and Europe but not talented enough to score goals in the NHL, or his success in Europe and the minors was all a mirage and the 6.5 percent is his true talent. Based on all that we know about shooting percentage, I would bet that the truth is somewhere in the middle, but judging a player's shooting ability based on a 56-game sample is beyond absurd.

So that means that Omark was capable of scoring at the same pace as Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle while battling a run of bad bounces. It would stand to reason that when his percentages normalize his offense should increase.

See where I'm going with this?

Shooting ability might be a transient skill, but the ability to generate shots and outshoot your opponents is not. Here are the top 5 Oilers forwards who played at least 40 games last season ranked by 5v5 Rel Corsi:


Would you look at that!

Shot totals bring me to the next subject: defense.

Defense is tougher to measure, but not necessarily impossible. Tyler Dellow took a look at some instances where Omark lost his man against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago and came to the conclusion that it was a bit of an issue.

At the same time, that is only a single game. What can the data from last season tell us about Omark's defense? Here are the two worst and two best Oiler forwards who played at least 40 games last year in terms of 5v5 shot differential-per-60 minutes of icetime:


That's interesting. So Omark was essentially breaking even in terms of shot differential. Shot differential might not be the best way to measure defensive ability, but even accounting for zone start Omark's numbers don't exactly scream defensive liability.

What about his scoring chances? Derek broke Omark down by season segment and also by WOWY in April, and again there is nothing in the data that yells "I should be in the AHL." At the very least it appears that Omark is going to create as much as he gives up. Unlike certain players.

As for there being no spot for Omark, that doesn't make any sense. The Oilers currently rank 25th in the league in goals scored. Rarely will a team make the playoffs with the 5th worst offense. You know who helps create offense? Linus Omark.

There are a myriad of ways to fit Omark into the lineup. Reunite him with Magnus Paajarvi and have either Sam Gagner or Eric Belanger in the middle. Play him with Gagner and Ales Hemsky when he returns. Unite the three Swedes and let them run amok in the offensive zone while Horcoff and Belanger take care of the defense. Play him with Smyth and Horcoff and drop Ryan Jones down. If Jones can ride the coattails of the Oilers two best forwards, I don't see why Omark can't.

It is isn't hard to fit Linus Omark onto the roster.

By giving up on Omark, Renney and the Oilers are prediciting that he is not and will not be a good hockey player. I'm sure Tom Renney believes he's making the correct decision. I'm sure he has confidence in his decision. After all, he's an expert.

Here's the thing: being an expert doesn't mean that you are infallible. Many times, so-called "expert predictions" turn out to be no better than random guesses.

We can and should question this organization's decision-making, especially when there is plenty of evidence that the one they just made is dead wrong.


*This FanPost does not necessarily represent the views of the writers or staff or The Copper & Blue.

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