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338Canada: Now for something lighter than politics—NHL projections! – Maclean's

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The basic idea for the 338Canada electoral model spawned from a rudimentary Big Bang simulator I was coding for a conference on early universe cosmology, which had been scheduled during the height of the Clinton vs Trump election.

The conference itself was a moderate success among students and peers, but by the end of it my head was light-years away, deeply immersed into of this new videogame-like election simulator. I was pulling all-nighters playing around with the parameters, using past election results and demographic data trying to find proper indicators.

After the 2018 Quebec election, I dove into one of my childhood passions: hockey statistics. After the success of Moneyball in the early 2000s, analytics in sports grew in popularity and allowed nerds like me to feel more confident talking and writing about sports. A mild and intermittent Impostor Syndrome had kept me from doing just that until today… and so here is my very first hockey column.

The probability distribution for the number of goals per game per team in the NHL is eerily close to the famous Poisson Distribution. Although I do not wish to bore readers with math and statistics, I would argue that how well this probability function works with hockey results is actually both exciting and astounding.

Case in point: There have been 581 regular season NHL games this season (from Oct. 2 to the Christmas break) and so far there have been on average 3.04 goals per game per team. Here is the theoretical Poisson probability function of goals per game per team using this average value:

According to the graph above, the theoretical probability that a team is shut out in a game this season is 4.8 per cent; odds that a team scores only one goal is 14.5 per cent; 22.1 per cent for two goals and so on.

So how does this match actual game results? For sake of comparison, here is again the theoretical curve in blue and the actual results, in red, after the first 581 games of the current NHL season:

It’s amazingly close.

Naturally, a hockey game cannot be considered a perfect example of a Poisson process. In an ideal Poisson process, each event (in this case, a goal being scored) has to be completely independent from the previous and next event—in hockey (and sports in general) we simply cannot ignore the very real notion of momentum. In addition, not all goals are scored in similar conditions: a more thorough approach would require a breakdown of the goals scored at even strength, on the powerplay, and on the penalty kill separately (not to mention penalty shots, 3-on-3 overtime, and the shootout).

Nevertheless, a model is always constructed as an approximation of reality, especially when a heavy human element is involved—sports, politics, gaming, etc. The key to building reliable models is to start small, and gradually add more complex variables to test whether they actually improve the output. Otherwise, there is always a risk of adding random and mostly meaningless fluctuations to the results and mistakenly confuse this noise for actual data.

One of the most important indicators of a team’s success (or lack thereof) is the goal differential (goals for minus goal against). Obviously, this variable taken on its own is not perfect (no variable is): Team X could lose 7-0 one night and win the next two games 2-1. After those three games, team X would have a respectable record of 2-1-0, but a poor minus-5 goal differential. However, in the long run, teams with higher goal differentials tend to win more games. Case in point, let’s graph this season’s team point percentages (vertical axis) versus goal differential (horizontal axis):

We see a clear, almost linear, pattern: Teams that score more goals and allow fewer goals earn more points in the standings. This last sentence is not surprising in itself, but the fact that we see this obvious a pattern with only a half-season of data is incredibly telling.

Using this data (and updating it for all 31 teams on a daily basis) and running thousands of simulations of what’s left of the calendar, we can calculate playoff odds and point projections for every team. Here are the eastern conference standings as of the Christmas break with the 338 playoff odds and point projections:

Let’s take a look at the eastern Canadian teams:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are now projected to finish the season at 94 points (just above the eastern playoff threshold) with a 95 per cent confidence interval of ±12 points. However, considering the Leafs have significantly bounced back from a poor November since the firing of head coach Mike Babcock, it would not be surprising to see this point projection rise in the coming few weeks if the team keeps playing at this new level.

Here is the point progression and projection for the Leafs:

On the graph above, the black dotted line indicates the projected eastern playoff threshold (adjusted daily). The blue arrow indicates Mike Babcock’s last game as Leafs head coach, at which point the Leafs stood below the dotted line and were projected to miss the playoffs.

The graph below shows the projected point total for the Leafs on a daily basis. On the day of Babcock’s firing, the Leafs were projected at an average of 84 points, well outside of the playoff picture.

Over the past month, the Leafs have improved their point projection by 10 points (84 to 94) and are now more likely to make the playoffs than not.

The Montreal Canadiens have been playing inconsistent and average hockey all season so far. Here are the Habs’ point progression and projections. Notice how closely the point progression follows the dotted line:

After a poor November (during which they lost eight straight games), the Habs have picked up the pace and have won three of four in their Western Canadian road trip. As you can see above, the Canadiens are projected at 91 points, just below the eastern playoff threshold.

The Ottawa Senators would need a miracle to qualify for the playoffs this season. With only 36 points in 38 games, the Sens are currently projected at 82 points, clearly below the playoff threshold, and have remained below the dotted all season so far:

It would take a dramatic run, similar to the St. Louis Blues last season, for the Sens to make it—especially in a highly competitive Atlantic divisionTampa BayBuffaloMontrealFlorida and Toronto are only separated by five points in the standings as of this writing. With Boston almost locked in for first place, Ottawa would have to leapfrog at last four of those five aforementioned teams to enter the playoffs in April. That is highly unlikely.

We will take a closer look at the western Canadian teams in a future column. For more on the 338 hockey model, visit this page.

MORE FROM 338CANADA:

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Politics This Morning: Feds face looming end-of-week deadline on Teck Frontier mine – The Hill Times

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‘Focusing on resilience ignores the systemic problem that forces people to fight so hard in the first place,’ says Julie Lalonde.
‘Negotiations should take as long as they need to,’ says Ellen Gabriel, a former Mohawk spokesperson during the Oka Crisis.
After sitting as a Senator for more than three years, Wanda Thomas Bernard says she is more determined than ever to continue fighting for causes like social justice, diversity, and inclusion.

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The $20B Frontier mine shelved amid escalating rail blockades, CEO says Canada must reconcile climate and oil – National Post

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Teck Resources has officially withdrawn its application to build the $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine, just days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to issue a ruling on the contentious project.

In a letter to Trudeau published late Sunday, Teck chief executive Don Lindsay said the company made the decision as protests against a separate pipeline project stretch into their second week, blocking rail lines across the country and occupying public spaces. Lindsay said the Frontier project put his company “squarely at the nexus” of much deeper-lying tensions in Canada between natural resource extraction and First Nation land claims.

“The promise of Canada’s potential will not be realized until governments can reach agreement around how climate policy considerations will be addressed in the context of future responsible energy sector development,” Lindsay said in his letter. “Without clarity on this critical question, the situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects and it will be very difficult to attract future investment, either domestic or foreign.”

He said Canada lacks a “framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change,” and warned that the absence of such an understanding could bar future projects from reaching completion.

The Frontier mine has gone through nearly a decade of regulatory review, and a decision by the Liberal cabinet, which was expected by end of week, would have marked the final stage in the drawn-out approval process.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blamed the decision on “federal inaction” under Trudeau, as protestors block rail lines and other infrastructure in opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

The project, which is entirely separate from the proposed Frontier oilsands mine, would transport natural gas from northern Alberta and B.C. to an export facility on the West Coast.

‘Militant minority’

“The timing of the decision is not a coincidence,” Kenney said in a statement. “This was an economically viable project, as the company confirmed this week, for which the company was advocating earlier this week, so something clearly changed very recently.”

“It is what happens when governments lack the courage to defend the interests of Canadians in the face of a militant minority,” he said. 

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer also tied the decision to the federal government.

“Justin Trudeau’s inaction has emboldened radical activists and public safety concerns are now shutting down nation-building energy projects,” he said on Twitter.

Teck had secured community benefit agreements with all 14 of the First Nations who reside near the proposed mine, which would have been built a short distance north of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta.


Members of Beaver Hills Warriors and Extinction Rebellion Edmonton protest further expansion of the oil sands, specifically the Teck Frontier Mine, inside Canada Place, in Edmonton Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020.

David Bloom

But pressure had been building on the Trudeau government to cancel the project, due to concerns that it would inhibit the federal government’s ability to meet its 2030 and 2050 climate targets. Frontier would have emitted roughly four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, compared to the roughly 94 million tonnes currently emitted across the oilsands industry, including refineries.

Pausing the project offers immediate relief to the Trudeau government, whose caucus was deeply divided over the mine. The prime minister has long sought to balance interests in both the environmental community and industry, arguing that Canada can both grow its economy while also meeting stringent international climate targets.

But those claims have been heavily challenged in recent weeks amid prolonged protests that have snarled major railway lines, and will likely dent the broader Canadian economy as the movement of goods are halted. Several environmental advocacy groups had called on Trudeau to reject the project. Industry groups and the Conservative opposition have warned that such a move would send a bad signal to investors, who have already turned their backs on Canada amid an inability to build critical infrastructure like pipelines.

The situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects

During the election campaign Trudeau pledged that Canada would reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Ottawa is separately set to fall short of its 2030 commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“As Teck has rightly pointed out, and as many in the industry know, global investors and consumers are increasingly looking for the cleanest products available and sustainable resource development,” federal Environment Minster Jonathan Wilkinson and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a joint statement.

The economics of the Frontier megamine had long been in question after oil prices collapsed in 2014. Large-scale, open-pit mines like Frontier have largely been eschewed in favour of nimbler expansion projects that require much less capital costs.

Many First Nations support projects like Teck. All elected band chiefs along Coastal GasLink, for example, support the project, though a handful Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are vehemently opposed.

Activist groups have promised similar blockades and civil disobedience in response to construction of the $12.6-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a project now owned by Ottawa. That development would nearly triple capacity for oil products flowing from northern Alberta to a port in Vancouver.

Teck’s decision on Sunday came just after Alberta signed updated agreements two First Nations on Frontier, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation. The Chipewyan had recently come out against the Alberta government’s handling of the file, and called for increased funding on several environmental efforts tied to the project.

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Education wars: The 'vile' protest sign, the minister's tweet and 'gutter politics' – Ottawa Citizen

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Members of the Ontario Federation of Labour protest outside the Scotiabank Convention Centre during the Ontario Progressive Conservative party 2020 policy convention in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Saturday, February 22, 2020.


Tijana Martin / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has called on Ontario’s education unions to condemn a protester at an anti-government rally on the weekend who carried a “vile and disturbing” sign.

A teachers’ union leader has criticized Lecce for engaging in “gutter politics” by suggesting the mystery man with the rude sign was a teacher.

And the protester says he has nothing to do with the education wars but was trying to make a point about abortion.

The events that unrolled on Twitter are another indication of the poisonous relations between Ontario’s education minister and the education unions battling for new contracts.

The mystery protester plunked himself among a sea of teachers holding picket signs at a protest outside the Ontario PC party policy convention in Niagara Falls on Saturday.

The rally was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour and included teachers and others protesting Conservative government policies and budget cuts.

The man’s placard had a photograph of Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff and the words “A problem an abortion could have solved.”

Oosterhoff, the parliamentary assistant for education, is a vocal opponent of abortion.

A photograph of the protester was posted on Twitter by Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley, who called it “a sick and disgusting remark.”

“The teachers at the Ontario PC policy conference are keeping it classy,” Lilley wrote in the tweet.

Lecce retweeted Lilley’s post with his own comment. “I’m calling on all education union leaders to unequivocally condemn this. Our kids need strong role models.”

“We raise our children to be civil, decent, and respectful,” wrote Lecce. “This language has no place in our democracy.”

Teachers on twitter immediately cried foul, saying there was no evidence the protester was a teacher.

Adam Stirr, an animal-rights and pro-choice advocate from the Niagara region, says he was the guy holding the placard.

Stirr said he found out about the controversy when friends told him that former Conservative MP John Baird was retweeting a photo of him.

“I thought I should take responsibility for this before they try to spin it into some anti-teacher bullsh**,” said Stirr in a phone interview.

“I’m not a teacher and I’m not a union member. I’m not affiliated with any of them at all.”

Stirr said he was protesting Oosterhoff’s anti-abortion views. He made no apologies for his sign, saying Oosterhoff “wants to take away bodily autonomy for 54 per cent of the population and that is far more objectionable than any sign.”

The Citizen asked Lecce’s spokesperson, Alexandra Adamo, why the education minister  posted a statement implying the protester was a teacher.

“We live in a democracy where individuals have rights, and we respect those rights,” said Adamo in a statement. “However, there is no place in this country for this vile, disturbing, and divisive language that was present at the union rally. Our youth look to us for moral leadership, and we have a duty to collectively uphold decency and civility in the public discourse. That is why we have called on the education union leaders to swiftly and unequivocally condemn this language that was present at this union rally.”

Harvey Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, says Lecce’s tweet is “gutter politics.”

“I do condemn that sign,” Bischof said in an interview Sunday. “And I condemn the minister of education engaging in gutter politics by attempting to link that sign to educators when he knows full well there is no connection.

“It is evident that the minister is tragically out of his depth, to engage in inflammatory politics at a time when calm is what’s called in order to find an agreement that meets the needs of Ontario students.

“It was very clear — calling on the leader of the education unions to condemn (the sign) is meant to link that to us somehow. There is no link. He’s well aware now there is no link, yet he still hasn’t withdrawn his offensive comments.”

jmiller@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JacquieAMiller

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