While a number of teams have evidently dipped into their analytics budgets this summer, it’s almost an understatement to say we were floored by what the Leafs did – bringing in Dubas, buying out the popular site ExtraSkater, and eventually creating what looks to be the heaviest analytics department in the league from an outsider’s perspective. Though I don’t consider Dubas an “analytics guy” the way he’s perceived by some, he certainly is the type of manager that will use all the tools at his disposal, and he’s brought in some top-notch resources.
A question that arises from all of this, of course, is how does it all fit together?
How far should these numbers reach? Is it simply a management tool for finding value where other teams may not, or does the coaching staff need be heavily involved as well? And should this type of stuff ever get to the player level?
Instead of trying to answer all of these questions myself, I asked some of my TLN friends to weigh in.
Management should obviously be the most aware of these statistics. At the end of the day, their job is to try to acquire the best possible talent for the lowest possible cost, and these numbers typically lead people in the right direction. They should absolutely be used, along with any other variables, to the best of their abilities. As for the coaching staff, I think there’s a value in knowing that your system isn’t working properly. Randy Carlyle shouldn’t walk into the dressing room and declare that his team needs to get all of the Corsis on a given night, but there’s a benefit to being able to quantify when your results are being driven by luck or are truly valuing performance.
The players are where this begins to become a grey area. I don’t think that there’s a value in them knowing their stats, advanced or regular, in a specific form. After all, you don’t play to pad individual stats, you play to win hockey games. Individual statistics are useful in evaluation because they show what you did, but you’re not going to shoot instead of pass on a 2-on-1 because you want to improve your shots per 60. It’s up to the staff to evaluate these numbers, identify strengths and weaknesses, and connect them with video and (gasp) eyeballs to see how the player can refine his game to help them the team. A player doesn’t need to know his CF%, but if the staff finds out that it improves and helps the team if he switches a move up when he gets to the hashmarks, for example, that’s something that should be relayed. Not “your numbers look low, get better numbers”.
What’s great about guys like Kyle Dubas, Tyler Dellow, and Cam is the fact that none of them limit themselves strictly to the numbers. They are all capable of moving beyond reporting stats and drawing only statistical conclusions, they take what they’ve learned from numbers and implement it into a hockey context.
Cam’s writing on this site was a lot more focused on player usage than it was about player recruitment and I think it would add tremendous value to a receptive coaching staff and that’s exactly what we’ll see in Edmonton. Dellow is essentially going to be Eakins guy by most accounts. Having a guy like Dubas influence personnel decisions is great, but analytics need to be a part of the coaching process too. If the Leafs figure out how to properly use the players they have it’s reasonable to consider them a playoff team.
As for the extent that players need knowledge of statistics, I think it helps from an evaluation standpoint. If a player gets bumped down in the lineup it’s nice to be able to point to something like “we’re seeing too many shots against us when you’re with Player X and Player Y, we need to move things around” or the more positive “the number of shots we see generated when your on the ice should get you some powerplay time.”