NHL Analytic Teams’ State of the Union

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Fandom means a lot of different things to different people. But one thing unites us all: we hope our favorite team will win, and spend a great deal of time thinking how they can.

For those of us who dig a little deeper on the “how” side and use analytics, we hope that our work will eventually make its way to a front office. In some ways, it already has: numerous “hockey bloggers” hirings have been made recently.

But how many and for which teams?

With some research, I’ve culled a working document on all analytics hires for NHL teams and how they may be using analytics. The following descriptions comes from a variety of sources including Craig Custance’s Great Analytics Rankings [Paywall], fellow bloggers from across the internet, media reports, word of mouth and anonymous insiders.

It should be noted that just because a team has made an “analytics hiring”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they value their input or use the analysis provided properly. In fact, hires can be made simply for PR reasons, and some teams may even give analytics tasks as secondary duties to staff members who do not posses any formal background in the subject. Teams may also have hired private firms providing proprietary data, which in reality may not provide any tangible, verifiable value than what is free and readily available online.

This information presented below is subject to change, and I suspect some of it may not be a 100% accurate due to the nature of this research. With that being said, please feel free to let me know if you have any conflicting information, or simply more information to add.

Here is what we know about each team:

Anaheim Ducks: Anaheim does not appear to have made any analytics hiring.

Arizona Coyotes: Arizona made waves this past season by naming John Chayka, the 25 year-old co-founder of Stathletes, as the Assistant General Manager. He joins Bob Teofilo, Director of Hockey Operations and Hockey Analytics”. Given that Stathletes is a video analytics firm, we can safely suppose that Arizona is using tracking data, which they may be using (at the very least) to ameliorate their systems.

Boston Bruins: A Sports Management graduate from the University of Massashusets, Ryan Nadeau was named Director of Hockey Operations/Analytics in the summer of 2014 after serving four years as the Manager of Hockey Administration. Both Peter Chiarelli, Boston’s old GM, and Don Sweeney have conceded that the club relies on advanced analytics to guide their decision-making, particularly in scouting, player valuation and coaching systems. However, just how “advanced” these analytics are is unknown: given Nadeau’s administrative background; it’s unlikely that he possesses any formal training in data mining. But he has pointed out that the “people who are doing some of the analytics work aren’t affiliated with teams” and that their work can be found on “blogs and websites”. So, at the very least, Boston is using these websites to extract data that are relevant to their interests. Whether they modify it in any sophisticated way is unknown at the moment. (Courtesy: @asmae_t)

Buffalo Sabres: Tim Murray possesses a strong background in analytics, despite his team’s calculated attempt to be as terrible as possible this past year. So it should come as no surprise that they have a few analytics personnel on their payroll including Hockey Data Analyst Jason Nightingale and Video/Analytics Coach Neil McKenney.

Calgary Flames: Despite Brian Burke comparing analytics to drunks resting on lampposts, he seems to have a lot of faith in Chris Snow whom he considers one of the brightest in this business.  The Flames front office page describes Snow as “responsible for the complete and comprehensive planning, implementation and oversight of the club’s video and statistical data mining programs including designing, developing and implementing a proprietary data base of hockey information for use by the club. In addition, he will integrate the data-based video system PUCKS into the team’s coaching, player preparation, scouting and planning processes.”  Calgary has also hired at least one blogger into analyst roles but at this time it is not known if they have been renewed for the 2015/16 season.

Carolina Hurricanes: The hurricanes sent shockwaves through the league just over a year ago with the hiring of one of the most prominent bloggers in Eric Tulsky. They extended a full-time offer to him this summer.

Colorado Avlanche: Under Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, the Avalanche have not exactly been known as havens of analytic development. It’s been rumored however that they recently hired Chris MacFarland, the ex-Assistant General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, to carry analytics work. It’s also believed he acts as Joe Sakic’s right-hand man.

Chicago Blackhawks: If Chicago has analytics personnel on board, they are keeping it very quiet. They may however be using a private company, as Craig Custance from ESPN reported. They also have worked with Adam Gill, who is listed as the Video Coach for their AHL affiliate the Rockford IceHogs but it’s highly unlikely that he currently works with the front office/coaching staff of the NHL team.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Since Jarmo Kekäläinen became involved with the Blue Jackets, many of their moves (and PR articles on their officially website) are similar to what the analytically minded would likely exectute. Josh Flynn (officially tagged as the “Director of Hockey Administration) is a name that’s been floated around as someone who’s heavily involved in their analytical development.

Dallas Stars: Dallas is an interesting situation. General Manager Jim Nill has been very pro-analytics and even mentions reading many of the prominent hockey statistical blogs but at this time no one who follows the team closely has been able to identify someone in a specific analyst role.

Detroit Red Wings: Detroit was one of the earliest adopters of analytics. Mike Babcock was personally interested in analytics and would talk with math students at the local university. In August, the Red Wings became serious and hired Bryan Campbell as the Director of Statistical Analysis and Hockey Administration.

Edmonton Oilers:  It is well-known that coach Dallas Eakins hired ex-blogger Tyler Dellow despite the rivalry with local media.  Although Eakins only lasted a half season, Dellow was retained. The Oilers have also been known to use Darkhorse Analytics but it is rumored that their contract has not been extended for the 2015-16 season.

Florida Panthers: During the “Summer Of Analytics, the Panthers hired Brian MacDonald, a mathematics professor from West Point.  MacDonald was another prominent blogger in the first wave of hockey analytics in the mid 2000s.

Los Angeles Kings: LA, like Chicago, is another team that appears invested in analytics, given their success and sound decision-making. But for the time being they are keeping everything under wraps and no names have surfaced.

Minnesota Wild: Rumors are starting to emerge that they’re the next team that will make a significant analytics hiring to their management staff and are currently looking at the blogosphere for hires.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens made a large move earlier this summer when they announced the hiring of ex-blogger Matt Pfeffer as a part-time analytics consultant to the team.  Pfeffer has been working with various teams over the past few years including San Jose Sharks, Hockey Canada, the Ottawa 67’s, and the Peterborough Petes.

Nashville Predators: The situation in Nashville is unclear at this very moment but in the past they’ve hired Eric Tulsky in a consulting capacity. Their Hockey Operations Assistant Paul Richard Cook has been involved with analytics as one of his secondary duties in the past.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils are another team that made a hiring during the “Summer Of Analytics” bring in Sunny Mehta. He was an early generation hockey blogger and was named Director Of Analytics. He later hired Sai Okabayashi, of Shift Chart fame, as a “Data Scientist”, whose main responsibility appears to rest in data collection and cleaning.

New York Islanders: The Islanders generally have been considered pro-analytics but they have done an excellent job in hiding to what level of involvement.  Custance has suggested there is a link to Power Scout Hockey.  The Islanders draft picks the past 2+ seasons have also been heavily analytic influenced and that is where their “Team Psychologist” Dr. Frank Gardiner seems to come in play.  Gardiner can be seen at the draft tables with his laptop right beside Garth Snow and Trent Klatt.

New York Rangers: The Rangers may be quietly involved in analytics. Blue Shirt Banter wrote a good piece dissecting the possibility of Jim Sullivan’s role as the possible analytics lead.

Ottawa Senators: With their shoestring budget, the Senators have not made an official hiring. It’s been suggested that the current team does not fully ignore numbers and that they may even occasionally consult with a local math student.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers use Catapult Sports Consulting as well as their in-house employer Ian Anderson.  It is known Anderson has expanded with the hiring of another blogger in a part-time role.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have started their major involvement with analytics in the summer of 2014 with the hiring of VP of Hockey Operations Jason Karmanos who had the task to reshape their analytic tools.  Since then the Penguins have hired Carnegie PhD Sam Ventura (of War-On-Ice fame).

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have undoubtedly embraced analytics, given that their majority owner is a founder of SAP. They’ve hired Matt Pfeffer in the past for consulting, but now the team uses their own analytics software called RinkNet.

St. Louis Blues: The Blue’s GM Doug Armstrong has been an early analytics adopter, but no one in charge of analytics per se has been (publicly) identified. Chris Baker, of HockeyMetrics.com, has been involved with the Blues organization in a consulting role in the past.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts partnered up with TIBCO Software, a company that provides analysis and predictions at all levels of their business. In 2009, they hired Michael Peterson, who previously worked in baseball with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians, to aid the front office in analytics-driven decision-making.

Toronto Maple Leafs: It is safe to assume that no team has dedicated more resources for analytics than Toronto. It started with the hiring of Kyle Dubas, the assistant GM who came from the OHL.  Dubas et al. then went on to hire four bloggers and various other analytics minds including Cam Charron (of Canucks Army and other sources), Daryl Metcalf (of Extra Skater), Rob Pettapiece (a mathematically inclined blogger) and most recently Bruce Peter from the Saskatoon Blades.

Vancouver Canucks: Under Mike Gillis, the Canucks were at the forefront of analytics adoption. But since the arrival of current GM Jim Benning, analytics have taken a back seat both figuratively and literally: Jonathan Wall has been named their “Director of Hockey Operations & Analytics” although he possesses no known formal background in analytics… In fact he used to be working as an Equipment Manager for the Vancouver Canucks and the UBC Varsity Hockey team.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals managed to grab another famous first-generation hockey blogger in Tim Barnes (aka Vic Ferrari) in the “Summer of Analytics”.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have a similar situation to Chicago’s and appear to be working with a consulting agency. They also have a team that does live tracking for the video coach or Paul Maurice to look at in the games; Gus Gottfred is one of the individuals that does live tracking of statistics for the team.

There are also a few bloggers that are known to be working with teams including Corey Schnjeider (@ShutDownLine) but we cannot pinpoint to which team they are working with.

Special thanks to @asmae_t for helping with editing, reviewing and providing much input into this piece.

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