Yesterday, the Ottawa Senators announced the hiring of Daniel Alfredsson as the team’s Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations. Alumni of the Hockey-Graphs blog Emmanuel Perry (who is a Senators fan) took advantage of the situation to come up with this (obvious hoax): https://twitter.com/MannyElk/status/644648872682242048
Now, the more I think about it, the more I believe that having someone like Daniel Alfredsson lead an NHL analytics group is actually a wonderful idea.
Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A’s, changed the face of baseball not because he had the newest or best ideas – those ideas had been around for decades. But he succeeded where others had failed before him because he was the right vessel for those ideas, combining a thirst for baseball knowledge with the power and perspective to translate that knowledge from theory to the playing field.
As for Alfredsson, he could be the ideal vessel for implement cutting-edge ideas in hockey.
Beane was a great manager because he learned from his personal failures. Alfredsson could become a great manager if he can draw out the essential from his triumphs. Not often does a professional hockey player continue to excel in his craft into his 40s, and Alfredsson is one of the handful of players in the post-lockout era who has managed to do just that. It is not only a testament to his talent and passion for the sport, but also to his will to adapt to his surroundings.
If he can channel that will into the quantitative study of hockey, then he will do a fine job as Director of Analytics. If we can recreate a little bit of what made Alfy great in every player of an NHL organization, that team would be a force to be reckoned with.
So what would it take for someone like Alfredsson to become one of the best analytical minds in hockey? In my opinion, the same ingredients which go into making a quality hockey player: a willing soul, some time and a good structure.
8:20AM: Alfy drops off his kids at school and meets me at the practice facility. There is no one in the building else except for the security guard. We want to get an early start to the day, but we’re not turning on our laptops just yet.
Instead, we work out, hard. Physical exercise gets the day off to a good start, but I also want Alfy to start the day with something familiar. All his life, he’s derived confidence from what he can do with his body; we’ll need some of that confidence for him to expand his mind. Also, he’ll be entertained to see me fail at keeping pace, but he’ll respect me for trying.
10:10AM: Alfy’s first lesson of the day. We keep things simple, starting with the origins of advances statistics, and moving up to current tools such as War-on-Ice and HERO charts, one topic per day. Alfy has a lot of questions, and I make sure to address the What, How, and Whys. We watch video as needed, in an attempt to understand why players such as Patrick Wiercioch and Erik Condra are seen in such different lights depending on who you are.
11:30AM: My first lesson of the day. As we watch the Senators practice, I quiz Alfy endlessly on his thoughts – about the players on the ice, about the coach’s drills, and about his experiences as a player. This is R&D time. Maybe a fork in the conversation here will lead to a much bigger breakthrough later on.
1:15PM: We grab lunch and talk about nothing in particular. We quickly get bored of small talk and return to the discussions had at the rink. As we digest our food, we also digest the morning’s insights.
2:30PM: The early afternoon is spent either speaking with subject matter experts (analytics, strength & conditioning, scouting) or meeting with other members of the front office. In the meetings, Alfy does all the talking, and people listen. Perfect.
4:00PM: Alfy goes to pick up his kids at school and spends the late afternoon with his family. Meanwhile, I am at my desk, setting up meetings and preparing research material for the following day.
7:00PM: On game days, we head to the pressbox and watch the game together. I teach Alfy how to track games manually. He offers his opinions on how to improve the process and ends up keeping better count than me. His interest in microstats is piqued, and he asks me to show him how well every single one of his former teammates did according to our metrics.
If it is not a game day, I send him some homework – things like “find 4 good impending UFAs to target using HERO charts and War-on-Ice” or “identify 3 undervalued prospects in Team X’s system.” He’ll make his presentation the following day, using both stats and intangibles to defend his case. It’s totally okay if he thinks a particular defenseman will be good in the room. As long as he knows what the trade-off will be.
With this kind of structure, it would take no more than six months for a hockey mind like Alfredsson’s to integrate analytics to an impressive and perhaps unique extent. At that point, he will be able to use his critical mind to evaluate problems, find facts and identify solutions. If he is not equipped to deal with a particularly technical issue (database management, data visualisation or statistical analysis), he’d at least know enough to know where to hire help. That ability, combined with his credibility and the extent to which he commands respect in the Senators organization, is all he would need to do a great job as Director of Analytics.
Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.