- Ryan Johansen's 2013-14 season : Blip or trend? (SN) There is at least one real red flag for the Columbus Blue Jackets - and any team considering an RFA offer sheet - to keep in mind before inking Johansen.
- NHL expansion: Good, bad and inevitable (BR) One way or another, it's coming and so fans may as well focus on the positive.
- Drew Remenda replaces Louie DeBrusk on Oilers broadcasts (EJ) Sportsnet announced a pile of new additions to their NHL coverage on Thursday, and one of them sees a shift in Edmonton.
- Andrei Loktionov apparently has offers on the table, but no decision yet (ON) The Russian centre is said to be considering several possibilities in both the NHL and KHL, but hasn't made a choice and is sidelined until mid-September with a shoulder injury.
- Is David Musil fast enough to survive NHL hockey? (EJ) The 2011 second-round pick has a lot going for him, but his skating is a career-limiter.
I was able to do a couple of radio interviews in the last couple of days. On Tuesday, I joined TSN 1260's Allan Mitchell to talk about the Edmonton Oilers, and then on Wednesday I spoke with 630 CHED's Bob Stauffer about both the team and the rise of analytics in hockey.
I wrote a piece this morning on Toronto's hiring of Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager, but filtering through Twitter this morning there was a specific reaction that I wanted to respond to, a response which would have been out of place in a more general article.
Many significant voices on Twitter are downplaying Dubas' analytics side, for various reasons.
For example, there is Steve Simmons. Simmons is notoriously skeptical of the value of analytics in hockey, so to see him downplay the use of stats by a major new hire isn't a surprise:
And there are also people like ESPN's Corey Pronman - who makes no secret of his respect for analytics - who downplayed Dubas' stats contribution by placing it in a larger context:
Both Simmons and Pronman, coming at this story from very different angles, tweeted similar comments. And both are right, in a way, but both are glossing over the larger story for whatever reason.
The two key problems with writing that Dubas brings more than stats are as follow:
The first duh: Literally nobody argues that teams should be run from a spreadsheet and a spreadsheet alone. The strongest advocates of analytics know the limitations of the data we currently have are significant (here, let me help: "The data we currently have is limited in important ways!"). That's why stats guys in general tend to spend lots of time watching games and manually tracking things - scoring chances, zone entries, zone exits, puck touches, whatever. Because it's impossible to get all the information one needs from numbers alone (and what fun would that be, anyway?).
Dubas is more than a nerd with a calculator. But that shouldn't be surprising since our pocket-protector wearing four eyes has always been a mythic thing, a strawman created by people like Simmons as a way of disparaging dangerous unconventional ideas, a way of masking their own inability to deal with a changing sports world. I've yet to meet our imaginary analytics-only guy and I've spent better than the last five years in these circles.
The second duh, more for Simmons than Pronman: Were Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin not keen hockey eyes? Did the Maple Leafs have a pressing need to fire those guys - apparently with three years left on their respective contracts - and hire Dubas because he's better at watching the game than those two very experienced hockey men? Of course not.
There are lots of good reasons to hire Dubas - his success at the junior level, his impressive credentials at a very young age, all those non-stats things that Pronman and Simmons note - but what separates him from Poulin and Loiselle is that he is progressive, that he is willing to look at new ideas. Toronto has been the NHL's foremost example of total rejection of analytics; the Dubas hiring marks a seismic shift in approach for a previously moribund organization.
That's what differentiates this hiring. All across the NHL, hockey teams are staffed with good hockey men with impressive credentials, great work ethic and keen eyes. What differentiates Dubas from them is his youth and his willingness to move beyond hockey's orthodoxy and embrace whatever will give him a competitive advantage - in this case, the analytics that the Leafs have so robustly impugned for so many years.
The story here is not that Toronto hired a hockey man; that's a prerequisite. It's that they hired an analytics guy.