Advanced analytics has been disrupting sports for a number of years, and now it’s extending its influence into Hockey. Earlier this week, Tyler Dellow, a blogger famous for his statistical analysis of hockey players and teams, was hired by the Edmonton Oilers to consult with hockey operations.
The news of Dellow comes after a whole series of hiring efforts by NHL teams this summer. Sunny Mehta, a former stats blogger and pro poker player, was appointed as Director of Hockey Analytics for the New Jersey Devils; Eric Tulsky, the popular SB Nation contributor and analytics pioneer, joined an unnamed NHL team on a part-time basis; and Kyle Dubas, a huge proponent of statistical analytics in Hockey, was named the assistant general manager of Toronto Maple Leafs at just 28 years old.
The recent hiring efforts by hockey teams have marked a shift in perspective for the sport. As Andrew Berkshire comments,
“For years the greater hockey community’s opinion on analytics has been an echo chamber of dismissiveness, creating a false dichotomy between stats people and ‘hockey’ people”
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“As the theory went, you were either a person who watched the game and loved intangibles or you watched spreadsheets and counted numbers. Either you believed in scouting, or you believed in dispassionate, math-driven analysis”
However, whether advanced analytics will help the sport remains to be seen. As we saw with Billy Beane at Oakland Athletics and the former England Cricket coach Andy Flower, relying too heavily on data can have devastating effects. In the case of Flower in particular, data led to dogmatism, and consequently prevented him from seeing the bigger picture.
Yet some commentators on the sport remain optimistic. As Greg Wyshynski wrote in his article for Yahoo Sports,
“The bloggers at the forefront of the ‘fancy stats’ revolution now have that opportunity to prove their worth, and frankly it shouldn’t be a hard bar to clear. The best teams in the NHL are the ones that pay attention to analytics, especially puck possession. These guys are right more than they’re wrong. And there’s nowhere to go but up for teams like the Oilers and Leafs.”
How Hockey adapts to these new methods will be interesting to observe. Some valid questions remain to be answered, as Katie Strang points out in her ESPN piece,
“How much of a club’s resources will be devoted to analytics and how much will the findings dictate the club’s hockey-making decisions? Will these new hires be given a sense of autonomy by the organizations, or will they have to fight against a healthy dose of skepticism from front-office vets who aren’t yet on board with using Fenwick and Corsi stats as meaningful methods of evaluation?”
Do you think the efforts from these hockey teams will pay off? Let us know in the comments below.
(Image Credit: Derek Purdy)