It seems the biggest trend this NHL offseason has been the growth of moneypuck strategies around the league. The GM of the Dallas Stars, Jim Nill, has replaced the jobs of many of his scouting staff with a simple software algorithm that measures goals, assists, giveaways, scoring opportunities, face-off wins, etc.
A couple of weeks ago, the Leafs hired Kyle Dubas, a 28-year-old "analytics guru" who is known for his new-aged hockey analytics insights. Last week the New Jersey GM, Lou Lamoriello, announced the hiring of Sunny Mehta to head up the new Analytics Department of the Devils organization. Mehta is a former professional poker player who was brought in to apply his skills of advanced statistics to sports. Just this week the Edmonton Oilers hired the analytics forerunner, Tyler Dellow and the Florida Panthers hired Brian MacDonald as their Director of Analytics.
Even the more traditional Mike Babcock noted it was only a matter of time before the Red Wings organization bring in their own analytics specialist. But why has there been such a delay in bringing analytics to the forefront of a winning strategy?
The NHL has been around for almost 100 years and keeping stats has always been prevalent. Is it the growth in technology and easily accessed statistical information that is making this trend impossible to ignore?
Perhaps with media expansion and fans being able to follow games live, on TV, on the radio, on their phone, on Twitter, etc. We have taken the "brand story" out of players. Attention spans are shortening (I thank you, by the way, for making it this far into my article) and fans more and more just want the quick hit facts. "Doughty had one assist, was -1, two PIM, five Shots, and three GVAs." No one has time for the human-interest pieces about whose parents came out to watch, whose rival is who, etc. The league is too big now. That was way easier to follow back when the league was much smaller and CBC's HNIC had a captive audience to tell their stories.
The entire business of hockey has rapidly expanded in the past 20 years. And as any business grows, efficiencies and ROI calculations need to be made. It has become simply implausible for an organization to have on-site scouts everywhere. The NHL now considers the OHL, WHL, MHL, AHL, QMJHL, ECHL, USDP, Swedish Elite League, KHL, Finish Elite League, German DEL, etc. all feeder leagues, not to mention college free agents, etc.
These algorithms can run stats of thousands of players from all over the world and narrow the scouting playing field to a very short list. From there teams can send scouts to go and judge the intangibles of the game (sportsmanship, leadership, etc.). The entire process is really much more efficient - and will ultimately produce better teams, and a better NHL.
The effect of moneypuck on Hockey is a whole other topic. Players become more disposable, there's less respect in the game, cheap shots go up, salaries go down, merchandise sales go down, etc. But that is an article for another day.