NHL Notes: B's hasten journey into 'fancy stats' world

NHL Notes: B's hasten journey into 'fancy stats' world
August 4, 2014, 1:45 pm
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The Bruins aren’t hesitant newcomers entering the world of advanced statistics and analytics.

Not by a long shot.

But the Original Six franchise did officially recognize their work being done in the “fancy stats” world by adding an advanced statistics component to front office member Ryan Nadeau’s promotion this summer. Nadeau was elevated to Director of Hockey Operations and Analytics, but the longtime B’s employee wears plenty of hats for the Black and Gold franchise: stats and analytics guru, college hockey scout and knowledgeable travel resource for an NHL team that always faces interesting logistical challenges.

Nadeau and B’s Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Fitzgerald were key figures in scouting and ultimately landing undrafted defenseman Torey Krug, as well as former UVM defenseman Kevan Miller. Nadeau spends his weekends in the fall, winter and spring traveling all over the United States scouting NCAA hockey games, and he spends his hours during the week crunching numbers for the Black and Gold.

It’s an area the Bruins clearly want to augment in this age of Corsi and Fenwick entering so many hockey evaluation discussions, but it will always be utilized in concert with the old-fashioned eyeball test.

Take Benoit Pouliot, for example.

There’s no doubt that Boston’s proprietary software played a role in bringing the underachieving winger into the fold at a reduced price, and he finished ninth on the 2011-12 B’s with a 10.70 on-ice Corsi that was better than David Krejci, and far better than his third line mates in Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.

But the offensive zone penalties taken, the brain cramps on the ice and his general unreliability made it a one-and-done season with the Black and Gold. It was Pouliot’s weak dump-in attempt in the OT of Game 7 vs. the Capitals that led to Joel Ward’s series-winning goal, and that was his final play in a Bruins uniform.

He’s actually the perfect battleground player: the stats portend great things and he had himself an excellent playoff with the New York Rangers last spring, but Pouliot will never be able to live up to the five year, $20 million investment in him made by the Edmonton Oilers.

Those are the kind of discussions the Bruins will continue to hold, and keep mining away at the smartest, most innovative way to do it.

“It’s not a new thing. We’ve always done it," Chiarelli said. "But we wanted to augment the [analytics] department a little bit. [Nadeau] will be in charge of doing that. It’s always a supplemental piece to our decision-making. We just wanted to make sure we’re growing it and doing it properly. Your first instinct is scouting and talent evaluation, and this is another piece.

“We used to do it back in Ottawa — we did it more on the amateur scouting side. You just can’t get caught up in it too much. It’s another piece of info that — it promotes discussion, and through that, you end up back on the talent evaluation. So I think it’s a real instructional piece. We just don’t publicize it. Ryan has been with the organization for quite a while. He’s a point guy on that anyways, so he generates a lot of lists and metrics that we see when we’re making our decisions. I just wanted to give him that promotion, and let him grow the department.”

Chiarelli mentioned “regression analysis” as one particular area where the Bruins give a lot of weight to the numbers. Make no mistake about it, the Bruins pay attention to their numbers and to the numbers cranked out by the hundreds of blogs and websites that are doing innovative work.

“I think one of the biggest growths is just the fact that people who are doing some of [the analytics] work aren’t affiliated with teams, and stuff have now a medium to get it out there,” said Nadeau. “You know, lots of blogs and websites and stuff that…people are doing some pretty impressive stuff, and just posting it.

“As that happens, more and more people are seeing it and using it. The growth has been quick, but I think part of it is just because of the technology these days. It’s easier to get the word out there. Some people have done an extremely good job of detailed work, and we’re going to use some tools to continue that on our end.”

A number of stodgy, traditional NHL teams like the New Jersey Devils have beefed up their statistical analysis departments this summer, and the Toronto Maple Leafs went out and hired a certified stat-head in 28-year-old Kyle Dubas. The hockey world is changing just like the worlds of Major League Baseball and the NBA before it, and it’s easy to get caught in the avalanche with trendy stats like Relative Corsi and Corsi Relative Quality of Competition.

“We’re not really going to publicize [how we use it]. This is proprietary stuff. But there is a lot of stuff that you derive from chances, and shot attempts, and shot value, and all that,” said Chiarelli. “We do a lot of stuff like that, but we’re just going to kind of grow with it. It’s changing quickly, and we want to make sure we’re there.”

The key for every NHL front office is utilizing what’s deemed valuable and useful to the Bruins, and pushing the rest off to the side where old school media and new school stat supporters can continue a war that’s waged on for years. It’s a challenge of finding market inefficiencies like the Oakland A’s did with on base percentage in “Moneyball”: unearth productive players that, for one reason or another, aren’t garnering big interest, and can be had at bargain basement prices.

It’s not big surprise that franchise players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara score highly in traditional statistics, and in the world of fancy stats. Bergeron led the B’s with an On-ice Corsi of 23.40 last season, but it might surprise some to know that Loui Eriksson was fourth on the B’s with a 17.85 On-ice Corsi despite an injury-marred first season in Boston.

That number, along with the Relative Corsi statistic, was far superior to higher profile forwards like Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla, and is probably a big reason why the B’s are comfortable with Eriksson joining Krejci and Lucic for this upcoming season.

So the Bruins are being rewarded with useful Intel that’s helping them evaluate players, and the stats revolution has helped Nadeau climb the ladder in Boston’s front office. He’s come a long way from his former life as a Bruins media relations assistant back in 2003-04 when this humble hockey writer was in his first season covering the Black and Gold.

It’s certainly been an enjoyable ride for Nadeau that’s not even close to over.

“It’s great. I think the whole experience has just been kind of been somewhat amazing in starting at rock bottom for my hometown team…to be able to work my way up,” said Nadeau. “It’s great the way that our organization is run, and certainly I think I’ve tried to work really hard, and do whatever they ask me to do. I’m just happy to just keep getting new challenges and moving along.”

The Bruins, meanwhile, will continue to keep refining their usage of hockey metrics, and the bold new stats that are changing the NHL shift by shift.

*Just because Shawn Thornton has signed with the Florida Panthers for the next two years doesn’t change anything about his impressive continued involvement in the Boston community. Thornton is hosting the 5th Annual Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament at the Ferncroft County Club on Aug 11. The proceeds from this event will benefit The Shawn Thornton Foundation, The Boston Bruins Foundation, and the American Parkinson Disease Association, and more information – including how to sign up or get involved with sponsorship opportunities – can be found at www.thorntonfoundation.org

*File under the bummer category: Milan Lucic won’t be holding his annual Rock & Jock softball game for charity this month. Lucic made the announcement on his Twitter account, and ends a string of highly successful charity games up in Lowell that became a late August gathering for his Bruins teammates. While no reason was announced for canceling the event this summer, it may be related to the wrist surgery Lucic underwent after the playoff run had ended. The Bruins power forward was spotted still sporting a cast in recent weeks, and probably would have been a “no go” for playing in his own charity game. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said recently that both Lucic and Chris Kelly were on schedule to be fully healthy for September training camp.

*The Providence Bruins have announced that the annual Black & Gold scrimmage between the P-Bruins and Boston Bruins will be Sunday, Sept. 21 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. It should be interesting to see how many of the established Bruins players actually play in the game given the busy preseason schedule, and the large number of positions that will be up for grabs among the forwards in some pretty intriguing camp battles.

*Congrats to David Krejci, who tied the knot with Naomi Starr last week in his native Czech Republic and had himself a pretty sweet outdoor wedding judging by the pictures and video. Somehow, I doubt Tomas Plekanec was on the invite list.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.