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Awareness of analytics a necessity for new NHL executives


In the past week, former players Trevor Linden and Brendan Shanahan have been tapped to lead two of the most valuable franchises in the NHL.

Plenty has been written on these moves, but it’s interesting that the topic of analytics has come up in both cases. Ten years ago, you can pretty much guarantee it wouldn’t have.

On Linden’s hiring in Vancouver, here’s part of what Nick Cotsonika wrote for Yahoo Sports:

Though Linden looked and sounded great at his press conference, he said little of substance. Though he said he believes he’s “ready for this challenge,” he was unconvincing when it came to why. Example: Linden told reporters on the side that he knew little about analytics, noting the trend arose after his playing days.

That doesn’t mean Linden will fail. That doesn’t inspire confidence, either.

On Shanahan’s hiring in Toronto, here’s part of what Michael Grange wrote for Sportsnet:

Why does the richest organization in hockey not have a single staff member devoted to the emerging field of hockey analytics when a bunch of numerate hockey hobbyists were predicting the Leafs’ demise for free, on Twitter, for months?

For that matter, why didn’t the richest organization in hockey invent hockey analytics?

Why don’t they already have 20 of the smartest, geekiest hockey fans in the world locked in a warehouse somewhere with a wall of computer equipment and video archives inventing cutting-edge ways to understand the game?

Hockey has been a relative late-comer to the revolution in sports analytics. Baseball was the trailblazer. It’s a big part of basketball now as well.

The so-called “advanced” hockey statistics — which basically just try to measure the amount of time a team controls the puck — aren’t perfect, but when the top four Fenwick teams are Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose and Boston, and the bottom three are Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo, there’s probably something to them.

Of course, there are anomalies — New Jersey is the fifth-best Fenwick team, while Colorado is the fourth-worst — but that doesn’t mean the statistics are useless. To dismiss them just because everything doesn’t line up perfectly straight is foolish.

In Vancouver, Linden will need to be a fast learner on the topic, possibly with the help of assistant general manager Laurence Gilman, who survived the firing of GM Mike Gillis.

In Toronto, Shanahan may need to not only learn; he may need to help convince the organization that analytics can’t be ignored any longer.

After PTO, Upshall signs one-year deal with Blues

Florida Panthers v Ottawa Senators
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Scottie Upshall has parlayed his training camp tryout into a contract with St. Louis.

On Monday, the Blues agreed to a one-year, two-way deal with the veteran forward, worth $700,000 at the NHL level. The deal comes after Upshall spent all of training camp and the preseason impressing the Blues his speed and skating ability, no small feat for a 31-year-old veteran with over 500 NHL games on his odometer.

But where Upshall fits in the Blues lineup — and within the organization — remains to be seen.

The club has plenty of depth up front and Upshall isn’t coming off a terrific campaign, having scored just eight goals and 15 points in 63 games with Florida last season. That said, he showed enough to be just one of a handful of veterans on PTOs to score a contract.

Panthers’ Crouse is going back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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Lawson Crouse is going back to junior. The big 18-year-old winger confirmed it today on Twitter.

Crouse was drafted 11th overall in June by the Florida Panthers. Despite the club’s belief that Crouse could make “an immediate impact” on the roster, he finished the preseason with just two shots and one assist in three games.

Crouse will return to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, with whom he’ll look to improve on his modest point totals from last season.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on the kid,” coach Gerard Gallant said last week. “If he doesn’t make the team this year he goes back to junior … and will have a lot of success.”