I tuned into Sportsnet last night a few minutes before the game started and one of those Canucks TV segments was trolling along before the game. I don’t typically watch those because there’s usually nothing in my own specific interest that pops up, but I happened to tune in mentally because I saw Canucks assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman on-screen as host Barry MacDonald asked him a question about Moneyball. The full interview is up at Canucks.Com but I’ve quoted the relevant sections of the interview pertaining to the interest of this blog and its readers.
BM: “Were you intrigued by Moneyball when it came out? Did the whole Billy Beane thing intrigue you and was that ammo starting to encroach into hockey, even though it was before the lockout, but was your mind whirling in that direction at all before we ever heard about Moneyball?”
LG: “Well the book was written many years ago and I read it when it came out. And I think there is no question that we practice a certain element of that style of management. We look at…”
LG: “For sure. And we look at maximizing the efficiency of the make-up of our roster, what roles each player plays in respect to his level of contribution whether that’s minutes played on the penalty-killing unit, faceoffs won, shots taken, goaltending, and you know, we look at lots of different attributes and a lot of different elements in terms of how to make up a team.
I’m not surprised that analytics have become as big as they have in the public’s eye, but they’re used in every aspect of professional sport: baseball, basketball, football… and hockey.”
First off, what Gilman says in here is completely contradictory to Mike Gillis saying “applying sabermetrics to hockey… doesn’t work” in a November interview from Iain MacIntyre at the Vancouver Sun.
However, I’ve made my theories on the Canucks using “Moneypuck” tactics well-known, and I think that if this wasn’t a sure thing before the David Booth trade, the Booth acquisition, buying-low on a player with a low plus/minus despite good shot numbers, is very symbolic of the sort of stuff that Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta do in Moneypuck. Beane, in this case, is personified in the Canucks organization by Mike Gillis, the former highly-regarded prospect who never panned out and DePodesta would be Gilman, the non-hockey intruder into a hockey front office with all his book-learnin’.
Gilman helps out Gillis on salary cap issues, and, after this interview, I think he may have a little bit more influence on player personnel. For one, he was willing to admit “for sure” when asked about whether the Canucks practiced statistical analysis. Credit to MacDonald for interjecting here: you’ll notice that he knocked Gilman slightly off-script.
Any team can talk about maximizing efficiency of the roster make up, but I think this is one thing the Canucks practice better than most. One of their rotating first-line wingers was an undrafted ECHL prospect. The Canucks found a home for Maxim Lapierre last season after two teams couldn’t stand to have him around. The defense led the league in goals against last season despite not having a single superstar on the blue line and this team, more than any team in the National Hockey League, match up their players vis-a-vis the position of the faceoff rather than the players the opposition sent out.
There will be a lot of statistical naysayers who claim that hockey is not “baseball” as if baseball is the only sport that truly lends itself to statistical analysis. That is not true at all, and Gilman tells this to MacDonald and the audience that numbers are used pretty much everywhere. Interpreting all these different elements of sport is crucial to building team success, whether its psychology or numbers, and Mike Gillis has surrounded himself with several smart people from different backgrounds.
Since the Canucks can’t use Franceso Aquilini’s deep pockets to buy all the players, why not use those extra resources in the un-capped boardroom, spending money on scouting and analytical techniques? It’s clear that they do take advantage of their financial situation to give them as much info as possible. Whether they choose to follow numerical clues or not is up to them, but it never hurts for anybody to know as much about a stock as is available before they invest.