Well, if you haven’t heard yet, the Florida Panthers have claimed another victim.
Reports are that yet another Canucks Army alumni, former editor Rhys Jessop has joined the growing team of analysts supporting the front office down in Sunrise. I always did think Rhys should be fired into the sun, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.
There’s no word on what, exactly, Rhys will be doing for the Panthers, but I really, really, really hope his job is to edit whatever work Josh Weissbock is producing.
So think what you may about the quality of the analysis here at Canucks Army, there is clearly enough in the analytical approach to player evaluation, asset management and data driven decision making that at least some NHL front offices see value in it.
The Florida Panthers are certainly a prime example. Just yesterday they posted an interview with Assistant GMs Steve Werier and Eric Joyce on their website, and the language used when describing the roster moves over the summer was quite telling.
In that piece, you can see GM Tom Rowe talking about adding “more skill” and “quicker guys”. Werier talks about “skilled and versatile forwards.” These are all things you can actually measure, evaluate, and, most importantly, reasonably base decisions on. Noticeably absent were words like ‘character’, ‘culture’, ‘heart’, ‘grit’, and other intangible qualities you often hear form NHL front office execs when describing their new acquisitions.
There also was no talk of face-offs, hits or blocked shots. Instead, they look to “balance past performance with historical indicators of future success.” And while they don’t get into the details of the specific indicators they use, we have a pretty good idea of what they might be given the immense amount of research in this area. When it comes to on-ice performance, they are most likely talking about score-adjusted shot-attempt or expected goal based metrics, which have been shown to have better predictive value than just using past goals or standings points to predict future performance.
While that is just supposition on my part, I’m much more certain that of the factors they are using to indicate future success prospects and potential draft picks. Given they have now hired both the originator of the conceptual underpinnings of the Prospect Cohort Success model and the two guys that operationalized it, it’s quite clear that they are using age, scoring rate and height as the key criteria on which to base prospect acquisitions. Certainly PCS has evolved beyond that original simple model, but conceptually, the approach remains the same.
The point is that it is obvious that the management philosophy in Florida is much more open minded to analytical approaches to building a roster and managing assets. Instead of pulling another ex player or ex NHL executive from the revolving door of NHL front offices, they’re bringing in new perspectives that can provide a different insight into evaluating assets and identifying value.
That last part is especially important.
If you want to succeed in the NHL you need to be able to identify, capture, and maximize value.
Drafting near the top is not enough. It certainly narrows down variability in the value of a pick, but that’s only one small part. Just look at where 10 years of draft picks have left the Oilers. You need to be able to identify and maximize value throughout the roster and throughout all of your roster decisions.
And again you can get a sense of this business-oriented approach from the language in that piece. First, there was the very strategic, step-by-step operation to target and acquire both Yandle and Demers:
- clear cap space
- acquire rights to Yandle to get him under contract early
- with Yandle settled, more certainty on cap room left to work with
- make strong offer and close Demers right on July 1
Settle on a strategy. Develop a plan. Execute.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Done.
Then there is the talk about uncertainty and risk and the importance of being prepared. The ability to reduce risk, to capitalize on opportunities that arise, and to adjust to changing circumstances. This flexibility and adaptability is critical to the success of any business, but especially one operating in a relatively closed system such as the NHL. In many ways, the NHL is a zero-sum game where one organization’s misfortune is another one’s opportunity.
But even in absolute terms, there is a great deal of uncertainty and variability at the individual franchise and player level. You can tell that Joyce and Werier understand this. But they don’t just write it off to bad bounces or bad luck as things you can’t account for and thus are out of your control. They think of it in terms of probability and odds. Once you’ve done that, you can start to make decisions that improve those odds, even marginally.
And that’s how you start to identify and maximize value.
Finally, I want to pull out this extended quote from Joyce on the philosophical underpinnings of their management culture:
Our egos (thinking what we know is absolute) and our biases, personal and otherwise, have the greatest negative impact on our ability to maintain a disciplined, rational approach to spending money. Therefore, we remain vigilant against that fact by openly communicating throughout the organization. Vinnie and Doug like to call it “positive friction”, or everyone’s ability to question every decision we make, to include our fans. We don’t shy away from this, we welcome it, and in doing so, maintain that our process for evaluating and acquiring players can only get better.
I’ve written previously on the dangers of groupthink and the importance of diverse opinions in improving the quality of decision making. From the sounds of it, both ownership and management in Florida understand this and actively foster a culture of inquisitiveness and innovation. Making decisions is easy. Making good decisions isn’t.