Graphic Comments: Cougars on the prowl for young talent


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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. clear cap space
  2. acquire rights to Yandle to get him under contract early
  3. with Yandle settled, more certainty on cap room left to work with
  4. make strong offer and close Demers right on July 1

Settle on a strategy. Develop a plan. Execute.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Done.

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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:

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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.



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  • TheRealPB

    I think it’s kind of easy to cherry pick from interviews and actions to fit just about any narrative. It’s good to see teams like Florida and Toronto move away from years (or decades) of mismanagement, questionable coaching, and poor drafting and making zero out of high draft picks to becoming more competent organizations. It’s still not clear if the bets they are making are the right ones — clearing out 3 of your top D in Campbell, Gudbrandson and Kulikov from a pretty decent team last year is a bold move. Trading one of your top prospects in Crouse to get out from under Bolland’s terrible deal is another mixed one. And I’d actually add paying $6.5 million a year to Keith Yandle — who has in my view been pretty underwhelming for a while — to a mixed bag. Yet you paint these actions as so much more laudable than anything we see here because they are somehow based in a more grounded and analytical approach. Perhaps they are. They’re still as much gambles as any here. Gambling that Luongo is going to come back from his injury and Reimer will still be decent. Gambling that Jagr and Jokinen won’t lose a step, that Matheson and Petrovic can get to the next level. Maybe all of that will happen but the way you’re describing it, you’re ready to anoint them the next model franchise.

    “Settle on a strategy. Develop a plan. Execute.”

    Lots of teams do this. You just might disagree with what they develop and how they go about doing it. It’s quite clear that you disagree with Benning’s strategy and that’s your prerogative. But I wouldn’t take the words of any other NHL management team — whether they’re couched in the language of advanced analytics or not — over another’s. And by the way, face-offs, hits, blocked shots, etc are all actually indicators of success or at least some kind of measurement of performance, as are many other of the traditional boxcar stats. You can always question whether they are actually good proxies for determining value – many of them clearly aren’t and many others without context are not useful — but you shouldn’t pretend that sport performance has never been measured. That’s not the innovation, it’s what’s being measured.

  • Dirty30

    this reads like fan mail a 13 year old girl would write to justin bieber. i can imagine lipstick on the envelope it gets mailed in.

    the genius of formulating executing a plan to sign keith yandle. the amazing innovativeness of drafting of skill and speed. lol

    • Dirty30

      No. We chose you to be the sacrificial virgin to be burnt on the pile of hockey sticks to beseech the gods to let OJ be the next Lindstrom.

      Thank you for your contribution to improving the Canucks organization.

  • DJ_44

    Congratulations Rhys. Well done and all the best.

    I think this is a great site, and there is definitely a lot of talent among the CA analysts.

    The commentators can be a little bit harsh, including me at times when I feel like readers are being trolled by some of the writers – but for the most part, I think most of the writers do an outstanding job, and further CA analysts will be scooped up by NHL teams or NHL-related agencies.

  • Whackanuck

    “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”…

    Pretty good description of most fans and media. I’m not sure analytics has already overcome this problem. The analysis is only as good as the data being collected. Who is collecting all the data at the junior level?

  • pheenster

    “Settle on a strategy. Develop a plan. Execute.
    Boom. Boom. Boom. Done.”

    Since the year 2000 the Panthers have qualified for the playoff two times.

    With dozens of premiere draft picks and a franchise that sucked forever to get them they are fortunate the Snowbirds have kept that franchise on life support.

    Otherwise ir would have been:

    Boom! Boom! Out go da lights!

  • Dirty30

    Gag me with a spoon, seriously? Better start up a Panthers Nation so Canuck fans won’t have to read about the wonderfully intelligent group that turned the Panthers around and made them into contenders. Nice Oiler colors in the art work by the way.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    So does anyone know if the Canucks have actually hired any stats analysts to help them with their decision making?

    It seems strange that the Canucks would continue let other teams like Florida poach the local talent. Especially when these guys are such passionate Canucks fans who know the team so well.

    • Dirty30

      I believe JB has said the club uses/considers analytics in their decision making process but as a supplement, not a main determining factor.

      or something like that.

      • pheenster

        And JB (or Linden?) indicated Canucks track a defender’s success in denying zone entries, a stat that has not been tracked by CA. This was in a discussion of moving forward without Hamhuis (which he excelled at). I suspect many (all?) NHL teams use a number of analytic methods to assess talent and performance, perhaps including a blend of objective and subjective data. These would be proprietary to each team so we never hear about them.

        • Graphic Comments

          Yeah, it was prolly Linden and not JB that commented on analytics in that 1040 interview…

          I was trying to remember if they used someone inhouse for the analytics or if they have a company contracted to do the work.

          • TheRealPB

            The Canucks use Jonathan Wall as director of analytics. The extent to which they heed his adviceis open to question and – I would argue – extreeeeeme doubt unless the metrics that he is coming up with completely fly in the face of what the rest of the analytics community is doing.

            After all…

            “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.”

            Around 29, to be more precise.

  • Spiel

    The NHL is not a computer game on ice Florida is building a team without any heart and soon will go down in Flames.
    Tallon was building a good team and had made some significant gains since taking over the team adding players like Mitchell and Luongo who have passion and heart. Now the nerds are taking over good bye hockey sense. they were a contender this year, next year won’t make the playoffs

    • Spiel

      Moneyball was about exploiting market inefficiencies. At that time most teams did not look at the stats that baseball front offices now use to evaluate players.

      In hockey the pendulum is also swinging to where the players with good “advanced stats” are no longer as undervalued. Teams are looking at possession numbers and not just counting stats as they used to. The teams that get ahead are the ones who will find the skill that contributes to a winning team that is most undervalued in today’s market.

    • Whackanuck

      The team Florida has was largely assembled by Tallon but the analytics guys are going to get more than their fair share of credit for any future success. Using the past to predict the future ASSUMING nothing else changes is an actuarial process; not so good for individuals IMO. That’s where heart and determination come in. I still want to see a place in pro hockey for a guy who’s determined to get better.

      I wonder what the analytics looked like for Cody Hodgson in his draft year. Pretty impressive is my guess. And now…?

      I would also like to see a place for Tallon in the Canucks organization. Not likely I suppose but he’s built two teams now and it looks like he’s getting shunted up and out in Florida.

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    “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.”

    I have speculated before that I wonder if other GM’s are going to start calling the Panthers to get rid of their players that are like cancer in the dressing room. You can ice the best team on paper but they play the game on ice not spreadsheets. I am not saying that analytics are not important but it is a team sport not a sport of individuals.

    One final point, the Oakland A’s never won the World Series even though they were the poster child of baseball statistics. It gets you to the playoffs, but those other intangible qualities are where you win championships.

  • Whackanuck

    If CORRADO plays 200+ games in the NHL then the analytic nerdvants are correct.
    If he doesn’t, the quasi-normal hockey IQ commenter guys are right.

  • Fred-65

    As already mentioned it depends which stats you collect and what you assume from those stats. Some give it more weight than others. As Ray Ferarro said when they have a stat that measure who come out of the corner/boards with the puck more often then I’ll listen or who can actually intimidate the crease area. Can intimidation be measured. It’s a big boys game can that be defined with stats ?

  • Spiel

    Congrats to Rhys Jessop for the opportunity! The Florida Panthers are going to need all the Canucks Army alumni because they are going to draft high with their lottery pick. The Florida Panthers will take a step back this season and miss the playoffs. I envision a slow start by Roberto Luongo after his injury rehab, and their defense lost a lot of character and grit after trading Erik Gudbranson.

  • pheenster

    Talk about bad decisions by the Florida Panthers. They gave up a fourth and a sixth round pick for
    Keith Yandle’s negotiating rights and then signed him @ $6.35 Mil for seven years. Yandle is 30 years old. Jason Demers signed @ $4.5 Mil for five years. Demers couldn’t make the Sharks as a seventh defenseman. The Lawson Crouse trade might come back and haunt the Panthers front office for years to come.

    • DJ_44

      I agree.

      It will be interesting to see the “new” management team take credit for Dale Tallon’s vision. Florida is stacked with young talent, 99% acquired by Tallon (albeit most with high picks).

      I also find it interesting that, in one breath Florida speaks of diversity of opinion, yet the GM, AGM and CA alumni all have been bouncing off the walls of the same echo chamber.

      It appears that traditional hockey management teams are not the only ones that like to hear they are correct from those around them.

  • Graphic Comments

    Well deserved for Rhys!

    Also great to see a Graphic Comments piece!

    Rhys, Cam Charron, Mc79Hockey, Travis Yost and Drance have been my go-to hockey bloggers that have shaped my views on hockey. At least 2 are still churning out content! All the best to Rhys in south Florida! Don’t get zika!

    • TheRealPB

      I agree with this but mainly because if/when Lu retires early we are going to be the ones stuck with the impact. I still cannot believe that such a punitive (and targeted) measure is allowed against teams that simply exploited a loophole that already existed. Why, for example, was it problematic for NJ or Vancouver to sign the ridiculous backdating deals and is it ok for Arizona to carry three players on LTIR or who are effectively retired or no longer in the league (Datsyuk, Pronger, Bolland) in order to reach the cap floor? How is that possibly not against the spirit of the CBA?

      • Bob Long

        Yup that 4.2 million in 2020 and 8.5 million dollar cap hit in 2021 will be brutal. If Lu can’t be traded back here (in name only) then really our GMs only choice is to go over the cap and face the consequences of that, probably a couple of 1st round picks. Or sue. Or pray for a lockout.

        • Spiel

          If you are Lu, why retire when you are set to earn a million bucks? why not just go on ltir and say you can’t play because of arthritis or lower back pain/soft tissue damage, etc. ?

          Look at Pronger, you can earn a salary from an NHL club and go do something else… the league is crazy.

          • Spiel

            Pronger, Savard, Datsyuk show that the league has rules in place that they won’t enforce.
            I doubt that any team ever pays a cent of cap recapture penalties. Precedent has been set.

            Either Lu will be put on LTIR even though he has effectively retired or there will be another Arizona that comes along that wants to use Lu’s contract to reach the cap floor. Significant chance that team is Florida.