What the spread of analytics in hockey means for the Blackhawks
A number of NHL teams have jumped on the analytics bandwagon since the end of last season. How will that affect the Blackhawks' efforts with advanced stats?
If it wasn't already official, the news on Tuesday made it abundantly clear throughout hockey: the Analytics Era is on. While only a few teams have publicly discussed the use of advanced statistics, the race to have a calculated advantage over the competition has begun.
So what does this mean for the Blackhawks, a team that's already openly spoke about embracing analytics and uses it as a core aspect of its evaluation process? Well, for one thing, it means whatever advantage the team has had since crunching the tough numbers will most likely begin shrinking.
That's what happens what the competition ratchets up, and rest assured, it will if teams start mirroring Chicago's use of advanced stats. While it's understandable that some might be hesitant to make Corsi, Fenwick, PDO and others a part of their hockey life, it would be foolish to think that there's no value in the pursuit of more information.
What could separate the Blackhawks, or some other team, going forward is the ability to build proprietary statistical systems and implement them in creative ways. Just because sabermetrics became a force across baseball didn't mean teams gave up on getting better, it just meant doing so would require a bit more ingenuity.
And now that the Maple Leafs have hired Extra Skater's Darryl Metcalf, along with fellow bloggers Cam Charron and Rob Pettapiece, they've made a major move into the analytics space. Along with assistant GM Kyle Dubas, Toronto's massive splash of a hire earlier this summer, that's going to be a team to watch.
There's not the only ones, either. The Devils, Oilers and another undisclosed team also hired big names to make pushes into advanced statistics this summer. There are possibly other teams out there with proprietary systems already in place like the Hawks, teams that just don't want to talk about it openly or don't use it as a core part of their process yet.
But this movement is real, and it's hard to imagine it's not going to last. There's value in the numbers, and in a game as tough and competitive as NHL hockey, you look for every advantage you have. When you're spending millions upon millions on role players, you can fork over some money to a few smart guys to cook up some interesting analytical stuff.
Luckily, there's reason to have faith in GM Stan Bowman and company. Here's what he said to the Tribune back in May:
"Stats are what they are," Bowman said. "There’s no disputing who scored the goal, or who was on the ice for the goal. That’s fact. What you do with that is sort of the real value. And I think there’s an art to it. The analytics themselves are very objective. But then you have to do something with them and draw conclusions."
Even as other teams get the numbers, they'll still have to draw the right conclusions once they've gotten there. The Blackhawks' opponents will be tougher going forward as a result of these developments, but they won't necessarily match or surpass what happens in Chicago.
After all, Bowman already has his analytics team in place, and that provides the Blackhawks something of a lead over teams around the league. Not to mention that their forward-thinking embrace of the numbers gives reason to believe they'll continue to be at the forefront of innovation in these circles, even if we never hear about it because it's all kept in house.
So I'm certainly not worried about the Hawks, and I'm intrigued to see where teams go from here. But other teams going analytical won't make things easier for the team, and it could lead to some interesting moves in the future.