The hiring of Kyle Dubas as Leafs assistant general manager represents a huge philosophical shift for a franchise that has been loath to embrace the concept of hockey analytics. Dubas, who at 28 years old is younger than eight players on Toronto’s roster, brings to the table a wealth of knowledge of advanced metrics, which he applied heavily during his three-year tenure as general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
When Leafs president Brendan Shanahan was hired in April, he immediately foreshadowed his willingness and desire to venture into territory that – for his new club – was unfamiliar. “Generally speaking, I think that if there’s information out there for you and you choose to ignore it, then that’s a mistake by you,” Shanahan had said. “I think that certainly anytime there’s an opportunity to get more information, decide what’s good about it, how you can gain something from it, I’m all for that. I’m open to all of those things.”
Dubas’ presence in the front office means that terms like Corsi, Fenwick, puck possession, and zone entry will no longer be completely ignored. Could the application of non-traditional statistics have been used to prevent the team from its late season collapse on the way to an eighth consecutive non-lockout season out of the playoffs? It’s impossible to say. There is no set of magic formulae to completely quantify the dynamics of the sport. Dubas’ vast experience goes well beyond the number crunching. Eight years ago, the Sault Ste. Marie native became the youngest-ever agent certified by the NHL Players’ Association.
Yet the warning signs of a Leafs meltdown were present throughout the 2013-14 season. The team held firm to its belief that it could continue to secure a hold on a playoff spot despite being outshot and outperformed on an almost nightly basis. The disastrous end to the campaign precipitated the need for change.
There’s no guarantee that the mindset shift towards analytics will reverse the team’s fortunes, particularly not overnight. But credit Shanahan for at least taking the initiative to bring in a fresh face who will implement a tool that has already been embraced around the league.
Indeed there is much incentive to experiment. It’s not like the previous old-school mentality has garnered any recent success.
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For further reading on hockey analytics, refer to Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, 2014 Edition.