Hockey has quickly become a statistician’s dream, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are making sure they are not left behind. With “Fenwick” and “Corsi” becoming as much a part of hockey lingo as “slapshot” and “glove save”, it was only a matter of time before organizations began to put more and more focus on the advanced statistics and relying less on the “eye test.” With that in mind, the Toronto Maple Leafs joined the “Summer of Analytics” by announcing they have hired Darryl Metcalf, Cam Charron, and Rob Pettapiece to work in a newly created department dedicated to hockey metrics.
Hockey fans may recognize some of those names, especially those already familiar with advanced statistics in the sport. Darryl Metcalf was the founder for the advanced stats site, ExtraSkater.com, considered one of the “go-to” destinations for all things advanced analytics within the hockey world. The site has been shut down, as Metcalf will now work exclusively for the Leafs. Cam Charron is a blogger that worked for Yahoo Sports Canada, but most recently made the news for absolutely raking the Toronto Maple Leafs over the coals early last season, using advanced statistics to do so.
These hires have not been the first dip into the advanced analytics pool that the Maples Leafs have taken this summer, as they hired former Sault St. Marie Greyhounds general manager (GM), Kyle Dubas, only a few weeks ago as their new assistant GM. The wave of hires aimed toward advanced statistics is a stunning about-face for Toronto, who were defying all logic early last season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were getting outplayed in almost every game they participated in last November, getting slaughtered in terms of their Corsi rating, but they still had an admirable 11-6-0 record to show for it. General Manager Dave Nonis made it clear in a press conference that he was not a big believer in these advanced statistics, saying “As of right now, very few of them are worth anything to us.” He added that the Leafs have had a significant budget for an analytics department for the past seven years, but they never used it. Of course, as the season progressed, the Leafs began to lose more and more games that they were outplayed in, eventually leading toward one of the worst records in the Eastern Conference.
The season’s poor result was likely only one of the reasons that Nonis and the Toronto Maple Leafs have quickly changed their minds regarding advanced hockey statistics. Sunny Mehta, a former professional poker player, was hired by the New Jersey Devils to assist that organization with understanding advanced stats. Hockey blogger Tyler Dellow was hired by the Edmonton Oilers to do the same. If the Maple Leafs, or any team, want to remain competitive in today’s hockey world, intimate knowledge of advanced statistics appears to be a must.
This will likely not be the final hire in the “Summer of Analytics.” More and more organizations are starting to realize there may be more to judging a player than what can be observed from the “eye test.” The Toronto Maple Leafs, once a team adamantly opposed to the importance of the so-called “fancy stats,” have likely solidified their understanding after hiring Darryl Metcalf to assist their hockey metrics department.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner