Pass me the peanuts and Cracker Jack

Newly anointed Canucks GM Mike Gillis has evidently seen fit to address the concern, raised in various corners of the media and blogosphere, that he does not have the requisite experience or expertise in terms of drafting and developing young talent.

(As any Canucks fan can attest, this is a problem inextricably tied to the historical ineptitude of this franchise and, thus, an obvious point of concern with any new management personnel.)

In a candid interview with Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun, Gillis expounds upon his philosophy concerning the evaluation of player personnel (amateur and professional scouting as well as trade and free agent acquisitions).  Namely, his vision of applying sabermetrics, popularized by the management team of the Oakland Athletics and now used widely as a talent assessment tool in Major League Baseball (e.g., ‘Moneyball’), to hockey.

Essentially, the modus operandi is this: talent can and should be evaluated, comprehensively, based on rigorous analysis of objective statistical data, down to the most infinitesimal of statistical minutiae. In baseball, where the game itself tends to play out as a series of limited statistical possibilities in each and every situation of a game, the method is evidently compelling. Players can be assessed based on statistical breakdowns of performance under various conditions and according to certain variables.

In hockey, the import is less obvious, however. Although hockey players, like most professional athletes, are judged according to a variety of statistical output, the game itself is arguably less reducible to a (reasonably) predictable series of limited possibilities. Moreover, isolating sub-statistical data, e.g., what effect player A might have on a particular play in game situation X, may be questionable given the fact that the kind of binary scenarios that tend to play out in baseball games (e.g., pitcher vs. batter) are mitigated in hockey by the (potential) effects of other players on the ice. Now, this is not to say there is no import; only that the analytical force of sabermetrics may be reduced, to some extent, within the enlarged parameters of possibility within a hockey game.

At any rate, the question for Canucks fans is merely whether there is enough import for the team to markedly improve its historical failure in identifying, developing and capitalizing on player personnel.

Gillis has certainly done well to identify a plan and articulate a philosophy when it comes to team-building (something that never seemed to come to the fore with his predecessor). While it does not entirely allay my concern noted earlier, I must admit that I am impressed by his preparedness for the undertaking.

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1 Response to “Pass me the peanuts and Cracker Jack”


  1. 1 H April 30, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    See Rob, problem here is that you are thinking in basic statistics. I would expect nothing less from a hater of the new GM.

    Gillis is in the realm of multivariate statistics. Not your simple batter v. pitcher. But rather shooter vs. goalie, oppostion opponents, ice conditions, coaching strategy, # of game in the season, time remaing in the game, linemates, postion drafter of shooter vs. other draftees, mascot attire, towel waving present, is the puck frozen according to Darren Millard standards , etc….

    So you see your “binary” analysis is that of a simpleton. Mike Gillis has mastered multivariate statistics and ultimately will master the NHL. Note – he has predicted a comeback for NYR vs. PIT. To the laymen this is absurd, but to Mike Gillis and his multivariate statistical model it is not. He has factored in that the loss of Sean Avery, the inexperience of the Penguins, the poor ice, the lack of adequate fan support in an small Igloo, Sidney Crosby and Malkin’s performance in previous conference semi-finals, Marc Andre Fleury’s save percentage with his old pads vs. his new and has come up with a Rangers win.

    RJ- Trust the model, trust the GM. I mean if I could predict the future based on past precedent I would become a GM and not a billionaire stock investor. It just makes sense. Smarten Up.


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