3 ways NHL teams can get more data driven

Kent Wilson
August 15 2016 12:00PM

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"Inculcating a data-driven culture is...fundamental. What do we mean by data-driven? Most every company in the world today depends on data. But the vast majority of them use data in retrospect, to understand history, not to drive decisions ...

When we say data-driven, we're talking about companies that operationalize data."

- Winning With Data

The NHL isn't the only business experiencing seismic ripples and paradigmatic shifts in the information age. The time of "Big Data" is upon us, driven by mass adoption of powerful communication technologies. There's deep wells of information everywhere for those who care to look, waiting to be plumbed for valuable insights and new efficiencies. 

Of course, access to information is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to operationalizing data in an organization or business. NHL teams have begun to dip their toe in the "advanced stats" pool, but are no doubt encountering challenges in effectively leveraging the various analyst bloggers who have been scooped up in the past year or two. It's one thing to bolt on a "stats consultant" to existing organizational structures and quite another to integrate empirical processes from top to bottom. 

I recently read the book Winning With Data by Tomasz Tunguz and Frank Bien. In it, Tunguz and Bien lay out a roadmap for successfully operationalizing data, as well as the many roadblocks businesses often encounter in trying to become more empirical. 

Here are three key insights I discovered in Winning With Data that could help NHL clubs become truly data driven.

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A closer look at Tyler Parsons

Kent Wilson
August 12 2016 12:00PM

Everybody familiar with my writing knows that I generally recommend against drafting goalies in the first few rounds. In fact, I mostly don't bother evaluating or even get interested in goalie prospects until they have significant achievements under their belt. 

That's because goalies are really, really hard to predict. Most of them are many years from contributing in the NHL, if at all, making it difficult to determine just which of them is worth a damn. The Flames' shoddy organizational record when it comes to drafting goalies might also be a cause of my apathy towards netminding hopefuls. 

Tyler Parsons has me intrigued, however. The Flames' recent second round pick put together an incredible season for the London Knights this past year, causing me to take a closer look at his numbers. Here's what I found.

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Four big questions facing the 2016-17 Calgary Flames

Kent Wilson
August 10 2016 12:00PM

For all intents and purposes, the Flames roster for 2017-18 is set. The club has come a long way since the inception of the rebuild back in 2012, but there's still a lot of room to grow. The young core seems to be set and the team is moving forward with a fresh, younger coaching staff. 

Calgary is exiting the lower expectations of the early rebuild phase and is entering its window for contention. While no one expects the Flames to suddenly jump up to the top of Western Conference this year, the club should be making clear, demonstrable strides given their cap situation and growing maturity (and resultant expense) of their younger assets. 

The Flames are still a work in progress. Here are the four major questions facing them this year as they strive to break out of the Western Conference basement: the RW, the defense, the "other" kids and, the new coaching staff.

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Let's talk about stats vs traditionalists

Kent Wilson
July 30 2016 11:00AM

The advanced stats vs conventional hockey people fight is probably getting old for anyone watching the argument from the outside. Nevertheless, it rages on, flaring up whenever a new school person flagrantly denies conventional wisdom or an old school person balks at nerds analyzing the game with spreadsheets.

Many might be surprised to find out that the two schools of thought actually agree more than they disagree. The problem is, there are fundamental areas of friction between the two sides that may never be resolved. Let's talk about these issues, from the view of a new school outsider with a background in psychology (i.e.; me).

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How good is TJ Brodie?

Kent Wilson
July 28 2016 11:00AM

It's arguable which Flames youngster is considered the first pillar of the post-Iginla rebuild. Most probably consider it to be Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau. Maybe some are waiting for Sam Bennett or Matthew  Tkachuk to become the icon of a new era. 

I contend it's T.J. Brodie. The 26-year-old defender's rise from obscurity was one of the first indications that the team might have a future beyond Iginla and the old guard. In fact, it was the Jay Bouwmeester trade in 2012 that gave us a hint of how good Brodie was going to be.

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