NHL teams have been trying to use math in order to unlock the draft since the beginning of the universal draft. From a distance, it looks like NHL teams haven’t advanced as far as they could and the culprit is money.
As early as 1971, NHL teams were looking to the computer in order to get a better gauge on drafting teenagers. This article from 1971 (it is here) tells us the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues were tackling the projection problem with math 40 years ago (the universal draft began in 1969).
Quoting the article: "the machine isn’t going to tell us what to do, but it is going to come out with a better assessment than we could." The idea being that if the right information is entered into the system then a computer could correctly decipher your best available player based on organizational priority.
What would the right information look like? I’d suggest that along with boxcars (GP, G, A, PTS, PIM) plus minus and time on ice per situation (EV, PP, PK) would be valuable. It might also be an idea to split the season into halves or quarters to see if there is some evidence of late development. Of course, shots for and against while on the ice, zone starts and any number of stats would be glorious but let’s start with the basics.
If Toronto had grabbed the boxcars and added those numbers to time on ice, I think they might have been on to something. However, there’s no evidence they did; in fact, there’s no evidence that NHL teams have the time-on-ice information NOW. In an interview for Nation Radio not long ago, Marty Williamson (coach and GM of the Niagra Ice Dogs) was asked if his team tracks time on ice totals for Niagra:
- "No, we looked at a program but we have so many other things like heart rate monitors and different things we don’t have a time on ice program with our team."
The Ice Dogs have two elite draft eligible talents available for this year’s draft. Would it not benefit the NHL teams to know if Ryan Strome is posting his offense in fewer minutes than Ryan Nugent Hopkins (if that is the case)? What if Nugent-Hopkins is playing 2line minutes at evens as has been implied by many observers, wouldn’t that explain his even strength offense?
I have no idea what it might cost for an OHL team to grab that information, but it seems to me the NHL as a league would benefit heavily from knowing TOI totals for all CHL teams. It might also give the NHL some insight into why the OHL seems to turn out so many NHL ready kids and give each team a more accurate idea about each player.
Those forward thinking General Managers in Toronto (Jim Gregory), Philadelphia (Keith Allen) and St. Louis (Scotty Bowman) were way ahead of the curve and I suspect some of the NHL’s 30 teams have some way of measuring TOI for each of these clubs. The advantage enjoyed by those teams would be substantial in my opinion, as their ability to read the numbers would have more clarity.
The machine can only be as useful as the information it is given. Still.