The emergence and growth of analytics and advanced stats in the NHL has grabbed its share of headlines in recent months and that was the case again today with news the Edmonton Oilers had hired Toronto lawyer and avid fan Tyler Dellow to join their hockey ops department.
Senior columnist Mark Spector of Sportsnet, who, like several members of the MSM in Edmonton has engaged Dellow in debate over the years, wrote what I thought was a balanced and biting piece about that hire today. It’s a column that has since been pulled by Sportsnet.
I’m not sure why it was pulled, but Spector’s piece in many ways summed up my own reaction to the news Dellow, who has one of the sharpest minds and sharpest tongues in the analytics community — he has used both to get his points across over the years — is on the Oiler payroll. I’m going to run two snippets from the item that was spiked – one now, one later.
Wrote Spector: “Whatever your feelings on Tyler Dellow the Internet personality, they are the sidebar today, not the lead.
“The lead is that a staunch Edmonton Oilers fan who made his resume with some groundbreaking advanced statistical work on his own website, then used Twitter to promote his expertise, has been hired by the Oilers to be their analytics guru.”
You can read the cached item in its entirety here.
BY THE NUMBERS
I wrote an item on Oilersnation back on July 24 about analytics and advanced stats after the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Kyle Dubas as an assistant GM. It reads, in part:
The use of advanced stats has come a long way even since I was asked about them in 2008. It’s an evolving field of study with refinements being made on an almost daily basis. There’s a long way to go to sort the meaningful from the meaningless, but teams committed to doing so already and those in the process will have a leg up on stragglers who don’t.
There are a lot of people, many of them right here in Edmonton, doing the kind of work that pushed Dubas into the spotlight with the Maple Leafs this week. The Edmonton Oilers are among the growing number of teams taking advantage of that brain power. There are more hires to come.
That next hire didn’t take long. I feel today, in the wake of the Dellow news, as I did when Dubas was unveiled by the Maple Leafs. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s real value to be found in advanced statistics as a tool in assessing players, especially regarding long-term trends.
The trick is separating the meaningful from the misleading. That’s a work in progress and one being taken on by a growing number of NHL teams. Teams that don’t explore and employ advanced stats to supplement their hockey ops departments are destined to be left in the dust. There’s information to be had, and every advantage in the big money game the NHL has become matters.
The Oilers have embraced the use of advanced stats in recent months. If they haven’t actually solicited and paid for Dellow’s work, they’ve most certainly been aware of it while employing other people in the analytics community. Coach Dallas Eakins is a believer in the numbers. So, too, GM Craig MacTavish. A team that has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons as the Oilers have needs absolutely every edge it can get. Dellow has been hired to provide exactly that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
One of the distractions for old MSM types like me – although I barely qualify as that anymore – is that Dellow is a polarizing figure. He has taken his share of pokes at a lot of members of the Edmonton media corps, many of them gratuitous, in my opinion. Like Spector, I blocked Dellow on Twitter a long time ago – that’s not a rarity for me – not because of the message he delivered but because of the sometimes condescending way he did it.
He’s also taken some pretty good runs at Edmonton management and coaching over the years, so nobody can accuse Dellow of sweet-talking his way into the job he just landed with the Oilers. He’s bitten them as often as he’s wagged his finger at MSM types slow to see the statistical light he’s been shining on the game for years.
It’ll be interesting to see how Dellow interacts with the hockey people and media folks he’s dealt with from afar in the past. The bottom line for me is that what Dellow does should stand or fall on its own merit. He’ll certainly get the chance to make a difference within Edmonton’s hockey ops department, even if he’ll do so mainly from Toronto. A lot of people are waiting to see how that goes.
For the final word on that, I’ll cite something from the Spector piece that evaporated today.
He knew everything about the game from his spot outside the circle. Now he is inside, with a chance to prove how smart he’s always said he is.
Godspeed, Tyler. This is where preparation and opportunity meet.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.