Dallas Eakins on how an NHL coaching staff can use analytics

Dallas Eakins 18

We’re in the dog days of summer, and thanks to that even something as relatively small as the hiring of a statistical consultant by Edmonton had been debated to death.

Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins talked to Winnipeg’s TSN 1290 about the move, and he managed both to say some new things and give us some idea about what he’s expecting from new addition Tyler Dellow.

Eakins’ View

Dallas Eakins 7

One of the things Eakins was asked on the Hustler and Lawless show was what he was going to do with the numbers. While the coach declined to get into details he did sketch out his overall approach to analytics:

We’re taking a stab and trying to get ahead of the game, and I think there is value but I’m not going to get into detail on what we’re going to do with this. I will say that the one thing analytics does, is when your opinion and your gut and what you see matches up with the analytics, I think you’ve got the home run: We’re doing the right thing, that player is doing the right thing, we’re teaching this the right way, whatever it is.

There isn’t anything overly new in that quote; when eye and analytics agree it’s pretty easy to make a decision. The tricky part is how one navigates disagreement between the two.

When your gut tells you one thing, and the analytics are for or against it the other way, it starts the conversation. There’s different levels of the conversation, and you can go through it on a number of different levels on the questions you’re going to start asking. But for me it’s another tool to look at, it’s another consideration; it’s another question, certainly another conversation with your staff. It’s something that I think is comparative, it’s something that’s going to help us, and it’s something I believe in, and I’m not going to be quick to say, ‘that’s a bunch of crap, discard it, these guys don’t know what they’re doing’ and leave it. I’d much rather be the other way and go, ‘we’re going to move forward with this, we’ll see if it does help us’ and be considerate and open-minded to learning something new.

That open-mindedness is essential. Analytics are useless if the only time they’re used is to reinforce what somebody already knows. There must be conflict, there must be disagreement, and some of the time the picture painted by the analytics has to be right, even if it goes against the conventional view. If that isn’t the case, they have no value.

Eakins is often portrayed as arrogant in the media, but he makes comments like the one above with surprising frequency. Confidence in one’s own ability doesn’t mean tuning out dissent. If someone is truly confident they aren’t scared of information that might make their practices better; they seek it out and adapt accordingly.

Other Highlights

Roger Neilson

  • Eakins compared the work being done in analytics now to the work his mentor Roger Neilson did with video, noting that many felt it was a passing fad. “I’ve got a lot of time for the analytics,” he said. “I believe it’s something you have to consider; why you would not consider it in your decision process baffles me. Doesn’t mean you’re going to use it every time, but it’s certainly something that you have to look at.”
  • There has been a lot of speculation about how much Dellow and the Oilers talked last season. Eakins explained that Dellow had been invited to present at the team’s in-house coaching clinic prior to the season, and that they touched base a few times over the year but that there wasn’t a lot of dialogue.
  • Eakins was asked about a comment that John Paddock had made with regard to the need for coaches to get out of the office and coach the team rather than burying their heads in video. Eakins agreed, and mentioned something pretty interesting about his own staff: that it had grown and that there was a specific role for each guy. He didn’t say it exactly, but I suspect having a designated stats guy on staff helps take the load off the coach because that stats guy can do the grunt work and report to the boss with his findings. It’s the same idea as having an assistant coach breaking down systems and reporting in – it frees up the head coach for other tasks.
  • Czar

    JW, Great job on the lowdown today! You seemed way more comfortable today and you didn’t butcher Yak’s name. Add to the fact that you were in the toughest time slot on radio, right after Dennis King, well done!

  • Czar

    So, here’s an interesting thought. Does analytics have to do more with the players or more with coaching decisions? I guess it depends on the stats you are talking about. If you start coaching and making decisions based on the analytics, the those decisions are going to have an impact on the numbers being analysed…hmmm.

  • Do what Weight did?

    Jeffer:

    Feelings!

    Its ok little buddy!

    People will not be mad at you for not getting it!

    I do not get the love for Don Cherry!

    You deal with it you do it!

    you do not talk about it!

  • Do what Weight did?

    JayZ:
    We are discussing Analytics paired with trained knowledge thru experience.

    Your comments are feelings based.
    Feelings are for your Momma; Wife; Girlfiend; Boyfriend; Drinking buddies.

    Quit the Stuart Smalley “Im good enough and Smart enough” self build up.

    If you do not understand
    you do not understand!

  • Czar

    Analytics has been discussed with great conversation on both sides of the equation.

    My view is it is to sports what a P & L is to business…….you may not run your business by it on a day to day basis, but it helps to assess if you are going in the right direction.

    If a coach relies on it too much, he does so at his own peril. I think that John Paddock is bang on……..you too JW, you seem to have taken a softer approach to analytics which is a more balanced approach.

    • Czar

      Wouldn’t it be holding onto the puck as much as he can (puck possession). Hence Ales Hemsky is an analytics favorite and Ryan Smyth (even in his prime) was hated by stats gurus. Tipping pucks lack puck possession (Smyth) and holding onto the puck for too long is great puck possession (Hemsky).

  • Jayz

    Coaching has a lot to prove and the Tyler Dellow hiring just shows me that Eakins is still very much in his experimental stage, when he should be focusing on improving the basics of coaching.

    I’ve a feeling “advanced stats” will get into Eakins head and play to big a role and the experiments will get out of hand (they did last season with only some talk with Dellow).

    Eakins is stubborn, he wants to change the game and feels the need to stroke his ego by being inventive. Similar to his biggest role model Roger Neilson. Although Roger did it many years ago when the coaching aspect was very much undeveloped. There has been many stones turned over since then, and Eakins needs to discover them before finding turning over new ones in my opinion.

    • Do what Weight did?

      How do you know Eakins so well? Have you had him over for Dinner? Have you sat in on some of his pre-game talks with the team? Maybe you grew up with him?

      It’s all in line for you – you see with your own eyes, or hear with your own ears, and there’s nothing else to consider. So what if MacT, John Willis and others talk about (using specific examples and quotes) Eakins’s open-mindedness. So what if the stats say something different from what you’ve seen? Doesn’t matter, you arrived at your conclusions, and ain’t nobody gonna tell you different

  • Czar

    When i played, hacked,slashed,crosschecked, ran into the boards, sometimes headfirst. I only cared about winning. My blood or somebody elses didn’t matter. As long as WE won.

    • Czar

      Exactly…all this advanced stats crap is a desperate team and fans that are ao desperate they will cling to anything that gives them a glimmer of hope. It’s actually embarrassing.

      • Czar

        What’s embarrassing is your closed minded approach to this “advanced stats crap” and the amount of time and energy you waste trying to discredit those that are willing to give it a chance. Or for that matter, anyone who doesn’t agree with your distorted perspective on anything hockey related.

        I’m going to keep an open mind and hopefully I can use some of this “advanced stats crap” when selecting my hockey pool as well.

        • Do what Weight did?

          I haven’t tried to discredit anyone. I’ve shared my opinion…which is what an online forum is for. The only time I’ve said anything against anyone else’s opinion is when they bash me for not believing in the stats. I don’t need to keep an open mind about it because I don’t believe in it. If others do that’s up to them. We don’t have to agree on things to cheer for the same team.

          You can tell people the world is flat all day…it doesn’t make them closed minded if they don’t agree with you. Prove me wrong with the stats and I’ll give them their due. I don’t think it’s possible because I think they’re a useless fad that desperate teams are willing to try. Until it’s proven otherwise I stand by my opinion. If you can’t handle me having a different opinion then maybe you need to change your “closed minded” approach.

          • Do what Weight did?

            Oh Jeffer. Nobody is bashing you because you don’t accept advanced stats. We’re bashing you because you are so convinced that the stats have no value, and you call people idiots, or the team a circus organization because they are looking for more/better analytical tools.

            I’m sure there are doctors out there that reject the notion of evidence-based medicine, and those are the doctors who are watching their profession pass them by. There are political pundits who ignore polls, and get predictions ridiculously wrong. Then there are analysts such as Nate Silver who use the data available and predict very accurately the results of elections.

            It’s curious that you use the example of the earth being flat or round. By my understanding, the conventional wisdom at the time was that the world was flat. The notion of a round earth was quite progressive at the time, but not accepted because it was a new idea, and different and scary.

            You’re absolutely entitled to your opinion. I think it will receive far more support, however if it is backed up by reasonable arguments. I have yet to hear any from you, in response to this article or others related to analytical.

          • Do what Weight did?

            Conversely you are just as convinced that the stats have value. There is no way of knowing who is right. You are allowed to have your beliefs but I’m not? The only time I’ve called anyone an idiot is when they personally bashed me for my opinion. This isn’t a personal argument and making it a personal attack is idiotic.

            Your argument is that doctors and politicians get passed by their professions. Doesn’t sound like a reasonable argument to me as you didn’t back it up with reasonable facts. You are entitled to your opinion and I’m entitled to not care what it is.

          • Czar

            So you are open minded about everything, even things you don’t believe in or agree with? Is that what you are suggesting? You will give any idea a chance and say that any idea has value?

          • Do what Weight did?

            So a white supremacist wants to sit down with you and explain his logic and ideas and you’d be open minded about that? I don’t need to hear his arguments to know I disagree. And I don’t really care what his side is or how he backs it up. Obviously that’s a completely different situation that we are talking about with advanced stats. But the point remains that I’ve decided I don’t believe in advanced stats and will not change my opinion until it’s proven otherwise. Just like you’ve decided that I’m wrong…kind of closed minded of you isn’t it?

          • Do what Weight did?

            I haven’t ‘decided’ you’re wrong, I just think it’s likely. I haven’t praised the team for hiring Dellow or using advanced stats. I’m simply amused at the way you are condemning the team for those actions. I have read evidence of Dellow’s contributions to the team regarding faceoffs and their impact on Corsi. I don’t know that they will win more games as a result of this information, but i believe that more information allows for better decisions.

            I like your comparison to a white supremacist. I would sit down and listen to him and his logic, and his evidence. Assuming that I would find those lacking, I would pinpoint the fallacy in his logic or the problems with his evidence. If he said something especially ignorant, I would probably even point that out. I’m sure he would call me closed minded, and insist that he has a right to his opinions, which he would maintain despite any evidence to the contrary.

          • Do what Weight did?

            Well I guess we will agree to disagree. I wouldn’t sit down with him and I wouldn’t need to hear him out.

            As for the Dellow hiring. I don’t see the value and to me I see it as a desperate attempt by the organization. I hope I’m wrong because I really want to see some improvement…though I’d love to get Mcdavid. Time will tell…

  • “We’re taking a stab and trying to get ahead of the game”.

    That first comment right there tells me this is a shot in the dark by a team that has been so bad for so long that they have nothing to lose. People think the oilers and leafs are creating a stir to other teams in the league??? They both suck! I’m a die hard oilers fan and will be until the day I die but seeing them do things like this makes me think we are a circus organization and may as well be the damn Islanders.

  • Czar

    I know your a busy guy Jonathan but do you have an “Analytics for Dummies” handbook in the works? Perfect time to capitalize on the popularity.

    What sites do you recommend for the slow to embrace analytics crowd?

      • Jayz

        Yea lets over complicate the game. It’s hockey not rocket science. How this for stats. Our team the oilers suck. Not from a lack of trying but from a lack of experience. We need our best players to be in the age range of 25-30, not 19-22. When they get older Hall Nuge and Yak will be the cream of the crop of the NHL. Guys like Perry Getzlaf and Crosby will not keep up in 5 years . The trick to winning is to sprinkle young talent in with good/great players in their prime. Look to Chicago Pit, and Sj as good models.

        It’s not the 80’s . You can’t win with strictly exceptional youth. If the last 5 years haven’t taught us that then all the fancy stats in the world will not help anyone here understand our teams struggle. Get ready for a slightly better team this year, but still a good 10-15 points out of playoff contention.

        I’ve never been more frustrated with the media over what seems to be a lack of common sense. Dellow will change nothing. The only person to change the team is the players and Gm. 2nd line center plz? Play from the goalie out and stop thinking this is junior and that you can beat 3 men by yourself ? MacT is treading water hard. The Dellow hire is a Pr move. Don’t be fooled and expect a similar finish as last year.

        • Czar

          And the ‘over complication’ of stats can help the Oil find those support players that will compliment Hall, Nuge et al.

          I agree with Eakins, amazingly enough. It’s another tool in the toolbox that can help with decision making, and may offer alternatives not previously thought of.
          If stats do end up being useless ( which I doubt) it’s not like Dellow’s salary counts against the cap. Hell, if Dellow prevents MacT from making even one Clarkson-esque signing he’s already earned his salary.

          All that being said, I’m under no illusion as to the current state of the Oilers. Dellow and all the other hires will help, but this team has quite a ways to go before playoffs are a real possibility.

        • BobbyCanuck

          I would love to read that, another thing that I would find very useful is an article about how the junior and the junior junior team fit into what the big team is trying to accomplish.

          With info pertaining to how long a player can stay in each league, how many NHL games allowed before waivers, age restricitons,etc.

          A comparison of salaries, coaching techniques, training regements, off season ‘work on this’ to make yourself better, mentoring offered, help with school work (does that even matter)? What do they do to transition players out of the ‘I’mma goin to the big show’ I don’t need to finish high school, learn how to read, or whatever

          All with lovely block diagrams that show the relationaship.

  • Do what Weight did?

    While I’m still not a huge Eakins fan I have been impressed with how it seems his off season has gone. He came in with an attitude and proclaimed big changes. If he starts telling everyone in the middle of the season he was wrong well that’s going to cause some dissent and another distraction for the players.

    Now he seems to be more active in finding ways to improve his own coaching, I like the people he has brought in and he seems open to other opinions now.

    By the end of last season the Oilers were playing more like a .500 team. I’m hoping to see an upward trend from that this season.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    I’m suprised we haven’t seen a pass completion stat yet. Sometimes when I watch the oilers I sit and wait for the next mistake. It usually comes when the d try to advance the puck up the ice. Not sure sometimes if it’s bad passing or bad positioning from the forwards. There needs to be a stat when a player gives a receivable pass.

  • sportsjunkie007

    I think that analytics are a (very) small part of the bigger picture. More important than the color of tape on a player’s stick, but less important than a good night’s sleep before a big game.

    To ignore analytics would be short sighted. To base your entire system around them suggests that you liked the movie “Moneyball” just a little too much.

  • sportsjunkie007

    1) At the Olympic break, Eakins said he put in place the systems the Oilers are going to play this year. At the end of the season, he said he thought the systems were working. So how open is he really going to be to Ramsey and/or Dellow?

    i.e. Was he telling the truth at the end of February, or telling the truth today?

    2) Dellow had a critique of Eakins faceoff strategy in the latter part of the season, which saw the faceoff percentage increase at the expense of Corsi. So is he going to stick with his new systems or change?

    3) Eakins also said Ramsey had a couple of critiques of what the Oilers were doing. But then, Eakins has not taken back that the systems that he put in place at the Olympic break, that he said were working great at the end of the season, are going to be changed.

  • Have to admit I am surprised by Eakins this off-season.

    He didn’t invoke any confidence from the outside during the season, and he came off as arrogant and a know it all.

    His actions show the opposite.

    The biggest hitch to making analytics work with Hockey is getting the coaches to listen, believe and try to use it.

    If the coach is making this move this is the best news for advanced stats and it’s believers.

    Good work Eakins, shocked but keep shocking us.

    • Do what Weight did?

      I agree in as much as he is showing signs of growth and willingness to change/grow. The only thing I disagree with is that those signs were never there during the season. It seems the comments of this blog were over-saturated during the season with the ‘Eakins has ruined everything’ message, and many people missed the actual things he was saying and doing, as well as the changes on the ice.

  • Andy

    Jonathan.. I do follow advanced stats but I am defiantly no expert. My question is this and I hope I don’t sound too stupid but can these analytics be used in Real Time during games and not just in between periods and if so how would Tyler communicate with the coaching staff from Toronto?

      • I don’t know. Some of the stuff Michael Parkatti is doing over at Boys on the Bus could be used semi-real time. If after the end or a period or two you see certain line match ups that are failing by the numbers, you can use that to change match ups or change tactics.

        In the heat of the moment with 10 other things to think about, your eye might fool you whereas the numbers can draw attention to things you missed, or are better or worse than you think they are by observation.

        If you look at his numbers, you see line match ups that were failing badly despite other lines playing well against that line, yet the coaches kept going. That tells me that reviewing those kind of numbers between periods could be useful for coaches.

      • "Frank the dog"

        Hey Jon,
        What if the rink was turned into an electronic grid, with chips embedded in the pucks and the players equipment such as skates or sticks, or both?

        With a small enough grid pattern and time sample, allied to software probably not yet written, this could lay the game bare down to the centimeter and the millisecond. The question wold then be to engage brains like those of Tyler Dellow to interpret the data, ultimately in real time using Key Performance Indicators backed up by summary detail.

        Until then we are relying on the human eye either way – either through watching video or the game itself, its just that some are looking at the impression the game provides, others counting goals, assists, shots, hits etc as they watch the game.

        In the meantime, we do have Rocky this year as an eye in the sky, and Rocky apparently is quite talented at analysing strategies employed by opposing coaches real time and relaying this to the coach, giving him time to adjust within the game itself.

        This has to have provided Nelson with a lot of value in OKC, and will surely in and of itself allow Eakins to make better coaching decisions.

      • Maybe they would be used a lot in the pre game preparations and revisited post game. I do think analytics will be used a lot by Eakins and I for one am very curious to see how it turns out as I am a really big believer. I really wonder how many teams are using advanced stats and if all the teams are paying attention to what the oilers and leafs did on the analytic front this off season.

  • J.R.

    C’mon Dallas!! Let’s fill the 14th forward role and 7 D role with MARK FrASER and COLTON ORR!!! As the great BrIAN bURKE says, “YOU MUST CREATE A SAFE WORKING ENVIROnMENT FOR YOUR SKILL PLAYERS”