In case you missed it, CBC Radio’s Mark Connolly had a great interview with Oilers Entertainment Group CEO Bob Nicholson on Edmonton AM. A lot of topics were covered, including the Oilers’ current state and the general manager search, making it well worth a listen: CBC Edmonton AM (2019, February 19)
Mark was kind enough to ask Nicholson a question I had sent in:
Below was Nicholson’s response:
Yeah, definitely. You know, you look back four years ago in the analytics side, we were using it a lot. I think when Peter came in there was a decision to use it but not as much. But it’s certainly something that we’ll be going over again with our search with the general manager. How we’ll use analytics in a decision making process for making trades or doing our drafts.
A couple things.
It’s been fairly obvious that the Edmonton Oilers hadn’t been making evidence-based decisions during Peter Chiarelli’s tenure as general manager. The team made countless moves that either downgraded the talent on the roster or created salary cap problems – sometimes a transaction would even do both. Had the Oilers relied on even the simplest pieces of publicly available information, a lot of the mistakes that have lead them to where they currently are could have been avoided. Make no mistake, this was completely preventable had management been willing to think critically, digging deeper into the on-ice product and if Nicholson was properly evaluating the transactions being made by Chiarelli and the management group.
All of this has been well documented on this blog and elsewhere.
For example, if the Oilers knew and understood the on-ice impact of Taylor Hall and his true value to the team, they may have held on to him or asked for more in a trade return. Had the Oilers looked at player aging-curves, they might have avoided signing Milan Lucic to a heavy, long-term contract. If they knew about Jordan Eberle’s on-ice shot-share numbers and concepts like statistical variance (i.e., PDO), they may have waited for his value to improve or just held on to him. Or if they were paying attention to the Oilers goal-share and shot-share with and without Connor McDavid early in the 2016/17 season, they might have recognized their eroding talent early on and did something about it. If they relied on simple shot-share metrics and avoided using only goal-metrics to predict future results, so much damage to the roster and salary cap problems could have been avoided.
With so much money and assets involved, and the importance of finding roster efficiencies, it’s baffling that the Oilers would make a decision early in Chiarelli’s managerial reign to use less information (i.e., analytics, sports science, etc) to inform their decision-making process. Building and managing an NHL roster involves so much risk – so many short-term and long-term implications – it would behoove any executive to implement sound, mitigation strategies.
I also found it odd that the Oilers left it to the previous general manager to determine how much information would be involved with the decision-making processes for roster construction and salary cap management. And it appears they’ll be relying on the new general manager to determine how much information is involved going forward.
If there is one lesson to takeaway from the Oilers previous management regime, it should be that information (including analytics, sports science, etc) and evidence-based decision-making should be a core part of the Oilers larger organizational strategy. When it comes to evaluating talent, the roster and the team’s salary cap, the team needs to use as much relevant information as possible and build a front office that supports the process. It should be something that has the support from the owner and is implemented by the CEO so that every corner of the organization – from the general manager’s office to the scouting staff to the rest of the hockey operations – is aligned and supports one another.
There should only be one end goal of winning a championship – and it’s really up to the CEO, whose job it is to maximize the value of an entity, to develop a strategy that will help the Edmonton Oilers achieve that goal.