Analyze This


KINGS GM Dean Lombardi could be called the Billy Beane of hockey, but don't look for him to be consulting on Moneypuck any time soon. The architect of the reigning Stanley Cup champs -- one of only two franchises to win multiple titles since the NHL's salary-cap era began in 2005 -- refuses to divulge how he's used advanced stats to build winners. "If you have a secret, you don't go around telling everybody," Lombardi says. Regardless, the rest of the league has caught on. Plus/minus and save percentages still have their place, but puck-possession and PDO (1) metrics are becoming all the rage. In fact, an advanced-stats arms race broke out this summer, as teams stocked front offices with analysts and bloggers to curate proprietary data. Here are five ways analytics will affect the NHL this season when the pucks drop on Oct. 8.


The players are statheads too

When Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo, the No. 7 pick in the 2006 draft, needed a boost after a down 2012-13 season, he connected with skills coach Darryl Belfry, who has created individual analytics for stars such as Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane. Last season Okposo had career highs in points (69) and goals (27). This summer he and captain John Tavares each teamed up with Belfry, who helps them address their deficiencies by divvying the ice into sections, quantifying where the player is most effective, then developing drills to help players recognize and exploit those spots. One such drill was designed to help them create space in the corner against a defenseman by turning their hips and changing speed. "I call it practical analytics," Belfry says.

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How to train your penguin

Sidney Crosby can't define Corsi (2). "I know of it," he says, "but I don't know the definition." No matter; his new front office does. After the Rangers knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs, ownership brought in a GM (Jim Rutherford) and coach (Mike Johnston) with an affinity for analytics. Advanced stats revealed a severe gap in puck possession when the Pens' bottom six were on the ice, so they rebuilt the third and fourth lines-adding forwards Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau-to support Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Still, Sid says success or failure falls on the shoulders of Pittsburgh's best players. "If somebody finds a way to dominate a game, we're moving on," Crosby says. "There's no analytics for that."

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Sometimes stats say: Play it safe

Using an outside analytics firm, the Blues quantify which lines play together successfully and which ones don't. Coach Ken Hitchcock can tell which matchups work against specific teams just by using data that are quickly collected and handed out between periods. "Last year I played three players that together I thought had good chemistry," Hitchcock says. "When I looked back at their shifts, the data showed me otherwise." This offseason the Blues made a significant move in goal, parting ways with former Vezina winner Ryan Miller and his big contract-allowing them to sign center Paul Stasny-and re-signing Brian Elliott, who has shared time in net with Miller and Jaroslav Halak. Advanced stats showed that Elliott's save percentage was considerably higher when he played deep in the net. So Elliott cut down the number of times he aggressively came out of the net. Elliott has also excelled in "home plate" save percentage (4) in part because he doesn't overchallenge. His next challenge is leading the franchise to its first Cup. "It's his turn now," Hitchcock says.

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Even the Leafs are changing

When old-school Toronto coach Randy Carlyle chatted with 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas over the summer-a move that officially marked the adoption of analytics in the center of the hockey universe- there was no debate over systems. "Everyone wanted it to be like Moneyball or Trouble With the Curve, but it was not like that at all," says Dubas, who quickly notes that president Brendan Shanahan and
GM Dave Nonis still call the shots. But the extension of the deals for goalie James Reimer and defenseman
Jake Gardiner, two players favored by the advanced stats faithful, suggest that Dubas' voice is being heard. "Once you can present analytics in
a way that's easily comprehended," he says, "it starts to have an impact."

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Keep your frenemies close

Even before the Oilers hired former advanced stats blogger Tyler Dellow, one of the most vocal critics of the previous regime, on Aug. 5, the influence of analytics was apparent in the free agent additions of winger Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Mark Fayne, strong possession players. Although Edmonton's growth will come as young stars such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov mature, adopting analytics is a sign that Dellow's voice will have some sway. "We don't always agree with the analytics department, but it gets you asking questions," Oilers GM Craig MacTavish says. "What they've offered up has made sense. If you neglect it, you do it at your own peril."

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