Behind the Bench, July 28th – Junior Hockey Information



By Sean Gentille, The Athletic

The smart move when I heard the news of Pierre McGuire’s super-soft landing on NBC – the amiable one maybe – would have been to say nothing.

After 10, 15, 25 years of hunting windmills, McGuire caught one. Courtesy of Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators, he’s a hockey man in the front office again. The job title, Vice President of Player Development, is no mean feat. He’s not a general manager since Pierre Dorion is currently in Ottawa and McGuire almost went to Pittsburgh not so long ago, but hey what can you do? Maybe it works. He followed his luck. There is something to be said for that.

Good luck in your future endeavors and namaste or whatever. As someone who just spent too much watching him on TV for just 15 years, and as someone who had no stake in the success of the Senators’ player development pipeline, it felt like a win-win situation.

It’s still … but McGuire left us – and “us” here is the coalition of jerks who TV guys who get on their nerves can’t ignore – one for the street.

It was about analytics, of course, which McGuire absolutely does not ridicule and absolutely understands. Let it rip baby Get out the way you got in!

“It’s not that I hate analytics, but I believe in scouting,” he said.

“I believe there has to be people standing on the ground, hardcore hockey people who can actually rate a player without using numbers, and (decide that) the player passes the eye test.

I still don’t know if there is an analytical equation for the heart

for character,

for hard work,

for fearlessness,

to determine

So that’s part of the formula that hardcore boot-on-the-ground scouting has to be.

“I don’t hate analysis. I think it’s a tool that can be used for any kind of assessment, but I firmly believe in boot-on-site scouting. “

And so there was a reason to write about a job change. It is too clean a mission statement to ignore; That’s what we’ve heard from him for years, given the facts and logic, and a nice reminder of what the US audience won’t get when, for example, Brian Boucher stands between the benches on ESPN.

It’s also … kind of weird, isn’t it? McGuire knows – he needs to know – that analytics and scouting are not an either / or in 2021. NHL organizations are big places, full of different jobs, skills, and personalities. No team – literally none – makes hiring decisions based on big, noisy mainframes and dot matrix printouts or whatever is going on in that corner of their imagination.

That is conventional wisdom at this point; The best way to build a team is to gather information from various sources and then rely on your people to synthesize it. Teams with analytics departments also have boots on the ground scouts. This is how it works. Interdisciplinary approaches are good. Arguments are good.

Whether he views data analysts as “hardcore hockey people” might be a more interesting question. The best analysts I know spend more time watching games, tweaking models, learning about the game, and filling information gaps than anyone else. Maybe even Pierre McGuire.

Whether he actually understands “analytics” is less interesting because the answer is clear. He does not do it. He doesn’t understand the work and he doesn’t understand the people who do it. He’s been telling us that for years.

Ah yes. The Edmonton Oilers – Analytics Darlings Because They Are Bad. Not a word about which computer boy asked Ken Holland to trade in for a 38-year-old Duncan Keith. The lightning bolt from Tampa Bay? Now there’s an old-time hockey team – because it’s good. Ignore Michael Peterson. In any case, ignore Julien BriseBois.

The best example that can come to mind as a Pittsburgh writer is how McGuire treated every shift and positive influence of the Teddy Blueger line. Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese and Brandon Tanev are analytics darlings in the truest sense of the word. Your work 15 years ago was either unnoticed, unnoticed, or statistically inconspicuous enough to keep the line intact. There is analysis to show the influence of players like Blueger, Aston-Reese and Tanev.

In McGuire’s world (at least as a broadcaster) the nerds hate Blueger, Aston-Reese and Tanev. “No analytics can measure that,” he said on May 20 after Tanev scored the game winner against the Islanders. Goals are actually pretty easy to measure, and the effort / determination / character these guys put into the game shows up as measurable, tangible results in many places.

Tanev, in particular, is a delight – in part because his fearlessness leads to good things. If he were out there, ice skating like a madman and collapsed, what purpose would he serve? There are many sayings about “effort without result” and none of them are good. Fortunately for the penguins, that is not part of the game with Tanev.

But there is more. There are always; You have 15 years of tape to keep playing although I’m not sure why you want to. We could go ahead and maybe come back to a dispute that should have been settled a decade ago. That would be fun.

So let’s leave it here; McGuire can now ride his favorite hobbyhorse to the Senators Front Office. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. It’s not impossible to imagine him providing a decent counterbalance in the room when The Big Debates take place. That’s between him, Dorion, and whoever.

As spectators, we are officially spared. Fifteen years is a long time to listen to someone when they can’t find anything new to say.

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