Wednesday Mashup: Dubas Mania

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Photo via MapleLeafs.com Facebook Page

The online hockey world reacted to news of the hiring of an assistant GM  like it was its own version of the LeBron sweepstakes when the Leafs brought aboard young hockey executive Kyle Dubas yesterday. That’s of little shock given the Maple Leafs had become such a flashpoint in the debate on the role and place of advanced stats/analytics in hockey-ops decisions in the past year and a half — achieving modest success for 110 games despite ghastly underlying possession numbers and then having the floor fall out from under them when their overworked number one goalie got hurt late in the season.

As a young executive cutting his teeth in the NHL — alluding in his press conference to learning on the job as “an assistant who will do as I’m told’ – Dubas’ impact is unlikely to be hugely impactful in the short term but he represents a seachange in the Leafs’ previous stance on the utility of the burgeoning hockey stats movement. Long term, Dubas individual impact on the organization, and this apparent shift in organizational attitude and approach under Brendan Shanahan, stressing openness to new ideas when it comes to data-assisted interpretations of the game and its players, is going to be the next fascinating case study on hockey’s numbers game — especially given Dubas, a pioneer of sorts in this field of study who readily admits the movement is in its infant stages, is going to have financial resources available to him like no one else in the game, equipped to develop a potentially robust and innovative analytics department as he sees fit.

Now, there’s a legitimate question as to whether or not shot attempt plus/minus and variations thereof even really truly qualifies under the term “analytics” or if it’s just “a stat” that should be understood and accounted for. There’s also nothing definitively telling us all the best teams in the NHL have been using these (as in the AS we typically look at now, online) numbers specifically as a part of their day-to-day hockey operations and decision-making processes, nor does an analytics department necessarily guarantee the Maple Leafs suddenly have the answer key for the solution to their decade-long futility. It’s also unlikely a team finding success with the use of analytics would let much be publicly known about their process. The main point is that many fans and pundits have been simply asking for an open-minded approach when it comes to awareness of available information — and maybe better yet, putting to use some this team’s infinite resources to achieve a competitive advantage in this arena. “It’s not be all end all,” Dubas says himself. Total ignorance is also rarely the preferred approach. These things can and will move quickly, and with the exciting potential advent of things like “Sport Vu” player-tracking technology, the Leafs are now in a better position to not get left behind.

It goes without saying that the Maple Leafs did not simply add a numbers guy in Dubas, but also a bright, born-and-bred, up-and-coming hockey man who was scouting games for an OHL organization by 17, representing NHL clients as an agent by 20, and running his own OHL team from a GM’s post by 25. Dubas loves the catch phrase “no grit, no glory” and emphasizes the need for grit and toughness in his lineups. The need for these traits is a reality in this sport, but where the Leafs have sometimes got it wrong — under Burke and Nonis — is in recognizing that these traits do not stand on their own. Responses at the other end of the spectrum to the Maple Leafs’ truculence-pugnacity-belligerence emphasis in recent years have shown skepticism toward any value placement at all on things like grit and toughness. There’s nothing inherently wrong in valuing these attributes in players if viewed as a piece of the puzzle when evaluating the overall skillset of a player. A good handle on the numbers, and an ability to contextualize them by peeling back all the layers adroitly, serves to complement, not replace, a good “eyeball” understanding of what combinations of attributes make up a good “possession player” and a good “possession team” in the modern era. The Leafs unquestionably need a lot of work if they’re to become one of the latter. Get to work, Dubas, Shanny, Spott, Horachek and co.

Wednesday Morning Links:

  • Dellow: Dubas hire a key move for Maple Leafs.
    “Of course, it’s one thing to have an analytics budget that you intend to spend. It’s quite another to spend it well. For reasons that I’ll discuss, this is harder than people realize. In today’s hiring of Kyle Dubas, the Maple Leafs have removed one of the biggest potential hurdles to becoming an organization that can use data well: They’ve hired a gatekeeper who can screen out a lot of the bad analytics.”
  • Johnston: Kyle Dubas hire signals massive shift for Maple Leafs
    “While there had been growing whispers in the hockey world that Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin might be removed in a front-office shakeup, no one could have predicted that Toronto would name the 28-year-old Dubas as its next assistant general manager. The managerial restructuring is a tacit acknowledgement that new methods must be used to evaluate talent and build this team.”
  • Bourne: Leafs’ hire of Kyle Dubas signals long-overdue culture change
    “Dubas will still advocate for hard work and grit and size as most GMs do. There are plenty of quotes where he highlights how the importance of these timeless qualities. But he recognizes the game is more complex than that, and will likely seek other avenues to improve.”
  • The Star: Dubas interview, from the archives
    “If that’s the terminology you want to use. I was a scout when I was 17 – I was definitely the youngest scout out there at that time – and an agent when I was 20, and then I became the youngest ever certified agent with the NHLPA when I was 22.”
  • Michael Stephens: 5 takeaways from the Dubas hire
    “Dave Nonis should be looking over his shoulder.  Randy Carlyle should be looking over his shoulder.  Steve Simmons should be looking in the mirror.  Change, both culturally and executively, has come to the Toronto Maple Leafs and it will be felt in many ways.”
  • Other News: Leafs sign David Booth to 1-year, $1.1 million contract
    “Booth is an ardent forechecker and strong board player, but has struggled to stay healthy while doing what makes him most successful — and given his rap sheet of injuries the past three years, that is likely the biggest question mark here, because there’s little doubt he has the talent to provide good value in terms of secondary production for the $1.1 million.”

 

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]
  • Mind Bomb

    Morning Folks !

  • FRyan

    I took a particular piece away from his interview “It’s evaluating players, scouting reports, dealing with the personalities on the team, trying to hire the best scouts and people” So I was wondering if there is gonna be a shake up in the scouting ranks as well.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Change is good.  In reality, the Leafs should have been on this with the dawn of the salary cap.
    I wonder if Dubas gets right to work – it seems he will have his hands full setting up an analytics infrastructure and all that, but I wonder if his advice will be sought in decisions like a Franson trade or filling the roster in September.
    Puts Nonis in a tough spot.  Bosses trust the guys they hire (if not just for reasons of their own ego).  Nonis might have little choice but follow anything Dubas submits.

  • Great Dane

    FRyan That is probably the best performing parts of the Leafs.

  • Burtonboy

    Its not the scouts fault if management trade away all the’re top picks

  • LeafFan15

    Mind Bomb Morning mate

  • Burtonboy

    CanuckUKinToronto MaxwellHowe Don’t think Duba s will be starting from scratch here . While the Leafs may not be using all of these so called fancy stats they do track a lot of stats . His presence will improve and add to that but its not like he has to create a whole new division in the company from the ground up.

  • drummond

    People at PPP are wetiing their pents as we speak. Although I am not that much of stats geek, I am glad that Shanny is trying every single avenue, the Leafs are extremly rich organization, let´s build that analytical dept., you never know what may come up from there. Use every advantage you may get. This is simply smart management. I am loving it.

  • Burtonboy

    Maple Leafs’ new assistant GM Kyle Dubas is no miracle worker
    https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/maple-leafs–new-assistant-gm-kyle-dubas-is-no-miracle-worker-213341484.html

  • Ydargo

    It’s nice to see a lot of positive feedback coming back regarding the hiring of Dubas
    I had seen Hope_Smoke do his transcription on twitter and I liked what I read…….I was also impressed when I read back a few months ago about how he really focused on getting his players to buy into being a complete hockey player

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents. Its a new day in Leaf Nation. This change is going to bring one thing into play. Accountability to stats. Just like in school. If they’re testing for it, you’ll end up doing it. 
    Proof will be in the pudding. But I’m reminded of an old saying. Insanity is defined as doing something the same way and expecting different results. 

    This is different and hopefully will lead to different results.

  • LeafsGuru

    So I’m not a fancy stats guy so I’m not sure if this is relevant, but if Kessel has a poor Corsi rating do we move him in a year or two?
    Not sure if Kessel has a good Corsi or not just asking?

  • MaxwellHowe

    This is my projected lineup.  Playoff bubble team.  Man, do the Leafs need a true #1 C.  Can’t say that enough
    Joffrey Lupul ($5.250m) / Tyler Bozak ($4.200m) / Phil Kessel ($8.000m)
    James Van Riemsdyk ($4.250m) / Nazem Kadri ($2.900m) / Matt Frattin ($0.800m)
    David Booth ($1.100m) / Peter Holland ($0.775m) / David Clarkson ($5.250m)
    Leo Komarov ($2.950m) / Mike Santorelli ($1.500m) / Petri Kontiola ($1.100m)
    Jamie Devane ($0.575m) / Carter Ashton ($0.851m) /
    DEFENSEMEN
    Dion Phaneuf ($7.000m) / Jake Gardiner ($2.750m)
    Stephane Robidas ($3.000m) / Morgan Rielly ($0.894m)
    Michael Del Zotto ($1.750m) / Roman Polak ($2.750m)
    Petter Granberg ($0.800m) /
    GOALTENDERS
    Jonathan Bernier ($2.900m)
    James Reimer ($2.250m)
    BUYOUTS
    Mike Komisarek ($0.000m)
    Mikhail Grabovski ($0.000m)
    Tim Gleason ($0.833m)
    RETAINED SALARIES (0.29% of upper limit)
    Carl Gunnarsson ($0.200m—6.35%)
    BONUS OVERAGE
    $450,000
    ——
    CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
    (estimations for 2014-15)
    SALARY CAP: $69,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $65,078,000; BONUSES: $950,000
    CAP SPACE (23-man roster): $3,922,000

  • Ydargo

    It sounds like one very big change we could see is the Leafs (ie: Kadri, Gardiner, Reilly, Lupul) will benefit greatly…….Dubas is not a believer in the dump and chase…….he liked his players in the Soo to carry the puck into the zone for the most part

  • MaxwellHowe

    Kessel will be traded within 2 years.  Book it.

  • Burtonboy

    LeafsGuru All the Leafs are listed here

    http://www.extraskater.com/players/possession?min_gp=25&team=tor

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy CanuckUKinToronto MaxwellHowe BB. Our coach can’t use a toaster. I think that “we starting from the bottom” aka Drake.

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe Kessel loves to have the puck on his stick and Dubas is a huge advocate of possession hockey . He’s not going anywhere

  • LeafsGuru

    Thanks

  • Burtonboy

    So why in fuck does he still have a job. lol

  • MaxwellHowe

    We’ll see.  Kessel might like having the puck on his stick – but how much does he do to actually gain possession of that puck for his team?

  • mcloki

    Burtonboy I’m beginning to believe Brady’s theory.

  • LeafsGuru

    Wow from that list looks like all the bottom guys have been shipped out or just not resigned.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Fascinating thing here – of the bottom 10 guys on the list – TEN – only Phaneuf will still be on the team in September.  And there is a good reason for Dion’s relatively low numbers. 
    Were the Leafs already paying attention to advanced stats?  Has the entire summer been an expermiment of sorts?

  • Burtonboy

    Yep

  • MaxwellHowe

    We’ll see. Kessel might like having the puck on his stick – but how much does he do to actually gain possession of that puck for his team?

  • hoolihan

    MaxwellHowe Your numbers are probably pretty close, but the actual line combos are most likely “off”. Also, Reimer is likely history, and it makes no sense to carry Granberg as D7. I like the Del Zotto addition, though. What did you get for Franson? … nothing is showing on the roster.

  • hoolihan

    Ydargo There’s a BIG difference between carrying the puck into the zone and turning it over at the offensive blueline as MANY Leafs (Kadri and Kessel notable among them) are prone to do.

  • Ydargo

    Very true, turnovers are correctable…….Either way, possession hockey should be a part of the leafs this year

  • MaxwellHowe

    Well the Leafs are nearly obliged to carry a 7th D, and who else would it be – maybe Holzer I guess.  I know you believe Granberg should get ice time – you’re right, but that could be said for all Marlies.  Chances are there will be enough injuries to keep the 7th busy.
    The lines- yeah, thats really up[ in the air – though I hope Randy establishes some consistency.
    Draft pick or good prospect for Cody.  Time to move along

  • Ydargo

    That’s an interesting point………Shanahan may already have been looking at the adv. stats

  • Ydargo

    Agree on the Granberg/7th D point
    I do think we’ll see Holland centering the 4th line and Komarov will be on the 3rd line though……past that, anything is possible

  • Ydargo

    What is Brady’s theory?

  • Burtonboy

    Ydargo I shudder to think what that might be lol

  • mcloki

    Ydargo That Carlyle is gone in a year. Shanny will put his pick in at that time.

  • Ydargo

    That seems like a fair prediction…….you have to wonder if Spott is his guy
    I did see somewhere that the rumour floating around was that Spott would be hired along with a veteran guy so when/if the time came to fire Carlyle Spott would be named coach and would be supported with a good veteran guy which imo Horachek is

  • vinoa

    hoolihan Kessel isn’t prone to turn the puck over in offensive zone. More often than not, he outskates everyone and is stuck in the ozone on his own leading to a missed shot or at worst a turnover. I think with faster linemates, Kessel might be able to reduce on those rush turnovers.

  • Ydargo

    Further to your point, I believe his turnovers were the result of trying to make things happen (ie: bad passes)
    I think his zone entry was fine…..it’s usually what happened after…..which to me is a product of the system

  • MaxwellHowe

    Ok, not trying to start a Kessel thing today – he is a great hockey player and he could use a more complete centre.  But, I saw a lot of turnovers at the Leafs blueline and the neutral zone.  I saw twice late in the season he coughed up the puck in his own zone-with very little pressure applied, leading to oppositon goals.  And outskating everyone?  Sure, but he does cheat a little, and he takes a lot of perimeter shots instead of holding onto the puck and risking a phjysical battle with a Dman.
    Thats how i see it.  A great player, but he has limitations, and I’m not convinced he is a possession guy at all.

  • Burtonboy

    vinoa hoolihan I’d expect to see the defense man much more involved in carrying the puck then in the past .

  • mcloki

    Ydargo Sahnny couldn’t get the guy they wanted this year so they had to fallback on Carlyle. Carlyle didn’t want to be a lame duck so that’s why he got the extention to his contract.

  • LeafsGuru

    Hence gardiner, Reilly, and ? On the 3rd pairing

  • vinoa

    Burtonboy vinoa hoolihan That’s what I’m excited to see. I think we’ll see a lot more of the top line with the kids on d. Kessel with Gards and Rielly will be a deadly combo.

  • LeafsGuru

    I know we aren’t icing a Stanley Cup contender this year but with the moves they made and cap management they have done. This team has already impressed me.

  • peterbleafs

    MaxwellHowe I think this lineup is terrific as is, I would go with it, I like the line combinations as well.  Cap space is good, values for Gardiner/Riemer are good. 3rd line can score, which is awesome, 4th line will be a workaholic group…which is needed.

  • MaxwellHowe

    If the Leafs have cap space for a 23 man lineup, i say keep Ashton with the club (assuming he does well at camp)

  • lister

    MaxwellHowe Yes, that’s because Stamkos will be with the Leafs. :-p

  • LeafsGuru

    The signing of booth makes me wonder if Franson is being packaged in a deal with a bottom 6 six guy

  • LeafsGuru

    Ya he seems like the one on the block if anything

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe According to cap geek and if I’ve used the calculator correctly Ashton isn’t waiver eligible any way. He would likely get claimed if they put him on waivers.

    http://capgeek.com/waiver-calculator/?player_id=1590&eighteen_games=0&nineteen_games=0&NHL_games=47&Calculate=