On my list of things to do is to go to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. It’s a shame it’s not a month or two later or I’d tie it into a Red Sox road trip without difficulty. Anyway, they’ve posted the videos of this year’s conference on their site. Brian Burke appeared on the Next Generation Sports Management and Ownership panel and offered this:
“Our talent evaluation system doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis as much as it does in other sports. Film doesn’t have the same value in our sports as much as it does in other sports because the game is so much less predictable…Every year I get probably five papers from kids at MIT, Harvard and Duke and they say that they’ve come up with a new system for evaluating players. You go through it and you realize that it doesn’t lend itself to the analysis of what we need to do to pick a player, when we draft a player. We try to identify a lot of things that don’t lend themselves to statistical analysis and they’re very team related. So someone’ll say ‘Well this guy has the best +/- in the league’; well, if you’re on a good team, you’re going to have a positive +/-. It’s a meaningless statistic, unless you’re on a horseshit team and you have a decent +/-, then it might mean something. We don’t do as much statistical analysis as they do in baseball, for example.”
Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, chimed in with: “I detect opportunity. The first person to convince Brian Burke will be the next big thing in hockey on the analytics side.”
Vic’s speculated recently that Burke might be trying to develop some statistical stuff. While I don’t know either way, it always strikes me that it’d be an awful lot of effort to come up with something like Burke’s statement above if you secretly had a department that looked into this stuff.
Gunnarson, by the way, had a +/- of +8 this year on what could probably be fairly described as a horseshit team. If you’re a reader of this site, you probably instinctively say “Sure, but what was his PDO?” and you’d be unsurprised to learn it was 1018 and that the next highest Leaf was Luke Schenn at 1000. If you’re his agent and you know that Burke thinks there might be something to having a good +/- on a horseshit team, you’ll be beating that drum hard in negotiations. Particularly if Burke isn’t aware of the volatility of PDO and how it drives +/-.
Burke talked a little bit about why he supports a hard cap as well:
When I was in Vancouver, we were a 100 point team my last four years there, we were in the playoffs every year…We never got out of the first round because we were playing teams with payrolls that were dramatically higher than ours. I remember, the first year we made the playoffs there, our star player was Markus Naslund and Markus, two days after the trading deadine, broke his leg and I’ve never forgiven him for not breaking it before the trade deadline so I could try to replace him. We played the Colorado Avalanche and our number one centre blew out his knee and we dressed $22MM for game one and the first power play unit that Colorado put out on the ice was $45MM. We had less than half of that on the whole bench and we got our asses kicked. We lost four straight.
It probably warrants mentioning that Vancouver lost three of those games to Colorado by one goal. In its early days, Baseball Prospectus argued pretty vehemently that a salary cap was unnecessary because teams could earn an advantage by being smarter. Given that all of this stuff is, ultimately, not that difficult to figure out and there to be understood by anyone who wanted to, it always seemed to me that there was a problem in that, once everyone had the same basic level of understanding, the money would win out.
I don’t think hockey’s there now and I certainly don’t think it was there in 2000-01. Burke put together a nice team in Vancouver but he wasted his share of money doing so. Of the four series his team lost while he was GM of the Canucks, they had the bigger budget in two of those losses: in 2002-03 against Minnesota and in 2003-04 against Calgary. Those teams had good goalies though; Burke didn’t and the Canucks paid the price.