If there was one team that the advanced stats community had in its sights over the last few years, it's the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the worst puck possession teams in the league last year, many analysts were predicting the impending doom of the Leafs long before their late-season swoon cost them a playoff spot. Apparently that was heard loud and clear by president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan, because he has been making a lot of interesting moves in the front office this summer and apparently isn't done yet.
According to Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports, the Maple Leafs are forming an analytics department and have already made some key additions. Among their first hires according to Wyshynski, are Darryl Metcalf, who founded and operated the extremely popular advanced stats database ExtraSkater.com and bloggers Cam Charron and Rob Pettapiece. Charron was actually one of Toronto's biggest critics in print last season, using a lot of numbers to back up his critiques.
These hires come on the heels of the Maple Leafs bringing on Kyle Dubas earlier in the summer as the new assistant GM. The former general manager of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds has been a big advocate of advanced statistics and utilized them in many of his decisions in his old job.
Metcalf's site, ExtraSkater.com, recently went offline, causing a bit of a panic among hockey fans. Though other advanced stats sites exist, Extra Skater came to notoriety for the breadth of numbers it provided and its user-friendliness. It's a big loss for fans that frequented the site (and NHL execs as well).
That said, the Maple Leafs are wise to make sure that Metcalf's system remains in house. His ability to mine NHL game data in an easy-to-present manner is a valuable asset and not making that available to the general public and by default other NHL hockey operations departments seems to be sound strategy.
By creating a new department around advanced analytics, it's another resounding signal that the Maple Leafs as an organization are doing everything they can to make changes to how they run their hockey club. With Shanahan at the helm things have been moving rather rapidly this offseason in the front office.
For a team that seemed publicly entrenched in the status quo when the analytics suggested doom, this is quite the 180. One has to wonder how general manager Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle really feel about all of this going on around them.
The Maple Leafs are not alone in their move to embrace analytics, however as this summer has included a lot of teams going bigger on advanced statistics publicly. The New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers have all hired advanced-stats-oriented analysts to their hockey operations staffs, while others may be doing more behind the scenes.
There are many ways to build a hockey team and many tools used to help do that better. Seeing more teams making efforts to improve by any means necessary, including with the addition of advanced stats analysts, is refreshing for a game that has often been slow to change and innovate.