“Oh, there, there. You're important, OK? I look forward to your Moneyball, to your job in hockey. You'll be a great story.” – Chris Jones to Tyler Dellow, Nov. 2011
A great story was broken by Bob McKenzie on Tuesday. Tyler Dellow, one of the blogoshpere’s most caustic advocates for advanced player and team analytics, was hired by the Edmonton Oilers to bring that insight to their struggling franchise.
Just as Sunny Mehta, a former pro poker player, was hired by the New Jersey Devils. Just as Eric Tulsky of SB Nation was hired by an NHL team. Just as Kyle Dubas, whose dedication to analytics was his calling card as a junior hockey general manager in the Soo, was hired as an assistant GM with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And so on.
It’s the Summer of Fancy Stats, and it’s been a joy to watch NHL teams genuflect to the eggheads, while critics of this new religion have been forced to swallow their words with a heaping side order of pride.
Tyler Dellow is loathed by some in hockey, and not just because he toppled Colin Campbell under the weight of his own nepotism. He’s been called out by the likes of Steve Simmons and Marc Spector over the years; now, he’ll be employed by a team they cover, one that valued his knowledge and analysis more than that of any scribe or television bloviator.
The possession time of Dellow’s middle finger to the establishment would be among the leaders in Fenwick Flip-Off.
OK, saying he was hired by “the Oilers” might be a stretch. No one is sure how Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe really feel about analytics. But Coach Dallas Eakins is a dedicated follower, and Dellow is expected to report directly to him. So is assistant GM Scott Howson, who no doubt lobbied within the organization for the move.
This is what it takes in the NHL for a team to embrace analytics: advocates in places of power.
Mehta was hired because the Devils’ ownership wanted him, not Lou Lamoriello. Dubas was hired because Shanahan wanted to add that insight to his front office. And Dellow was hired – after well over a year of flirtation between himself and the Oilers – because he had a few key personnel pushing for it.
There’s no word on the terms of his contract, but we’ve heard these types of deals can include performance incentives: If there’s real, measurable positive results in those analytic categories, the employee gets bonus money.
One imagines Dellow’s deal involves the same.
The downside to all of this is that hockey fans lose Tyler Dellow. His site, mc79hockey.com, went dark last night. All of those insanely insightful posts, nasty media feuds and, yes, stinging criticism of his new employer are, for the moment, lost in the ether.
But that’s the price we pay when our favorite garage bands get a record deal. It reminds of me of the mainstreaming of blogs about seven years ago – writers met with the same kind of stubborn criticism and old school backlash before (a) every traditional media outlet hired one and (b) they all showed they could do the job without drooling on porno mags in their mom’s basement while wearing pajamas. (We usually save that for the weekend now.)
Some of those hirings were made to put a gag on critics. And this summer’s migration of prominent online statheads to NHL teams sorta reminds me of the Bleacher Report hiring its most caustic detractors, quieting criticism in exchange for large sums of money … OK, that’s a little cynical.
Although, again, we’ll miss Dellow’s treasure trove of Oilers condemnation.
The bloggers at the forefront of the “fancy stats” revolution now have that opportunity to prove their worth, and frankly it shouldn’t be a hard bar to clear. The best teams in the NHL are the ones that pay attention to analytics, especially puck possession. These guys are right more than they’re wrong. And there’s nowhere to go but up for teams like the Oilers and Leafs.