Did Canadiens drop analytics expert for opposing Subban trade?

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LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 03: <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/4558/" data-ylk="slk:P.K. Subban">P.K. Subban</a> #76 of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/mon/" data-ylk="slk:Montreal Canadiens">Montreal Canadiens</a>. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 03: P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When the Montreal Canadiens hired Matt Pfeffer in July 2015, there was high praise for their forward thinking.

The Peterborough native was an analytics specialist who had done consultation for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s and for Hockey Canada. He also worked with the San Jose Sharks in 2014, and had done some solid work on Progressive Hockey before having to step away from the site two years ago.

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In speaking at the Rochester Hockey Analytics conference last October, Pfeffer detailed his work with the Canadiens and specifically coach Michel Therrien, whom he said valued his analysis. But he also cautioned any “outsiders” getting into the business:

“Always remember that you’re probably wrong.”

Well, except when your team is considering a trade that would swap an advanced stats darling and singular defensive talent in P.K. Subban for his antithesis in Shea Weber. Then you’re probably right if you speak out on it.

But your employer who pulled the trigger on that trade? He might not exactly appreciate your candor.

That’s the scenario put forth by Eric Engels of Sportsnet, who reports that Pfeffer did not have his contract renewed by the Canadiens. The reason, according to Engels’ sources? The Subban trade. From Sportsnet:

A source told Sportsnet that Matt Pfeffer, who was hired as an analytics consultant at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, made an impassioned and elaborate presentation to management to dissuade them from following through on this trade.

Ignoring Pfeffer’s advice only served to reinforce the notion that Bergevin was following different criteria in his evaluation of both players, said the source, who also suggested Pfeffer’s vehemence on the matter might have ultimately cost him the job (he was told on Wednesday that his contract won’t be renewed). The Canadiens would not comment on why they aren’t renewing his contract, but they did say that they are looking into other analytics solutions.

Liam McGuire is disturbed by this:

If I was to jump to a conclusion about the firing, my guess would be Marc Bergevin is doubling-down on his toughness, truculence, and grit mindset. The move also comes after the P.K. Subban/Shea Weber trade, which advanced stats show was a huge loss for Montreal in the swap. The Canadiens might be clearing house and doing things the old fashioned way – which would be stupid – but that’s just my own speculation. Perhaps, they’re moving in a different direction and will hire someone else. Engels reports they’re looking – but time will tell if that’s genuine.

That the Canadiens will continue to push analytics is good to hear, although it runs contrary to their offseason moves that seem to stress nebulous hockey attributes like “determination” and “grit” rather than hard data.

But if Pfeffer’s opposition to the Subban trade actually factored into his dismissal, there’s no way this isn’t another file in the “Marc Bergevin, head in the sand” dossier. It’s not a good look for the Canadiens, who have had one ugly summer.

UPDATE: Pfeffer released a statement to Sportsnet about the report on his dismissal from the Canadiens:   

“Prior to the trade, I submitted a report comparing both players. I made a passionate case in favour of P.K. Subban,” he said.

“There was never a meeting with management.

“Ultimately, this is the nature of this kind of work. Management makes their decision based on a variety of criteria. Their evaluation may have been different in this case, but there was consensus on other decisions through my time with the team.”

“The Canadiens treated me with the utmost respect. They are a world class organization. I understand that they desired to go in a different direction. I was thankful to be a part of their team.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


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