George McPhee is well aware of his reputation as the general manager who killed General Fanager.
“We read the tweets,” the GM of the NHL’s Las Vegas team told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “People are naturally disappointed. But we clearly made a great decision. We’re delighted to have Tom.”
Tom Poraszka was the man behind GeneralFanager.com, an NHL salary cap site that was an indispensable tool for fans and media. He created the site after Cap Geek, founded by the late Matthew Wuest, went offline. Poraszka was excited to combine his background in engineering and project management with his passion for hockey. The result was an informational-rich user-friendly site that tabulated the salary cap for all 30 teams and included several unique tools for fans to use – including one that created mock expansion drafts, something McPhee said Las Vegas was keen to acquire.
“It’s a simple tool. Whether you’re 10 or you’re 90, you can use it,” he said.
But along with the interface, Poraszka’s success with General Fanager was also in outreach. He cultivated a network of sources around the league that fed him accurate information about player contracts and their clauses, creating a vital database of private information for the public to use.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cynically claimed that Fanager didn’t have “confirmed information.” And now its founder has been hired by an NHL club. Go figure.
That outreach is what ended up getting Poraszka a job with Vegas. It started with a cold-call to assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
“He actually reached out to Kelly about a week after we hired him, just to talk to him about his site. A relationship developed. Kelly liked the site, he talked to me about it, and we started using the site,” said McPhee.
It was McCrimmon that raised the idea that Poraszka join the management group. He flew to London, Ontario to meet with him, and came away impressed. The team then flew Poraszka out to Las Vegas for the weekend of their mock expansion draft. McPhee interviewed with him. The team made him an offer on the spot, and invited him to join their mock draft.
What they discovered with him in the room was that Poraszka’s encyclopedic knowledge of the expansion draft rules, and the rest of the CBA, was also an asset.
“Yeah, he’s a very impressive guy,” McPhee said with a laugh. “He made sure we were meeting all the requirements of the expansion draft.”
This isn’t the first time a hockey site has been shuttered after its proprietor was hired by an NHL team. It’s happened numerous times in the analytics community, from blogger Tyler Dellow closing his analysis site when hired by the Edmonton Oilers to the popular ExtraSkater.com closing when founder Darryl Metcalf was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But in those cases, teams were acquiring proprietary information and analysis of it. The salary cap and contract information on General Fanager was already available to Las Vegas and the rest of the 30 teams via the NHL’s central registry. What they’re buying in Poraszka wasn’t the numbers, but how they were categorized and tabulated.
“He can build these tools and make it much easier for us. The expansion tool is just one part of it. It’s important, but it’s just a one-off. We’re looking at broader, longer-term tools for our organization. And Tom can build those tools that we can use. He’s also good in analytics as well,” said McPhee.
He said NHL management teams can be complicated in their communication, when you factor in hockey operations, analysts and a massive scouting staff. McPhee has seen the complication, and he’s seen operations that were more streamlined. “It can certainly happen. I like the way the Islanders did things. Their analytics department was terrific in what they provided to [GM Garth Snow],” said McPhee, who was an advisor to Snow before being hired by Vegas.
So he’ll look to Poraszka to simplify things through his programming and tool-building. “It allows you to be much more nimble when discussing players with your staff. One little click changes everything,” said McPhee.
“If you ever read that book about Steve Jobs, you know he believed that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
With the hiring of Tom Poraszka, the NHL’s Las Vegas team may have simplified processes ranging from the expansion draft to internal scouting reports. Even as they’ve complicated life for web-savvy fans that can no longer use General Fanager as a resource.
“We understand it’s a big development in the business,” said McPhee, with little regret.
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