New Panthers assistant GMs weigh in on analytics

Florida Panthers executive chair Peter Luukko discusses the major moves announced in their front office, promoting Tom Rowe to GM and Dale Tallon to President of hockey operations.

It’s already been an eventful off-season for the Florida Panthers, even without accounting for their new uniforms.

The team, which won a franchise record 47 games in 2015-16, underwent a significant front office shakeup and the new guys have already made their first big move, dealing former third overall pick Erik Gudbranson to the Vancouver Canucks.

The team’s new assistant general managers, Steve Werier and Eric Joyce, spoke with Carolyn Wilke of Today’s Slapshot to help clarify the meaning behind Florida’s front office revamp.

“We try to play players to their strengths, and with this restructuring, we’re trying to allow those in the front office to manage to their strengths as well,” said Joyce, who was, and will continue to be, the GM of Florida’s AHL affiliate in Portland in addition to his new role. “Overall, we are in the business of finding value at the margins, and it’s really hard work to do that.”

At least part of the reason for the rearrangement, which moved Tim Rowe into the GM position and made former GM Dale Tallon the president of hockey operations, is believed to be an increasing desire by Panthers ownership to involve advanced stats, or analytics, into their decision making.

The Panthers hired Dr. Brian MacDonald in 2014 to be their director of hockey analytics, a department that added Cam Lawrence and Josh Weissbock as analysts this season.

Both Joyce and Werier stressed that moves were made based on a wide range of input.

“I hate the term ‘advanced stats’,” said Joyce. “Everything is data, from a scouting report, to what [Director of Player Development] Bryan McCabe tells us about our prospects, to the game logs, to what [Dr.] MacDonald does, and to what our prospect analysts, Cam and Josh do.”

“It’s hard to pin down what the word ‘analytics’ means since it’s used by so many to mean so much,” said Werier, who is also the team’s vice president of legal affairs. “More than anything else, we as an organization strive to be inquisitive.

“And that begins at the top with a leader like Dale, who has been a hockey innovator since long before it was in vogue, incorporating disciplines like personality profiling into drafting and roster construction and achieving tremendous results. Part of that inquisitive approach is to seek out all potentially valuable sources of information, be it related to cap management, statistical studies, systems analyses, or whatever else might look interesting.”

Both Joyce and Werier went on to describe the lengthy process undertaken when the team is trying to evaluate a player, with “skating, hockey IQ and compete” being the three attributes the Panthers look for.

From there the scouts are called, the first step in an exhaustive evaluation process.

“They are the gatekeepers here – we’ll ask them for everything they know, and if they say a player is worth pursuing, we’ll then pull in as much additional information as we can to help advocate their recommendations,” said Werier. “Bryan McCabe, our head of development, will be relied on tremendously both to tell us what he knows about the player and where our current prospects at the specific position are in their development.

“We’ll work with our analysts to get their input and help answer any questions from others in the organization about things like a player’s versatility or recent performance. As this process plays out, we’ll bring everyone together for discussion and debate in the hopes of making incremental progress.

“Then, if we’re really lucky, we’ll have the privilege of sitting down with our organization’s greatest resources, Mr. Bill Torrey or our longtime scout Peter Mahovlich, and just listening to any lessons they can share from their incredible careers about how to improve a hockey team and how this transaction might impact our club.

“We’ll then put everything together and synthesize it in a deliverable that will go to our decision-makers – Dale and Tom – who in turn will provide their recommendation to ownership.”

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