The rebuilding of the front office in Buffalo continued yesterday with the appointment of Sam Ventura as Vice President of Hockey Strategy and Research. It might not sound like an exciting post, but experts in the field believe Sabers made a great move in bringing in Ventura from the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he helped the franchise win the Stanley Cup.
Ventura first made his name in the hockey world as part of the influential War-on-Ice analytics website, which he co-founded with Andrew Thomas (who went to Minnesota Wild) and eventually Alexandra Mandriki (now with the Seattle Kraken). Working with Jason Karmanos in Pittsburgh and with Karmanos now in Buffalo as an assistant to GM, Ventura is reunited with his like-minded compatriot.
“He’s a very smart guy,” said one NHL analytics expert. “He’s a really good thinker, strategically speaking. With Karmanos there and his longstanding relationship with Sam, he has clearly shown his value for having that key role that Karmanos brought to fit in with Buffalo.”
How important is this appointment to Buffalo? According to the source I spoke to, Sabers hasn’t been on the cutting edge of analysis compared to some of the other franchises in the league, but acquiring Ventura with Karmanos is definitely aimed in the right direction. The Sabers also have Jason Nightingale in a dual analytical/exploratory role, but the team is still building its front office after last year’s big execution.
“There’s been a lot of change out there, it’s tough,” said the analytics expert. “From the outside, it’s hard to assess the motives of the transactions. Getting Taylor Hall’s signature at the price they did, that was the price I was optimistic about – it didn’t work for them, it worked more in Boston – but there’s an indication that they did some smart things.” But I wouldn’t say they were at the forefront of the analytics. Before Karmanos, I would say they were actually going the other way, they were kind of behind. They’re definitely heading in the right direction now. Keeping a tight budget is very important there, and having an investment will be Strong in analytics to avoid Jeff Skinners from the world is very important moving forward.”
But what will Ventura exactly Bring to swords? It all comes down to having a quantum lens as part of the decision-making process, whether it’s on the pro-things side or the exploratory side of the hobbyist.
When it comes to professional scouts, it’s all about how your team values one player versus the other and how those players will go for the duration of their contract. It’s similar on the amateur side, although instead of contracts, there’s more focus on the draft and how a given prospect compares to another player in the same draft class.
Traditional team scouts, those who go to the rinks, watch live matches and talk to a player and coaches, bring important information to the process and analytics is not expected to replace any of that, but it can fill in the gaps and be a great tool. Incorporating qualitative information from Scouting and quantitative information from the Analytics section results in a more complete picture.
The Sabers currently have one of the league’s smaller exploration divisions, so having Ventura and his skills can be incredibly useful.
“Not having that in conversation is very dangerous,” said the analytics expert. “Having someone who is arguably one of the best in our field is a huge advantage.”