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Burke open to analytics use

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

The first analytics system I see that will help us win, I’ll buy it and I’ll pay cash so that no one else can use it. I’m not a dinosaur on that.Brian Burke

CALGARY, AB -- Brian Burke said he is willing to open his wallet up for the first person to provide him with a system that will help him trade and draft better.

In the press conference to introduce newly minted general manager Brad Treliving last week, the president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames was quick to offer up his unsolicited opinion when the topic turned to the use of advanced statistics in today’s NHL.

“The first analytics system I see that will help us win, I’ll buy it and I’ll pay cash so that no one else can use it,” Burke said. “I’m not a dinosaur on that.”

Burke has been widely regarded as an opponent to the advanced stats wave, which includes the use of measures like Corsi and Fenwick, possession barometers used by measuring the plus/minus of shot attempts.

But he’s been miscast in that role, Burke declared.

“What I think has happened is one quote from the MIT conference has been broadcast all over where I said, ‘statistics are like a lamppost to a drunk -- useful for support but not for illumination’,” he said. “I also think people confuse statistics and arithmetic and mathematics with analytics. Analytics to me are ‘can you take data and do some predictive work that will help me draft or trade better’?

“I haven’t seen a system that comes close to doing that. Statistical analysis about faceoffs and where guys play, we use that all the time. We’ve been using it for 20 years. To me, that’s not analytics. Anyone here that has a system worth buying, we pay cash.”

That’s good news to Treliving, who broached the topic cautiously in advance of Burke’s unsolicited response to the topic.

“If I say yes, Burkie might punch me, right?” he said with a cautious smile. “I think there’s a value. What I believe in is information. That’s our capital in this game. You’re always trying to find information. Players history, background, all these things. The more information you can collect, it helps you making decisions.”

Information, Treliving admitted, is the name of the game in today’s NHL.

“We did some things in Phoenix,” he said. “I know analytics is sort of the catchphrase here. I guess it would be an analytical approach in some respects but to me, it gives you something to look at. It gives you another little piece.

“I don’t like sharing, quite frankly. I like to keep it close to the vest here, so there’s some things we’re going to bring here as well.”

Both Burke and Treliving will tell you measuring play with statistics isn’t a new development in hockey.

The pair also won’t hesitate to disclose that without a set of eyes on the action to either reaffirm or disprove, those measures mean little.

That’s why Treliving plans to build a portfolio of information unrivaled by the opposition.

“Ultimately, you have to go see players, you have to go watch games and you have to have a belief in the type of game you want to play and the type of players you want to have play for you,” Treliving said. “We’ll be leading the league in digging for information and we will have all the information we’ll need on all the players.”

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