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Decision Lens: a new tool for Flames scouts

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- In the ever-increasing competitive world of professional sports, being able to hold even the slightest edge over the opposition can mean the difference between a championship and missing the postseason.

The Calgary Flames feel they have found that extra leg up on the competition with their decision to utilize Decision Lens, a software program that aids clients in collaborative decision-making processes.

A little over a year ago, the team decided to sign a contract with the company in hopes of being able to create a more structured drafting and scouting process. They wanted to have all of the scouting staff be able to make more sound decisions that reflected the group as a whole rather than have select individual views dominate the selection of players. In the past, this tactic has shown that while well-intentioned, individuals may miss flaws that can lead to critical issues in players later on in their career.

Using mathematical and analytical perspectives when approaching decision-making, the software allows the team to make a collaborative ranking system which, ultimately, allows them to systematically take every player available and grade them on their overall skill as a player.

Every team has different priorities when it comes to players and how they want to structure their squad both in present and future terms.

Gavin Byrnes, the Flames client analyst from Decision Lens, believes that is what makes the software so valuable. It essentially captures the essence of what a team wants its identity to be and channels that spirit into the drafting strategy on a level that is simply unattainable with other selection strategies.

"Decision Lens can help a sports team by helping to synthesize scouting judgments and understand organizational priorities in preparation for a draft or free agent period," he told

"We facilitate discussions with key decision-makers to break down problems into component criteria, evaluate the relative importance of those criteria, and rank the presented alternatives on those criteria to form a list of scores for each alternative representing its value to the decision at hand."

An example of how Decision Lens works in present-day cases can be seen when evaluating two players who, at first glance, appear to be very similar in all aspects. However, one is a slightly better skater while the other is a deft puckhandler.

Since that particular organization values speed over stickhandling by a slim margin, the first player would then rank slightly higher on their list and if he is available when the team is picking, he would go ahead of the second individual.

"The Decision Lens list becomes another one of the lists that the Flames take into consideration when making draft picks," said Byrnes. "And if they get into a situation in which they are deciding between a few players, the Decision Lens score can help them break down each player’s strengths and weaknesses according to the scouts."

The software also provides clients with long-term benefits. Teams can look back at past decisions, evaluate how successful each choice was based on the priority-ranked list and decide whether or not they need to alter their scouting strategy in the future.

"If we had weighted the criteria differently, would we have had more agreement in terms of which players had high scores and which players ended up playing well in the league?

"If the answer to the last question is yes, this could lead to a re-evaluation of the criteria prioritizations based on empirical observation."

The Decision Lens list was a major asset to the team this summer at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. With their five picks, the Flames selected F Sven Baertschi (13th overall), F Markus Granlund (45th overall), D Tyler Wotherspoon (57th overall), F John Gaudreau (104th overall) and D Laurent Brossoit (164th overall).

A quick glance at each player and how well they've done individually thus far this season should give fans great hope for the future.

Baertschi and Gaudreau have become offensive juggernauts in their respective leagues. Granlund's progressing defensive awareness is making him an excellent two-way player. Wotherspoon's offensive numbers show he's not a one-dimensional defender. As for Brossoit, his netminding skills have been a key component in the Edmonton Oil King's excellent play this season.

Given the immediate success from this year's draft class, it looks like Byrnes and Decision Lens will continue to play a major role in shaping the Flames future.

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