Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck

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Kyle Dubas

I guess it is fitting that a professional sports team that plays in a venue on Bay Street in Toronto bring in someone who is good with numbers. With the hiring of Kyle Dubas as the new Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey begins its foray into Moneypuck — managing the team and game based on stats and figures.

I use the name Moneypuck after Moneyball, the system that was popularized by Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. Dubas has praised Beane for his ability to use numbers to help the Athletics win games and compete for division titles despite having a low payroll compared to teams like the New York Yankees. Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Boston are just 3 teams that employ Moneyball and were able to utilize numbers to their advantage. In the case of the Red Sox, that parlayed into 3 World Series championships. However, Moneyball proved to be a failure for the Toronto Blue Jays, much to the delight of the baseball writers in Toronto especially at the Star.

I have met Dubas on a couple of occasions. Once when he was GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, and another time when he was a player agent at Uptown Sports Management. My impression of Dubas was that he never came across to me as a “whiz kid” as the media like to label him or some kind of saviour. But he is a very bright guy with sharp hockey knowledge.

Hockey is different than baseball. Some of the reasons are obvious but one thing about baseball is that it relies more on numbers than hockey. As I’ve mentioned before, championship teams are built by getting the right players that fit the team rather than going after the best players available. But if the Leafs are going to put more emphasis on stats this season, they better get guys who have a history of scoring against opponents in their own division. For example, Phil Kessel had 37 goals and 43 assists in 82 games with the Leafs last season, 7 goals and 15 assists in 30 games against divisional opponents. Not bad but it could have been better especially in the last 8 games of the season against teams in the Atlantic Division where Kessel managed only 1 goal and 3 assists in that span. The Leafs were 14-13-3 against teams in the Atlantic last season and during that same 8-game stretch they won only once. A better than .500 record in those 8 games would have ended Detroit’s consecutive playoff appearance streak and secured a date with Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.

Something else that struck me. I can’t recall a time where there has been so much attention paid to the hiring of someone to a secondary front office position. But then again, this is Toronto — the centre of the hockey world. It was interesting to read and hear some of the analysis on this latest managerial move by Team President Brendan Shanahan. Consensus from the media seems to be split. Some feel it is a step in the right direction, others are more skeptical.

I wish Dubas luck in his new role. The media in Toronto, rightly or wrongly, can chew out a young pup but I think he can handle working in a big city like Toronto. He has a good head on his shoulders. Hopefully, the numbers will be on his, and the Leafs’, side this season.

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