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Hartnett: Analytics Can Help John Davidson Give The Rangers A Cutting Edge

Sean Hartnett
May 26, 2019 - 9:00 am
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Newly-installed president John Davidson has been promised all the resources he needs to modernize and rebuild the Rangers into an organization that’s on the cutting edge.

With owner James Dolan ready and willing to invest his deep pockets to support Davidson’s initiatives, there will be changes to how the Rangers operate. Whatever JD wants, JD gets.

“(Dolan) said to me, basically whatever you need you're going to get,” Davidson said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday. “Try to do it and go get it. I just was so happy to hear that because that's the attitude you need to have when you're trying to build a championship team here in New York.”

Part of the process will be a deep look at analytics. There’s no reason why the Rangers shouldn’t have a first-class analytics department given Dolan’s riches and Davidson’s eagerness to strengthen what the Rangers already have in place while implementing fresh ideas.

In-house stat tracking can only accomplish so much. Some teams have been averse or slow to join the analytics revolution, while others have been on the forefront by fully embracing analytics by hiring data experts and enlisting the help of outside advanced analytics firms.

During Davidson’s tenure with the Blue Jackets, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and director of hockey operations Josh Flynn advocated for having as much information at their fingertips as possible. The Blue Jackets turned to camera-based analytics system SPORTLOGiQ to support the coaching staff and scouting department.

The Blue Jackets firmly believed that having as much data as possible could only give them an advantage. Hand-in-hand, the data gained combined with the human eye allowed Columbus to make the most informed decisions in scouting, player evaluation and even seeped through to old-school head coach John Tortorella.

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Though Tortorella has occasionally shown his public disdain for analytics, the truth is that Tortorella has been receptive to analytics behind the scenes.

“I know Torts has been a little crusty about it publicly, but that has not been my experience with him,” Flynn said during the Sloan Analytics Conference in March 2017. “He is not the type of guy who likes to sit down and have long meetings about analytics. But I feed him and other coaches some stuff that I think will be interesting to them. I let them take what they want from it.”

Tortorella coming around to the usefulness of data is one thing. The Rangers have a coach in David Quinn who appreciates analytics and uses numbers to back up the directives that he relays to his players. Quinn hired Kathryn Yates to serve as Boston University’s first-ever director of analytics for the men’s hockey program.

“All information is helpful,” Quinn said in May 2018. “How much you use and verbalize to your team depends on how comfortable you are with that information. We had an analytics woman (Yates) at BU. I think we were one of the few college teams that had a full-time one -- and we used that a lot. Her and I had a great communication and she did a lot of things for us to help us in that department. I know there are a lot more resources at this level so we're going to use anything we can to make this team better."

Quinn is a hands-on, detail-driven coach and a keen communicator. Player development has been one of his strongest attributes throughout his five seasons at Boston University and his one season with the Rangers.

Pavel Buchnevich became a 0.71 point-per-game forward in the season’s second half, Tony DeAngelo’s points-per-game increased from 0.25 to 0.49 in his first season working with Quinn. Ryan Strome flourished with 33 points in 63 games as a Ranger after opening the season with two points in 18 games as an Edmonton Oiler.

Now, the challenge will be putting a structure in place that delivers the most useful information to the hands of Quinn, his coaching staff, the front office and the scouting department.

Davidson has the opportunity to push the Rangers into a new age. Given the funds and resources at his disposal, there’s no reason why the Rangers shouldn’t be leading the way in analytics.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey