How do the Sabres use analytics?

February 9, 2018

Boston, MA (WGR 550) - We hear a lot about analytics in sports these days. The Philadelphia Eagles just won the Super Bowl with an aggressive approach, but what about the Buffalo Sabres?

Tim Murray used his own version of analytics, which didn’t work at all when trying to build this team. It led him on a path of poor trades and poor drafting. Jason Botterill is the new general manager and has a large analytics department led by Jason Nightingale. Botterill receives a lot of important information from him that he uses to help evaluate players and the team.

Botterill doesn’t just sluff of what he gets from Nightingale and his staff. Botterill said, “There’s a total respect for what Jason and his staff do in the organization and we think that’s important. They aren’t just out there on an island.”

Botterill thinks it’s extremely important to integrate both analytics and the eye test in player evaluation. He thinks you need scouts and analytics to make the best decisions for your team. “I don’t want to say specifically what we use as I’ll keep that internal, but it’s important to respect both sides, Botterill said. “We want to hear both sides, we want to hear what our scouts have to say and what they see and we want to hear the numbers that can give us an edge in evaluating players.”

“We like to compare information too. Jason and his staff will say this is what we see from a player the past few weeks from a numbers perspective. He’ll ask if that’s what we see when scouting. I like to see how close the two evaluations are.”

The things Botterill uses might be different from what Phil Housley uses.

We’ve heard Housley speak of a shot mentality ever since he got to Buffalo. Housley thinks analytics is a way that can help him evaluate, “There are a couple of ways I use the analytics. Number one, overall team play, what are we doing against the other team and what is the other team doing against us and that’s really the shot attempts and the percentages that players get.

“Another way to look at it is matchups, what’s going on in the game? I think analytics tells a story about what’s going on when you’re on the ice or a line’s on the ice or D-pairings are on the ice. Are there more shots at their net than coming at ours? So it does help me in matchups and overall, just the way we’re playing.”

It’s not all team oriented in the head coach’s mind. He said, “We use it for individuals, what kind of matchups and line chemistry we can create over a period of time? We look at those three players and how do they mix? How do those analytics play out when they’re getting some quality time over some games and within that, the lines they’re playing against, who are they facing?

Every year there are more and more number available. Some are useful and some are not. I was told by one of the first guys to discover analytics and really study them that the worst thing is the guy that knows a little bit about analytics, but misinterprets what it is they are looking at. It makes the people that do know what they’re talking about look bad.

Housley didn’t have a lot of numbers to help him when he first got into coaching. He said, “I think the difficult thing for me just five years ago I was just trying to find how can we use it? Trying just to confine it to an immediate look and seeing what works and how we can incorporate it into our team and into our system and we got a snapshot of what I really like and it’s a quick view because if you get into trying to take all of it, I mean there’s so much information out there it can be overwhelming.”

Players tend to look at it differently. Most players would rather evaluate their play by watching video, not looking at numbers. Ryan O’Reilly said he can do a much better job by doing it himself, “I don’t, I try not to look at it.

“There’s a certain feel to every game, every game is different in its own little way.”

O’Reilly says there are things within a game that are important to him, “When I look at a game, I look at how did I do in my battles, how many battles did I win, how much did I create, how much did I possess the puck, did I turn it over? That’s the kind of thing personally that only I can assess. There’s not very many people that are going to know what’s best for me, I’ve got to find it internally and take all those things into account.

“It’s things like how I felt, how my legs were, how I was handling the puck and I think that’s something that only I can self-evaluate and make adjustments from it.”

The Sabres are having their dad’s trip so Friday was an off day full of activities with their dads. The fathers were at the Islanders game and will also be at Saturday’s Boston game.