This week for Staturday, I thought it would be a good idea to profile the awesome people that make up the Toronto Maple Leafs’ analytics department. Technically, the department is called “Hockey Research and Development”, I suppose so that the name covers more than what we would call “analytics”, to include some more nebulous hockey research activities.
a title once held by salary cap and NHL collective bargaining agreement expert Brandon Pridham, who now sits as one of Dubas’ general managers. Metcalf was a member of the original three-person analytics department created by the Leafs in 2014. Now, having an analytics team of three people or more seems like the standard operating procedure for an NHL team, but in 2014 this was unprecedented stuff. Most teams had just one person, a token analytics guru on their staff; the Maple Leafs showed they were embracing it one step further by creating a department for analytics.
But who sits on that department today?
The Who’s Who of Leafs Analytics
The people in this department, I suppose, are the ones doing the number crunching for Kyle Dubas and the management team. But who are they?
While not technically a member of the analytics department according to the NHL website, I’d be thoroughly surprised if Metcalf didn’t have some role in what goes on with that department. He gained his fame by creating one of the first and most prominent advanced stats websites, the now-defunct ExtraSkater.
He began with the Maple Leafs as an analyst in this Hockey Research & Development team, and then was promoted to the role of Director in 2016. Last season was when his role changed to “Special Assistant to the General Manager”, a title once held by salary cap and NHL collective bargaining agreement expert Brandon Pridham, who now sits as one of Dubas’ general managers. Metcalf was a member of the original three-person analytics department created by the Leafs in 2014. Now, having an analytics team of three people or more seems like the standard operating procedure for an NHL team, but in 2014 this was unprecedented stuff. Most teams had just one person, a token analytics guru on their staff; the Maple Leafs showed they were embracing it one step further by creating a department for analytics.
But who sits on that department today?
In fact, his title on LinkedIn is still “Director, Hockey Research & Development”, so it seems my assumption is true.
Metcalf studied Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University, graduating in 2009 with a B.Sc.E (the year after, I started my education at Queen’s in Electrical Engineering). He went on to a role in consulting with Yfactor Inc., who specialize in economic development, marketing and communications. After spending almost 5 years there, and presumably in his free time managing ExtraSkater, he was hired by the Maple Leafs, beginning his climb up the organizational ladder.
A former contributor and editor on this very website, the next highest ranking member of the Leafs’ analytics department is Cam Charron. He was also an original hire along with Metcalf in 2014, and has stayed with the department these past 6 years.
Previously, he worked as a contributor for numerous hockey platforms, including TheLeafsNation (us), CanucksArmy (our more impressive co-network site), TheScore, Yahoo!, and The Province (a BC-based newspaper).
Charron studied Journalism at Thomson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, graduating with a B.A. in 2011. His writing always had a flare for analytics, and focused the majority of his work covering different hockey teams on their performance in analytics and so-called advanced stats. It’s certainly neat for me as a blogger who also covers analytics (though certainly not with the same depth that Cam did), to see him working with the Maple Leafs.
Judy Cohen, similar to Charron, also got her start in writing about hockey. She also studied Journalism, at Boston University, graduating in 2016. She started working with Newton TAB, a local paper based in her home state of Massachusetts as a Sports Writer. She then worked with Sports Illustrated, WEEI Sports Network (Massachusetts Sports Radio), and The Daily Free Press, where she spent over two years there, including time as editor.
After this, Judy got into data tracking. We covered some elements of data tracking in last week’s column, the second part of my analytics primer. Judy worked with TrackMan, a golf training software, as an intern in Data & Operations, then began working independently as a volunteer data tracker with hockey. She started volunteering this data to the London Knights, of all teams, then moved on to independently tracking the Toronto Maple Leafs. During this time, she also had a paying gig as an Administrative Assistant and Data Co-ordinator with American Renal Associates, a company doing kidney dialysis.
It was after all this that Judy was hired by the Leafs in 2018 as an assistant within the analytics department. After just 10 months in this role, she earned herself a spot as an Analyst with the group, presumably focusing on manually tracking data and analyzing what comes from that.
Telling Judy’s story was one of the reasons I wanted to do this as my column this week, as I find it fascinating that someone from Massachusetts slowly pieced together this resume that makes perfect sense as hire for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their analytics department, especially in such an early stage of her career.
Bruce is someone I personally didn’t know anything about when I started writing this column. He has been with the Maple Leafs since 2015, but wasn’t as much in the forefront of the hockey analytics social media world on Twitter, so his name hadn’t ever come up for me.
Bruce got his start working in accounting and bookkeeping, after presumably studying some form of Business at the University of Saskatchewan, where he graduated in 2004. He then took a role with the Saskatoon Blades of the western junior league, the WHL, in 2013. He worked this role alongside his day jobs in accounting for two years, before being hired by the Maple Leafs.
It’s presumable that Peter got to know Kyle Dubas at some point during their shared times working in the CHL.
We don’t know much about what Bruce’s specialties are, but here’s his blurb from his time with Saskatoon, which gives us some idea of his now role with Toronto as an Analyst:
Collect unique statistical data at home games for the Western Hockey League club. Provide reports for use by the management and coaching staff of the data, and offer my interpretation of the various events and look for trends. Compile reports for games, extended sets of games, and full seasons. Collect data and reports for road games, other clubs, and other WHL events as requested by the club. Work on a part-time contract basis.
Try to stay on top of current news and trends in the advanced hockey statistics community at large.
Rob Pettapiece was another member of the original three hired by Toronto in 2014 in the creation of this analytics department. Rob has been working in sports data analytics since 2009 as a freelancer. He graduated from Waterloo University in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his time at Waterloo, he worked as an editor for The CIS Blog, covering university sports, starting in 2008.
Pettapiece seems to be a more private person, not putting much of his work into the public sphere.
However, what we do know is that he is a key member of this analytics department, having been working at it for over 6 years. We know that he’s great at data analysis, coming from his mathematical background, but also at research, one of the other key areas of this department. He co-op’ed at the City of Kitchener as an Economic Researcher, then worked as a Research Assistant at McMaster University in the Centre for Spatial Analysis.
After these positions was when he seemingly focused more on sports analytics as a freelancer, until his eventual hire by Toronto as an Analyst in 2014.
Lastly, the Leafs have three people dedicated to the role of “Developer”, being Dan Hamilton, Andrew Low, and Wesley Waldner. This role is different from the Analyst role, in that it’s more focused around software skills than data and analysis skills. Of course, data and analytics skill are an inherent part of software engineering, but it also encompasses skills in programming, UI design, and efficiency.
None of these three have much of a public profile either, so I’ll refrain from diving into any of them. It’s just worth noting that this role exists, so that you can theorize about all the fun tools they’re able to create for Dubas, the management team, and the other members of the analytics department. This role is no less important than the Analyst role — what good is having data and people that are good at analyzing it if you don’t have the tools for them to view, analyze and present this data efficiently.
There you have it: a breakdown of who’s responsible for all of the data research, tracking, analysis, developing, and reporting up to management. Hopefully you are as interested in the stories behind the people as I am and find this quick set of profiles interesting. Unfortunately this was just what I could gather from their public presence, primarily their LinkedIn profiles. While this doesn’t tell us everything about them, it gives us at least a small part of their history to frame who they are and how important they are to the Leafs.
Next week is Boxing Day, but I will still aim to put a column out, and I aim to tell some data-based stories as we approach the commencement of the 2021 NHL season, which is currently supposed to be January 30th. With that, enjoy your holidays this winter break, and I’ll see you next Staturday.