Since May 20, 2015, Don Sweeney’s hires include a development coach (Jamie Langenbrunner), assistant coach (Bruce Cassidy), Providence coach and assistants (Kevin Dean, Jay Leach, Trent Whitfield), director of legal affairs for hockey operations (Evan Gold), director of sports performance and rehabilitation (Paul Whissel), and scouts (Dennis Bonvie, Andrew Shaw, Bob Wetick).
While Sweeney is in no hurry to land his next director of amateur scouting, it will be as critical a hire as any of the ones he’s made in the year-plus he’s served as general manager.
“I want them to find the best players and have an eye toward the future of where the game is continuing to head,” Sweeney said of the replacement for Keith Gretzky, who was named Edmonton’s assistant GM on Wednesday. “Have knowledge of where the strengths are with our depth and be able to communicate effectively with the staff. [Picks] are not anybody’s one decision. We all voice our opinion strongly to make a collective decision. While one person makes the announcement, we realize that the work that goes behind making the announcement is pretty significant.”
The next executive to assume the position will be responsible for managing the team’s most important resource: its picks. As much time as selections require to ripen, patience will be rewarded if the picks reach their potential.
Like he does with all his decisions, Sweeney will take his time. There is no rush, not with assistant GM Scott Bradley assuming the amateur helm until a permanent pilot takes command. Bradley was at the helm 10 years ago when the Bruins claimed Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand within the first 71 selections.
So while Sweeney determines whether internal candidates are fit for promotion, he will also have a deep pool of external candidates — especially ones with local ties. Helping to assemble the future for your hometown team is a powerful attraction.
Following are several Massachusetts natives who could be fits to fill the position:
■ Judd Brackett, Harwich — Currently Vancouver’s director of amateur scouting. With Brackett running his first draft in June, Vancouver took six players, including Olli Juolevi at No. 5. The two-way Juolevi was the first defenseman drafted after forwards Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Jesse Puljujarvi.
■ Tim Burke, Melrose — Currently San Jose’s director of scouting. A long shot, considering the former University of New Hampshire standout has been a fixture with the Sharks since 1992. The Sharks have a history of good picks on Burke’s watch, from Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, Matt Nieto, and Tomas Hertl. Burke’s reputation is sterling as a workhorse and talent evaluator.
■ Mike Doneghey, West Roxbury — Currently an amateur scout for Chicago. The Blackhawks are in perpetual cap tightness because of high-ticket players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford. They’ve supplemented their top-heavy roster with picks such as Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, and Teuvo Teravainen. Doneghey is part of a staff that emphasizes speed, skill, hockey sense, and competitiveness, the four pillars the Blackhawks target in their players.
■ Steve Greeley, Scituate — Currently the Rangers’ assistant director of player personnel. Greeley teamed with director of player personnel Gordie Clark to scout prospects for this past draft, which included former OHL exceptional-status defenseman Sean Day in the third round. As David Quinn’s former assistant at Boston University, Greeley recruited Bruins picks Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Charlie McAvoy.
■ Jeff Kealty, Framingham — Currently Nashville’s chief amateur scout. Another long shot. Kealty has made a niche for himself in leading Nashville’s draft efforts since 2007. The Predators hit on high-end picks such as Colin Wilson, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Seth Jones. But they’ve also made significant finds lower in the draft with Mattias Ekholm, Craig Smith, Gabriel Bourque, and Viktor Arvidsson. Nashville’s draft success, especially on defense, allowed GM David Poile to trade Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban.
■ Jim Vesey, Charlestown — Currently an amateur scout for Toronto. Would add another layer to the Jimmy Vesey pursuit, which opens Aug. 15. The elder Vesey was teammates with Sweeney in 1991-92.
■ Mark Yannetti, Boxford — Currently Los Angeles’s director of amateur scouting. Yannetti works closely with director of player personnel Michael Futa on a small but nimble Kings staff. Yannetti helped build the bulk of LA’s Cup rosters in 2012 and 2014, which included Dwight King, Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. GM Dean Lombardi is not keen on letting employees go for similar opportunities. But Lombardi, a Ludlow native, might understand if Yannetti has a chance to work for his hometown club.
BY THE NUMBERS
Babson to host analytics event
As a sports fan, Rick Cleary does not follow hockey as closely as he monitors baseball and basketball. But as chair of the division of mathematics and science at Babson College, Cleary has questions about hockey that numbers might help to explain.
“Do fights really change what’s going on with a team? Does it give a team any tactical advantage?” Cleary asked. “Nobody’s found it yet, even though there’s not a huge sample size. It’s those questions that most interest me. Can you gain a little tactical advantage?”
To that end, Cleary, with assistance from friend and hockey fan Luke Donoho, is organizing the inaugural Analytics on Ice: The Long Change, a one-day conference exploring numbers and hockey. The event will take place Oct. 1 at Babson.
Speakers include Michael Schuckers, professor of statistics at St. Lawrence University, and Rob Vollman, analyst and author of the Hockey Abstract. Registration, which opens later this month, will be capped at 150 positions. For more information, contact Cleary at email@example.com or Donoho at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleary’s vision is of a Babson-hosted conference to take place every other year. Such a schedule would complement that of the New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports, which has been held, starting in 2007, every odd year at Harvard. Aside from the panel session, Analytics on Ice will include paper submissions and poster abstracts to stimulate thinking about the game.
“What’s appealing about hockey right now is there’s still a lot going on in the public domain,” Cleary said. “Academics are a little ahead of franchises. With baseball and basketball now, one of my former students works for the Houston Rockets. They have a staff of programmers. I can’t do what they do anymore. In hockey, academics are still competitive.”
Cleary cites movements in other sports as proof of their acceptance of analytics. Baseball, long at the vanguard of number-crunching, frowns upon sacrifice bunts. Football coaches are going for it more on fourth down than punting. Launching 3-pointers has become standard operating procedure in basketball.
So far, other than some coaches waving their goalies off earlier for extra skaters, analytics-promoted change has been harder to identify in hockey. Not knowing what innovations are coming is part of what makes the analytics process appeal to Cleary.
“In hockey, I’m not sure what it will be unless it’s the goalies coming out earlier,” Cleary said. “Maybe it’s something in player evaluation. It’s a fun thing as a fan to see what changes on the ice.”
Cleary hopes the conference appeals to hockey fans like Donoho with aspirations of working in hockey. Academics with non-hockey backgrounds who have been hired by NHL teams include Brian Macdonald (Florida), Andrew Thomas (Minnesota), and Sam Ventura (Pittsburgh).
But Cleary also believes the conference could be a tool for fellow teachers. Undergraduate eyes can droop in traditional statistics lectures. Those same eyes open wide when professors present the same content using more creative teaching techniques. When the degree of engagement goes up, so does the level of learning, which manifests when students start sending out résumés.
“If somebody’s written a hard theoretical dissertation as an undergrad in math and gets a job interview, it’s hard to tell people about sets and groups,” Cleary said. “But if they go out and say how much they’ve discounted the estimated save percentage for the season for a goalie who starts out red-hot earlier in the year, there’s a good chance the person who’s doing the interview will be interested.”
Sullivan enjoys short vacation
Mike Sullivan’s work year concluded on June 12 in the best way: with the Stanley Cup over his head. That his season went as long as possible, however, has not left the Penguins coach with much time to rest and prepare for 2016-17.
“This is the shortest summer I’ve had in pro hockey,” said the Marshfield native. “But I certainly wouldn’t trade anything.”
Coaches, like players, require unplugging to flush the previous season’s acid from their muscles. The summer is an important time for coaches like Sullivan not just to get away but also perform deep thinking. During the season, few windows exist for coaches to let their minds drift and think creatively about all the components that make up their profession: motivating their teams, communicating with players, and dreaming up on-ice improvements for their charges to practice in training camp.
It’s especially challenging for Sullivan considering the circumstances. Less than two weeks after winning the championship, Sullivan attended the NHL Draft in Buffalo. He monitored the team’s annual development camp from June 29 to July 2. He’s participated in meetings with his staff about camp and regular-season preparation. By Sept. 3, Sullivan will be in Columbus as part of Team USA’s coaching staff for the World Cup.
And like all coaches, Sullivan does not find it easy to turn off the hockey part of his brain.
“The hardest part about being a coach is you’re always worried about the next challenge,” Sullivan said. “It never turns off. We’ve already had significant meetings about training camp, personnel, where do we go from here, how do we challenge this group to repeat. It’s a very difficult task, and the history of the league just shows it. We know the challenges we’re faced with moving forward. It’s going to be our responsibility to meet those challenges the best way we know how and try to inspire this group so we can hopefully compete for the Stanley Cup championship again.”
In some ways, chasing the Cup will be harder for the Penguins in 2016-17 than it was last year. Playing until mid-June pounds legs into dust. Six players (Sidney Crosby, Olli Maatta, Matt Murray, Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, and Patric Hornqvist) will participate in the World Cup. Motivating players to climb the mountain again is not a simple task.
But most of the championship roster is returning. Young players such as Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl will be fighting for more shifts. Sullivan, who brought the Cup home on Wednesday, would not mind another short summer.
One of the achievements Sullivan found most satisfying wasn’t winning the Cup. There was a time when playoff entry for the Penguins was no guarantee. They were out of the top eight when Sullivan earned his promotion from the AHL on Dec. 12, 2015. Three months later, when Malkin would miss the rest of the regular season because of an elbow injury, it was possible that the No. 2 center had played his final game of the year. So for Sullivan, solving the problem of postseason qualification was, in hindsight, a feat that made the run to come even more rewarding. “Every team has its challenges,” Sullivan said. “Coaches are at the forefront of trying to offer the solutions or steer the team in the right direction. That’s one of the most fulfilling parts of coaching – trying to overcome the challenges, lead the team the right way, and inspire the group a certain way so that players can be at their best and the team can be at its best.”
Different approaches to expansion
In a little over 10 months, 30 teams will have to file their protected lists for the 2017 expansion draft, which the Las Vegas franchise will use to help assemble its roster. Part of the trick will be for teams to determine whether to choose Option A (seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie) or Option B (eight total skaters, one goalie). Under Option A, teams can declare 11 players off limits compared to nine in Option B. But Option A is no good for clubs stacked on defense, such as Nashville: P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis being the Predators’ top-four unit. Las Vegas GM George McPhee can only dream of snatching one of those four. So while Option A would be the more preferable avenue for a team like the Bruins (Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Colin Miller being the likely three), other clubs will go with protecting fewer players, just as long as they make the right ones untouchable.
Barrie settles post-hearing
The arbitration season concluded July 29 when arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier heard the case of Tyson Barrie and the Avalanche. It was the lone hearing of the 25 scheduled to take place. Neumeier did not issue a judgment because Barrie agreed to a four-year, $22 million extension after the hearing. Barrie will earn a shade more than Krug (four years, $21 million). Locking up Barrie long term was Colorado’s final piece of business. The Avalanche have less than $1 million of space below the $73 million ceiling, according to General Fanager, despite picking up two bargains in Joe Colborne ($2.5 million annually) and Patrick Wiercioch ($800,000). Both Colborne (Calgary) and Wiercioch (Ottawa) became available after their previous teams declined to issue them qualifying offers.
Vermette a depth option
Even if he has to accept a tryout invitation, Antoine Vermette’s time in the NHL is not likely to be over. Vermette, 34, became unrestricted property on Monday when Arizona bought out the one remaining year of his contract ($3.75 million annually). The Coyotes were able to exercise the buyout in the NHL’s second window because they had scheduled an arbitration hearing with Michael Stone. Vermette scored 17 goals and 21 assists in 76 games last season. The left-shot Vermette could be a third- or fourth-line center at a reduced price.
Scouts gathered in Plymouth, Mich., for USA Hockey’s annual National Junior Evaluation Camp, which concluded on Saturday. Most of the watchers will now travel to Czech Republic and Slovakia for viewings of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, which features some of the world’s best under-18 (and thus draft-eligible for 2017) players. Two Massachusetts players will be on the American roster: defenseman Ben Mirageas (Newburyport) and goalie Keith Petruzzelli (Wilbraham). The tournament runs from Monday through next Saturday . . . The Penguins hired Chris Taylor and J.D. Forrest on Tuesday to serve as Clark Donatelli’s assistants in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, their AHL affiliate. Both coaches have ties to Boston. Taylor played 37 games for the Bruins in 1998-99. He is the younger brother of ex-Bruin Tim Taylor. Forrest was a four-year defenseman at Boston College. Taylor was most recently an assistant in Rochester. Forrest coached in Austria last year.
If there are still concerns about water quality at the Olympics, it is not too late for a shipment of melted TD Garden ice to make its way south. It served the Bruins quite well five years ago.
Another batch of NHL season awards have been issued, and seven active franchises remain without a Hart (league MVP), Vezina (top goaltender), or Norris (best defenseman) trophy. They’ve all come close, except for the Jets/Thrashers franchise, which has zero top-five finishes and has never even received a vote for the Vezina.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.