Days after adding a stats-focused junior hockey general manager to their upper management team, the Toronto Maple Leafs are making another leap into analytics by firing their entire scouting staff and leaving the job up to a massive computer.
The computer, officially titled the Statistical Intelligence Transaction Terminal for Leafs Enhancement and Reexamination (codename: S.I.T.T.L.E.R), will gather advanced data on professional, amateur, senior and off-the-grid hockey players from over 100 countries across the world, analyze it in milliseconds and determine which players the Leafs should pursue acquiring. To make room for S.I.T.T.L.E.R, the Leafs let go of their 24 full-time scouts and set up the high-tech machine in the office formerly used by fired assistant GMs Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle.
"Welcome to the future of the NHL," said Kyle Dubas, S.I.T.T.L.E.R's architect and the Leafs' new 28 year-old assistant general manager. "Tracking stats like Corsi, Fenwick and zone entries by hand, entering them into spreadsheets and looking at the results was just the beginning. With S.I.T.T.L.E.R, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have instantaneous access to perfect data that we will use to make all of our player acquisitions.
"This operating system will finally and absolutely eliminate the need for anyone to watch a live hockey game or a talk to a player ever again. It's everything the hockey analytics community has ever dreamed of."
Dubas would not divulge where S.I.T.T.L.E.R will get its data from or what would be tracked, but he did confirm that no humans would be present in its collection, opening the possibility for remote cameras, listening devices and drones to be used by the Leafs in the next few years.
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With the hiring of Dubas, who had received kudos for his statistics-based approach while with the OHL's Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, and the installation of S.I.T.T.L.E.R, the Maple Leafs have completely transformed from one of the NHL's most traditional teams to one of its most progressive, practically overnight.
Just months ago, the Leafs were still predictable in their perpetual pursuit of an ideal hockey player archetype - big, tough, gritty skaters who fight, hit and score goals, and who preferably hail from suburbs and towns in and around the Greater Toronto Area. This is the thinking that lead them to acquire players such as oft-injured center Dave Bolland (since let go as a free agent) and forward David Clarkson, whose 7-year, $36.75 million contract doesn't come close to matching his meager output in his first year as a Leaf: five goals and 11 points. Toronto missed the playoffs last season, and have only qualified once in the past nine years.
But thanks to S.I.T.T.L.E.R and Dubas, those days are over.
"Toronto is the perfect team for this initiative," Dubas said. "We have the resources, the money and the popularity to make this kind of bold statement. I have no doubt that once the Leafs rely only on a set of cold, scientific, arithmetical data points to choose their players, the fans will embrace this new approach religiously.
"It's only a matter of time before the fans stop watching the games and start reading S.I.T.T.L.E.R's spreadsheets."
The tide may already be turning, as several of the staunchest opponents to hockey's recent wave of analytics use - and, ironically, two of Toronto's loudest media voices - have already accepted S.I.T.T.L.E.R as part of the Maple Leafs' family.
"If people paint this move as analytics only, they are inaccurate," said Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons in a tweet shortly after the announcement. "S.I.T.T.L.E.R was installed because it is a keen hockey computer and stats machine: A rare double."
Simmons later added that he heard S.I.T.T.L.E.R is a real "rink rat" and craves the spotlight of Toronto.
"I don't know about all these computer and internets and junk, but they showed me that S.I.T.T.L.E.R. thing and it's a real beauty," said commentator Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada. "And they tell me it was built right here in Ontario! That tells me right there that this machine is good and everything like that. So I says 'let's go.'"
This is satire. It is not real. The Leafs have not fired their scouts and may or may not have any actual computers in their offices right now.