The Colorado Eagles announced last month that Greg Cronin, a former associate coach with the New York Islanders, will take the reigns for the teams inaugural season as the AHL affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche. Cronin’s refusal to adapt to the modern game — specifically the use of data analytics — has led to a sense of uncertainty among the fanbase. Although justified on many levels, the issue stems from an interview conducted five years ago and may ultimately be irrelevant to his job here in Colorado.
Prior to the start of the 2013 NHL season, Alec Brownscombe, founder of Maple Leafs Hot Stove, conducted a phone interview with Cronin while he was an assistant coach in Toronto. The two discussed everything from a disastrous series with the Boston Bruins to their improved penalty kill, but what stuck out the most were Cronin’s ancient views on data analytics.
When asked whether he believed the Maple Leafs had an issue maintaining possession — the numbers showing they did — Cronin responded “unequivocally” no. He also made it clear that in-house statistics were not being used. For members of the hockey world, this sent shivers down their spine. The use of big data has reshaped the way the game is played and failing to embrace it can leave a team behind and their fans frustrated.
I recently had a conversation with Namita Nandakumar, an analyst currently working with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL and a contributor at hockey-graphs.com, who was able to simplify the goal of analytics.
”Analytics in hockey player evaluation is largely concerned with the idea that it’s difficult to divide up and assign credit for goals,” described Nandakumar. “but we can use other metrics such as shot-based ones to see who are consistently doing the right things to drive play and ultimately scoring.”
Essentially, it allows teams to determine which positive outcomes are sustainable over an extended period of time and compare them with those that are not. Analytics — at least in its infancy — tends to be team heavy and not necessarily focused on individual player progression.
So why would the Avalanche, an organization that has shown its willingness to adapt, put their future stars in the hands of someone stuck in the past? Well, to be blunt, winning games isn’t the ultimate goal.
Cronin was hired to develop future stars
The American Hockey League is a tool to develop players and prepare them for careers in the NHL. A task that Cronin is well prepared for, having spent the majority of his coaching career in a development capacity.
The first eleven years were spent in the NCAA Division-1 ranks, including three years with Colorado College. He spent a season as Director of Player Development for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, was an assistant coach for Team USA in the World Juniors twice, and an assistant during the Ice Hockey World Championships four times.
Cronin has 32 years of coaching experience — at every level. He will be sharing the bench with Aaron Schneekloth and Ryan Tobler who just came off back-to-back ECHL titles and Ryan Bach, the long-time Eagles goalie coach, that is also returning. They have spent time with many of these players and will be key to the team’s success. It is a group of individuals that should provide solid results with player development regardless of the coaches views on analytics which may have changed in the last half-decade.
And if not?
Schneekloth and Tobler will have a couple AHL seasons under their belt and could very well be ready to take over. Overall, this was a solid decision by the front office.