Colorado Avalanche Changing Philosophy to an Analytical Approach

Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic fans waves to the crowd before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic fans waves to the crowd before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche have made a lot of changes during this summer’s offseason, but perhaps none more important than their adoption of analytics to a larger capacity.

There have been a lot of shocking developments in Colorado Avalanche territory this offseason, with the resignation of Patrick Roy and the subsequent hiring of Jared Bednar topping that list.

However, according to BSN Denver, the Colorado Avalanche have just made two more hirings that could greatly impact the direction of the team moving forward.

Those two hirings are names that Colorado Avalanche fans have probably never heard — Zac Urback and Arik Parnass —  but the two are both well versed in the analytics community.

Under the tutelage of Patrick Roy, the Colorado Avalanche did not pay much heed to advanced stats, and the increasing move to analytics in the realm of hockey.

However, now that Jared Bednar has taken the helm, and Chris McFarland is more involved in management decisions, analytics seem to be informing a lot of the decisions management is making.

Indeed, analytics can be pointed to when assessing the most recent NHL draft for the Avs.

Who are Zac Urback and Arik Parnass?

Both individuals are well known in the analytics community — although I’d never heard of them — and their hirings should help the Avalanche address a few weaknesses.

Arik Parnass has done most of his work analyzing the special teams units of NHL teams, and how those units can be improved through the use of analytics. For more about him read this, and for some information about the type of analytics he uses, read this. Finally, if you want a long read on how he feels about the addition of analytics in hockey, then read this piece published on by him.

According to BSN Denver, Parnass has been hired in a full-time capacity, which is actually pretty cool considering he listed that as one of his aspirations in the section that I linked to about him.

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Zac Urback, on the other hand, was hired as a consultant, again according to BSN Denver. Nonetheless, his influence can be felt in the way the team drafted players in the most recent NHL draft.

There’s not much on the Internet about Zac Urback, but if you’re looking for information on the type of analytics he uses, then read this piece.

You see, I’m not going to pretend to understand how these two smart gentlemen are using their stats to analyze play, I’m instead going to link to their articles and let you guys sort that out for yourselves.

I am not well informed on analytics, but I can say that this shift in philosophical direction for the Avalanche may well point to success for the team.

How Will Analytics Help the Colorado Avalanche?

Hiring individuals who are motivated by analytics has not always resulted in immediate success for the team’s hiring those individuals.

Here’s a great article detailing the nature of hirings based on analytics, and how that may or may not contribute to the success of a team.

It’s not really clear whether or not those hirings have benefited the teams. What is clear is that analytics hirings are often moves made solely for public relations, and utilization of analytic staff has to be taken into account. What is also clear when reading about hirings based on analytics is that there are a lot more of them happening. And, a lot more of them happening in key positions within a team’s front office.

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Moreover, it’s clear that success is bound in analytics by going off of the most simple representation of these metrics: the top eight teams in the league who generated more shot attempts blocked or unblocked than their opponents made the playoffs. And, all teams in the bottom eight of that category missed the playoffs.

So, if the Avalanche made these hirings in the spirit of actually incorporating these hirings into their team structure then it would follow that these hirings will help the team approach the game from a more modern viewpoint.

Will the Avalanche be Better This Season in Advanced Stats?

Obviously this question will have to wait until at least halfway through the season. But, after bottoming out in advanced stats over the past three years, Avalanche fans have to wonder if the team will improve.

Improvement is obviously going to come down to a lot of factors like: the systemic nature associated with team structure, how capable the coach is in conveying his message through voice, and how invested the players are in the voice and systems that are preached through that voice.

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Nonetheless, with the recent upheaval in the front office, as well as hirings that seem to be focused on the modern aspects of the game, you can only hope that the Avalanche improve in advanced stats this season.


In the end, I am ecstatic that the Avalanche seem to be paying attention to advanced stats because ever since Joe Sacco the Avalanche have seemed behind the game in that regard.

Still, there is certainly a level of cautious optimism associated with the most recent hirings.

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Just like cheese isn’t the whole pizza — unless you’re into mundane existences — advanced stats don’t represent all the necessities of a successful hockey team.

You have to have other toppings like: a motivated head coach, team chemistry, and skilled players in order to make the whole thing come together.

Sure, the sauce is the base and is ultimately what decides what sort of direction the pizza is going to take. But, if a pizza were only made up of sauce then it would certainly lack a lot of other essential ingredients.

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In other words, having a team based entirely off of structure is not going to give a team direction, because a team must use its other facets in order to execute that direction.

As much as these new hirings point to a direction for the Colorado Avalanche, the players still need to be invested in that direction, and the man that is going to preach that direction.

Hopefully Avalanche fans will have a full pizza of a team when October 15 hits the oven.