For most people, the NHL Draft is when a year’s worth of scouting comes together to make in-depth predictions on players’ futures. But according to Peter Tingling, an associate professor in the Beedie School of Business, people in charge of these decisions do not always make the best ones.
“In terms of decision making, what I would say is that most teams are not very good at it, and what most teams talk about [doing], they don’t do,” Tingling told The Peak. “My research quite clearly states that this business about whether teams draft by position or best player available, it’s just nonsense.”
In particular, Tingling’s research on the Draft focused on ordinal ranking error. As an example, he mentioned the players picked by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2003 Draft, some of whom were key in the Blackhawks’ recent Stanley Cup wins, such as Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, and Dustin Byfuglien.
However, they were not picked in that order. While Seabrook and Crawford were picked first and second respectively, five players were picked by the Blackhawks before they eventually selected Byfuglien. According to Tingling’s research, ranking error would occur 28 percent of the time if you simply randomly selected players. The Vancouver Canucks have ranking error 38 percent of the time, while the Red Wings, widely considered one of the best drafting teams in recent memory, have ranking error 56 percent of the time.
Another aspect of Tingling’s research is the value of Draft picks. It likely comes as no surprise to learn that the most valuable pick to have is first overall. Over the last 30 years, all the first overall picks have played more than 160 games, and there is “statistical significance” within the first 30 picks, according to Tingling. However, there is no real statistical significance between late-second round picks and third round picks, and none between picks 120–210.
Tingling’s research has caught the attention of some NHL executives, and figures such as St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong have reached out to speak with the professor about his research.
“He [Armstrong] asked some incredibly insightful probing questions. [. . .] I sent him some of my research, he phoned me up, and one of his questions was ‘Talk to me about the inter-round variance.’ [. . .] This is not some guy who just knows arithmetic. This is a guy who is asking a pretty sophisticated question.”
Tingling’s upcoming research has him still focusing on the NHL, but this time looking at the relationship between front office movement and on-ice movement.
“Our research shows quite conclusively that [as] front office movement goes up, trading goes up. If I’m Vancouver, and I send one of my AGMs [Assistant General Manager] to Florida, then you’d expect there to be more trades, because we know each other.
“What’s interesting is that what we find that the more you trade [with a particular team], the more likely you are to go to that team, so there’s a bit of a circular relationship.”