Analytics are “a very useful tool” for Panthers’ new head coach Bob Boughner

Photo by: Charles Trainor Jr.

The Panthers introduced Bob Boughner as the 15th head coach in franchise history on Monday, and he’s taken the past few days to make the rounds in the media and let everyone know what he’s all about. 

The 46-year old spent 10 seasons in the NHL with 6 different teams and brings a wealth of experience with young players as a coach, executive, and owner of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.

Boughner served as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2010-11 season and ran the San Jose Sharks’ defense for the past two years as their assistant coach.

Some of his achievements include back-to-back OHL championships and Memorial Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, back-to-back OHL and CHL ‘Coach of the Year’ awards in 2008 and 2009, and a gold medal with Canada’s Under-18 team in 2009.

He impressed Dale Tallon and the rest of the Panthers’ management team with his preparation and knowledge when they interviewed him a few weeks ago in a Raleigh, North Carolina airport conference room.

It was also in Raleigh where the Panthers fired Gerard Gallant on November 27th following a 2nd-period collapse to the Carolina Hurricanes and an apparent “philosophical divide” between him and the rest of the organization.

Over the past several years, the Panthers have moved towards incorporating analytics into their decision-making process, whether it’s for on-ice matchups, the entry draft, or player signings and acquisitions.

Analysts and fans have argued back and forth for years on the utility of advanced stats, which are often used to visualize things like scoring chances and shot attempt rates.

Things reached a fever pitch within the Panthers’ own fanbase when favorites Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, among others, were traded last off-season in favor of players who considered favorable by the analytics community.

The Panthers went on to miss the playoffs and experience a 22-point drop in the standings after a franchise-best 103-point campaign a year ago, leading many to point to their analytics movement as the cause.

Internally and publicly, Gallant expressed his distaste for analytics and his desire for more size and grit, and that’s part of what ultimately led to his firing, despite two successful seasons.

“I think it’s an important thing to do,” Gallant said in 2015 when discussing whether or not he pays attention to advanced stats. “Most of the information we receive, we already know about the information. […]

“One of our players was our top analytics guy, and I couldn’t stand watching him on the ice. Some of it is really good, but some of it you can’t get fooled by it either.”

He was also upset with the lack of physical players at his disposal following the off-season moves. Dylan McIlrath, a big, tough defenseman, was acquired from the Rangers in early-November, but Gallant kept him in the press box on most nights.

Tom Rowe, who replaced Gallant before being relieved of his coaching duties and moved to a special advisor role at the end of the season, was hardly any different.

At the time, he was billed as  more modern and willing to take analytics into account, while lineup decisions were supposed to be made on a more collaborative basis. That turned out to not be the case.

“Carolina is fourth in puck possession, we’re at the top of the 10 mark in puck possession,” said Rowe in March. “Well guess what? We’re fighting for our lives to get in the playoffs, Carolina is not gonna make the playoffs. It’s pretty simple.”

So, of course, Boughner was asked for his view of analytics several times over the past couple of days by various media outlets. For the most part, he offered a take similar to the coaches that came before him, but does to be more open-minded.

“I think analytics are a very useful tool,” said Boughner on Wednesday’s Joe Rose Show. “At the end of the day, and I told Dale this, the most important analytics are the wins and losses, that’s the numbers that count. I have a good gauge on if the team’s playing well and if they’re not.”

He was a bit more blunt when he spoke to 560 WQAM’s Marc Hochman and Channing Crowder on Monday.

“I don’t need a chart or a bar graph to [figure out if we’re playing good or bad],” said Boughner.  “I know when there’s adjustments to be made.

“I definitely will have a package on my desk every morning, look at certain things that I like and certain things that I don’t and throw the rest in the garbage I guess.”

Boughner stated that he “believes in [a] hard-nosed defense and making the opposing team pay the price when they’re in our end,” but sidestepped whether or not the current roster has the pieces necessary to play that style.

“We have a lot of talent on our team and I think we want to make sure that they’re allowed to play their game,” Boughner told 790 The Ticket. “The talented guys don’t have to worry about being pushed around physically.”

Boughner totaled 1,998 penalty minutes in 818 games played in the NHL and AHL combined, so it’s no surprise that he has an affinity for the tough, rugged style of play. And quite frankly, the Panthers could’ve use a bit of it last season.

But don’t let it all fool you.

Rocky Thompson, who is known as one of the more progressive and stat-friendly coaches in hockey, was hired by Boughner in 2015 to coach his Windsor Spitfires. Thompson led the Spitfires to a Memorial Cup last month and was recently hired by the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.

“Those old school coaches are sort of phasing out of the game,” said Boughner on 790 The Ticket.

Not only that, but Boughner conducted a presentation during his interview with the Panthers during which he discussed the team’s analytics.

“I talked about some of the analytics,” he said. “I talked about my philosophies, and then I talked to them about about X’s and O’s, things that I would change, things that I would do and how today’s game is going.”

Some would also say that Dale Tallon isn’t on board with analytics as much as other team executives, but even he admitted to being blown away by Boughner’s presentation.

“He came in prepared with [three] piles,” Tallon said at Monday’s press conference. “One was analytics, one was structure and the other was philosophy. It was about positional play, structure, attitude, who should play with whom, entry levels, everything.

“Bob Boughner here impressed us like no one else.”

Then there’s this simple quote from Boughner.

“The game has changed so much.”

Sure, he’ll have his line-up and playing style preferences, but what’s important is that he realizes that the game isn’t played the same way that it was years ago.

Players are faster, smarter, and more skilled. Winning takes more than big body checks and fights, and the fact that Boughner understands that the game has changed will make him a more effective coach, both on the ice and in the locker room.

There’s no telling how the coming season will go, but so far Boughner is saying all of the right things.

We can only hope he pushes the right buttons, too.

Wittchow Inked

The Panthers’ AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds announced on Tuesday that Ed Wittchow was signed to a 1-year, 1-way deal.

Wittchow, who turns 25 in October, split his first pro season with the Thunderbirds and the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs, putting up 13 points in 52 combined games.

The tough, 6’3″, 190-pound defensive defenseman was drafted by the Panthers in the 6th round of the 2011 Draft and will likely spend most of the year with the Thunderbirds this coming season.

For more on Wittchow’s season and the rest of the Panthers’ prospects, check out our prospect season review here.

McCabe Promoted

The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Bryan McCabe was promoted to Director of Player Personnel.

McCabe, 42, spent the past 4 years as the Panthers’ Director of Player Development after serving as a development coach during the 2012-13 season.

“We are pleased to announce Bryan’s new position as our club’s director of player personnel,” said Dale Tallon. “Bryan has excelled in helping develop our prospects both on and off the ice, with many of our young guys becoming core players during his time with the club. He has earned the opportunity to take on an expanded role within our day-to-day hockey operations.”

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