John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

New Pens GM will rely on things hockey people don’t see

New Pens GM big on analytics

June 7, 2014

This is something that needs to be analyzed.

The “this” in this case is the play of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their new general manager, Jim Rutherford, said at his introductory news conference that he plans to use advanced stats more than his predecessor, Ray Shero, when evaluating the performance of the team.

Analytics or advanced stats have been used by the Penguins to evaluate players they might be interested in acquiring, including James Neal. Rutherford, however, gave the impression they weren’t used nearly enough by Shero. He said advanced stats can tell you things that, “Your hockey people don‘t see.”

So Rutherford and his staff will be putting Fenwick and Corsi to work. Those aren’t people. They are terms used to measure puck possession and shots on goal. The higher your Corsi For percentage (CF%), the better.

Sidney Crosby is still leading all players in this postseason with a CF% of 61.6. Rutherford will look at those and other numbers that might give the average fan a headache, along with lots of video, to determine why Crosby only had one goal and the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs.

He said he’ll also be looking for a coach who can do better than former coach Dan Bylsma at adjusting to certain teams.

It would have been a lot better for the talk show business if the Penguins hired NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, who interviewed twice for the general manager position. And hiring a 65-year-old GM who was recently kicked upstairs wasn’t the sexiest move, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as trading one failed general manager for another.

Rutherford obviously knows the game, knows his way around the NHL and can hit the ground running. There won’t be any on-the-job training that would have been needed if one of the many assisitant GM candidates had been hired. Sometimes when a team needs a shakeup, which the Penguins need, a different pair of eyes doing the evaluating can result in major change.

And, if it means anything, Rutherford is widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in hockey.

• The University of North Carolina should either sue Rashaad McCants or fire men’s basketball coach Roy Williams.

McCants, who was the second-leading scorer on North Carolina’s 2005 national championship team, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” he was only kept academically eligible by bogus classes and tutors writing papers for him.

McCants said he made the dean’s list in the spring semester of 2005 with four As despite never going to a class. He benefited from the now famous “Paper Class” system at UNC. No need to show up for class. No tests. Just have someone write a paper for you and turn it in for an all-but-automatic A.”

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham dismissed McCants’ claims and said a former FBI agent was hired to conduct an investigation into academic and athletic irregularities.

McCants told ESPN that Williams was “100 percent aware” of the academic fraud. Williams vehemently denies any knowledge of it.

I don’t know about you, but, if I were a coach and somebody was making up stories that impugned my integrity, I’d be filing a lawsuit. And, if Cunningham thinks McCants is making all of this up, doesn’t he owe it to the university to sue him?

If he believes McCants, doesn’t he have to fire Williams?

I’m just going to take my usual guilty-until-proven-innocent approach when it comes to accusations of academic fraud in major college football and basketball.

Let me know if you hear someone is suing McCants. I’m not betting on it.

• It seems pretty obvious now that Dan Bylsma should have been fired after the meltdown against the Flyers in the 2012 playoffs.

• Only a moron would suggest someone could walk with a leg cramp, much less play basketball.

The trashing of LeBron James for leaving Game 1 of the NBA Finals early Thursday night is all you need to know about why athletes despise the media.

• There seems to be a lot of angst among Pirates fans and some in the media over the fact the Pirates used the 24th pick in the draft to take a player who was ranked 84th by Baseball America.

I’d like to see how Baseball America’s last five 24th ranked players are doing compared to its last five 84th ranked players. If I weren’t so busy, I would have looked it up.

• If I were Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, I would spend some time over the next three months trying to come up with an extensive package of plays that included LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield at the same time.

If he doesn’t think it’s possible to have two good running backs in the game at the same time, he should ask his 78-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau if he’s ever seen it done effectively.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.



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