Analytics expert joins Penguins' front-office staff

When he was named Penguins general manager a week ago, Jim Rutherford kept a large stable of holdover staff members but said he still wanted to hire an analytics expert.

He found that, and apparently more, in Jason Karmanos, who was named as vice president of hockey operations Thursday. Karmanos will assist Rutherford in many aspects, but of immediate concern is analytics.

Karmanos, 40, worked with Rutherford in Carolina for 15 seasons before he was fired in September by his father, Peter, the Hurricanes majority owner. Jason Karmanos shares a vision with his new/old boss, Rutherford, when it comes to incorporating advanced statistics into all areas of the team’s operations.

The younger Karmanos doesn’t consider analytics to be “a magic bullet,” because a human element still is crucial in evaluating players and situations, but he and Rutherford want to infuse analytics “consistently through the organization,” Karmanos said.

Certain elements of the evolving field of hockey analytics might suit the members of management or the scouting staff, and others might suit the needs of the coaching staff, which would have more of a need to use them on the fly.

That would seem to indicate that the Penguins are looking for a coach who is comfortable with analytics as part of his repertoire.

Rutherford, in his first act as general manager, fired Dan Bylsma after five-plus seasons as coach. Rutherford has said he hopes to hire a coach before free agency July 1.

Analytics could even be used to help orchestrate things such as line combinations. Karmanos said analytics can be used to help evaluate “synergies between players.”

Karmanos declined to delve into further details about how the Penguins might use analytics. He didn’t reference buzz words associated with hockey analytics such as the Corsi rating or the Fenwick statistic.

One area in which advanced statistics won’t come into play much is the draft later this month because, Karmanos said, that data isn’t really available at the amateur level, although he believes it will be in years to come.

Karmanos said while the Penguins will expand use of advanced stats, they aren’t considering an overall “culture change.” The team already was using analytics under former general manager Ray Shero, and Karmanos pointed out that director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon used analytics extensively.

MacKinnon is one of several holdovers from Shero’s staff. Although the scouting staff is expected to be evaluated after the draft later this month, Karmanos is part of a burgeoning management group under Rutherford.

Jason Botterill, formerly the assistant general manager and the interim general manager for three weeks before Rutherford was hired, now is the associate general manager. Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin were promoted to assistant general managers.

Rutherford, 65, said he expects to be on the job only “two or three years,” with his successor perhaps coming from within the organization.

That could put Karmanos in competition with Botterill, Fitzgerald and Guerin — all are between 38 and 45 and seemingly upwardly mobile — but apparently it will be a productive proving ground.

“It’s the way that the league is going,” Karmanos said. “The business of the game has changed. More people are needed. There’s more than enough work to split up.”

Karmanos played four years of college hockey at Harvard — he overlapped one season with Penguins winger Craig Adams — but retired after one year of lower-level pro hockey because of an eye injury.

He spent this past season enjoying time with his family — he has four daughters, ages 2-11 — and, since about the winter holidays, pondering how he would get back into the field of hockey management.

Karmanos served as assistant general manager, vice president and executive director of hockey operations in his 15 years with Rutherford and the Hurricanes before he was abruptly fired by his father shortly before training camp last year.

Everyone involved insisted it was not because of any mistakes or shortcomings on the job.

Peter Karmanos at the time called it “a family matter.”

Jason Karmanos reiterated that Thursday.

“I was fired by my dad for reasons that had nothing to do with job performance,” he said. “It was disappointing on so many levels. I feel very grateful to Jim for the opportunity [with the Penguins].

“I’m looking forward to working in an organization where I’m not known as the owner’s son.”

Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721.

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