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The Penguins loss is the Sabres gain in Sam Ventura

July 6, 2021, 12:28 PM ET [39 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Yesterday, the news broke Pittsburgh’s director of hockey operations and research is moving on. Sam Ventura, one of the co-founders of the hugely influential War on Ice, was among the first waves of analytic hires which have become normalized around the league.

Sam was hired six years ago and the landscape has dramatically changed since his hire. All teams have analytic departments. Some value them more than others

Ventura leaves the Penguins with two Stanley Cup rings on his resume. We are starting to see folks with analytic backgrounds with more Cup rings than those with a more traditional background in front offices.

Ventura will take his growing skillset to a Buffalo Sabres franchise who desperately needs to break away from the same old same old which has given them literally no success in the Pegula era. Those skills include data analysis (and ability to build data infrastructure), player development, scouting, and contract negotiations among others. Ventura will potentially get a situation where his skills could be more put to use. Nobody was mistaking Jim Rutherford for being a progressive thinking general manager before, but certainly not after he intentionally dismantled the speed/skill approach which netted Penguins back-to-back Cups to go chase grit and size because Tom Wilson. A decision who’s ripple effects have effectively neutered the final years of the Crosby/Malkin era. While people on the outside looking in can’t know for sure how valued analytics were to Rutherford we also saw obvious missteps like Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson, Ryan Reaves, Mark Jankowski, and Colton Sceviour come to pass. These were easy things to dismiss using a rudimentary application of data-based analysis, especially with Johnson who became the first player bought out by the Penguins only two years into a five year deal.

It was Jason Karmanos, not Rutherford, who hired Ventura way back in 2015. It is Karmanos who once again is hiring Ventura to work in Buffalo. It is clear Karmanos values Ventura’s skillset and abilities. Rutherford and Karmanos had a falling out which led to Karmanos’ firing. I don’t believe it was ever revealed why the dismissal happened. I suppose a rift on analytics or perception on how the team should move forward is as plausible as any other reason.

The Penguins gave Jim Rutherford full autonomy to operate however Jim Rutherford wanted. The current Penguins have a power share at the top with Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. Burke of course famously dismissing analytics during an analytic event he was hosting “it’s a lot like a lamppost to a drunk. Great for support, but not for illumination.”

Given the fact the Penguins have a two-headed monster in the front office the ability for others to move up the ladder seems limited or non-existent at the moment. Ventura’s profile is growing. The Sabres look like they have a situation with more room to breathe for people underneath the still very green Kevyn Adams. Ventura has been given a promotion and likely more of a voice with his move to the Sabres.

Saying Ventura will have to hit the ground running is an understatement. He will have to hit the ground running the 100 meter dash like Usain Bolt. The Sabres are currently trying to navigate a landscape where they are trading their franchise player in Jack Eichel, trading another star in Sam Reinhart, and trying to figure out to do with a #1 draft pick in a draft where there really isn’t a generational talent at the top. Oh, and the timeline for doing the lion’s share of the work is less than a month. Good luck, Sam!

I believe the Penguins loss will be the Sabres gain. Sam Ventura is incredibly well regarded and has a diverse toolbox of skills to be applied in a modernized hockey front office. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for his endeavors in Western New York.

Thanks for reading!
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