SFU alum crunches the numbers to give Seattle Kraken an edge
VANCOUVER -- Dani Chu has put his friends on notice. Their time as Canucks fans is numbered, he warns.
As one of the latest additions to the NHL's 32nd team, Chu expects his friends to jump ship and join him in the sea of fandom cheering for the Seattle Kraken.
You won't see Chu on the ice for the NHL expansion franchise, but the team's quantitative analyst will have an enormous influence on the players who do make the roster.
The Simon Fraser University alum uses sports analytics to assess hockey talent and appraise overlooked —or overblown —potential.
"On the pro-player evaluation, this helps us evaluate who we think is good defensively, who we think is good offensively and adding a numbers approach," said Chu, pointing out the stats can either back up what a scout sees or put it into doubt.
“We're not just using the eye test but looking across multiple games and multiple seasons to see how a player produces over that time span,” he said.
Analytics are a polarizing topic in the world of professional sports. Some athletes have complained that "super nerds" have more influence on the front office than performances in the field of play.
But the emerging discipline appears here to stay as teams look for every edge and constantly refine their methodologies.
With the Kraken, Chu is proud to have joined a talented team of fellow statisticians, mathematicians and data analysts. He got a taste for sports analytics at university while studying with SFU professor Luke Bornn, also the vice-president of strategy and analytics with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
Chu went on to earn a master's degree and led a sports analytics club at the university, a program the alum is still involved with.
Chu championed the Kraken's commitment to diversity, and the team is the first in the league to hire a Black full-time, play-by-play announcer.
Raised in Coquitlam, Chu had goals of becoming a high school math teacher and basketball coach. His passions have taken him to the top level of professional sport.
With Seattle, Chu's analysis will help the Kraken make its picks during the NHL expansion draft next summer. And his data will help establish what a player is worth.
"We can look at things like passes and zone entries and zone exits and the successfulness of those events with different players on the ice for different teams in different situations," he said, describing what many hockey fans might know in the most simple terms as driving the net or clearing the puck.
The Kraken will select one player from each of the other 31 teams in the league. Other clubs, including the Canucks, can protect a finite number of players, meaning they face hard choices of their own.
The process will follow the same rules as 2017 when the league’s previous expansion team picked its players with unprecedented success. In their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
Chu is circumspect about sharing specific details or individual player evaluations. Much of the data he draws from may be widely accessible, but his interpretation of it is not.
But one thing he knows for sure: his family and friends will soon be fans of the Kraken.
"All my friends have been told — you've got two years to cheer for the Canucks and get them a Cup and then you’ve got to switch over because if you're not switching over from the Canucks to the Kraken, there's going to be a problem," he said, laughing.
His hockey club, after all, already won at branding.
"I love the name, I love the logo," he said. "It's classic but intimidating and new at the same time."
Let the rivalry begin.