"I don’t want to be the GM,” said Meghan Chayka with a laugh. “I want to own the team. I want to be my boss. I want to build a billion-dollar company and own the team.”
Full disclosure: I baited Chayka into that answer. I asked her how she felt about her brother, John, being GM of the Arizona Coyotes, and whether she’d like to follow his path. His path? How ignorant of me. Meghan set me straight in a hurry. If she gets directly involved with an NHL team someday, she’ll be writing cheques and making people like her brother work for her. Joking nature of the conversation aside, it was a profound point. Not only does Chayka, 34, champion the idea that the business world, from the tech to the sports sectors, needs more women in powerful decision-making roles, but she already represents that. She’s the co-founder of Stathletes Inc., a burgeoning analytics company that has caught the attention of major leagues worldwide. She can’t disclose how many NHL teams are clients, but it’s a plural number, and teams everywhere from the NCAA to the CHL to the European pro circuits use Stathletes’ expertise.
What does the company, created by the Chaykas and Neil Lane, do exactly? The layperson’s understanding would be combining the two schools of scouting today, the old-school “eye test” and the “fancy stats” philosophy, into one analysis. It’s data-based, but the data is essentially recorded with, well, the eyes. Collecting footage from every camera stream available for a given game, Stathletes evaluates and tracks every type of touch or action a player performs, creating thousands of individual data points. Using its software, it can map precisely how an opponent performs breakouts, how long a player holds onto the puck, and so on. “We’re focusing on leveraging technology to collect the most accurate and efficient data set and then turn it into analytics and visualizations for use in hockey, whether you’re building a team, looking at trades, looking at drafts,” Chayka said. “It can be your eyes and ears on the ground for scouts, too, and not only does it not have the biases that come with the human brain, it can also can give you a better reflection of the entire picture.
“Sometimes teams’ operations are very focused on the next game, but there’s always more you can do to have that competitive advantage, so we try to take away some of that workload by having the data already collected and in visualizations that scouts can use as well, or GMs when they’re seeking to fill gaps on their team.”
When Toronto first hired Kyle Dubas in 2014, then as assistant GM, he told me hockey was decades behind sports such as baseball in analytics, and Stathletes represents the type of leap he foreshadowed.
Chayka specifically represents more than just technological innovation. She’s the company’s evangelist, the one who does the outreach and searches for new developer talent in the world of academia, the one who communicates with teams and agents and speaks at conferences on behalf of Stathletes. She’s the face. She’s the very thing she wants to inspire in other women. The Maple Leafs broke a barrier in the NHL by hiring Hayley Wickenheiser as assistant director of player development and Noelle Needham as an amateur scout but, as Chayka puts it, given how many jobs and resources the franchise has, why couldn’t it hire 40 women? She hopes to see that someday – and see the likes of Wickenheiser and Needham ascend to the elite positions. “I’m waiting for a team to put a woman in a higher role, to be honest, and really put it on the line that they have bought into gender balance and realize that’s an important growth metric for a lot of corporations,” Chayka said. “I was in a European country meeting with a league, and they actually have a law that you can’t have a board without a woman on it anymore. It’s amazing it’s come to that point. They realize there’s such an epidemic of women never sitting with the men, sitting with the decision-makers.”
There’s hope now that it’s going to change, and Chayka will be a major reason why. Why stop at co-founding the next big thing in hockey analytics? Here’s hoping she buys a team someday.