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Penguins’ analytic department takes hit with loss of departing Sam Ventura

The Pens’ top analytic guy has taken a job with the Buffalo Sabres

2020 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Ryan Yorgen/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins took an off-season hit today within the organization, as it was announced that Sam Ventura has left the team to join the Buffalo Sabres.

That’s no accident or coincidence, as Buffalo has recently hired former Penguin front office member Jason Karmanos to work with the Sabres.

Ventura joined the Pens in 2015. He has made his way up the ranks in the front office in a variety of roles, first as a consultant before being promoted to a newly created role as director of analytics and hockey research in 2017. Ventura was promoted a second time to director of hockey operations and hockey research in 2020.

That’s an official title and description, but the areas in which Ventura worked were all over the map. In the picture above, for instance, Ventura and Erik Heasley (manager, hockey operations) are working the phones during the 2020 NHL entry draft.

The Pens now have one of the smaller analytic/research/data departments in the league with the departure of Ventura.

This doesn’t feel very comforting to lose a front office member with a Ph. D in statistics from a place like Carnegie Mellon, but often in time folks take new jobs and move along. Ventura being named a VP of the Sabres is another step up the ladder for him, so good for him.

Ventura has been working for the Pens when they’ve made some roster decisions with terrible analytics behind them (signing of Jack Johnson to a five year deal, acquiring Erik Gubrandson, etc etc), so it isn’t as if his mere presence alone improves a manager’s every move.

But the loss will still be felt, and ideally will be addressed by the Pens to bolster what is a big, big hit to that department.

Ventura’s latest reported duties was helping to manage towards the salary cap, and he helped with a truly remarkable season in that regard in 2020. In moves big and small, the Pens found TONS of ways to save money, whether it was including AAAA defensemen David Warsofsky and his down-side guarantee, trading Nick Bjugstad and retaining 50% instead of buying him out, acquiring players like Kasperi Kapanen and Mike Matheson, who via bonuses paid by other teams (Kapanen) or having back-loaded contracts (Matheson) enabled the Pens to not spend a lot of real money in 2020-21.

Pittsburgh was near the upper limit of the salary cap, but their actual expenditures were lessened. Given financial realities of not being able to sell as many tickets as normal, that was a welcome and needed development.

With Ventura taking that sort of wizardry and knowledge to Buffalo, the Pens are lesser now than they were. In some ways this could be seen as simply more fall-out as the organization still continues to shift and reset itself due to the Jim Rutherford resignation and switches gears into the Ron Hextall era. But now the onus will be on Hextall to hopefully look to reload his front office with another smart analytical voice.