RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Eric Tulsky has always trusted his process of sorting through all kinds of data to solve problems.

It never mattered whether he was working with fluorescent nanoparticles, solar energy or on improving the energy capacity of a car battery.

Or the complexities of hockey, for that matter.

It’s been roughly a decade since he shifted from science to fully dive into the sport he loved by taking a job with the Carolina Hurricanes. And that’s brought him here: working as the new general manager for a perennial playoff team, one still trying to break through toward winning a Stanley Cup while facing a critical offseason with the official start of free agency looming Monday.

“This is a tough summer,” Tulsky said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We are going to lose some really good players. It’s hard to get through that and keep getting better. But I didn’t sign up for an easy job.”

Tulsky, 49, shed the interim title earlier this month as the permanent replacement after longtime GM Don Waddell left for Columbus. That capped what began as a part-time analyst job with the Hurricanes in 2014 to start a steady rise through the ranks in Raleigh, from analytics manager to vice president of hockey management and strategy, and eventually assistant GM.

Those were the latter steps in a fascinating and unconventional journey.

He’s a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. He conducted a two-year post-doctoral study at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., worked in the high-tech industry for a dozen years, led research teams and holds 27 U.S. patents.

He’s also a Philadelphia native who grew up as a Flyers fan, leading to the hobby of blogging and writing for websites on hockey and statistical analysis — which ultimately raised his profile and created his path to the NHL.

Still, it’s about way more than just numbers.

“It’s a very human business,” Tulsky said. “The perception that analytics produces a formula that spits out an answer and then you just do that, that’s just not reality. If that were true, there wouldn’t be anything separating one analyst from another. We’d all just have our formula.”

That explains Tulsky’s assessment of how those past experiences prepared him for and translate to this job, as well as the importance of being able to “blend the art and science.”

It’s about creating processes that are repeatable and reliable in avoiding an avoidable mistake. It’s taking chunks of data — hockey players rather than molecules or measurements — and synthesizing them into a decision. It’s about understanding how all the organizational layers are intertwined.

“I’m sure there are people who view this as being about analytics, but it’s really not,” Tulsky said. “It’s an executive leadership position. And that’s the job. The influence of analytics doesn’t change because of who’s leading the organization. It’s just a different person helping to put people in their position to be successful.”

Waddell, now GM and president of hockey operations with the Blue Jackets, saw that approach as Tulsky assisted in areas such as contract negotiations and salary cap compliance.

“Every time I went to Eric for anything, he didn’t just blurt out an answer,” Waddell said. “He’d say, ‘Let me research it and get back to you.’ Whatever he came back with, we knew it was going to be right on point with the metrics and the analytics and the contract proposals — all those things.

“I think people that pay attention will see pretty quickly that every move he makes is going to be well thought out,” Waddell added.

Tulsky’s history has shown nothing but.

He worked with fluorescent nanoparticles that could be used to identify cell defects or molecular DNA mutations. He worked toward creating a more efficient way to build solar panels. He worked on quantum-dot technology used in TV displays, then using nanoparticle tech to improve car batteries.

It was during that last job that the NHL beckoned him inside.

He’d return home from a 12-hour day — exacerbated by the California traffic while driving from Berkeley to work in San Jose about 45 miles away — and then stay up late after his wife and son went to bed to put together game and league reports for the Hurricanes.

It didn’t take long before he realized the hours were too much, leading the team to offer him a full-time shot to keep at it.

“Ultimately a friend of mine told me: ‘Look, you can go do this for a year or two and come back to chemistry if it doesn’t work,'” Tulsky said. “‘There’s no chance when you’re 60 years old, you’re looking back on your life and saying, ‘Man, I wish I had taken that tech job.’ He was right.”

Tulsky’s promotion marks a significant change for Carolina considering the well-connected Waddell had worked as president since the summer of 2014 and general manager since May 2018.

From the latter, the Hurricanes went on to reach the playoffs six straight years and win at least one series each time, including Eastern Conference final trips in 2019 and 2023.

Yet the infrastructure around Tulsky remains largely intact, from assistant general manager Darren Yorke to former Hurricanes Cup-winning captain Rod Brind’Amour signing an extension in May to stay on as coach.

“Nothing has dropped from an organizational perspective, whether it was Eric as the interim or now Eric as the full timer,” Yorke said. “Our organization is in strong hands. We’re ready to deal with whatever challenges that any offseason brings.”

And there are plenty.

The NHL draft begins Friday in Las Vegas. There’s free agency, highlighted by trade-deadline acquisition Jake Guentzel, as well as defensemen Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce, set to become unrestricted free agents as of Monday.

Decisions loom on young talents such as forwards Seth Jarvis and Martin Necas as restricted free agents, or top-pairing defenseman Jaccob Slavin being eligible for an extension.

For Tulsky, the process remains: work the problem until there’s an answer, just as he’s always done.

“I am a very even-keeled person, just by nature. I don’t get stressed easily,” Tulsky said. “I get excited when things go well, but when things aren’t going well, I just have the confidence that it’s going to work itself out one way or another. And so far, it always has for me.”


AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl