The NHL Data Revolution Is Coming

During the Board of Governors meetings last week Gary Bettman brought up how the NHL is working on tracking players and equipment while on the ice, and hopes to have the technology in place by 2019.  This will open up the door for a true statistical revolution in hockey.  While the perfect technology does not currently exist, the NHL believes it is close.  They worked with similar products during the 2016 World Cup, in addition to the 2015 All Star Game.  They plan on continuing these experiments at league events such as the 2018 All Star Game.  The Players Association may be a roadblock in implementing this technology as well.  Elliotte Friedman from SportsNet reports that players are worried that it will negatively affect them when it comes to contract time.  With every move a player makes being tracked it could make its way onto the bargaining table.

This would be a great thing for the league when it gets done.  Hockey is currently behind other sports like baseball when it comes to using stats for determining value of players and teams.  Hockey is in a state where most fans and executives understand that goals, assists, shots (Goals against, save percentage) and even plus/minus are too simplistic and flawed to truly tell the story of what is going on in the game.  Out of these stats such as Corsi and Fenwick were created to try and close the informational gap.  These stats look to which teams possess the puck and how each individual effect puck possession.  They work better for determining team possession than how each player effects possession.  Corsi and Fenwick attempt to tell more of the story than plus/minus but it is time for something bigger.

This is where the tracking technology will be beneficial for the NHL. This tracking system will create a product similar to Statcast which is used in Major League Baseball.  Statcast calculates everything that happens on a given play.  In a hockey sense it will measure where every shot was taken from, how hard every shot is, how fast each player is skating, and every player positioning during critical moments of every game.  This is truly the statistical revolution that the NHL needs. It will allow teams to build in a way that is more logical than ever before.  It will also allow players to improve themselves to make the games better, by giving them the information needed to make adjustments.  Statcast has actually made baseball easier to understand now that fans have access to raw data.  Hockey fans may not understand Corsi but they will understand who usually shots the puck the hardest or skates the fastest in a game.  This system will break the game down into simple pieces of data that is easy for everyone to understand.

Whether people like it or not data is used to make nearly every major decision both inside and outside the game.  Very few major companies make decisions based upon gut feeling.  Why would a hockey franchise be any different?  With technology growing of course the accumulation of data and processing it into new statistics is going to be a part of the game going forward.  We already see the NHL adopting some of these stats such as Corsi and Fenwick.  This is leading to a Statcast like system for the NHL.  I’m personally excited about what will come out of this (as well as having some of my own ideas what should).  The possibilities are endless, and this should help make the games more enjoyable for everyone.

About Ryan Welsh

Old enough to remember Pierre Turgeon but not old enough to remember Bryan Trottier.

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