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Globe and Mail’s Ebner: NHL preparing to adopt advanced player-tracking/advanced-stat technology

The Globe and Mail's David Ebner reports that NHL chief operating offer John Collins hopes to give the league a gentle but steady nudge into what I'd prefer to call "advances in player-tracking technologies" than adavanced stats (George here, by the way), for a simple reason:

The war between the "advanced stats" crowd and those who view Corsi and Fenwick numbers (among others) as nothing less than gobbledygook is incredibly counterproductive, and it screws up the fact that those who utilize advanced metrics have to get their heads around the concept that they need to give people a "cheat sheet" as to what the numbers mean--for the next three or four years--until people can wrap their heads around the concept that shot attempts and puck possession are part of the process of breaking down a game that is already micromanaged on a by-sight basis by the NHL's video coaches and "situation room."

This has turned into There's A Holy Grail vs. Camelot: It's A Silly Place, when hockey pundits, fans, coaches, etc., should remind each other and their readers, ticket-buyers and audience that there are simply different ways to interpret the game by eye, by collecting stats and by interpreting said stats, and that there is no "one way" that's "more enlightened" than the other.

Please get over yourselves and stop saying, "Well his PDO was blah blah and that indicates blah blah," or, "Who the hell cares what that means, I watched him play and he was good," and learn to live with each other.

Now, with that off my chest, here's Ebner:

As the NHL playoffs move toward the Stanley Cup finals, change is coming off the ice. The National Hockey League plans next fall to test new technology to track players in action and produce a vast new array of information – a boon to teams seeking competitive advantage and astute fans placing bar bets.

A league-wide system could be in place for the start of the 2015-16 season, according to John Collins, NHL chief operating officer.

Mr. Collins sees more than raw numbers. The figures can paint detailed pictures of the game and its players that can help the NHL market its product, complementing efforts such as the league’s reality show this season, NHL Revealed. “It’s about telling stories,” Mr. Collins said in an interview.

Hockey has slid gradually into the age of advanced analysis. About half of NHL teams gather and analyze a range of more sophisticated information on their players and opponents, such as a particular skater’s favourite scoring spot on the ice.

Such efforts are soon to become the norm. The NHL first has to decide which technologies to test, with Sportvision and SportVU, both Chicago-based, the leading contenders. The league aims to test one or more systems, starting this fall, with five to eight teams. One goal would be to integrate all the information with the league’s broadcasters.

“Hockey is next. The sport is ripe and ready for analysis,” said Brian Kopp, a senior vice-president at SportVU provider Stats LLC, which is owned by 21st Century Fox and Associated Press.

Ebner continues, and he suggests that the NHL's being "stubborn" about analytics.

I'd argue that the NHL, for once, is being smart in not simply buying into the first technology that's being "sold" to the league for the purpose of revealing some magical part of the game that the eyes cannot see on their own, and the point that the Brian Burkes of the world have been trying to make while coming off as cro-magnon men is in fact that there are a TON of companies out there trying to make a TON of money off of convincing teams from pee wee to pro levels that their statistical analyses are worth paying for because they pay off.

Not all of them are telling the truth, and when six and seven-digit asking prices are being thrown around, you've got to be skeptical. There's no shame in skepticism. There's shame in suggesting that probability and statistics are stupid simply because you don't like them (and I failed advanced probability 3 times in college).

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Just watched last night on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports about the NBA using this technology and was thinking the NHL should too.
http://www.sho.com/sho/60-minutes-sports/home

Posted by Puckbubba on 05/10/14 at 01:39 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Please get over yourselves and stop saying, “Well his PDO was blah blah and that indicates blah blah,” or, “Who the hell cares what that means, I watched him play and he was good,” and learn to live with each other.

I see only one problematic statement of those two, so asking people to get over themselves and stop saying both is disingenuous.

“Well his PDO was blah blah and that indicates blah blah” is an interpretation of the game, and I argue it’s a good one.

“Who the hell cares what that means, I watched him play and he was good” is a way to validate a surface-scratching platitude through nothing but antagonism.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/10/14 at 02:43 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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