As noted in a previous NoVa Caps story, new technology is coming to the NHL and it’s coming fast. In a recent Washington Post article, it was noted that the Washington Capitals utilized GPS and heart-rate monitoring technologies during the prospect development camp, held July 7th-11th. The story notes that the Capitals were hush about the use of the new technology at the time of camp, for competitive reasons. As this story will illustrate, “old”, one-dimensional hockey stats like “Corsi” and “Fenwick” are about to be replaced by real-time, three-dimensional data. Now, Analysts will not only be able to tell where a shot was taken, and the result, but will also be able to add additional informational layers such as how long the player was on the ice before the shot, which direction the player was moving, speed of shot, exact location of all other players on the ice at the time of the shot, etc. The variables are practically endless.
The NHL debuted a first-generation player tracking system during the 2015 All-Star game weekend, in what could be the first step in revolutionizing the way data is collected in hockey. The NHL and Sportvision teamed to integrate tracking chips to test player- and puck-tracking during the All-Star Skills Competition. The Sportvision system utilizes Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking chips that are inserted inside pucks and inside the back of players’ jerseys.
The puck and player chips interact with 10 infrared cameras placed throughout the arena. The tracking system can collect multiple data-types, including location, speed, direction and elevation for the puck as well as for each and every player on the ice, with a frequency as great as 30 times per second. The following video illustrates the tracking capabilities.
In an recent interview with FastCompany, NHL and Sportvision representatives noted that the new system will revolutionize hockey analytics. “The RFID player-tracking system unlocks a wealth of data. Suddenly we’re able to learn which players are best at winning battles for the puck along the boards, which players enter the offensive zone at the highest speeds, and where goalies are most vulnerable to letting a puck slip past them. It would allow the league to standardize stats like scoring opportunities, and more accurately track important metrics like puck possession. No longer would data-savvy fans need to rely on stats like Corsi and Fenwick, two measures of possession in hockey that use shot attempts as a proxy for puck possession. Sportvision’s computers will be able to measure that kind of thing exactly.”
The new tracking system will also enhance television viewing of hockey games, by providing all new data and information sets for the fan.
The NHL has gone on record stating that the league fully backs the implementation of the tracking system for all arenas, and it could happen very quickly. The NHL said it would be months not years before the systems are in place. The following image is the system implemented at Verizon Center.
Some unknowns still remain. Will the NHL mandate that teams make these real-time data streams available to the public? Probably not at first, so “Corsi” and “Fenwick” type stats will be safe for the next couple of years. However, even if the teams are unlikely to want to publicize the data, the league will eventually realize the fiscal value of releasing the data to third parties, for application development. By crowdsourcing the data, more innovation can be attained. How the NHL decided to govern these new data streams is a topic for another day.