Advanced Statistics and Hockey Analytics

Traditional hockey statistics have been around since the birth of professional leagues. The NHL’s first game was on December 19, 1917, with the Montreal Canadiens defeating the Ottawa Senators 7-4. According to hockeydb.com, the Canadiens went on to win the league championship that year after winning 13 games in a 22-game season. Assists were not tabulated, but Joe Malone did score 44 goals. The accuracy of these stats is sketchy, but there is evidence that basic stats were tabulated early on.

Today, the NHL publishes hundreds of statistics. Aside from goals, assists, penalties and shots in a game, the league also provides ice time, hits and faceoff percentages and breaks it down by power-play time and even strength. The amount of information the NHL provides has increased over time, and reflects a growing demand for statistics.

These stats can be used for a variety of reasons. They can used by game broadcasters to give more detail about a player or team and to add to the narrative of a game. Fans can use these stats to build their own fantasy league rosters and track favorite teams. Players can use these stats in contract negotiations as they provide more detail about a player’s ability. Coaches can use statistics to focus on specific competition and develop a game plan for their team.

Recently, advanced statistics have surfaced, to supplement these traditional stats. The site behindthenet.ca, a leading provider of advanced statistics, supplies data on where the player starts when play begins, the quality of the teammates he plays with, quality of the competition the coach plays him against, among others. Combined with the basic stats the NHL provides, these statistics provide more insight into the game. An FAQ regarding advanced stats can be found here.

Gabriel Desjardins is the individual behind the site and was recently interviewed on Nation Radio (Team 1260, Edmonton). Alan Mitchell, or Lowetide in the Oilogosphere, hosts the new show and talked to Desjardins about advanced stats, how it started and where it could go in the future.

Regarding how behindthenet.ca started:

“There wasn’t really much interest or much to do in terms of hockey analysis during the lockout (2004-2005 season). Then the NHL started publishing ice time in a much more usable format. Charts with green boxes showing who was on the ice. So they switched that into a text format that I could much more easily process into a website and once I saw that, there were a lot of ideas that sprang to mind. A lot of things that we could borrow particularly from basketball in terms of analyzing players and analyzing what they do on the ice.”

According to Shirky (2008), when the barriers to getting things done drop, more and more people will participate and contribute online. As soon as the league made their stats easier to use, fans were all over it to produce and share high quality data and information. Today, the NHL.com site has data sets that are detailed, updated regularly and easy to use.

Regarding where hockey statistics are going in terms of the data:

Desjardins believes that acquiring more detail about the game at the micro-level is the next step. Examples would be tracking passes and tracking exact pass location.

“Step after that is where you would have every single player and the puck tagged electronically at all times. So you know where absolutely everybody is. And obviously there’s some massive, massive database construction and programming problems to get any useful information out of this. But I think we will really push forward in terms of understanding some of the things that confuse us right now about how the game works.”

If hockey analytics is to expand, the NHL needs to get on board. Fans can take the data that the NHL provides and apply countless mathematical formulas and theories to develop new, innovative, information. There is the possibility that fans can collaborate with one another to begin tracking their own data, as done by Cult of Hockey and mc79hockey.com. But it would be in the NHL’s best interest to be involved in the accumulation of data.

Regarding the visitors to the site:

“Usually I only get a lot of request for things that aren’t there or are things that are broken down. It’s a pretty broad distribution of the pages that people look at. But I think the biggest thing people look at are the Oilers, and then they look at the Flames, and then they look at the Leafs, and that’s basically the bulk of the traffic is going to those three pages.”

“Much more interest in Canadian teams. Which is interesting because I think that the notion that advanced stats in hockey, a lot of people look at it as an American baseball idea, whereas its Canadians who are really pushing it and are really interested in it.”

Canada being hockey obsessed is already known. Recent studies have also shown that Canadians spend a lot of time online. But the fact that the Edmonton Oilers’ advanced statistics gets a majority of the traffic is interesting since the market is considered much smaller than cities such as Montreal and east coast hockey markets such as New York and Philadelphia. Why the Oilers content draws traffic would require research before drawing any conclusions.

Advanced statistics in general will continue to grow since we’ve seen in the past a growing desire by fans to get more involved in the game. Fans are moving from simple observers of the game to participants as they collaborate with other fans to build new information and share knowledge within an online community. The next step may be electronic tracking of professional players, but it’s more likely that a crowd-sourced method of building data sets is much more closer. Mobile technology continues to improve and could give fans the ability to share their observations and data instantly with others. New statistical methods and theories will continue to drive how the data is analyzed, but it will be the collaboration amongst fans that take hockey analytics to the next level.

Behind the Net (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.behindthenet.ca.

Hartley, M. (2011, March 8). Canada maintains title as world’s most engaged Web nation. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/03/08/canada-maintains-title-as-worlds-most-engaged-web-nation.

HockeyDB.com. (n.d.) Standings for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. Retrieved from http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/display_standings.php?tmi=6929.

McGourty, J. (2007, November 26). NHL celebrates 90th anniversary today. NHL.com. Retrieved from: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=369827.

Mitchell, A. (2011, February 19). Interview with Gabriel Desjardins. Nation Radio. Team 1260, Edmonton. Retrieved from http://oilersnation.com/2011/3/3/nation-radio-february-19-2011.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

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One thought on “Advanced Statistics and Hockey Analytics

  1. Pingback: Moneyball – Baseball, Hockey and Edmonton « Sunil Agnihotri

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