The NHL unveiled the first phase of their four-phase “statistical initiative”. As of today, there are now “enhanced stats” available on NHL.com that goes back to the 2010-2011 season.
This is the NHL’s first official foray into the world of hockey analytics. The field has been established and developed predominantly by hockey fans, who have used blogs for close to a decade to develop new ideas and knowledge pertaining to the game of hockey. Hockey analytics has been built within a commons-based peer production environment, which relies on the contributions of many without an overbearing hierarchical structure. Ideas about the game, how it’s played, and where the correlations are within traditional and advanced statistics are built within a large, highly collaborative network; a complete shift away from the traditional model of information production/consumption. Remaining as an ad hoc meritocracy, open to everyone and building off the ideas of one another have been key trademarks of hockey analytics, and continues to serve as a foundation for the field. Fans have relied on simple analytics tools and social media applications to develop new information and share knowledge across a collaborative network.
The league’s challenge now will be to find the right balance as a participant in the analytics world. They can be the official source of data, but they can’t overstep their boundaries and impose any sort of gate keeping in analytics. The flow of information and knowledge derived from the data cannot be disrupted in any way by the league.
The first thing they’ll need to do is improve their “enhanced stats”. The functionality of their website is nowhere near the quality of War on Ice and lacks some of the basic metrics. David Johnson has an excellent recap of where the limitations are of the “enhanced stats” and provides a few recommendations. Here’s hoping the NHL is planning to release additional data or are at least reaching out to the hockey analytics community for feedback. Everyone can benefit from having the NHL as a key source of information, so it’s in the NHL’s best interest to do what’s best for the entire fan community.
It would also be in the NHL’s best interest to partner with existing third-party websites like War on Ice and Behind the Net as well as mobile app developers. This could involve providing them with raw data sets and letting them decide how the data is presented, aggregated and visualized for fans. At the end of the day, fans are spending countless hours on third party websites looking at and thinking about hockey information.
It’s understandable that the NHL has renamed Corsi and Fenwick stats to “Shot Attempts” (SAT) and “Unblocked Shot Attempts” (USAT) respectively. The NHL is obviously trying to make the name of the stats easy to understand and self-explanatory so that it could appeal to more people. The problem is, there are thousands and thousands of articles written that use the traditional name of the stats. So if someone is just learning about the stats now, they’ll likely be diving in to the past content produced, forcing them to refer to SAT and USAT as Corsi and Fenwick. The NHL is trying to be a gate keeper here, but their attempts at changing names are pretty futile.
Lastly, the NHL has got to release its own version of CapGeek that provides player salary information. There is without a doubt that fans valued CapGeek as a source of information, which feeds discussion and new content (i.e., articles) on trades, free agency and team salary cap issues. Similar to advanced stat websites, CapGeek had fans spending hours a week looking at and thinking about hockey information. It was surprising to hear that the commissioner of the NHL wasn’t sure if fans cared about salary information, but I’m convinced there’s resistance from the NHLPA and player agents. Regardless, the NHL has to provide this information to fans, or watch as another third party becomes the source.
The field of hockey analytics has evolved and grown thanks in large part to the contributions of many. The rules and norms established by this collaborative network have been key to the growth of hockey analytics and need to be recognized by the NHL if they want to play a role. As encouraging as it is to see the NHL provide some of the advanced stats, it would be in their best interest to emulate some of the key characteristics of a “produsage” or commons-based peer production environment.
NHL Needs to Provide More Data (June 29, 2011)
Importance of Hockey Analytics II (May 5, 2014)
Keeping the NHL Data Open (August 15, 2014)
NHL to Provide Advanced Stats (February 5, 2014)