Keeping the NHL Data Open

legosIt would make absolutely no sense for the NHL to restrict fans access to any level of stats, whether it be the traditional set or the advanced possession ones (i.e., Corsi, Fenwick, etc).

The NHL has changed it’s Terms of Service to reflect that. On Thursday, Zsolt Munoz of The Copper and Blue provided an excellent summary of the changes and raised concern that this might impact the go-to websites like Behind the Net and Extra Skater.

As of Friday morning, Extra Skater has become inactive, much to the dismay of its many users. The website does scrape data from the NHL website but extends it to calculate new information and “advanced” stats. Darryl Metcalf, the websites administrator, puts it all in a fantastic dashboard format making it easy to navigate and use. I’m really not sure what’s happening with ES, but I’m pretty confident that the NHL will not be preventing anyone from using and extending its game data. Couple points:

  • Any sort of data analysis, or finding patterns, whether it be simple counting of goals or calculating Corsi%, requires an individual’s time and effort. The more time and effort a person puts in, the more engaged they become with the game. It requires critical thinking and gets people into the game a lot more than if they just read static stats from a game report. Fantasy league is a prime example of something that gets fans into the game and is linked to data analysis. Fans are growing an attachment to teams and players they typically have no interest in because of fantasy leagues. The NHL has got to love that.
  • There’s a been a lot of weight put into the concept of “open data“. The idea is if you provide anyone and everyone with easy to use data, individuals may be able to come up with new information that can be shared with the community at large. For example, the City of Edmonton publishes data sets, which have been used by individuals to develop new apps available for public use.
  • And, as mentioned by Tango Tiger, the online ecosystem today, supported by stats from the NHL or the data scraped by Extra Skater, have served as a fantastic training ground for analytic folks. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils have hired individuals who have had access to this data and demonstrated its value.

I really see the NHL really opening up the flood gates when it comes to data. They may push to be the gatekeeper of data, which may be a fair trade-off if fans can extend it into accurate information. Past attempts by Major League Baseball to stifle the analytics growth have either failed or been held up in court, which I think gives hockey fans some hope that whatever data they want will be available to them free of charge. I also think the NHL will develop a process to support the development of new applications that use the data in some creative way. The more people toiling away with hockey data, the more time they’re spending on NHL related stuff…I assume that’s what the NHL would want,

And hey, if for whatever reason the league restricts data or even tries to charge for it, you will definitely see more tracking projects pop-up, similar to Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones Tracking Project, who has found an excellent way to track his own stats and receive compensation from the larger fan community.

Information and knowledge can’t be restricted in the modern society as far too many tools and the cooperative nature of individuals will support its growth. The momentum of information growth is giving fans a new role when it comes to consumption as a shift from passive consumption has been replaced by active, collaborative, engagement.

Data Journalism in Hockey

old-time-reporterHockey analytics is doing some pretty remarkable stuff for the game. Not only are there new methods of understanding and following the game, but we’re beginning to see some of the more unintended consequences of its growth.

One thing to keep an eye on will be the evolution of hockey reporting and journalism. Analytics has received widespread attention this summer with NHL teams hiring experienced professionals and discussing the new statistics quite publicly. All of this is great, but now the people following the game, especially those that are relatively new to hockey analytics, will demand supporting evidence, in an easy-to-use, storytelling format.

Travis Yost brought up an excellent point, citing the potential for new data tracking technology as a reason why the demand for better sports writing will likely grow. There will definitely be teams looking to hire individuals with experience in analytics to keep up, but there will also be media outlets looking to enhance their coverage of the game and these advanced stats.

This will put the onus on anyone developing information about the game, whether it be newspaper writers, hockey analysts on television and fans online. The game has changed because of analytics, and now the information surrounding the game has to evolve.

What this means is that the distribution of  information has to shift from simple reporting to more data journalism. It won’t just be about grabbing quotes from coaches and players and then referencing some of the new stats like Corsi and Fenwick etc. But it’ll also mean having to embed graphics and information in an interactive and engaging way to tell a unique story.

The good news is, there are a handful of newspaper writers and bloggers who have been doing this very well for a few years now. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, as well as Japers’ Rink and SB Nation’s Outnumbered come to mind. But now, there will be an increasing demand for it. And I can definitely see some slick new platforms or reporting dashboards that can take all of the advanced stats and put together a strong game story.

Blogging platforms have served as a solid foundation and medium to develop hockey analytics. And now, they can be a real training ground for those looking to advance their careers in writing about the growing field.

 

Finding the SuperFan

An Oiler fans trek through blogs, hockey analytics and academia.

Back in 2008, I decided it was time to head back to school to finish a graduate degree. Something I can do part-time, something related to my day-job, and something that would interest me enough to stay motivated. I came across the Communications and Technology program at the University of Alberta while surfing the web and decided to take the plunge.

My background was in sociology and my interests were always research methodology and group dynamics (how do groups get together to accomplish stuff). I figured a lot of the technology starting to take off was changing the way groups interact and to how much they could accomplish as a group. My main interests have always been information and knowledge management. How do we know what we know, and how do we work collectively to build new knowledge and information. That group dynamic is always intriguing since it’s been occurring for centuries, but has really accelerated because of the advancement of communication technology. The web is an obvious example, but what is it about the web and what sort of rules apply that allows it to be so critical for information development and knowledge sharing. It was pretty high level thinking at the time since I honestly had no idea where my graduate career was going to go.

The Program

Before starting the MACT program, all applicants had to submit a research idea for their final project. I had no clue what I wanted to do, so I decided to something work-related and chose electronic health records. It was a hot button topic in healthcare, so I thought some sort of research on it would be interesting. I received my acceptance letter and was to start the program in the spring of 2009.

All students were also asked to maintain a “digital portfolio” (i.e., a blog) as a way to centralize assignments and reflect on key topics. Not many students actually did one, but I figured this might be a useful way to find a supervisor for my final research paper.

Within a couple months of starting the program, getting deep into communication theory, I realized there wasn’t anything interesting about electronic health records. There had already been a ton of research on it, including the type of technology used, its adoption in various countries and the benefits of it. That realization and the fact that others in my cohort had some killer ideas, I knew right away that I needed to find another topic.

Reset

By the end of the spring session, which included a three week residency-type set up on campus to complete a two courses, I was absolutely spent. We covered a ton of material and new concepts and spent hours completing assignments and presentations. I really tried to apply my research topic of health records to everything we covered, but it just wasn’t interesting. My attitude about the program reflected it. And my grades showed it as well.  Continue reading

Ice Code

thinkerGreat explanation as to why hockey analytics is important for fans and the game as a whole. Unfortunately I can’t find the full article online to share, but the original source is below.

 

Accepting hockey analytics, then, requires more than brushing off your arithmetic skills and reading a spreadsheet. It requires a shift in thinking, embracing an uncomfortable amount of arbitrariness, accepting that a bounce is just a bounce and dumb luck can have more to do with a win  than grit or heart. Not to make too lofty a comparison, but it can sometimes feel like the difference between believing in a world of a higher order, of divine narratives and preordained plans, and seeing the word as a messy, arbitrary place. The numbers challenge some of the stories we used to explain the world, but they also introduce their own kind of complex beauty.

Fervent irrationality, after all, is what makes a fan a fan. But thinking about the percentages and probabilities doesn’t suddenly drain the magic from the sport – it just means watching the game more thoughtfully.

Hune-Brown, N. “Ice Code”. Sharp. April 2014: 94-95. Print.

 

 

Alberta Hockey Analytics Conference

Source: Ice Nation UK

Source: Ice Nation UK

Had the chance to meet up with a group of people interested in hockey analytics this past Saturday in downtown Edmonton. The event was hosted by Rob Vollman, author of The Hockey Abstract, and featured presentations covering the different sides of hockey analytics.

Here’s a quick recap of what we covered.

Sean Solbak of Frozen Pools talked about hockey analytics in the realm of fantasy league. Sean gave some insight into the algorithms used to predict points based on things like ice-time, shots, passes, possession and shooting percentage. Of course, capturing luck is always a challenge, but there’s definitely value in the models used by Sean to predict performance.

Next, Justin Azevedo of FlamesNation gave a presentation on possession stats like Corsi and some of the work he has done this past season tracking the Flames. Justin shared some of the patterns he found in the data he collected manually and also provided some insight into applying those findings to actual game situations.

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Importance of Hockey Analytics II

Source: Zimbio

Source: Zimbio

Originally posted at Hockey in Society.

It’s been remarkable to see how quickly the field has developed over the past few years. The amount of new information being derived from hockey analytics has grown and continues to be discussed across a large and diverse online community. And while the focus has rightfully been on the hockey data and extracting meaningful patterns, it’s important to assess some of the foundational concepts that have supported the development and growing popularity of hockey analytics.

Analytics in any industry is a continuous process. Regardless of what patterns are found, new questions will arise to continue advancing the discussion initiated by analytics. Hockey analytics is no different as it really is a never ending process to uncover, share and build upon new information. Because it pertains to professional hockey, there is new data available almost every day and involves analysis from anyone that’s interested in the topic. The game itself, including the off-ice business (i.e., trades, free agency, draft) is highly chaotic and at times unpredictable.

Related: Importance of Hockey Analytics – Hockey in Society (2012, June 11)

What makes hockey analytics, or any sports analytics unique, is that it’s being done in an open environment that allows for anyone with basic analytic and communication technology tools to join the discussion. Using blogs and Twitter, participants have created a very collaborative environment that supports discussion and the continuous extension of ideas and information.

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