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.

 

Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com

620-eakins-dallas2-thumb-620xauto-329706Happy to see the Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of, the now defunct, mc79hockey blog. Tyler’s been blogging for years about the Oilers, focusing on hockey analytics and recently applying his findings to game footage. The blog was a fantastic source for analysis, really pushing the discussion on hockey analytics, and will definitely be missed. Sounds like he’ll be joining the Oilers hockey operations department and reporting to Coach Eakins.

Related: On Tyler Dellow, his role, and what this can tell us about Eakins – Copper & Blue

I’d love to point out some of the work he’s done including his dissection of Taylor Hall’s Corsi stats and the Oilers performance following defensive zone faceoff losses. But I guess it’ll have to wait until someone can uncover that hidden treasure. A lot of his work picked apart the Oilers and did show some of the weaknesses in their tactics, so I guess it makes sense for the Oilers to ask him to remove the content. His blog was also one of the few sites where the comments section was just as  valuable as the actual post. I found it a little troubling that Tyler was able to wipe out the work of others who trusted that their contributions would be always be accessible. I’m sure most of the commenters are supportive of Tyler’s move, so maybe losing their work was just a necessary trade-off.

Those who have read my work know that more than hockey analytics itself, I’m interested in the social, online environment that fosters the development of hockey information and knowledge. So as much as the growth of analytics interests me, so too does the network and the collaboration of fans.

I think Tyler would admit that a big reason for his success in analytics is the open environment that he was able to work in. He received regular feedback both on his blog and on Twitter, which played a big role in the direction he took with hockey analytics. He’s obviously a bright guy and will more than likely carry on with his ideas and insight as a member of the Oilers. However, the corporate culture that the Oilers have is far different than the interactive environment Tyler has grown accustomed to. Online, Tyler has been extremely open with his data, which makes him open for feedback and criticism. Now that his work will only be reviewed by a select few, I’m curious to see what impact it might have on his own critical thinking. There’s a much different working-dynamic when you’re sealed off with a select few. Biases, groupthink, politics, etc., are all the things that tend to creep in to any bureaucratic system.

It’s almost as if the Oilers should actually hire a few more bloggers that Tyler’s work can be tested by. The good news is, the Oilers do have an analytics working group that can really challenge his work. But it might be in the Oilers best interest to add additional bloggers, or some sort of external advisory group, with little social or financial ties to the team, who can provide Tyler with feedback.

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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Hockey Fans and the Leviathan II: All Three Zones Tracking Project

Yochai Benkler

Yochai Benkler – Author of Penguin and the Leviathan

Corey Sznajder of The Shutdown Line is seeking funding for a project that will collect very unique hockey data.

Here’s a short description of the All Three Zones Tracking Project:

I am tracking zone entries & exits for every game of the 2013-14 NHL season and making the data available publicly through either an e-book or an online database. What I end up doing will depend on how much money is raised through this. In addition to this season, I may also track previous years and include playoff data.

If you’re at all interested in supporting Corey, follow this link.

A couple things to note:

  1. Corey is going to manually collect data that isn’t available anywhere else. It’ll be interesting to see how others will use it to develop new ideas and information.
  2. It’ll also be interesting to see what other projects focussed on hockey analytics and data collection could pop up that will utilze crowdfunding/crowdsourcing.
  3. Even if you’re not into analytics or you don’t think you’ll use the data collected by Corey, knowledge and information about the game will grow because of this project. Fans/bloggers will use this data to create new ideas and add to the current discourse that surrounds the game.

Related Links:

Hockey Fans and the Leviathan – The SuperFan

Questions following the Public Lecture on Hockey Analytics

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

In case you missed it, the Communications and Technology program at the University of Alberta recently hosted a public lecture on hockey analytics. I really enjoyed speaking at the event as I got to connect my research as a student of the program with some of the real-life work bloggers are doing online.

I can’t say enough about Michael Parkatti, who put together a solid presentation on the fundamentals of hockey analytics. If you haven’t seen the presentation, you can access it on Livestream.

What was remarkable was how big of a response the session received. The session drew a full house at the downtown campus and has since drawn over 1,600 views online. I was especially blown away by its distribution on Twitter and the positive feedback we received.

Following the session, I received a few questions from attendees and others who caught the session online. I thought I’d share some of these and my responses.

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Hockey Analytics: The new wave of information and the online fan community that is driving the field

In case you missed it, the Communications and Technology graduate program at the University of Alberta hosted a public lecture on hockey analytics this afternoon in Edmonton.

        Link to full lecture on Livestream

        Event details including speaker bios

We had a great turnout in the classroom with people of various backgrounds in attendance. Along with hockey fans, there were members of the U of A faculty, students, bloggers and even employees of the Edmonton Oilers in the classroom.

I want to thank Michael Parkatti for his in-depth presentation of hockey analytics. Michael’s contributions to the field of hockey analytics have been extremely valuable and he continues to track game stats on his blog, Boys on the Bus. I really hope people left the session with not only a better understanding of hockey analytics, but also an appreciation for the work fans have done online.

My main motivation for putting this session together was to promote the field of hockey analytics and really showcase the kind of work hockey fans are doing online. Hockey analytics is still many years behind other sports in terms of tracking and collecting data. But there really is a lot of potential for continued growth and development of hockey information.

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