Free Public Lecture on Hockey Analytics

Happy to announce that I’ve put together a short public lecture on hockey analytics, scheduled for  Wednesday March 26th at the University of Alberta.

Here’s the general description of the session:

The field of Hockey Analytics continues to gain importance as more stakeholders, including fans and teams, are examining data and developing new ideas regarding the game. With the advancement of communication technology and analytic tools, fans have taken a greater role in developing new methods of measuring team and player performance. New ideas are often communicated and developed amongst fans through blogs, message boards and other social media tools.

I’ll be joined by Michael Parkatti, a hockey analytics blogger at Boys on the Bus . Michael has extensive experience with hockey analytics and will be providing an overview of the field as well as the current concepts.

Hockey Analytics and Me

I’ve written extensively about the growth and development of hockey analytics over the past few years and continue to be encouraged by the growing number of people interested in the field. It’s a clear indication that fans are more than passive consumers of the game. They’re clearly engaged and what to apply their own ideas and thoughts to better understand the game.

I’ve recently received a few inquiries about where to get certain stats and explanations of some of the more modern hockey stats available. I’m really no expert in the field, so I typically direct those inquiries to one of the many sites that provide insight into hockey analytics.

The great thing about hockey analytics (or advanced stats) is that it’s an entirely personal thing. Human beings all have unique needs when it comes to information collection and processing. We’ve all developed extensive biases and opinions about the game, that there is no statistic or collection of statistics that will appease everyone. With so much information available to fans, and the rapid development of technology, fans are forced to develop their own methods of processing information and can engage with stats as much or as little as they like.

For me personally, I’ve always liked looking into the stats of a game or of a player. I used to be obsessed with the stats on the back of hockey cards when I was a kid and always looked for basic level stats after a game was done. Growing up as an Oiler fan, you had to look for stats that somehow made your team look bearable. Aside from Doug Weight, there weren’t a lot of standouts in the late nineties, at least from my perspective. So you started to look deeper into stats trying to find something, anything, to give you hope as a fan.

The honest truth is I don’t delve too far deep into stats. The main statistic I’m interested in is shots, scoring chances and shot quality. During and after games, I typically check Twitter to follow a couple bloggers that track these stats.

If you look at the top teams, they get lots of high quality chances and they prevent the other team from getting high quality chances. Seems simple enough to me. Having said that, I’m always interested in seeing what stats are being discussed and developed online. A couple writers that get really deep into the stats with moderate theories, but also provide concise summaries are below, for those that are interested:

If there are additional websites or articles that provide a good introduction to hockey analytics, please comment below.

Random thoughts on hockey analytics

Couple tweets I sent out a few weeks ago after Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs had this to say regarding data analytics in hockey:

Continue reading

“Fistic Ice Savvy”: An Example of Irresponsible Sports Journalism

hordichuk2After being sent to the minors by the Edmonton Oilers, Darcy Hordichuk was recently  interviewed by long time hockey writer, Jim Matheson. The article wasn’t anything unique, but one line stood out in particular.

I think the Oilers still need Hordichuk, even in limited minutes because he has fistic ice savvy, but the roster size is very limiting when they’re carrying eight D.

Fact is, Hordichuk is a 32-year old enforcer, with years of experience in the NHL and the minors. But nothing in particular sets him apart from other enforcers. His stint with the Oilers, in my opinion, hasn’t been anything to write about.

Jonathan Willis of Oilersnation provided a play by play description of every event involving Hordichuk in a recent game. Pretty much sums up his usefulness on this team. So it wasn’t surprising to see him get sent to the minors.

Matheson provides a summary of how Hordichuk is doing in the minors, which is fine. But describing him as having “fistic ice savvy” is just bad sports journalism.

For one, it’s a made-up description with a very unclear definition. At no point has Matheson clarified what “fistic ice savvy” entails or who else might have this quality.

Secondly, there’s no way to measure this. I’m not asking for detailed data metrics and methodology. But how do you know you’re fistic and have savvy? Is it when you fight? Where on the ice you fight? Who you fight?

Thirdly, and most importantly, “fistic ice savvy” is a perfect example of the misinformation that surrounds professional hockey. Rather than make a claim, explain its rationale and then provide examples, Matheson uses a vague description of Hordichuk and leaves it as is. Not even an attempt is made to support “fistic ice savvy”.

Matheson is definitely a good hockey writer, but more detailed information should be provided when making claims. More and more of his readers are knowledgable fans, and claiming Hordichuk is anything more than an enforcer is just irresponsible journalism.

Google Glass in Professional Hockey

ImageWith the recent announcement that Google will soon release its wearable, augmented reality glasses, there has been a lot of discussion about how the technology can be used.

What’s most intriguing to me is how these wearable devices can be used in professional hockey. I’ve come up with three uses.

  1. Professional hockey teams could use the device to send real-time information to players throughout the game. This could include who is on the ice with them, what play to run or where to place the puck.
  2. Coaches could use the data collected by these devices and apply them to their strategies for each game.
  3. Those outside the game, such as fans, hockey analysts, sports journalists or league officials could use the data collected to do their own analysis.

These are all just random ideas, so until the limitations of the device are shared, we can dare to dream. I’d be interested to hear what others think of using Google Glass in professional sports.

More information about Google Glass can be found here.

Hockey Reporting and Hockey Analysis

usb1Typewriter“We shape our tools,and then our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

 

Influence of Technology on Sports Journalism

The impact of web technology has had a profound impact on how professional sports are consumed by fans. For example, fans have numerous options when they want to watch or listen to a game, including, among others, using mobile technology or data tracking software. Fans can interact and share content with others by publishing their thoughts and ideas about hockey on blogs and other social media platforms. To keep up with their loyal fan base, the NHL has readily adopted technology and software that helps their fans get closer to the game. Examples include providing detailed statistics available online or social media promotions to connect players to fans.

One area of professional sports that technology continues to strongly influence is sports journalism. Specifically, individuals who are employed by television broadcasters that hold NHL distribution rights, such as TSN or Sportsnet, newspapers and the NHL. These individuals typically have direct access to players and managers and are responsible for providing news and updates regarding NHL-related activity.

In the past, individuals who covered sports for the local news channel or newspaper were considered “reporters”. They would attend games and produce a story using the results of the event. Within the story would be quotes from players and coaches, a summary of key events within the game and maybe a preview of the next game. Since speculation is an important facet for professional sports, gossip regarding players and team could also be included, depending on the reporter.

Today, individuals who cover sports for mainstream media outlets are labeled all sorts of things. “Insiders”. “Analysts”. “Correspondents”. At first glance, they all appear to have the same role, which is to cover the game and provide some sort of content for fan consumption. But it’s the technology they use that differentiates them, as not all sports journalists produce the same kind of content. Understanding the tools they and what type of content they produce, can allow us to classify them and understand their roles and objectives.

Defining Reporting and Analysis

The technology sports journalists use differentiates those who report on the game, and those who analyze the game. Both “Reporting” and “Analyzing” are interchanged regularly, not only in sports journalism, but also other industries such as information management. While both actions produce content, they each entail different objectives.

I did a quick search online and came across this differentiation of Reporting and Analysis on a blog from Adobe, a major software company:

Report­ing: The process of orga­niz­ing data into infor­ma­tional sum­maries in order to mon­i­tor how dif­fer­ent areas of a busi­ness are per­form­ing.

Analy­sis: The process of explor­ing data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand and improve busi­ness performance.

So applying these definitions to sports journalism, I’ve come up with this:

Hockey Reporting: The process of coordinating data and information into summaries that describe hockey-related events. This is someone that summarizes current events, including games, player or team performance and current rumors.

Hockey Analysis: The process of exploring data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand the game and support further analysis and continue extending the knowledge surrounding the game. This would be someone that could summarize current events, but spends more time looking deeper into the data from hockey games to provide further insight.

These definitions need some work, so I’m hoping to get feedback from anyone interested.

Why the need to classify sports journalists?

It’s critical for fans to understand the roles and objectives of the contents’ producer. The present environment for hockey fans contains a lot of information, and it’s really up to them to filter through the noise to find value in the content available online, in print and on television. Fans do more than just consume the content as they have demonstrated their ability to extend the content by providing their own feedback and raising new, applicable ideas.

By understanding the producers role, fans can put the content into perspective before extending the content and building new ideas. This is not to say that what sports reporters produce cannot be built upon by fans. But a more appropriate response can be made after understanding what the producers objectives are. And it’s much more beneficial to the game if ideas are built on solid claims and information, rather than bogus hockey rumors, for example.

As always, feel free to leave feedback below or contact me directly!

Research Ideas

Source: Wikimedia Commons

If I had extended my tenure as a student, my research would have probably focused solely on hockey fans who conduct data analytics. Blogs, which was the focus of my MACT final project, would play a prominent role, along with other social media tools and analytics software.

That got me thinking of what other research projects could possibly spin out from the research I did complete. Here’s my random, evolving list:

–       History of hockey analytics

–       Comparison of hockey fans across teams, regions and their online activity

–       Does following a horrible team make you more likely to get into hockey analytics? Looking at you, Oilers fans.

–       Interview people who do hockey analytics to find out why they do it, what methods they use, what barriers they face and/or what they think the future holds for hockey analytics.

Hockey Bloggers with Press Passes

Without a doubt, a tension exists between hockey bloggers and those who work as members of the mainstream media (MSM). The lines that separate the two groups have blurred as both fans and those with official press passes to cover the game interact and participate online. Communication tools and software have become more readily available and easier to use, allowing anyone with a basic understanding of the technology, and an interest in the game, to participate online.

In the past few years, bloggers have made the jump to more mainstream platforms and  we’ve also seen those with press passes, such as fomer Edmonton Journal writer Robin Brownlee, get into blogging. In his latest post for OilersNation, “Deep Thoughts XXIV: Ties that bind”, he had this to say about the current state of hockey coverage: Continue reading

Information Diet for Hockey Fans

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently read an insightful book called “The Information Diet: A Case for Concious Consumption” by Clay Johnson (2012). Using the current food/obesity epidemic as an analogy, Johnson highlights the problems with our current pattern of information consumption. Some alarming things really come out of this book including how the over-consumption of information:

  • impacts our autonomic nervous system (i.e., how email or Facebook alerts change our breathing patterns)
  • impacts our understanding of topics, which can lead to  biases and poor decision making
  • changes how we behave as a collective group including our ability to collaborate with individuals holding conflicting ideas

I think most can attest to the disruption information can cause in our personal and professional lives. Smartphone’s have converged our information streams, making email, social media, RSS feeds, etc conveniently centralized and easily accessible. As great as it is to have information readily available, conscious decision making is required by individuals to control and efficiently use the content we consume. This doesn’t mean just setting up filters, but also to question the source and added processing of the information.

While Johnson cites his experience working within American politics, I tried to relate his ideas to the experience of hockey fans. Sports fans are different than fans of other genres such as movies, films and literature as they have been found to engage with the game before, during and after live events (Gantz et al, 2006). With so many sources of information and so much to do with it, including fantasy league participation, gambling and blogging, fans are vulnerable to information over-consumption. The information can be disruptive to fans day-to-day lives and impact their mental state and decision making. Then again, “fans” is, in fact, short for “fanatics”.

With the NHL Draft passing by and the start of free agency on July 1, I would love to hear the experience and tactics of fans dealing with the abundant information.

References:

Gantz, W., Wang, Z., Paul, B. & Potter, R.F. (2006). Sports versus all comers: comparing TV sports fans with fans of other programming genres. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 50(1), p. 95-118.

Johnson, C. (2012). The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. USA: O’Reilly Media

Related links:

Infovegan (SuperFan 2.0)

NHL Trade Deadline: Speculation, Rumors and Information Overload (SuperFan 2.0)

Importance of Hockey Analytics (Hockey in Society)

Information Malnutrition (National Post)

Is it time for you to go on an “Information Diet”? (NPR)

Collaboration and Hockey Analytics

Source: WIkimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Data analytics is a collaborative exercise with the network (both operational and social) being a critical component of any analysis. The right environment has to be in place for people to contribute, develop and share data. To transform the data into information,  context is drawn from the network as individuals apply their backgrounds, experiences and ideas to push the development of a concept. Once the data transforms into information (and later knowledge), the network will distribute the information to those who can use it and develop it further.The importance of collaboration was highlighted at the Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud conference, which presented various topics related to data analytics such as health, productivity and community. One session of personal, and academic interest, was related to professional sports. A description of the session: Continue reading