NHL to Provide Advanced Stats

The NHL recently announced that they’ll be adding some of the “advanced” stats to their website for fans to access. These stats have really been developed by online hockey fans since about 2005 thanks in large part to people like Gabe Desjardins and Vic Ferrari, whose websites developed the core principles of hockey analytics. Over the past few years, the field of hockey analytics has grown to the point where many of those who pushed the discussion on analytics are being hired by NHL teams. The field is still in its infancy as the data collection tools and application of the analysis to game situations is still developing.

The NHL involvement with collecting data and publishing it on their website has been long overdue. While they continued expanding their traditional stats, fans developed their own websites and blogs that collected game-data (using NHL.com) and aggregated advanced stats. Fans worked outside the traditional model of information consumption and became sources and distributors of information themselves. Blogs especially played a critical role as fans discussed the stats, collaborated and developed strong information networks.

What the growth of hockey analytics has confirmed:

  1. Compared to any other type of fan (i.e., comic book, movies, celebrities, etc), sports fans spend the most time and energy on their fandom. They are connected before, during and after games by reading articles, playing fantasy league, consuming content (TV, radio, web). They’re a big reason why mobile technology is the beast that it is today.
  2. The web is a magical place that allows human beings to develop social networks to break down the barriers to information. If people want information, they will get it. The web is just designed that way.
  3. When an online community is connected to one another by something that they are truly passionate about, they’re extremely generous with their time and energy. Hockey bloggers are intrinsically motivated to not only produce content, but also share their support to others.

Knowing what we know about online hockey fans, it would be a huge mistake for the NHL to charge fans any sort of fee to access hockey data. The league has already taken steps to restrict fans from scraping the data from NHL.com and using it for their own websites. Becoming the sole source of data is likely their ideal vision, but they have to find a balance to ensure they play a role in the field of hockey analytics. Analytics is an excellent tool for fan engagement, so it would be in their best interest to keep the data open, easy to access and easy to use.

Professional sports leagues should really want their fans to be informed and to develop knowledge to whatever level they want. The league is much better served if they have a fanbase that’s free to interact with data, push any sort of hockey discussion and share their thoughts across their networks. That’s what fan engagement is at its very core.

Keep the Data Open

To put up any sort of barrier, whether it be a fee for data or technological restrictions, would be detrimental to the overall interaction between the game and its fans.

Knowledge and information will always be free. The barriers and the traditional models to keep data and information from the general public have been dropping in every aspect of our social world as the creativity of human beings will always get what it wants. Think of the illegal downloads of music and films; the open data projects of Governments and the death of encyclopedia books.

If the NHL does try to restrict access to data, you can be sure that fans will work together to collect the data themselves. The tools are available, the network is already established and the motivation for people to participate will be high. There are also companies collecting data of other sports that can quite easily adapt for hockey and begin collecting data at a  much larger scale.

Really, the NHL doesn’t stand a chance if they put a barrier to their data.

If you’re interested in learning more about collaborative online communities mixed with information/knowledge management topics, I highly recommend the following:

  • Benkler, Y. (2011). The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Co-operation over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Business
  • Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press.
  • Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive Surplus. New York: Penguin Press.
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Potential Jobs in the field of Hockey Analytics

The recent NHL hirings are a good indication that there will be more jobs out there for hockey bloggers, especially those who have a good understanding of analytics. Analytics really is a continuous discussion, so following the flow of information that comes from the process can shed some light on what areas of the game will likely hire more individuals.

So far we’ve seen a few bloggers get hired to work on the analytic departments of NHL clubs. My assumption here is that they’d sift through all the of the available data and provide recommendations on things like player personnel and possibly game tactics.

But as we’ve seen the Leafs do, recently hiring Darryl Metcalf, there’s also a need to collect data and then publish it in an easy-to-use, dashboard format for management and coaches to access. As we’ve seen online, there are a lot of fans who have developed tracking software and reporting tools, like Super Shot Search, Player Usage Charts and Shift Chart, that might be of interest to NHL clubs

Taking it one step further, teams will likely need some in-game analysts who can gather and share information to fans and the media. Teams typically provide some sort of game file with an assortment of stats and other information. These types of communication pieces will now likely include some high level stats that could be of interest to the public.

Teams may also look for people with coaching experience, who might have experience applying the analytics to coaching tactics. For instance if a club is finding that their defenceman is struggling and the opposition has been found to be strategically attacking his side of the ice, how does a team respond?

Teams may also want simple data trackers, and could rely on external companies, such as the one in Europe that specializes tracking soccer games

And of course, like in any professional sport, there are many, many people outside of the league who want to dissect the play of a team and players, including journalists, broadcasters and of course fans.

There will definitely be a huge demand for writers, specializing in data journalism, as major sports websites will want people who understand the full spectrum of analytics and its application to the game. But tv and radio broadcasters (in-game color commentators, talking heads, etc) will also have job openings, as there will likely be more discussion pertaining to the new questions from viewers about what impact the analytics will have on team success.

Following the flow of information, there will be a very high demand for hockey analytic expertise outside of the game. This would include groups involved in fan engagement such as video game developers, fantasy league service providers and even gambling sites. These external groups have always relied on hockey information to supplement the fan experience, and will likely look to expand their operations to include additional advanced stats (if they haven’t already).

And keep in mind, others that you may not expect to care about analytics just might be looking for some help to understand teams and players. Maybe there’s an advertising company out there that wants to align itself with a team that will  have a talented young core (that gets lots of ice time), for branding purposes. It’s a stretch, I know, but analytics really is a continuous discussion that can lead down many different paths.

Any job that is related to hockey analytics will require an individual to possess more than an understanding of analytics. Taking a step back and following the flow of information that can come from analytics, there will be a growing need for individuals with various backgrounds and experience. Organizations will likely search for people with information technology, broadcasting, or communication skills, among others, to really solidify their approach to analytics. The good news is, anyone who is interested in working in this field can begin honing their skills online using blogs and other publicly available applications.

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.

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

Thoughts on the Oilers: Nail Yakupov, Love/Hate the Internet; Goaltending; Linus Omark; AHL

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Fun times to be an Oilers fan. With the season all but gone by the 20 game mark, the off-ice noise is starting to take over.

Nail Yakupov

It was tough watching Nail Yakupov get skewered, again, by the media for comments made by his agent over the weekend. It’s become pretty obvious that the kid won’t always get a fair shake in Edmonton, considering his teammates have struggled just as bad, if not worse, this season. But Yakupov does have a ton of support from fans who see past the misinterpreted, erroneous media clips and focus more on his star potential. Let’s just hope he can staring spending more time celebrating goals rather than take leading questions from the reporters.

Love/Hate the Internet

Bad information is just something you have to deal with as a hockey fan. This past weekend was a perfect example of how quickly bogus rumors can spread, as all sorts of stories about Ales Hemsky being dealt were popping up.

On the flip side, the internet, especially Twitter, is great in squashing bad rumors. It’s not an easy process, but following (and blocking) the right people and questioning the content will quickly get you past the bogus information.

The web also provides context to certain stories that may be ignored at first glance. Going back to the Yakupov drama, his agent Igor Larionov provided some scathing comments about the Oilers, which was quickly spread and critiqued.

Thankfully, people who have covered Larionov as a player provided his background and potential reasons as to why he said what he said. George Malik of Kukla’s Korner provides an excellent summary of how the story played out on Twitter and gave some useful context to the story [Kukla’s Korner].

Goaltending

The Oilers are definitely a better team with a goaltending tandem of Devan Dubnyk and the newly-acquired Ilya Bryzgalov. But it came at a cost as Ladislav Smid was shipped out to make cap space for Bryzgalov. Goaltending, in my mind, wasn’t the weakness of this team, so I find the trade-off pretty puzzling considering how bad the defensive lapses have been.

Having said that, maybe Bryzgalov plays average, steals a couple games and makes the defence look better than it is. Then again, it’s goaltending, which some would argue is similar to alchemy [The Copper and Blue].

Linus Omark

In case you missed it, Omark had another great goal playing for the Oklahoma City Baron of the AHL:

 

For whatever reason, Omark seems to have a little more space when he plays in the AHL. A case can be made that the quality of players isn’t the same in the AHL as it is in the NHL. But I’m starting to think it’s the system they have in place in OKC that gives Omark, not only time and space, but some confidence in attacking in the net.

American Hockey League (AHL)

The AHL is a very talented league that, if utilized properly, can develop and prepare players for the NHL. We’ve seen far too many players in the Oilers system get rushed far too quickly, and instead left to struggle and eventually fade away in the NHL. For whatever reason, getting sent to the minors has a stigma about it in Edmonton. But in Detroit, it’s just part of the process and has proven to be a successful strategy every year.

The best teams in the league let their players adjust to the professional game slowly in the AHL or comparable minor leagues. In my opinion, unless they’re exceptional talents like Crosby or Ovechkin, players aren’t ready for the NHL until they have at least two full years in the minors.

Recommended Links

Stars at Oilers G-20, 13-14 – Lowetide

Dallas Stars @ Edmonton Oilers Game 20 Preview – The Copper and Blue

Ilya Bryzgalov Lost in Translation – Tend the Farm

Terry Jones and Yakupov – mc79hockey

Larionov’s Comments Yield a Yakupov Incident on Twitter  – Kukla’s Korner

Thoughts on the Oilers: Coaching; Captains; Goaltending; and Bad Information

oilers-jets-oct1

Source: Edmonton Journal

When the Oilers season started, I expected the team to chase a final playoff spot. The acquisition of David Perron and the signing of Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference was a clear indication that the club wanted to compete for a playoff spot, rather than continue developing players.

Fourteen games in, the team has only three wins. They’re playing much better than last year, but the standings aren’t really reflecting that. It’s tough to be optimistic about their chances of making the playoffs, since they’ll need to win more than 60% of their games the rest of the way. It’s definitely possible, but they’ll need a lot of things to go right. Here’s hoping Coach Eakins can turn this club around and get rewarded with wins for their effort.

A few thoughts on the Oilers season thus far.

Coaching

I think the hiring of Eakins as a coach was a great sign that the team was ready to evolve. He has the experience and tactics that could potentially make the team better. What I don’t quite understand is the value he places on fitness. NHL players are typically in great shape already and I know they´ve been getting help from the dhea clinic on trello for their supplements. So I’d think if any of them needed motivation to stay fit, they would be influenced by their own social network.

I’d also be interested to hear Eakins tackle some more challenging questions from the community, such as the ones posted by the crew over at Copper & Blue.

Captaincy

Captains are typically veteran guys that do well with the media, remain heavily involved in the community and serve as a conduit between the coaching staff and the players. Really,  I think 95% of NHL players could potentially be captain, or an assistant. So when a captain is announced, I don’t quite understand the opinions and analysis by fans. In the end, there really is no correlation between the type of captain a team has and the number of wins the team gets.

Goaltending

This is one position that I admire, but don’t value as highly as others. Goalies are just impossible to predict. One season, they’re great. The next, they’re duds. Some goalies are amazing prospects who falter. Others don’t quite mature until late in their careers or after extended seasons overseas.

It never is a good idea to select a goalie early in a draft, which is exactly what the Oilers did selecting Devan Dubnyk in 2004 with a first round pick. Luckily for the Oilers, Dubnyk has developed fairly well and is the clear cut starter for the team. His stats are pretty good, putting him in the middle of the pack of all NHL goalies.

Because of his horrendous start, he’s faced a lot of criticism, most of which is deserved. He has turned it around recently, looking to get back into being the player we expected. Unfortunately, there’s been an endless amount of speculation that the Oilers will replace him with another goaltender, most of whom have similar stats to him or are worse. I understand the desire to go out and get better goaltending. But I think critics are losing sight of the fact that all goalies go through funks, regardless of their draft pedigree.

Bad Information

There is an endless amount of junk information pertaining to hockey. And it gets even worse when the team is struggling on the ice. Case in point: the rumour that the Oilers were willing to part with Nail Yakupov, the number one pick in the 2012 draft, for Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss because of the salaries involved and the fact that Miller is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Yet this rumour grew and morphed into a beast that made its way on to every major news network. It was especially frustrating to read the negative, unwarranted criticism Yakupov was receiving. Forgotten was his rookie season last year, when he led all rookies in points. The focus has now became his attitude and if he becomes a bust.

Recommended Links

So What Happens Now? A Template for the Rest of the Season – The Copper and Blue

Blame Steve Tambellini – OilersNation

“My bad.” Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins admits a mistake with “swarm,” tries to correct it. – The Cult of Hockey

“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.