• NHL teams advancing past advanced stats with state-of-the-art video

    Ryan Kennedy
    Kunitz and Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty Images)

    Although the advanced stats revolution has been swift, it’s by no means complete. Corsi and Fenwick have easily displaced plus-minus as a go-to metric in evaluating a player’s worth to a team, but in essence, those measures are simply more accurate versions of plus-minus, since they draw from a bigger sample size of shots instead of goals.

    What the so-called fancy stats crowd really wants to know is whether or not a player is driving puck possession when he’s on the ice or simply tagging along while a linemate does all the work. And as amusing as it may be to picture a blogger painstakingly pausing their DVR every time a pass is made in a game to write down who has the puck and for how long, a much more rational solution is coming to the fore.

    Video is the savior, but not just any video. We’re talking about cameras that record an image every one-tenth of a second, compiling reams of data that can then be sorted by programs to give a more accurate representation of what’s going on during a game.

    “You can throw Corsi out the window,” said Marc Appleby of PowerScout Hockey. “Because we know how long a player had the puck.”

    So for every Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis hater who thinks Sidney Crosby does all the work on his line, the answer will arrive soon. PowerScout, which has teamed up with tracking tech company ProZone Sports, was originally hatched from analytics research in 2009. It had contracts with two NHL teams last season but recorded more than 50 games in 25 NHL and major junior rinks overall.

    Using three Ultra-HD cameras, Appleby’s firm can set up in any rink, right down to midget games, and doesn’t require any permanent installation (though that’s also an option). The cameras track every action in the game and the raw data is filtered through a cloud-based portal called Icetrax. The range of applications is stunning: a client team can look at zone entry speeds, how long a player holds the puck, the distance between two defense partners and even heat maps (see example, for Crosby, below) that show where a player spends most of his time on the ice.

    “We’re actually measuring the little things,” Appleby said. “We’re analyzing on a micro-level.”

    Crosby Heat Map

    Appleby is a second-generation stats fiend. His father, Terry Appleby, invented a board game called National Pro Hockey back in 1985, which took real NHL player stats and allowed players to assemble lineups, with results based on probability. That same concept has led to one of PowerScout’s most ambitious goals: figuring out if a player made the best choice when he had the puck.

    Using probability, the company can mine countless situations from the past and see what the ultimate outcomes were. For example, if Taylor Hall carries the puck into the offensive zone, is he better to stop inside the blueline and wait for help or charge to the net? PowerScout can look at the probability of the Oilers scoring on that play and relay that info to the team, which can then tell Hall if his instincts are helping or hindering.

    Video analytics first came into sports in the 1990s, when optical tracking was used in soccer. The practice has expanded to many sports, including basketball, where PowerScout’s main competition reigns. SportVU, a technology run by the company STATS, uses six cameras for NBA games and is installed in all 30 team arenas via the catwalk. SportVU is interested in hockey, and the battle for hearts and minds is being waged in meetings throughout North America. Still, even among the game’s most progressive minds, there’s doubt.

    “The camera structure and logistics of it would have to be changed for hockey because of the different dimensions of the surface, how difficult it is to track the puck and the issues hockey has versus soccer and basketball,” said Kyle Dubas, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ new assistant GM and a darling of the advanced stats community. “In hockey, substitutions can happen on the fly, while in the other sports it has to be at a stoppage. So it’s being able to identify which players are going on and off the ice. I think there are some companies doing that stuff now, but we’re still a long way away from where we need to go.”

    If you’re worried all this info will take the fun out of hockey, keep in mind that even Appleby doesn’t project a cookie-cutter NHL should video win the day.

    “Teams define scoring chances differently,” he said. “We want to give them data that compares apples to apples.”

    If the NHL teams do become believers, however, there will no doubt be a rush to order. Every edge helps when building a Cup contender.

    This feature originally appeared in the September 15, 2014 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

  • Top 10 rookie seasons by goalies in the salary cap era

    Josh Elliott
    Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederick Andersen

    Frederik Andersen is tearing it up this young season as the newly-anointed starting goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks. His stellar play has banished all thoughts of the departed Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, and he’s stabilized the Anaheim net enough to ease the expectations placed on goalie of the future John Gibson.

    The 25-year-old Dane is rocking it in every statistical category there is right now. Andersen has won all six games he’s played this season, posting a mighty .951 save percentage and a 1.32 goals-against average. He also has a shutout this season against the St. Louis Blues.

    But that performance should come as little surprise after his strong rookie campaign last year, as Andersen’s 2013-14 numbers put him among some of the best rookie goalies of the salary cap era.
    Read more

  • Watch Brian Boyle help push Lightning reporter through tough workout

    Jared Clinton

    Brian Boyle is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest working big-bodied forwards in the NHL. A defensive monster throughout his career, Boyle eats tough minutes and isn’t afraid to get in front of a booming shot.

    Off the ice, however, Boyle works just as hard. To get an idea of how hard he’s pushing himself off the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning had their reporter Michelle Gingras get into the gym with Boyle to see what exactly the power forward gets up to: Read more

  • Rumor Roundup: Is Dallas going Star searching?

    Tyler Myers

    The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers is enjoying an early resurgence, tied for second on the team in shots with winger Matt Moulson and ranking fifth overall in ice time among NHL players this season as of Friday. His play is also garnering attention in the rumor mill.

    Vogl cites recent reports by TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger linking Myers to the Detroit Red Wings. They claim the 6-foot-8 blueliner could be on the move if the Sabres lower their asking price, which is currently said to include Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin. Read more

  • Jonathan Drouin scores his first NHL goal on a slick snap shot

    Josh Elliott
    Jonathan Drouin (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    After spending last year in junior and missing the start of this season with a broken thumb, former Tampa Bay Lightning third overall pick Jonathan Drouin has his first NHL goal in just his third game.

    With Nikita Kucherov holding the puck behind the Winnipeg Jets’ net, Drouin took a hit along the boards and peeled away from defender to go for the slot. Kucherov dished the puck out to Drouin for a one-timer and Drouin buried it over Ondrej Pavelec’s shoulder to give his Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 lead.

    It was Drouin’s second point of the night, after he assisted on Steven Stamkos’ first-period tally on a beautiful back-and-forth dash up the ice that saw Drouin hook the puck to Stamkos for a tap-in at the last moment.

    The Lightning won the game 4-2, and drove Pavelec out of the net after two periods.

    Kucherov had three assists on the night, including the primary helper on Drouin’s goal.

    Drouin’s first goal has been a long time coming. The third overall pick in 2013 failed to stick with the Bolts after training camp last year, and spent the season lighting up the Quebec Major Junior League with the Halifax Mooseheads to the tune of 29 goals and 108 points in 46 games.

    Then, after making the Lightning to start the season, Drouin suffered a broken thumb and missed the start of the 2014-15 campaign. His belated debut came Oct. 20 against Edmonton and his first career point came a day later against the Flames in Calgary.

    It’s been a memorable road trip through western Canada for the young winger, and he still has a stop over in Minnesota before he can make his home ice debut.

    Drouin will play his first game in front of a Tampa crowd on Tuesday when the Arizona Coyotes come to town.

  • NHL’s new draft lottery rules will encourage tanking. Here’s why

    Brian Costello
    Connor McDavid (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

    The NHL’s revamping to the draft lottery format will probably backfire this year when the league’s bottom feeders make a concerted effort to sink to 30th place. There’s just too much to gain from finishing last overall.

    First, some background.

    In August, the league announced changes to the draft lottery to be phased in over two years. The changes for 2015 are small adjustments to the odds of winning – they’re more evenly balanced now and the last-place team has a 20 percent chance of winning rather than 25 percent under the old format.

    The real change doesn’t happen until 2016 when the lottery will be used to determine the top three selections in the draft.

    By not making these sweeping changes right away for 2015, the NHL inadvertently will encourage the league’s worst teams to tank it in an effort to secure 30th place. That’s because for the 2015 draft, there are two generational prospects available. Connor McDavid has been called the stud of the 2015 draft for close to three years now. He’s been incredible this season. And in the past year, Jack Eichel has emerged as a close second option to McDavid. They’re head and shoulders better than the rest of a deep draft class.

    Read more

  • 10-year-old sniper notches best hat trick you’ll see all season

    Jared Clinton
    Humberview Huskies forward Owen Thompson celebrates his second of three bar down goals. (via YouTube)

    Slide over, Corey Perry. There’s a new king of the hat trick.

    Sure, Perry’s two three-spots already this season are an incredible testament to his supreme skills, but he just didn’t do it with quite the flare 10-year-old Owen Thompson did.

    Just last Friday, Thompson, who plays for the Humberview Huskies of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, scored what may be the most incredible trio of goals you’ll see all season: Read more