Drew Doughty (left) and Jonathan Toews (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Head-to-head battles between the likes of Drew Doughty and Jonathan Toews will almost certainly produce data that will be more detailed, more accurate and easier to understand than ever before, thanks to cutting-edge technology upon which the NHL is about to embark.
COLUMBUS – The pocket protector crowd may be dismayed to learn this, but the Death of Corsi is on the horizon. Push up your spectacles and deal with it, people.
That much has become crystal clear this weekend when the NHL, in conjunction with a company called Sportvision, rolled out technology that will track puck possession, zone time and a host of other data far more accurately and easier to digest than what is currently available.
The process is still in its very early stages, but it involves embedding a microchip in players’ sweaters and pucks that will be coordinated with infrared cameras around the arena that will be able to uniquely identify each tag, which will tell us exactly who was on the ice, who had the puck and for how long.
And really, isn’t that what Corsi is doing right now? The game is all about puck possession and Corsi is a proxy way of measuring it. And while it has helped, this technology will allow the league to track it far more accurately. And once the league and Sportvision perfect this system, you don’t really need Corsi anymore.
“What we’ve learned over the years is if you’re going to do something and make it valuable for a fan, it has to be something that happens a lot, is hard to see and is important to the game,” said Sportvision CEO Hank Adams. “If it’s who’s on the ice, that’s actually incredibly important. It happens that every 45 seconds you get a whole new crew of folks (players?) and it’s hard to see, so those types of things are actually really valuable.”
So now instead of wading through a matrix of numbers, percentages and hard-to-decipher (for older white guys, anyway) graphics, you’ll now be able to know exactly how long a guy like Alexander Ovechkin played, how much time he had the puck on his stick, how much time his team possessed the puck when he was on the ice and how many shots were directed from where while he was on the ice. And it will all be done without any guesswork.
The NHL has been working on this technology with Sportvision for a couple of years now and is using all-star weekend as its petri dish for the project. It will take all the data it gathers from the event and analyze it, then decide how best to use it. There is no timetable for rolling it out, but it’s probably safe to assume that it should be in place by the beginning of next season.
There has long been the feeling that the NHL is going to establish its own analytics department and that makes sense. The data belongs to the NHL to begin with and it seems logical the league would use its own information, perfect it, and probably monetize it somehow.
NHL chief operating officer John Collins said the league is currently in the process of restaging of all the data on nhl.com, “that is much deeper, much richer, much more useable from a fan standpoint,” including putting all the scoresheets in the history of the game into a digital format. The league will also be providing archival footage to go with the historical data.
“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” Collins said. “We know from everything from fantasy hockey…to the way that people use our sites now that they want this kind of information so we’re going to provide it.”
The possibilities are endless. The league now will be able to provide head-to-head comparisons, say between Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings for the time they’ve been on the ice against each other. Unfortunately, some of the more subjective statistics such as hits, takeaways and giveaways, which can vary wildly from building to building and often favor the home team, will not change.
And while Corsi appears to be on its last legs, this new technology will almost certainly open opportunities for all kinds of new statistics, some we may not even know exist yet.
“You can’t have a math lesson on the screen,” Adams said. “But there will be enormously deep data that sabermatricians are going to dig into and come up with all sorts of great insights.
Adams provided a baseball example the data was given to fans and people were able to scrape the site at mlb.com and the sabermatricians started digging through this data and started coming up with insights, such as how valuable is it for a catcher to be able to frame the strike zone better than the average catcher. They were able to provide data on e how often a catcher was able to get a corner or a ball that was just outside the strike zone to be called a strike and compare that across every catcher and every umpire.
“And now we can actually tell you certain catchers are better at framing up and they get more strikes,” Adams said, “and you can actually create a monetary value for that.”
Speaking of money, the technology is not cheap. It costs “several hundred dollars,” according to Adams to insert the chip into each puck. And if that puck goes out of play, nobody can expect it back. “At this point, it will be a very expensive souvenir,” Adams said.