SBD/March 19, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Teams Examine Motion-Tracking Potential As League Looks To Catch Up In Analytics

Harris' management could lead the Devils to further embrace analytics
At the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, "you couldn’t help but feel as if the NHL was light-years behind the NBA in gathering and using data to improve teams," according to Craig Custance of ESPN.com. Part of that is "because the NBA has motion-tracking cameras in every arena, generating data on every single player in every single game." It is "safe to assume" Devils Owner Josh Harris and his management team "would like the Devils to be just as progressive in their data gathering." The challenge now is "finding a way to make it happen." The team in January "posted a job opening for a position called director of hockey analytics." It is "not cheap to start an analytics department, and it also takes support from ownership." The Devils under Harris' ownership "pledged to build a highly successful management team and provide it with the resources necessary to win." Part of the issue with gathering data through a tracking system is that "if one team signs on and gathers data, there wouldn’t be comparative data from other teams or historical data to examine exactly what the data means." Teams "might be willing to jump in if other teams also do it and the data is shared," or "better yet, everyone wins if the NHL or one of its television partners signs on to have the data collected and shared with teams leaguewide." Having this data be a part of a TV broadcast "would be groundbreaking in hockey." PowerScout Hockey President & Solutions Architect Marc Appleby, who is "pitching the technology to the NHL and its teams ... is optimistic that the league is getting closer to gathering this data, especially as costs come down." Appleby in an e-mail wrote, "I believe the NHL is ready and willing to do a league-wide deal within the right framework" (ESPN.com, 3/18).

WAVE OF THE FUTURE? In Toronto, Dave Feschuk reports Maple Leafs VP & Assistant GM Claude Loiselle "remains in search of an analytical tool that will give his team an edge." Loiselle called the idea of a motion-tracking system “interesting.” But he added that he is "unsure if it’s on the verge of becoming an NHL fixture." Feschuk: "Whether or not there’s an NHL club that has found a beneficial angle is anyone’s guess." OHL Soo Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas said, "I think people fear that it’s going to eliminate the way sports are managed. I think that it moreso works in concert with managing a sports team." Feschuk writes results ultimately "will drive the market." If a "tech-wise NHL franchise or two find value in video tracking and carve out an advantage that translates into wins and losses, it’s hard to imagine competitors won’t copy the formula" (TORONTO STAR, 3/19).
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