Advancing Analytics with Player-Tracking Technology

The NHL is tracking technology to track players and provide thorough,comprehensive stats in 2014-15. (The University of British Columbia)

The NHL is tracking technology to track players and provide thorough,comprehensive stats in 2014-15. (The University of British Columbia)

Like it or not, analytics and advanced stats are making their way through hockey circles everywhere — among fans, through hockey blogs and, in several cases, team front offices.

The NHL will be taking analytics a step further this fall, as it will be testing technology that tracks individual players on the ice to assess and measure output. Depending on how testing goes, a league-wide player-tracking system could be implemented for the 2015-16 season.

The league will be testing one or more systems, with the leading candidates being Sportvision and SportVU. Testing will occur on five to eight teams, undisclosed for now.

Sportsvision’s claim to fame is providing the 1st-and-10 lines seen on football broadcasts, and is also the same company that provided the infamous ‘Glowing Puck‘ on Fox hockey broadcasts in the mid-90s (video features the great Doc Emrick at no extra cost).

SportVU, on the other hand, began player tracking for all 30 NBA teams last season. The system utilizes a series of overhead cameras to track all players, and the ball, on the court. Data in various categories is available for fans to evaluate, and further information and stats are available for front office executives.

SportVU utilizes six overhead cameras when tracking NBA games. It would utilize a similar setup in NHL arenas, as well as cameras along the glass. (The Globe and Mail)

SportVU utilizes six overhead cameras when tracking NBA games. It would utilize a similar setup in NHL arenas, as well as cameras along the glass. (The Globe and Mail)

SportVU would utilize similar overhead cameras in NHL arenas, as well as further cameras on the glass. However, a big question mark for the technology is the stark differences in tracking basketball and hockey. With line changes, sudden deflections, pucks leaving the ice, high-speed shots and more, hockey would be a much more difficult sport to track than basketball. As a dry run, the company recorded eight Washington Capitals games prior to the Sochi Olympics break, and tracking the puck reportedly proved to be challenging.

These two systems wouldn’t be the only way teams utilize video for tracking purposes. FTHN CEO/Editor-in-Chief Anthony Scultore recently published an article about video software’s use in tracking players and teams. One company, TVTI, uses game footage to follow what players do, and scout opponent strategies. Portland, Ore.-based TVTI also offers another service, Pucks, that supplements video with comprehensive analysis and breakdowns of each player and team. Additionally, TVTI already partners with 12 NHL teams to provide its services.

While the NHL provides real-time stats on its site to measure the intangibles that happen in between shots and goals, there’s no way to thoroughly measure them, as each team is responsible for tracking their own real-time stats. Several teams have taken steps to embrace analytics, with hirings in front offices. With tracking technologies being tested in 2014-15, and the possibility of league-wide implementation in 2015-16, a new revolution in statistics and player tracking is set to take place in the NHL.

Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61.