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Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) skates with the puck in front of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom (39) in the first period at Verizon Center on Feb. 19, 2015. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) skates with the puck in front of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom (39) in the first period at Verizon Center on Feb. 19, 2015. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Revamped NHL website to track enhanced stats Add to ...

The NHL is embracing the advanced-statistics movement, but in doing so is eschewing some of the parlance fans of hockey analytics may have become familiar with.

The league will announce a partnership with SAP AG on Friday, which will revamp the statistics pages on NHL.com.

The new site will track in real time the traditional goals, assists and plus-minus numbers, but will also add 30 new “enhanced stats” that many in the sports analytics community believe are long overdue.

“It’s about time they added some things that everyone else is putting in common usage. Basically the NHL is catching up to the guys in their mother’s basement,” said Andrew Thomas, Canadian expat and co-founder of the War-on-ice.com hockey data site and a professor of applied statistics at The University of Florida.

The league and teams have at times dismissed fan analysis of publicly posted hockey data, but Thomas has seen the new stats and calls their arrival on NHL.com a validation of all the work by those basement number crunchers. “They are still cutting back from what we’ve got, condensing some of the scoring situations. But it’s still a good comprehensive collection.”

The new stats will be broken down between shooting statistics, shooting percentages, shooting stats per time on ice and scoring stats. What stat aficionados won’t see much of are names like Corsi, or Fenwick, names of a former coach and analyst that are often used when describing possession numbers such as shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts.

The league’s new site will use these common terms only in explanatory text, preferring new abbreviations like SAT or USAT in their tables and graphs. Even PDO (named after an Edmonton Oilers fan nickname, and not an acronym) becomes SPSV per cent – which sums up a team’s even-strength goals divided by shots on goal with even-strength save percentage.

Most of the data the league will release will be variations on well known possession stats, but will also include stats on goals by time and penalties taken by time.

“For years NHL.com’s stats page was useless,” said Travis Yost, a writer for TSN’s hockey analytics team.“Even a small step like this is Herculean.”

Yost points out that while some stats can be filtered by whether the in-game score was even, behind or ahead, he questions the math on the “close” filter (which tracks when a team is within one goal of the opponent). “Those were used for so many years, but that’s actually one of the things we’ve been able to improve on.”

The updates to the NHL stats will roll out in three phases. As of Friday, some 30 new stats will be available for fans to dig into. SAP and the league will be tracking more than 50, and more will roll out over time. In the second phase, a playoff predictions site will come online and more advanced filtering of the stats should be possible. At the opening of the 2015-16 season, phase three will offer stats for every player in the NHL’s 100-year history as part the centenary celebration plans.

In the past 18 months SAP has begun managing statistics data for the NFL and NBA sites, and its HANA cloud-computing platform was used by the German national soccer team in its run-up to last year’s World Cup victory. “Sports is a business like any other, where there’s massive amounts of data that are being collected,” said Bob Elliott, managing director of SAP Canada.

Whether this new data, now that it has the league’s blessing, will make its way into head office or locker room decisions is less certain. “You’re going to get a wider adoption,” Thomas said. “There’s still going to be resistance.”

“I’m sure that there are five to seven teams doing more than we think they are, that are ahead of the curve,” Yost said. “I think there are about 10 or 13 teams that are on par with where the blogosphere was. I think there’s a bottom group that have no idea what they are doing, or don’t care.”

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