Imagine sitting in an NHL arena watching Alex Ovechkin crush a slap shot, then glancing up to the scoreboard to see just how hard he crushed it.
No, we’re not talking about this season’s NHL All-Star Skills Competition, where Ovechkin clinched the title with a 101.3-mph blast — the only shot of the evening to crack triple digits. We’re talking about in-game action, as casually as baseball fans can check the heat on any given Aroldis Chapman two-seamer.
Or maybe you’d like to know just how fast Connor McDavid was moving on his last breakaway, or if Ryan Suter really has been on the ice all night or it just seems like it.
While NHL players weren’t at the recent Winter Olympics, the players who were there tested an Omega tracking system the likes of which may eventually bring that sort of data and more to the league’s arenas.
Hold the Chips, Part I
Omega, the official timer for 28 Olympics dating to the 1932 Games, installed tracking chips in player jerseys for the Pyeongchang Olympics. Unobtrusively tucked behind the names on the backs of jerseys, the tracker, about the size of a saltine and weighing in at 10 grams (less than half an ounce), combined with camera tracking of the puck to calculate each player’s ice time, number of shifts, passes, speed, acceleration and more.
Essentially instantaneously, information is generated and distributed for use on TV broadcasts or the arena scoreboard. The chips will also produce reams of data that analytically minded coaching and scouting staffs would no doubt love to devour.
“The analytics and the statistics that we can generate through these sensors will … explain exactly how a goal was scored, how he got to the goal — for both teams, for the one scoring it and the one (allowing) it,” Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist told SportTechie.com. “Those (bits of) information will be available in real time so we can have very accurate game analysis and player stats coming out of these sensors.”
The NHL has already promised some sort of tracking system for the 2019-20 season, though Commissioner Gary Bettman said it would not require chips on players. Instead, Bettman said at this season’s Board of Governors meetings, it would be a camera-based scheme.
Hold the Chips, Part II
Former NHL defenseman and Players’ Association union rep James Wisniewski, a member of Team USA at Pyeongchang, noted player tracking is not universally adored. Data on shot velocity, ice covered and speed could be used against players in coaching decisions and contract talks.
“It’s just all cons,” Wisniewski told The Associated Press. “There’s nothing pros for a player for that at all. It’s not like you’re going to make more money, get a longer-term deal because you travel more distance or you don’t travel. All this is going to do is hurt you. Being a rep for eight, nine years, I really have a hard time believing that the PA’s going to even let that go through.”
Progress Marches On
Ultimately, the march toward more data seems unlikely to slow. The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all use some sort of player tracking.
Advanced stats give fans and fantasy leaguers more reason to click on and linger at websites, which drives revenue. More information to fill screens and scoreboards gives viewers fewer moments of downtime to have their attention pulled elsewhere.
Finland’s Oskar Osala, who had short NHL stints with Washington and Carolina, likened the potential for NHL players to the analysis enjoyed by professional golfers.
“I think it’s pretty cool how you can develop your game after you made a deep analysis of your performance in a long span,” Osala said. “For me as a fan, it makes the game so much more interesting. Absolutely as a fan I would love to have the data in hockey.”