Will puck and player tracking technology change the NHL?
Soon every player can be tracked and analytics will become more useful. | Photo: nhl.com)  

Will puck and player tracking technology change the NHL?

New technology expected to be deployed next season could add a whole new complexion to the game. Is this a good thing?

bgguy626
William Grigsby

Technology is moving forward even in the NHL. It was revealed that the league is planning on implementing new technology to track player's movements at 200 times per second, and at a rate of 2,000 times per second in real-time with inch-level accuracy.

According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, "We'll instantaneously detect passes, shots, and positioning precisely. It will be equally accurate in tracking players; their movement, speed, time on ice - you name it. Being on the forefront of innovation is good for our game, and most especially our fans."

How it will work

There will be 14-16 antennae installed in each NHL arena in the rafters. Four cameras will support the functionality with a sensor being placed on the shoulder pads of every player. There will be 40 specially manufactured pucks with a sensor inside it for each game.  

The technology will be installed in all 31 NHL arenas sometime during the 2019/20 season. Just imagine watching a game on television when you have all the newly acquired data to digest. Will it distract from actually watching the game?

The puck tracker was used in the NHL All-Star Game to give the viewer an improved method to see the puck, which many fans have complained is one factor that watching the game on television lacks.

Now, this wasn't the previous red trail "glow" puck that was used 20 years ago and was definitely distracting, this is a light grey colored tail that moves in a trail when the puck moves. 

A new era

This should bring a whole new level of information to the game of hockey. Broadcasters and game analysts will have tons more data to pass on to their audience.

Instead of just saying Connor McDavid streaked up the ice, you can give the viewers his actual speed in miles-per-hour! There is a multitude of data which can be collected and even used by the coaching staff to improve the team's performance.

Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, believes the Puck and Player Tracking system is the next phase of technology following the development of high-definition TV, and later 4K. It's there to increase the fan's enjoyment of the game.

"This is going to be another huge step, I think, from bringing that experience you get in the arena to people outside the arena," Schneider said. "What's the thing you always say here as hockey people? It's like, 'I love watching the game live, but I just don't get it on TV.' We've taken one big step forward with flat screens and 4K and all the things. This, I think, can help us get to another level.

We all know that the NHL has attempted to raise their TV revenue and increasing the ease of watching the game is integral to gain that means. If fans watching at home or at their favorite sports bar, can see the puck better they can follow the action better. 

Imagine if in the NFL the football was way smaller and the players could move as fast as NHL players can, it would be difficult to follow the action. 

Puck tracking will be big.

Here's what it looked like at the All-Star game action on Saturday in case you missed it.

How do the players feel about this?

"It's more analytics for the general managers to hold against you," said Columbus Blue Jackets' forward Cam Atkinson. "But I think it's good for the fans. I've seen some scenarios where it's worked, and it looked cool. You find a lot more information that you never knew. I don't know how fast I shoot the puck."

Calgary Flames' star forward Johnny Gaudreau stated, "If they don't show mine, that would be great. But for the fans, it's going to be great. They can see how fast we skate, how hard shots are, all of these things."

Researchers and engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany discovered a method to manufacture the "smart pucks" whose weight was within the range of the current pucks being used without the tracking technology.

Dave Lehanski, senior vice president of business development for the NHL describes the puck preparation process.

"For instance, pucks have to be frozen. They basically built a system that nobody else did. There's a little tray, you drop the puck in from the freezer, and it tells you if it's on and how much battery life is left. Honestly, it's not something we thought about."

The other challenges were the pucks needs to be frozen down, which kills all the electronics. You have shots that go 100 mph. There were many challenges to overcome.

Other players voiced concerns over how the puck would feel on their stick. Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres seemed concerned about this. He stated, "I hope it doesn't change the puck at all. I feel like maybe with a tracker in the puck, it could change the feel of it. You'd be surprised how close we pay attention to that stuff. The gear isn't as important as the puck. Guys can feel it."

What Eichel may not be aware of is the tracking device will be so small and light, he more than likely wouldn't notice it. Perhaps Eichel can be on a committee of players to evaluate the "feel" of the new puck, or better yet see if he can determine a tracker filled puck from one without the sensor.

GM's and head coaches will have more data

The upside of this new technology is that any general manager who is  an expert at analytics will have a slight advantage over those who may be left behind by the advancement of technology or just don't want to learn it.

The Arizona Coyotes' GM, John Chayka will be most pleased to have additional analytics since it's in his DNA. He had a company called Stathletes where analytics were sold to NHL teams to evaluate player's performances on the ice.

Kyle Dubas the GM for the Toronto Maple Leafs is another example of the new, young general managers in the NHL relying on analytics for valuable information in making their everyday decisions involved in running a team.

How else can the data be utilized?

Contract negotiations could become affected with all this new data coming into play. When the GM can say, "You know your skating speed has decreased over the season and so has your shot speed. I think we won't be giving you that long contract extension we talked about."

Television may never be the same, and fans may enjoy the games much more than they expected using the new technology,

Then, there's gambling.

Yep.

The league has already signed a licensing deal with MGM Resorts to create wagering abilities from the league's "proprietary game data." Imagine how many more things may become betting options. 

Everything from where the next goal will be scored to who is scoring it could be wagered upon.  Or even how far a particular player will skate during a game.

At least the NHL and the NHLPA have a written agreement that includes protections for players on how the tracking data is used.

That's good.

Whenever gambling is involved it tends to get quite involved.

Final thoughts

If you are a fan of statistics (as I am) you'll most likely enjoy the new analytics which this technology offers. But, if you're a player it can either work for you or against you.

And, I still don't believe that Jack Eichel will notice a bit that the smart pucks are different. I mean he will still score goals with ANY puck... he's that talented.

It may give GM's and coaches a better outlook as to which players they need to deal at the trade deadline but more than likely this will be a method for the NHL to make more revenue.

Isn't that what it's all about?

What is your opinion on this new tracking technology for the NHL? Will it help or hinder the game? Let us know in the comments section below.

VAVEL Logo