NHL player tracking could be in place for ’15-16

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) passes the puck past Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews (19). (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

TORONTO — Player-tracking technology could be implemented across the NHL next season in place of the real-time statistics it has employed for more than a decade.

Officials from the league and NHL Players’ Association met earlier this week to discuss the Sportvision system that was tested at the all-star game in January, and are believed to be working towards a deal to have it fully operational for 2015-16.

That has been the NHL’s hope since a successful initial run-through in October, but it needs approval from the union to move forward.

Don Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director, says a proposal is currently being reviewed internally and must still be looked at by the players. Asked for his views on the test at the all-star game in Columbus, he replied: “I think there are some very interesting things there.

“If we can get a package of things which looks good, looks like it will enhance the broadcasts and won’t unfairly disadvantage players by the creation of some nonsense statistic or something, then (we will go ahead),” Fehr told me on Wednesday afternoon.

The Sportvision system would see computer chips placed in the sweaters of each player, plus the puck, to chart what is happening on the ice. As a result, everything from how fast and far a player skates to how hard he shoots and positions himself would be measured in real time.

It would augment the real-time stats that are currently compiled by hand at every game — an outdated system that produces inconsistencies from building to building. Sportvision would essentially standardize how stats are measured across the league while also providing a voluminous amount of data that is not currently available.

Many view it as a potential game-changer for how hockey is interpreted and understood.

“What’s going on in all the leagues now is a series of experiments as to what kind of additional data delivered in what forum and what timeframe really matters,” observed Fehr.

The NHL has recently launched the first phase of a website redesign and is hoping to incorporate the player-tracking data in future incarnations. While Sportvision has obvious potential benefits for teams and TV broadcasters, the league is anxious to keep a better record of exactly what is happening on the ice.

Fundamentally, that is why it wants to implement the new system as soon as possible.

“All the tracking stuff teams can use to compile data, find our tendencies on the ice, collect a digital history,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins said recently. “For the public, there’s the possibilities of apps and things like using it for fantasy. The other thing is how broadcasters can use the data to tell stories.

“It also might help people who don’t understand the game monitor it better.”

Fehr seems to share that view.

While noting some of Sportvision’s larger benefits, he also pointed to a practical real-time application for fans as well.

“It would give you the advantage of knowing at all times who is in the game,” said Fehr. “Sometimes that gets lost. You can’t follow the changes. Don Fehr scored — that should ever happen — and you didn’t know he got off the bench. On balance, hopefully we’re going to find a way to make it work and before too much longer. Exactly when, I can’t say.”

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