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Player Tracking Systems and the NHL

The last decade has been a period of statistical enlightenment within the sports world. Baseball, soccer, football, and basketball now utilize a combination of software and cameras that are able to track player’s movements around the diamond, pitch, gridiron, or court.

SportVU is currently the official player tracking system of the NBA. SportVU uses six cameras that track every movement of players and the ball on the court. SportVU has the ability to quantify touches, shot selection, and even how long a player holds the ball. It can also tell you the distance a player has traveled in a game and who failed to cover their man during intricate defensive schemes. In the SportVU promotional video which can be seen in the link below you can get a sense of how this technology currently works in the NBA.

The NHL will be testing similar technology this upcoming 2014/2015 season. If the testing proves successful, player tracking systems could be implemented in all NHL arenas as soon as the 2015-2016 season.

One of the companies vying to put a mark on player tracking in hockey is PowerScout. PowerScout uses three cameras to track every player’s and the puck’s movement on the ice. With this data, PowerScout can deduce speed and distance skated, both pass and shot speed and percentage, takeaways, shot attempts and has the possibility of much more.

Some potential issues for player tracking systems such as PowerScout is that hockey is much more complex than other sports like basketball and baseball. With line changes, swinging sticks, and the puck flying all over the place at high speeds, hockey presents a new set of challenges not seen in other sports. Basketball would be the most similar in its “organized chaos” within the game, but in hockey players are changing on the fly and there is also the issue of the puck moving at upwards of 100 mph.

Eventually there will be a technology that can produce an accurate player tracking technology for hockey. When this happens it will be interesting to see which teams embrace the technology and which teams will fall behind. On another level it will also be exciting to see how the knowledge gained from these systems will sway future decision making both in the boardroom and on the ice.

Do you think the data produced from this type of technology will have an influence on the game? Or is number crunching just a fad? Let us know what you think!