In conjunction with tomorrow's Stadium Series game, the NHL will be hosting an "innovation event" today in Santa Clara where it will unveil phase one of its revolutionary new statistics wing that's expected to pioneer advancements like RFID player tracking, 3-D recreations of full games and a treasure trove of historical data dating back to the league's inception over the coming year. We'll have Jon Wold filing a report from the event later on but, before that, the league has already posted its initial "enhanced stats" offering on a new NHL.com hub. Here's player data on the Sharks.
The early reviews have been mixed, with a lot of coverage centered on the names Corsi, Fenwick and PDO falling by the wayside. In all honesty, this seems like a pretty silly thing to get up in arms about. The primary goal of the NHL's new stats project is to make this stuff accessible to fans who have never looked at statistics beyond goals, assists, points and plus-minus before. Using esoteric names that in no way describe what the stats in question are actually used for seems like a quick way to turn people off. Granted, renaming Corsi "SAT" and Fenwick "USAT" doesn't appear to make things any less confusing to the casual observer but I digress.
the good news about the new NHL stats names is that this is the first time a lot of guys who played in the CHL will do well on SATs— i, rl (@twolinepass) February 20, 2015
It's important to keep in mind that this project is still in its infancy. The blueprint is clearly the NBA's awesome stats hub, also powered by SAP, and there's a long way to go for the NHL to even come close to the level of detail boasted by that league. But that's coming and, while I'd never label any criticism lobbed at the NHL unjustified, it's worth keeping in mind that staples of hockey's advanced stats movement like Behind the Net, Hockey Analysis, War On Ice and the late Extra Skater didn't spring up overnight as perfect creations. They implemented user feedback to constantly improve both the types of data they collect and the way in which they display it.
So, in that vein, here are five suggestions that could immediately improve NHL.com's new statistics hub. These aren't about adding new, otherwise unavailable stats like puck touches or zone exits as those things aren't coming until the league begins implementing SportVU cameras and chip tracking next season. These are five, relatively small improvements SAP's programmers could make tomorrow to improve functionality and make the site more accessible to users.
1. Replace score close numbers with score adjusted numbers
Right now, for both players and teams, the NHL has its shot attempt stats divided into "ahead," "behind" and "close" game states. Unfortunately none of these are all that conducive to distilling a properly-contextualized possession metric, especially at the team level. As Blake McCurdy demonstrated over at Hockey Graphs, score-close numbers are substantially inferior to score-adjusted numbers in every way. I think there's definite value to the "ahead" and "behind" numbers to help fans analyze shifts in player usage depending on whether a team is trailing or leading but the league would be best served to ditch the score-close numbers for both players and teams and put in score-adjusted possession numbers instead.
2. Add minimum games played or time on ice filters
The top three players on NHL.com when sorting by "SAT% Even" this season are Matt Lindblad, David Wolf and Miikka Salomaki. I like to think I follow hockey pretty closely and I've literally never heard of these guys. For a site that on some level wants to sell uninitiated fans on the utility of these stats, that's more than a trivial concern. With the ability to set a minimum games or minutes played threshold (and defaulting to some agreed-upon minimum standard every time users visit the site), you'll be able to get a large enough sample size that legitimate players rise to the top.
For example, when I set a 500 5-on-5 minutes played threshold on Hockey Analysis and sort by Corsi For%, Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron all show up in the top five. Those are Selke Trophy ballot mainstays and, more importantly, players fans are actually aware of, lending more credibility to the stats than, say, top-five SAT% Even player Travis Morin. It's also just more convenient not to have to wade through pages of players who have played fewer than 20 games this season when looking up data.
3. Separate player rate stats between 5-on-5 and 5-on-4
Not a huge fan of the NHL using "per 20 minutes" denominators for player scoring rate stats rather than the conventional per 60 but that's a small issue compared to the lack of separation between a player's production per minute of 5-on-5 time and his scoring per minute of 5-on-4. The entire point of rate stats is to correct for ice time discrepancies between players and thereby compare their scoring efficiency on a more level playing field.
It defeats the purpose when you're comparing someone like Joe Thornton's overall points per 20 to that of someone like Tyler Kennedy given the extreme difference in power play ice time between the two players. It's a fundamentally apples-to-oranges comparison as anyone who sees a significantly greater share of their minutes on the power play is going to look like a more efficient scorer than a player who's almost exclusively deployed at even-strength. This is an easy fix, as the league can just separate even-strength scoring per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time from power play scoring per 20 minutes of power play ice time for each player.
4. Add power play and penalty kill stats to the team page
Similarly, there's no separation between even-strength and power play shot generation or goal scoring on the new team data pages. In fact, the team pages as a whole are a complete trainwreck, inexplicably including things like overall team assist rate per 20 minutes (how is this meaningful?) over enhanced stats that allow you to compare a team's performance at even-strength and on special teams beyond the basic 5v5 F/A, PP% and PK% stats previously available on NHL.com.
5. Put enhanced stats on individual player pages
This one is pretty straightforward and, I would assume, already on their to-do list. The "split stats" tab on individual player pages are a treasure trove of all sorts of useless information ranging from how many assists a particular player has picked up on Tuesdays this season to the amount of ice time he averages against Metropolitan Division opponents. Adding SAT%, zone starts and scoring rate stats to these pages is the logical next step of this process.