NHL aglow over data-tracking tech
Hockey is only going to get more technologically bound.
The sport that introduced the glowing puck — ahead of its time, commissioner Gary Bettman says — is going all-in on puck and player tracking, which is supposed to be in place by the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The technology — at a cost of “tens of millions,” the NHL commissioner said Monday — will be tested at the Jan. 26 all-star game in St. Louis and rolled out after that.
It will feature 200 points of data from the puck and 2,000 from each player, all giving followers quick access to information on speed (shots, passes, skating), time of possession, ice time and more.
“This is all an attempt to connect people to the game more closely, and on their terms,” Bettman said at the Prime Time Sports Management and Trade Show conference at the Westin Harbour Castle. “And I’ve said this repeatedly, the game has got to be great. And everything we do with technology is enhancement.
“You use the technology to bring people closer to the game. You don’t change the game to match the technology.”
Bettman was also in Toronto for Monday’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a meeting of NHL general managers on Tuesday.
He said at first the technology will be available only to broadcasters, with a broader audience to follow — fans, especially those with statistical leanings, and even in-game officials.
“This is going to be a work in progress,” Bettman said. “We want the basic technology to work, which we believe it will. And then we’re going to figure out how best to use it.”
An update on puck-tracking technology will be on the agenda when the GMs meet, as well as offside calls — especially those made after video review.
A lengthy review involving Boston’s Charlie Coyle in a Nov. 6 game against Montreal overturned a goal, after the referees deemed Coyle offside because he wasn’t in control of a puck between his skates as he crossed the blue line.
“We need to clarify some things,” Bettman said. “There needs to be some discussion because a couple of managers have requested it on offsides. What’s interesting is the complaints about offside saying, ‘Well, it was just a tiny bit offside.’ That’s not video replay’s fault. That’s the rule. And video replay gets it right. And so, you know, I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it, but that’s what we’re going to discuss.”
Bettman sees a point where the puck-tracking technology can help with offside reviews.
“(We) may be able to have an application where we know exactly where the puck is,” he said. “So you don’t have to worry about distortions from camera angles. We’ll know because of the data points whether or not the puck fully crossed the line.
“So those are the things that we’re going to continue working on. Because at the end of the day, our officials have the toughest job in all sports. They do a remarkably good job, but there’s a human element to all of this. And if we can help them be better, we want to do that.”
The managers may also weigh in on what transpired in Saturday’s Vancouver-Colorado game, when the officials let play continue — the Canucks scored — while Avalanche forward Matt Calvert lay on the ice after taking a puck to the head. The officials are not required to blow the whistle in that case. They can if they believe the player is in distress, but when a player is down they don’t typically blow the play dead until the injured player’s team recovers the puck.
“Generally, it’s applied with common sense and that’s what we encourage the officials to do,” Bettman said. “And obviously, if the player’s in real distress on the ice, the officials need to react, but those are tough situations to be in, to evaluate in real time. But we’re going to continue to focus on that.
“We’ll probably discuss further whether or not the rule needs to be modified, or do we just need the officials to make sure they’re more comfortable using common sense.”
Bettman also touched on other topics:
On the future of women’s hockey, he said the NHL is not ready to form its own league, citing the existence of the National Women’s Hockey League. “There is an existing league. There’s a lot going on in that space. We’re very supportive of the women’s game and we have been — financially and (by) being inclusive in some of our events — but starting the league isn’t as easy as people think.”
On collective bargaining, he said it was “a very positive sign” that both the league and the players’ association decided not to reopen the current contract early, favouring continued talks. The deal expires in 2022.
As for the old glowing puck, used when Fox TV took over hockey broadcasts in the 1990s, Bettman said it was an industry leader for its time. “While it didn’t work perfectly on a puck, it’s what led to video insertion (of ), for example, the first-and-10 line in football,” Bettman said. “This (new) technology that we have in place is much more precise with a puck that has integrity.”
Hockey fans in Las Vegas got to test drive the NHL’s data-tracking experience in January. The full effect is set to launch at the all-star game in St. Louis in January, for broadcasters only at first.