NHL aglow over data-track­ing tech

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - Kevin Mc­Gran

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.”

JOHN LOCHER THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

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