Since the first men’s ice hockey world championship in 1924, the scoring rule for hockey has remained the same. Every goal must be verified by a human observer before the game can be considered legal. While it may be easy for teams to get away with blatant violations, the integrity of the game remains intact.
However, in the last two years, statistical analysis has increased its presence in hockey. After the 2018 season, the new NHL rules implemented in the offseason took aim at eliminating hockey analytics and replacing it with a more traditional approach. As a result, numerous players saw their statistical categories shrink.
Despite the changes to the scoring and penalty rules, the methods used to analyze hockey still exist. Through the use of modern technology and statistics, NHL teams can now collect considerable amounts of data in-house that was previously unavailable.
This data can help teams make better decisions both on and off the ice. In this article, we will discuss how teams can use statistical analysis to determine successful game strategies as well as highlight the changes to the upcoming NHL season that have brought us closer to a completely data-driven game.
Theory vs. Practice
As we have seen, much of the analytics in hockey stand for ‘Theory vs. Practice’. The difference between the two is that theory is built on mathematical models that have been proven to work in practice, while practice is applying those models to real-life situations.
It is vital for every team to develop a sound theory behind their play, as this will dictate how they should approach the game. The development of a strategic theory will require a combination of both practice and theory, as you will learn more from doing than you will from simply studying.
A sound theory in hockey is developed through a process of continuous analysis and learning. This starts with setting a specific goal for the team – whether this is simply being the best-est hockey team in the world or to win the Stanley Cup – and then working backwards from there.
Along with setting specific goals, a coach should also develop a clear idea of what he does and does not want to see from his team. Once this has been established, the team can begin practicing and honing their skills in preparation for the upcoming season. They will also learn more about themselves as a unit and begin to recognize their strengths and weaknesses as compared to others.
Hockey coaches and analysts can utilize specific metrics and statistics to identify areas of the game that could be improved upon. This information can then be relayed to the coaching staff so that they may fix these problems before the start of the next season.
Traditional vs. Modern
One of the primary changes implemented in the offseason is how the game is going to be scored. Gone are the days of just running around and hitting everyone in sight. Now, if you want to score, you have to put some precision into your moves. A perfectly timed pass to a waiting teammate is what will score you points in the future.
In line with this philosophy, the new NHL rules state that ‘…all players must maintain possession of the puck until the puck reaches the opposing team’s end …’. There can be no passing, tapping, holding, or feigning of a shot. This means that all of a sudden, a lot of what your coaches have been preaching all season long pays off. Play a smart game, put the puck on the open ice, and wait for a teammate to come and clean up the mess – that is what will score you points in the future.
The 45th Point
In the past, teams would use a combination of skill and smarts to figure out ways to score. While there were certainly teams that operated this way, many more played it safe and tried to be perfect. This is something that the NHL has wanted to eradicate for years, and with the new rules changes and the implementation of statistical analysis, it is clearer than ever that they mean business.
With the advent of analytics, it is now very easy for teams to discern whether or not a given play will score. To put this into perspective, let’s say you are playing the Vancouver Canucks and you have the puck deep in the neutral zone. It is your team’s third period, and you have just knocked down two opponents with some fancy shooting. You can clearly see that the next shot that you take will beat the goalie.
According to the hockey analytics community, this is known as a high-danger shot, and it is a proven fact that high-danger shots tend to be the most effective. If you are playing the Canucks, you know that they are going to come after you with all they’ve got, and this is something that you have to account for. You may not always like the way that the coaches put it, but sometimes you just have to accept the fact that some plays are better than others, and you must be able to quantify this.
How Does All Of This Impact Strategy?
When you have the ability to score at any time and from any place on the ice, you can change the dynamics of any game. As we have seen, teams can use statistics to identify areas of the game where they are strong and areas where they are weak. This data can then be used to better their gameplay and strategy going forward.
This newfound ability to quantify and analyze the game is something that has a huge impact on how teams should approach things. Instead of just running around and trying to be the best at what you do, you can look at the data and see if what you are doing is working. If it is not, you can change it up and try something new.
Along with this newfound ability to analyze and understand the game, teams have also been able to use technology to their advantage. Rather than having to rely on human observers to verify goals as they happen, which can be extremely time-consuming, teams can now use technology and the Internet to keep track of every goal and important factored in the game. As a result, coaches and strategists can now study the game and hone their skills on and off the ice, rather than just relying on what happens in real life.
With every passing season, the technology used by teams in hockey continues to evolve. New innovations are being implemented that will make it even easier for teams to track their stats and for coaches and strategists to develop strong theories about the game. With better understanding of the game comes better performance, and with better performance comes better results.