Capitals' Joel Ward: 'The game is evolving every day and (analytics) are definitely going to be part of it'

by Aug 21, 10:16 PM

Hockey is going through a epochal shift at the moment, a quantitative revolution. What was done in public, but on the fringes of the industry for years has become private and mainstream this summer. 

Over the past several weeks noted hockey stats bloggers like Sunny Mehta, Tyler Dellow, Eric Tulsky, Darryl Metcalf and Cam Charron have been snapped up by NHL clubs. Meanwhile players with obvious deficiencies but stellar underlying numbers, the types of veterans overlooked in the past – guys like Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman and Tom Gilbert – were signed to lucrative contracts.

It's a new dawn for the sport, and the athletes that play it professionally at the highest level recognize it.

"I don’t really follow the numbers," Carolina Hurricanes defender Jay Harrison admitted in a conversation with Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun on Wednesday. "I just follow pucks.

"But (the numbers) will be what they’ll be. Ultimately, if you are relevant and you can make a difference on the ice, there is a place for you in the league."

Washington Capitals winger Joel Ward was more effusive in his assessment of the utility of shot-based metrics and hockey's burgeoning school of "advanced stats."

"Football, baseball, basketball have more one-on-one matchups," explained Ward of the difficulties coming up with a statistical model for hockey. "Hockey is more of a fast-paced game. You have to go out and read and react.

"Having said that, the game is evolving every day and (analytics) are definitely going to be a part of it. I think it’s too early to say how much. It’s going to be the new wave."

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin is savvy enough about the new reams of data being poured over by fans, writers and executives to know that they're still in an embryonic stage. On Wednesday he suggested that further advances are coming, and soon.

"I’ve seen articles for the new stats," said Seguin. "But, even for myself, it’s too early to look at all that. There hasn’t been enough study to compare everything.

"But if you ask that question four or five years from now, I think they’ll have a better understanding."

The NHL reportedly plans to test a comprehensive player tracking system this upcoming season, a development which promises to further accelerate hockey's recent embrace of cold, hard data. 

[H/T Kukla's Korner]