Although still in the heat of a playoff battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL’s Washington Capitals are keeping one eye focused on upcoming years, too, as evidenced by their latest pick-up —hockey analytics company and Simon Fraser University product, HockeyData Inc.
Formed in 2016 with the aim of providing data and analytics on the NHL draft for teams and agents, HockeyData Inc. announced it has captured its first NHL client in the Capitals, who will lean on the analytics company to produce stats on American Hockey League (AHL) players, something that used to be left to an organization’s scouting department, back in the old days.
“It’s costly for teams to hire scouts to evaluate each individual player,” says Cole Gawenda, student at SFU’s Beedie School of Business and operations manager for HockeyData, in an SFU press release. “Our data allows the teams to envision trends, focus their scouting evaluations on specific players, and adjust their opinions based on the additional information we can provide.
The company uses a proprietary tracking system to amass and analyze data on all hockey events that occur during the run of play. “Our mission is to supplement the team’s existing evaluation tools with our tracked data,” says Gawenda.
Supported by SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection, an entrepreneurship program for students, faculty, staff and alumni, HockeyData Inc. is a 20-person operation which was recently named “Best Presenting Company” in the start-up category at the Canadian Financing Forum, a yearly venture capital showcase, as well as being named one of 2017’s Top Emerging Tech Companies by the Ready to Rocket program, a business recognition program for British Columbia’s tech sector. “We have a great sales team, who worked hard throughout the season to show the value that our data offers to representatives from teams, like the Capitals,” says Gawenda.
The Capitals made news a few years ago by hiring Tim Barnes, creator of the Corsi statistic, a measure of offensive zone possession, to head their analytics team. Enhanced statistics like Corsi can give teams a better understanding of players, some of whom may be undervalued in the current marketplace, says HockeyData’s CTO, Garret Hohl, to SportTechie. “As the market shifts, the next advantage will be in some other areas that are currently undervalued,” says Hohl, who believes that digging deeper into the minutiae of hockey players’ on-ice actions will be the next wave in analytics.
“Micro-statistic tracking of things like zone entries, zone exits, passes, forechecking can help us not only learn why some teams and players are statistically better performers than others, but also maybe how to improve our output metrics, optimize usage, and improve player development,” Hohl said.
This past weekend, Carleton University was host to the third annual Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference, a 200-person gathering of academics, analysts and team representatives, including members of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightening and Florida Panthers and the CHL’s Peterborough Petes, Kingston Frontenacs and Drummondville Voltigeurs.