Player and puck tracking in the National Hockey League, which is scheduled to arrive for the 2019-20 season, has a few objectives. It will create new and more accurate statistics. It will provide unprecedented ways for teams and players to evaluate performances. It will add hundreds of new wagering options to the sportsbooks, from betting on shot location to the speed of players, in an effort to attract new fans through legalized gambling.
Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, also sees it as a narrative device. “It will help tell stories of the great athletes that we have in the NHL,” he said during January’s tracking test at the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose, California.
But the system the league favors — ultra-wideband radio frequencies, used to track wearable technology on the players and inside the puck — apparently can’t tell the full story. Which is why the NHL plans to use a hybrid system of both sensor tracking and optical tracking, which relies on cameras around the rink, beginning next season.
“We’re convinced that the best solution for us is a two-system tracking system: a sensor-based system that will give us X-Y-Z coordinates for the players and the pucks, and an optical system that will give stick position, body position and limb recognition that we can add to the X-Y and X-Y-Z coordinates to get the full data,” said David Lehanski, the NHL’s senior vice president of business development.
“If the tests go well, we’ll be looking to add that optical component at some time next season. It may not be exactly aligned with the rollout of the [sensor] system, but ideally at some point next season.”
Lehanski said the NHL has been investigating optical tracking systems for the past two years as a way to complement the sensor tracking. The league tested one system at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Florida, in 2018. It’s currently testing an optical system in four arenas, working with Sportlogiq and using home teams the league felt would play into the postseason to maximize the opportunities to try it out.
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