NHL tests puck and player tracking in regular-season games

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — On one screen live video was showing how many feet per second Erik Karlsson was skating. On another was a video-game-like visualization of the game on the ice below between Vegas and San Jose. Nearby screens flashed prop bets – where the next goal would be scored from? would Max Pacioretty skate 3 miles tonight? – as odds were updated by the second.

In a hallway high up in T-Mobile Arena, virtual reality headsets provided a view of the game from the perspective of anyone from Marc-Andre Fleury to Joe Thornton to a fan in section 214.

The NHL this week tested puck and player tracking for the first time in regular-season games, an exciting step with plans to have it place across the league next season. The NHL will join and perhaps surpass the NFL with real-time tracking technology it hopes will have broad ramifications for teams, players and fans from Florida to Vancouver.

An overwhelming amount of data will soon be available for analytics, broadcasters and, yes, gamblers as expanded sports betting takes hold following last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the way.

”It’s going to change the game in a big way,” said Dave Lehanski, NHL senior vice president of business development. ”We’re going to go from tracking or capturing maybe about 350 events per game now – shot, pass, hit, save – to 10,000. That alone at the end of the day, you’re going to have a massive amount of new data that no one has ever seen before.”

Microchips were added to player shoulder pads and fitted inside specially designed pucks for two Vegas Golden Knights home games this week, against the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks. Fourteen antennas in the rafters and four more at the suite level tracked movement through radio frequencies and relayed the data to suite 46, where league and Players’ Association executives and representatives from 20 teams and various technology firms, betting companies and TV rights holders were watching along with a handful of reporters.

Tracking was tested at previous All-Star games and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The latest tests refined the logistics of using the technology in meaningful games, and also showed how the real-time statistics can be used on broadcasts, in betting applications and in creating virtual reality and augmented reality simulations.

”Technology gives us a chance to bring our fans closer to the game, gives them a chance to look at the game from different perspectives,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said as the Golden Knights battled the Sharks. ”And the opportunity is unlimited in an era where technology is developing at a record pace.”

Fans will get their first real taste of the tracking system at All-Star Weekend on Jan. 25-26 in San Jose when NBC in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada will have access to the data to use on their broadcasts. If all goes according to plan, the full range of puck and player tracking will be in place to begin next season.

The NHL and NHLPA have been discussing puck and player tracking for several years, and millions of dollars have been invested in the project. Player concerns over tracking data being used against them have been quelled enough that they agreed to wear the microchips.

”I do think the potential positives far outweigh any negatives,” said Mathieu Schneider, a retired defenseman and special assistant to the NHLPA executive director. ”It’s incumbent upon us to make sure we’re doing not only for the current guys what we can but for future guys. … I think the timing’s right.”

The NHL owns the data but must share it with the union. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the sides are on the same page and will talk about it more for the next collective bargaining agreement. One of the conditions is that teams are not allowed to use player tracking data in salary arbitration.

”Who knows what’s going to happen with it?” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. ”I think people like to see different stats, and the NHL’s probably trying to give fans a little bit of something like that. Maybe it affects some guys, maybe it doesn’t. Hopefully it only enhances players and their skills and how they play the game.”

The NHL will join the NFL as the only major North American sports leagues with players wearing tracking technology. The NBA and Major League Baseball use sophisticated systems that can include radar and cameras.

Jogmo World Corp. and the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany developed this particular system in conjunction with the NHL over the past three years. It has taken that long just to get it right; the rubber used to make pucks originally didn’t work with the sensors. The system tracks a puck 2,000 times per second and players 200 times per second.

”Overall, hockey’s the most challenging sport that you can think of because the highest mechanics, the highest speed, the highest impact,” Jogmo founder and CEO Martin Bachmayer said. ”We had to change the puck recipe, the puck mixture to make that work. That was super difficult.”

The NHL won’t say how much, but the new pucks are considerably more expensive than the frozen rubber varieties used over the past 100-plus years of hockey and any fans who went home with a puck from one of the games unknowingly got a piece of history and a valuable souvenir. How referees handle them and how equipment managers deal with the microchips on the shoulder pads were major elements of the testing this week, and adjustments will be made based on feedback from players and officials before next season.

Starting next season, broadcasters will be able to flash up-to-the-second data during games, and at some point fans will be able to customize puck and player tracking stats as they watch online. The goal is to try to attract new viewers and give hardcore fans more to sink their teeth into.

”The casuals will use it as a way to understand just how fast (hockey is),” NHL chief administrative officer Steve McArdle said. ”All the things that they have heard about hockey will come to life through data right in real time. The avids, if they want to go super deep on the analytics that are going to be derived out of this thing, it’s a rabbit hole that you could go as deep as you want to go.”

It could also change the way the game itself is played. Teams already have their own proprietary data, and the influx of standardized numbers and information with pinpoint accuracy down to the inch will make analytics even more advanced.

”They want to have more information, so that really provides us with an opportunity to really make the clubs better and smarter,” NHL chief revenue officer Keith Wachtel said.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Oilers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Off the ice, it feels like there’s never a dull moment for the Edmonton Oilers.

Connor McDavid is admonishing anonymous teammates for a perceived lack of buy-in. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli continues to make … interesting moves, with Mikko Koskinen‘s extension being an eyebrow-raiser, and Ryan Spooner being a tragicomic waiver addition.

It’s almost easy to miss the actual on-ice product of a team fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Oilers risk heading into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Saturday and 7-4 to the Hurricanes on Sunday.

McDavid and the Oilers face a Red Wings team that’s currently tied for last place in the NHL with 43 standings points. There’s plenty on the line, including Koskinen playing in his first game since signing that extension, so we’ll see how Edmonton responds on Tuesday.

[GAME PREVIEW]

What: Detroit Red Wings at Edmonton Oilers
Where: Rogers Place
When: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinGustav Nyquist
Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAnthony Mantha
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningAndreas Athanasiou
Jacob De La RoseChristoffer EhnJustin Abdelkader
Niklas KronwallMike Green
Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen
Jonathan EricssonFilip Hronek

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

OILERS

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Jujhar KhairaLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Ryan Spooner – Colby CaveKailer Yamamoto
Milan LucicKyle BrodziakZack Kassian
Darnell NurseAdam Larsson
Kris RussellMatt Benning
Brandon ManningAlex Petrovic

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Ken Daniels (play-by-play) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Rogers Place in Edmonton.

MORE: Oilers bet on Koskinen with three-year extension

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Trade deadline buyers should beware of Ferland

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Despite plenty of their fans wanting to keep the bruising pending free agent, the Carolina Hurricanes are likely to trade Micheal Ferland, according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic.

LeBrun places a potential price tag for a Ferland trade as a first-round pick and a prospect.

On paper, that’s a totally sensible move for a contender to make, with LeBrun adding the Pittsburgh Penguins to the list of potential suitors.

For one thing, Ferland is super-cheap in 2018-19. The 26-year-old only carries a $1.75 million cap hit, so a contending team could easily make Ferland merely part of a shopping spree, at least from the perspective of being under the $79.5M upper limit.

Depending upon the quality of the prospect, that potential trade is pretty reasonable for a solid rental. Ferland is coming off of a 21-goal season from 2017-18, and with 13 goals in just 40 games, is on an even better pace (.33 per game) in 2018-19. Just as enticingly, Ferland is the sort of rugged presence that teams believe they need for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Considering some of the prices in previous years – the Predators giving up their first rounder for Ryan Hartman, the bucket of picks Vegas sent for Tomas Tatar – Ferland could be a nice find.

But this is a “buyer beware” situation, at least depending upon the potential plans of a would-be buyer.

Tom Wilson money”

Yes, Ferland is dirt-cheap today, but a team would be wise not to sign Ferland to an extension before seeing him play.

For one thing, there’s a Tom Wilson comparison that might inflate his market value. During a recent edition of Hockey Night in Canada, Nick Kypreos reported that Ferland is looking for Wilson-type money for his next deal. That would mean a six-year contract in the $31M range, or at least something coming in around a $5.167M cap hit.

There’s no denying that Wilson is having a career season, even with that hefty suspension in mind. His 13 goals puts him one behind last season’s career-high of 14 in 78 games, even though Wilson’s only played in 29 this year. Even so, Wilson’s on a five-game pointless drought, and his 20.6 shooting percentage indicates that he’ll be cooling down a bit more.

So, the market’s already inflated for a physical winger who can score. There’s also slight concern over Ferland’s scoring.

Nature vs. nurture

One thing certainly helping Wilson rise up the scoring ranks is his linemates, as he’s been regularly skating with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom.

That alignment makes great sense for the Capitals for a number of reasons, including the fact that they already paid Wilson, anyway.

But a would-be buyer should be cautious about extending Ferland for the simple reason that he’s basically had nothing but outstanding linemates during the past two seasons, when he’s generated far and away his best numbers.

Last season, he was glued to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, a pairing that’s boosted Elias Lindholm to easily the best work of his career. As you can see from Natural Stat Trick, he’s frequently lining up on Carolina’s best line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, too.

Now, it says a lot about Ferland that he can hang with such high-level forwards. Plenty of other players have squandered opportunities with players like Gaudreau and Aho.

Still, if a team is investing in Ferland beyond 2018-19, it’s fair to wonder how Ferland would handle being the top guy on a lesser line, or otherwise show that he’s worth that Wilson-type money.

After all, it’s not as though Ferland’s lighting opponents on fire. Generating 25 points in 40 games this season, and 21 goals (and 41 points) in 2017-18 is promising, and fantastic value at $1.75M per season.

Would he really be worth something in the $5M range?

That question might only really matter when the free agent frenzy kicks in during July, but there’s no guarantee that a trade partner wouldn’t also be eager to keep Ferland around longer term.

***

There are risks involved even in giving up that first-round pick and prospect, but it’s easy to see why someone would want to at least rent Ferland. A longer lease option could be quite costly, though, so potential teams should really be careful here.

Considering how things have gone for the likes of James Neal, Patrick Maroon, and Milan Lucic, sometimes it’s dangerous to invest in power forwards, even when they’re well-marketed like Ferland seems to be.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Time to feel old: NHL players take ’80s, ’90s quiz

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If you’re trying to get NHL players to show some personality, you could do worse than to bring up TV and movies. Especially if you’re not allowed to ask them to do “The Floss.”

Of course, you do run the risk of feeling like a nerd. Actually, scratch that: you’ll probably end up feeling like an old nerd.

Luckily, it’s worth the risk and such feelings, at least in the case of the NHL’s “Puck Personality” video, where players of various ages are quizzed on pop culture from nostalgic TV shows and movies.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Chris Kreider seemed to do quite well.
  • “Older” players stood out, too. Nicely done, Eric Staal.
  • Max Domi‘s plus/minus on this one: not great.
  • The “I was born in 199x” segment was painful, and that’s only going to get worse once kids from the 2018 NHL Draft end up in more of these. Actually, that’s my only beef with this vid: why not ask Rasmus Dahlin if he knows any of those references?
  • The “Full House”-style interstitials and effects were a great touch. Wonderful work overall from the NHL. Speaking of that, this extended credits sequence is great, and evokes a little bit of “Too Many Cooks.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Here they go again: Panthers hoping for late-season surge

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By Time Reynolds (AP Sports Writer)

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers are hoping for deja vu.

Sort of.

A year ago, the Panthers shook off a disastrous start to the season and caught fire after the All-Star break – only to miss the playoffs by a single point. This year, they’re heading into the break on a three-game winning streak and playing perhaps their best hockey of the season after spending the first three months of the year sputtering near the bottom of the NHL.

So here they go again, trying for another late and improbable playoff push.

”We have that confidence back, that swagger,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said after a 6-2 win over San Jose on Monday night.

They’ll need more than swagger.

The Panthers were 24-8-2 in the final 34 games last season, getting 50 of a possible 68 points down the stretch. This year, with 34 games left when they return to the ice on Feb. 1, they’ll need a similar run. Florida is 10 points out of the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, and 11 points from catching Boston for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot out of the Atlantic Division.

”I think we are starting to turn the corner,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”We have a long way to go.”

As unlikely as it seems – especially for the Panthers, an often-woebegone franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 – there is a potential path to the postseason.

Florida (20-20-8) has 12 games between Feb. 1 and Feb. 23, and 11 of those are on home ice. That’s the good news. The flip side is this: Of those 12, eight are against teams that are currently in the top half of the NHL, including matchups with Tampa Bay, Nashville, Washington, Pittsburgh and Vegas quickly after the All-Star break ends.

”It’s nice to be back to feeling the way I like to feel and the confidence is there,” said Luongo, who has won consecutive starts for the first time in more than a month. ”The guys are playing well in front of me. It’s a two-way street. When the guys play well I feel good and when I feel good the guys play well.”

There is a clear urgency, and it started last week with the team on what was then a seven-game losing skid.

Florida was without Vincent Trocheck for 27 games after he broke his right ankle in November. When he returned to practice last week, the Panthers’ plan was to keep him out until after the break in order to make sure he was fully ready to go.

Trocheck successfully argued otherwise. Not only did he play in three games since returning to practice – in a four-day span, no less – the Panthers went 3-0-0 in those games, clearly sparked by his comeback.

”We’re having fun,” said Trocheck, who has two goals and two assists since returning. ”It’s fun to win some hockey games. It’s been tough for us this year in that department. To go into a break like this with a little bit of momentum, having some fun, it’s going to make a big difference for the second half.”

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