NHL players express mixed feelings about player and puck tracking

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SAN JOSE — The NHL will officially announce its player and puck tracking plans during a Friday press conference one day before the 2019 All-Star Game.

The technology was tested earlier this month during a game between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. It was also used during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and soon there will be a ton of data available to television broadcasts, fans and gamblers, as prop bets using this information can be created by sports books.

Each player and puck will be fitted with a microchip and stats such as shot speed, skate speed, distance traveled and possession time will be tracked. The technology will be broadcast on NBC in the U.S. during the All-Star Skills Friday and then during a digital-only, second-screen experience on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app during the 3-on-3 tournament Saturday night at SAP Center.

While the data collected will be exciting for fans and broadcasters to dissect, players are little wary about it. Well, those who were even aware that it was being done. During All-Star Media Day on Friday night, a number of NHL players didn’t even know the player and puck tracking was taking place this weekend. Those who knew about it, however, had mixed feelings.

“I’m not a big fan of that,” said Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues. “There’s so many analytics that I think at certain times they can tell you a bit of a story of the way a game’s turned out. But as a player, there’s so much feel involved in the game. It’s one of the fastest sports there is and the decisions that I just make in my head during a game… there’s certain reads that you just have that I don’t think a device can assess that. That’s one of the things I love about this sport. There are some interesting things. From a fans perspective, when you see how far a guy skated or how fast a guy gets up to, it’s interesting stuff, for sure.”

O’Reilly added that he wouldn’t be interested in seeing the results unless a coach brought it up to him to address something. “I do enough self-evaluation inside my own game,” he said.

[Puck and player tracking gets TV test at All-Star Weekend]

San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was a little more open to the idea, but still skeptical.

“There’s so many questions that need to be answered with it — how distances traveled and puck speed, types of shots,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s not always the hardest shot. There’s a lot of times you miss a shot and it bounces off something and it ends up in the net. There’s certain things that they’ll be able to attach to certain plays. It’s hard to really control what they’re going to use it for yet. Am I worried about it? Yeah and no.”

Pavelski said he would be interested in seeing what comes of the data, but preferred to hold off on an opinion until there was more information readily available.

Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets feels that the value placed on the new data could make everyone overlook the variables in hockey.

“I think hockey’s such a unique game,” he said. “I think the Corsi thing was such a fad for so long. People kind of got over it because you kind of lose what hockey is all about. It’s almost like soccer a little bit in terms of there’s so much that goes on around the play before you take a shot or a goal is scored that gets lost if you’re just looking at things like Corsi or player and puck tracking.”

One area that the data could come into play is contract talks. If the numbers are publicly available and the league and players agree that they can be used in negotiations, it’s another tool for both sides to use.

“That’s what everyone goes to right away,” said Pavelski. “Any time you’re looking at building a team there’s a lot of different things you can do. That’s what everyone is worried about is how someone’s going to be affected by it, positively or negatively. I really don’t know where to go with it. I’m not that worried about it. I know when I watch other sports and they draw the lines and give us numbers, I enjoy seeing that and seeing how they break down plays. 

“If it helps for our game, I’m all for it.”

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.