If you have ever spent any time on hockey Twitter then you know that just the very term is controversial, but what is analytics really? It’s the process of using data to inform decision-making and strategy.
When put that way it doesn’t really seem so controversial, does it? If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we have to learn and adapt in response to new situations. No one is suggesting we replace watching tape and running drills with a spreadsheet, but more information is surely better.
Hockey, however, is a complex and dynamic game and much harder to study numerically than, say, baseball. Even given all the complexity, there is still plenty that the amateur analyst can learn with simple tools.
There are a lot of reasons why people get into sports analytics; to learn more about the sport, to learn to code, because they have specific questions, but how do you get started?
Well, in my experience, it’s best to start with a question you want to answer. Play-by-play data from every NHL game is available via the NHL API, scraping the data takes a little time to set up but the wonderful people at Evolving Hockey made their code public and Meghan Hall wrote some wonderful tutorials on using R, but if you don’t want to look at every game or every player, data can readily be downloaded from Natural Stat Trick.
Not a coding or a math wizard? Data can readily be opened in Excel or other spreadsheet software of your choosing, allowing you to make plots and graphs that will go a long way to answering your question (those of us who are lazy coders happily flit between python, R, and Excel, based on whatever is most efficient). Hockey data is also a great way to engage a hockey-obsessed teenager in coding and statistics, skills that will serve them well in the wider world.
If you want to dip your toes in the water, Stathletes (one of the providers of data to NHL teams) is running a data analytics contest in conjunction with the Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference.
Even if you aren’t an expert coder or mathematician, and you don’t want to enter the contest, you can download one or both of the data sets and play around.
What can you, or your teenager, learn?
You might find something cool.
Featured Image: Dallas News