A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.
Theme of the Week: The NHL Gets Enhanced
It was a bit of an odd weekend in the NHL, in that two of the league’s most interesting stories didn’t come from inside an arena. There was Saturday night’s marquee game between the Sharks and Kings, played outdoors at Levi’s Stadium. And then there was another event, also held at Levi’s Stadium, one day earlier: the unveiling of the league’s long-anticipated project to modernize the presentation of stats on the league website.
OK, so your mileage may vary when it comes to that last one falling into the “interesting” category. There’s still a large segment of fans who tune out immediately when they hear the term “advanced stats” (or, as we’re apparently calling them now, enhanced stats). But for those who’ve followed the game’s winding path toward better numbers, one that began in small corners of the online world and eventually invaded front offices around the league, the announcement was big news.
It’s fair to say that the reviews have been mixed. The league’s plans, as detailed here, are ambitious and long-term. Over the weekend, they rolled out the first phase, which sees a redesign of the league website’s existing stats section and the addition of new categories and tools. Over time, the plan is to have updated stats that cover the league’s history. That’s been a labor-intensive project, with old game sheets being entered by hand by a small team over five years, but it could pay off in some fascinating insights. (And if you think people get angry about this stuff now, wait until the numbers try to tell us that some beloved hockey legend from a previous generation wasn’t as good as we remember him.)
There have been objections to the way the NHL has handled all this, with some feeling as if the league is whitewashing the online world’s contributions while pretending it came up with all this stuff on its own. (The project’s head told me that it didn’t consult with any of the top names in the stats world, although the group was familiar with their work.) Some aren’t happy that the league is renaming a few key stats. And others just don’t trust the league to do right here, assuming it will eventually try to turn all of this into a proprietary moneymaker.
There’s some validity to those concerns. But the bottom line is that the league is pushing forward with something that lots of fans have been asking for. If they can get to where they say they want to go, we’ll have better stats in one easy-to-use spot. They’re not there yet, but even seeing them try feels like a big step, one that would have been hard to imagine even a year ago.
Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best
The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.
5. New York Islanders (39-20-2, plus-18 goals differential): The top four teams in the Metro are now separated by four points, but I’m going with the Islanders here because I like it when Rangers fans yell about games in hand.
4. Montreal Canadiens (38-16-5, plus-22): It’s time to start having the Carey Price–for-Norris discussion in earnest. Hell, maybe the Calder too.