Building a database of easily digesting information is, in a single word, difficult. There's a reason we haven't found an ideal replacement for Extra Skater yet, as useful as sites like War-on-Ice and Hockey Reference can be, and we were reminded that again Friday with NHL.com's unveiling of its new "enhanced stats" hub.
The league's first effort at creating an official place to look at things like Corsi and Fenwick -- now known by new acronyms -- is full of bizarre decisions. Why is the information on zone starts included in the "player scoring" section, for example? Does "USAT Against" really convey concepts any easier than "Fenwick Against" did?
Those are legitimate questions to ask, and I think it's good that the online community is bringing high expectations to the situation. We should strive for the existence of a high-quality, publicly available advanced statistics hub, even while acknowledging that's not a simple or easy endeavor.
With all that said, what happened Friday is a good thing. It gets the community talking about this stuff in a meaningful way, and shows more casual fans that analytics aren't just some fad being touted by a certain section of bloggers and writers. They're on the big boy NHL site now, and that's a legitimate step toward acceptance and respect.
It's also important to remember that this is an ongoing undertaking. The initial rollout on NHL.com is part of a multi-phase process to bring the league's official advanced analytics up to speed, and that means we'll likely see numerous modifications and improvements over the next couple years.
Just go check out the official stats hub of the NBA for an idea of how much better this can get. When that league revealed its official advanced statistics site in 2013, it was a decent first attempt buoyed by optimism and promises of revolutionary SportVu tracking data. Much like the initial rollout of advanced stats on NHL.com, it was clear the NBA needed some time to figure out how to best compile and display its information.
A couple years later, the NBA has a robust, easy-to-use website with a plethora of sortable options and breakdowns. Things like "Offensive Rating," "Rebound Rate" and "True Shooting Percentage," might require some minor explanation, but the concepts are fairly obvious from the names. The acronyms (OffRtg, Reb%, TS%) aren't difficult to parse through.
Of course, hockey's advanced statistics are occasionally more complicated, but the concepts aren't. Shots on goal, time of possession, keeping things in the offensive zone ... it's not hard stuff to wrap the head around, it just needs to be conveyed in a way that's interesting and easily digestible.
That hasn't happened with the initial rollout at NHL.com, but I believe it will happen. The league knows how important this kind of stuff is, and there are lot of planned improvements already in store. Stat visualizations and stat search filtering are planned for April 2015, for example, and by the 2015-16 season, player tracking is supposed to be implemented. The folks behind the NBA's site, SAP, are also running things for the NHL. Smart people are in change, and they're aware that version 1.0 isn't the end all, be all.
So I'm going to take the optimistic approach, because this was never to be easy. Baseball and basketball have both embraced advanced stats a bit quicker, and yet you still hear arguments over Wins Above Replacement and the like. Websites like FanGraphs, KenPom and the NBA's official site have been developed for years, making improvements and tweaks along the way. If this was easy, we'd already have a dozen Extra Skater copycats and no need for a big company like the NHL to get involved.
But it is hard, and it's going to be a process. I just know that, having watched how other sports dealt with these growing pains over the years, I'm excited to see hockey analysis keep moving forward.