SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Hockey debates have been about feel as much as fact for much of their history. But that is changing.
Is Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith more valuable to his team? Is Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe the best player in hockey history? Where do Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby fit into that discussion? How do the career statistics of Steven Stamkos compare to other Canadian centers who are 6-foot-1 or taller and born in the 1990s?
Help is on the way. The new NHL.com statistics page (NHL.com/stats) debuted a wealth of information and tools Friday on an enhanced stats page. But even more data is coming, which will aid in any debate or answer any question regardless of era.
"It's going from walking to riding a rocket," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday of the jump the League has taken in the depth of stats it introduced Friday and plans to add in the future.
The NHL, in conjunction with SAP, debuted Phase 1 of a four-phase statistical initiative geared toward taking fans deeper into the game than ever before. The League is planning to have the final three phases in place in time for the 2016-17 season, the NHL's Centennial Celebration.
Phase 1 is the updated stats home page, which now features various enhanced statistics including shot attempts for, shot attempts against, unblocked shot attempts for, unblocked shot attempts against, goals per 20 minutes, goals per 60 minutes, and zone starts. But Phase 1 only scratches the surface of what the NHL has in store.
In time for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the League plans to integrate Phase 2, which includes advanced filtering and visualization tools, and data-driven analysis of every series and game of the playoffs to allow users to determine the advantages for each team in any given matchup.
Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, the League plans to incorporate Phase 3, which involves new metrics and visualization tools, and active player-comparison and performance-prediction tools.
To coincide with the NHL's Centennial Celebration, the League will have a complete historical database on NHL.com/stats which will feature the boxscore from every game in League history. That's Phase 4.
"If you had to boil this down to one word, I think it's 'more,'" Commissioner Bettman said. "It's more data, more precise, with more speed. That's just our way of doing all of this better."
In addition, the NHL is working with the NHL Players' Association and Sportvision to potentially incorporate player- and puck-tracking to provide the most accurate measurements for ice time, speed of players, speed of the puck, and distance of shots.
The NHL tested player- and puck-tracking at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game in January through the use of tracking chips inside pucks and a tracking device that slid inside the back of a player's jerseys that interacted with infrared cameras placed throughout the arena.
"We're working with the Players' Association to get to the point where it's not going to be judgmental; we're going to have hard data with respect to all player and puck movement," Commissioner Bettman said. "That is something we're going to be able to integrate into what SAP is doing with us."
The visualization and filtering tools are the keys to Phase 2. Users on NHL.com will soon be able to compare players in a multitude of statistics, and dissect the stats available in a variety of ways.
"You can even do any search that you can possibly come up with," NHL director of digital business development Chris Foster said. "So you can do most time on ice, last five seasons, just Western Conference players, just defenseman, just players that were born in Canada, Ontario, who are 6-foot-1 or above. It gives a personal aspect that fans and writers and members of broadcast teams can do any research they want, answer any question that they have, and really get better insights."
Foster said the data-driven analysis for the playoffs uses an algorithm that takes into account real-time data and analyzes it in a head-to-head format to better predict who has the edge in a series or game.
"What technology is allowing us to do is slow the game down and help explain how fast the game is, how skilled the athletes are, talk about the strategy of the game in ways that frankly our game doesn't allow because it is so fast-paced," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said.
Phase 3 will bring more innovative visualizations including charts and graphs to the stats page, and Foster said the League will be mining for more data to decipher what new metrics can be measured. A key component of Phase 3 will be based on head-to-head comparisons.
"What if you can look at save percentage over the course of a season across three different players, but let's not stop there?" said Anthony Jakubiak, SAP's lead designer. "Let's see how a particular player compares against the rest of the League. How does his save percentage compare against the Red Wings or the Canadiens? It's giving a wealth of tools to fans to take situational analysis into their own hands so they can see how their player or team is doing against a specific team or a specific player."
Phase 4 has been in the works for five years as employees in the NHL's Toronto office have been digitizing and entering into the League's database the handwritten game sheets dating to 1917.
"Fans will be able to compare great players across the generation, from Jean Beliveau to Wayne Gretzky to Sidney Crosby," Commissioner Bettman said. "We can bring a new dimension to the great players of today and compare them to the greats of yesterday.
"Fans can have a truly interactive experience and we'll provide them with countless search tools."