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NHL Centennial

NHL puts historical stats at your fingertips

Six-year project gives fans online access to data on every game, player since 1917

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

NHL.com Historical Stats Tutorial

NHL.com/stats now includes every NHL game ever played

The NHL has digitized the complete statistical archive for the last 100 years to include stats from every NHL game ever played. NHL.com/stats

  • 02:10 •

Who holds the NHL record for most consecutive games with a point? Easy. Wayne Gretzky. It's right there on Page 176 of the NHL Guide & Record Book. He had a 51-game point streak as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 1983-84.

How did Gretzky do game by game during the streak? It used to be hard to find out. The game logs on NHL.com went back to 1987-88. You had to piece together the information yourself.

Now all you have to do is click.

 

[RELATED: NHL offers access to 100 years of player, team, game stats]

 

It's right there on Gretzky's page on NHL.com. You can see he had as many as eight points in a game twice during the streak. You can see he kept the streak alive with a single assist five times. You can see the streak ended against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28, 1984, and you can pull up the box score of any of the games.

As the NHL celebrates its centennial, it has digitized its statistics archive. Everything back to 1917. One hundred years of numbers. Countless data points. History that used to be stored only in a small, nondescript room at the League office in Toronto is now at your fingertips.

"People could never see that unless they came to our office and looked through the files," said Benny Ercolani, the NHL's chief statistician, who has worked for the League for more than four of its 10 decades. "Now we've made it accessible to everybody."

The process took six years.

"Six years, easy," Ercolani said.

Benny Ercolani, the NHL's chief statistician, has worked for the League for more than four of its 10 decades.

The way the NHL tracks statistics has evolved with time and technology. Ercolani and his team -- most notably Brendon Crossman, Stuart McComish, Luc Coulombe and Neil Pierson -- had to bring the past into the present.

When the League began in 1917-18, it tracked goals and assists. Times were added to the official scoresheet in 1922-23. Over the years, more information was included: times and types of penalties, shots by individuals, saves by goaltenders, who was on the ice when goals were scored, and so on.

Official scorers used to send telegrams to the NHL office in Montreal listing only goals, assists and penalties and then mail more detailed handwritten scoresheets, penalty sheets and lineups. Email hadn't been invented yet. Stats were handwritten in large ledger books.

The League hired its first official statistician in 1963 and installed its first photocopier two years later. It started computerizing statistics in 1971-72. Stats had to be tabulated by a key-punch operator and transmitted via a long-distance dial-up connection from the home team. Think about that next time your Wi-Fi is slow.

By 1984-85, the NHL had an electronic stats system, and as the years went on, it became more sophisticated.

Scoresheet from Detroit Red Wings vs. New York Americans game on Nov. 15, 1932

But the old information hadn't caught up with the new technology. To make, say, Gordie Howe's bio as complete as Sidney Crosby's, someone would have to dig up everything and enter it into a database.

Gary Meagher, NHL executive vice president of communications, approached Ercolani.

"He says, 'You know what, Benny? We can do this,' " Ercolani said. "And I said, 'You're nuts. We can't do this.'"

They could, and did. Ercolani and his team spent 3 1/2 years manually entering data from original source material -- game by game, goal by goal, on and on. Sometimes game sheets were missing from the NHL archives and help was needed from teams and historians like Bob Duff and Greg Innis. Sometimes they ran into snags.

Until 1935-36, a goal could have three -- and in some cases four -- assists.

Scoresheet from St. Louis Eagles vs. Montreal Maroons game on Nov. 13, 1934

"I told my programmer, 'I'm going to have a situation where we're going to have to put three assists on a goal,' " Ercolani said. "He said, 'What?' The machine would kick it back and say you're not allowed to put three assists on a goal."

Ercolani and his team spent another 2 1/2 years checking and double-checking, not only their work, but all the work in the past. They had to be sure everything was accurate, because they literally were rewriting the history books.

"Don't forget, they were doing this by hand [in the past]," Ercolani said. "So an assist was added to a certain player in a particular game, but then the people may have credited that information to another player."

The final result is that what once were dashes in player bios on NHL.com are now numbers. The historical record has been enriched and edited, and made accessible and searchable.

We know things we never did before. We know, for example, how many power-play goals Howe scored in a particular season before power-play stats were kept, because who was on the ice when he scored his goals has been entered into the database.

The number of games played was corrected for about 650 players, assists for 370, goals for 100, penalty minutes for 1,100 and shots on goal for 1,500. Most changes were minor. Some of the biggest:Leo Reise Sr. added three goals with the New York Americans in 1929-30; Hap Day added five assists with the Toronto St. Pats in 1924-25; Jari Kurri added five power-play goals in his career.

Scoresheet from New York Rangers vs. Montreal Maroons game on Nov. 10, 1934

We can find box scores of every NHL game ever played, because box scores have been created for games played before there were box scores, and we can see original game sheets as well. We can compare players from every era in new ways.

"We've filled thousands and thousands and thousands of holes," Ercolani said. "It's incredible what we'll be able to create from all the data that we've put in there."

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