The NHL continues to enhance its puck and player tracking capabilities with an eye toward improving the game.
Pucks have been tweaked for 2022-23, with the embedded sensors now closer to the surface. The SMT-designed sensors have been moved closer to the surface to improve accuracy
“We just have much better coverage on the puck, we’ve improved our line of projection algorithms,” said SMT CEO Gerard Hall. “It’s something that may not be seen per se, [but] the fine details of where the puck is located has been greatly improved as we move into the season.”
Despite the improvements, SMT and the NHL made no mention of gameplay benefits a result of puck tracking. There are key areas where instantaneous positional data on the puck is not only informational, but critical to the game. Consider the situations where officials are tasked with locating the puck:
- Zone entry: when did the puck completely cross the blue line?
- Shots on goal: Did the puck completely cross the goal line?
- Deflections: Was the puck deflected above crossbar height? This becomes a simple positional calculation instead of a manual estimate based on available replay angles.
- Puck over glass: Did the puck deflect off the glass or an opponent’s stick before leaving the playing surface?
The NHL has not disclosed their plans for these applications of puck-tracking technology. Considering that the SMT-developed puck uses light-based sensors, there may be limitations on what data – if any – may be available when the puck is covered by a goaltender’s equipment.
Player Tracking Penalties
The league is also looking into player tracking to assist with penalty calls.
Too Many Men on the ice may seem like an obvious choice. While there are many situations that require an official’s judgment, there may also be times where the data clearly indicates an infraction. Six skaters beyond the bench area during normal play would be one such case.
The league, though, is looking for opportunities on other penalty calls. David Lehanski, the NHL’s SVP of Business Development & Global Partnerships, says the league could track limb and stick movements to determine high-sticking penalties and other calls.
“There may be a way where we will leverage it for on-ice officiating to know exactly where the stick is, where the limbs are,” Lehanski told SportTechie.com. “We could be using that potentially for officiating in a game or a video review that needs to get looked at.”
:: record scratch ::
Wait… what? We’ll reserve judgment in hopes that this remains a tool for the officials rather than an attempt to automate calls.
“It’s aspirational, but it’s very real as a possibility,” added Hall. “The experimentation is going on.”
Interesting, for sure. Let’s start with those puck-related fixes, though, before we start messing with the stripes.