Bettman: Puck, player tracking ready for playoffs

ST. LOUIS — It might be a work in progress when it arrives, but the NHL will have puck and player tracking in every arena beginning next season.

During his All-Star Game news conference, commissioner Gary Bettman said that puck and player tracking will be “up and running in the arenas of all 16 teams that make the playoffs this season, and all arenas leaguewide for the 2020-21 season.”

The technology has been a long time coming in the NHL. Bettman announced at last year’s All-Star Weekend that puck and player tracking would be implemented this season. But last year, the league split with Jogmo World Corp., the German company developing the smart puck and wearable technology. Working with partner SportsMEDIA Technology, the NHL will use a combination of sensors placed on the players and inside the puck, with data collected by in-arena antennas, and optical sensors at ice level.

“I believe the players will generate something like 200 data points per second and the puck 2,000 data points a second, so in terms of getting inside the game, telling stories, as a fan delving in to get what you’re interested in, you’re going to be able to do more things than ever before and even imaginable,” Bettman said.

“As a fan and a viewer, what you want it to be. You’ll be able to watch the game as you’ve always watched it traditionally if that’s what you want. There’ll be broadcast enhancements that the broadcasters can use either on the primary screen or on secondary screens. There will be more data than ever before.”

Puck and player tracking isn’t just a storytelling device, however: It’s potentially big business. The NHL has licensed its data to sportsbooks such as MGM and William Hill, with the anticipation that the sportsbooks will build new ways to wager on hockey around that data.

But collecting that data will be a work in progress. As it has in the past, the NHL is testing puck and player tracking at All-Star Weekend in conjunction with its broadcast partners in the U.S. and Canada. There will be more tests during the season, specifically to make sure that the puck with the sensors in it can be used in games without any problems.

“We have to make sure the puck performs the same way as a normal puck,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

The NHL has tested the puck before in games, and once players learned they were using a new puck, some claimed it felt different than the usual game puck. Will the NHL tell players beforehand this season if they’re using the sensor puck?

“That’s a fair question,” Daly said. “We did already send a communication to all the clubs that we intend to test them in some upcoming games. We haven’t identified which games. Whether we will, I have to give some thought and talk to some people about it.”

Daly said that puck and player tracking will continue to evolve during implementation.

“There will always be more and better. A lot of the ideas that are going to come along are going to be the result of what we see with what we get,” he said. “I think it’ll be evolutionary. What we end up with in the playoffs will look different than what we get in the next regular season.”

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