The NHL is getting ready to implement smart pucks with data-tracking technology

Dumb pucks, your days are numbered.

The NHL is reportedly preparing to implement advanced technology into the hockey pucks that are used during game action. According to David Lehanski, NHL senior vice president of business development and global partnerships, the league will soon begin “embedding technology into its pucks that will allow it to track movement on the ice at a rate of roughly 200 times a second.” 

The plan is to utilize the data collected by the tracking technology in a variety of ways. Lehanski believes the collection of data will ultimately enhance broadcasts and provide a deeper experience for fans. (Hopefully that leans more toward MLB’s StatCast and less toward FOX Sports’ glow puck.) 

The league also believes the data will serve as a useful analytical tool at the team level, including on the benches during games. Live data can be sent to the benches for coaches and players to reference via league-distributed iPads.

According to Lehanski, the technology will likely be introduced and tested in 2019, either during next season’s playoffs or the start of the 2019-2020 season.

This is an idea that the NHL has expressed interest in since October of last year, when commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled plans for a league-wide player and puck-tracking system. Bettman and the NHL tested out player-tracking technology with uniform chips during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

It’s not yet known whether these new smart pucks will help provide any sort of goal-line technology to assist league officials with video reviews and coach’s challenges. That has been a topic of hot discussion around the league over the past few years, and it was recently reignited thanks to a controversial ruling during the Capitals-Penguins second round series.

That may be in the plans further down the road, as well as integration with live sports betting.

“There’s no doubt that [sports betting] will be a part of the fan experience almost across any touchpoint. Live streaming products will start to incorporate betting functionality. And today, the foundation for that experience is data,” said Lehanski. “We’re seeing that 75 percent of all bets in sports now are in-game prop bets. The only way we can do that in a real-time manner is to be aggregating data and distributing it on a real-time basis with someone who can create odds and probabilities in real time and distribute that to the fan.”

With hockey becoming increasingly data-driven over the past decade or so, advanced analytics have taken a major place in the game and the way talent is evaluated (computer kid Kyle Dubas is now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs), so the implementation of puck and player-tracking was seemingly inevitable. Now, it’s seemingly around the corner.

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