Beyond the Stats: An Interview with Extra Skater’s Darryl Metcalf
July 9, 2014 2 Comments
The popularity of hockey analytics continues to grow as fans, teams and the NHL embrace new methods of measuring team and player performance. The uptake of analytics is dependent on the individual doing the analysis, as each person has different opinions and biases regarding what impacts a game result and what doesn’t. As a result, a number of websites have emerged providing various levels of data and analysis, putting the onus on the end user to interpret it as they please.
It’s important to note that fans in particular have lead the charge when it comes to developing and discussing new ideas regarding the game. The online environment has been critical for the growth of hockey analytics as fans connect online, publish ideas and develop the knowledge that surrounds the game. In recent years, a number of data visualization tools such as Super Shot Search and Shift Chart, have been developed by fans making data accessible, readily available, and easy to use. A major shift has occurred moving fans from passive consumers of information to more active participants when it comes to developing new ideas and information.
Extra Skater, for instance, has become a go-to source for anyone interested in learning about hockey analytics, including the modern metrics (i.e., Corsi, Fenwick, etc), and has established itself as a solid reference point for fans. The website uses and extends data from NHL.com and has worked collaboratively to include Vollman and Tufts’ Player Usage Charts. Recently, the website has expanded to include advanced statistics for major junior league (CHL) players, and partnered with Cap Geek to include players’ UFA statuses.
Darryl Metcalf, the man behind Extra Skater, was kind enough to answer some questions about the field of hockey analytics, his motivation for launching the website and the importance of the online fan community.
Tell us about yourself/profession background and how you got into hockey?
I played hockey growing up and have been a fan since I can remember, not unlike many kids who grow up in Canada. Today I’m a consultant for a web firm and work on Extra Skater in my spare time.
How did you get into hockey statistics and analytics?
My interest in stats comes from being a fan of the game and wanting to understand it better. I’m a baseball fan, too, and seeing the stats revolution there certainly had some influence.
What was your motivation to launch Extra Skater?
There was, and is, a lot of great info and tools on other stats sites like Behind the Net. I used those sites regularly but wanted to do more with the numbers so I started putting data into my own spreadsheets and playing around with different ideas. Eventually I got to the point where I thought other people might find useful what I was putting together, so I started developing what would become Extra Skater.
Where do you pull your information from for Extra Skater? How much time and effort does it take to maintain the website?
Most of the raw data comes from NHL.com, which publishes various types of reports for every game. Updates are mostly automated, so regular operation of the site doesn’t take much time, which lets me spend time improving it instead.
What has the traffic been like for Extra Skater? Which teams or players get the most attention?
Traffic has grown fairly consistently since I launched the site before the 2013-14 season, much like general interest in advanced stats, I think. I don’t have stats on the popularity of specific teams or players but I’d venture that this season the Leafs were the biggest draw. Many identified them before the season started as a sort of test case for advanced stats and attention to their stats was definitely high throughout the season and especially so during their eventual collapse.
What has been pushing the growth of hockey analytics?
It’s mostly fans, I think, and by mainstream hockey writers like James Mirtle and Neil Greenberg that work hard at communicating complex concepts in easy-to-understand ways and making them applicable to everyday conversation. Another things that’s helped drive hockey stats forward is the growth and acceptance of stats in other sports like baseball and basketball. Sports fans watch Moneyball and see the NBA’s tracking technology and say “why not hockey?”, which is an excellent question.
How have you benefited from the online fan community?
The slice of the community that’s into advanced stats is, in general, incredible. Interested people are willing to hand track data, read and comment on analysis pieces, and test, use, and give feedback on Extra Skater.
Where do you see hockey analytics going from here?
I think we can look to baseball to get a decent idea of what might be in store for hockey. I think stats will appear on broadcasts, more teams will jump on board, and the league will invest in new technology for data collection and analysis.
What are the barriers to expand the field of analytics? And what could help take the field to the next level?
Raw data tracking is, in my opinion, the limiting step in the growth of hockey stats, at least on the analyst side of things. More data could be collected and the data that is isn’t very consistent. The solution is equal parts league/team buy-in and technology. But all that would for naught for fans if the improved data isn’t public. On the fan side, I’m not sure that anything is holding back advanced stats other than the natural rate of permeation into general discussion.
What are your future plans for Extra Skater?
More stats, more tools, more useful ways of using data.
Thanks very much for your time and insight Darryl. Extra Skater really has become a valuable tool for hockey information and knowledge development. We wish you continued success!
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