Hockey is Back!

Reading time: 3 min

The NHL owners and players finally agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last Sunday, so fans no longer have to pretend to understand “make-whole conditions” or feign interest for discussions of “maximum contract lengths.” Instead, we can all get back to relishing good, old-fashioned fist fights – er, hockey – in a 48-game abbreviated regular season, starting January 19. The blog team chose to celebrate by inviting us to share a few graphics generated from SnapShot, the interactive visualization system we designed explicitly for displaying ice hockey data. We built SnapShot as a system to assist professional NHL analysts — the poor/lucky souls who spend countless hours crunching numbers in hopes of discovering competitive advantages for their teams. SnapShot helps find unexpected patterns, share and discuss findings, and finally present those findings through ad-hoc infographics. These analysts have the best working knowledge of the data around, but visualization is all about giving them the capacity to comprehend thousands of data points at one time. One approach we took was to plot each shot’s location on a stripped-down rink as a small dot. We even went as far as to color them to represent any number of the categorical variables implicit in hockey (team, rink, game period, power plays, etc.). We also experimented with some more creative ways to display the cumulative patterns created by shots.

All Views Tiled
Goals from the 2010/11 season
While SnapShot has been tested out in the workflow of several prominent NHL analysts, their examples would be unfair to share with the general public (that whole ‘competitive advantage’ thing is real), so we came up with a few of our favorite images and fun facts shared below. It is important to note that all data shared in these visuals come from the 2010-11 season (a full season, can you imagine?!). Here we have all of the shots we wouldn’t have seen if this lockout had been two seasons ago: Shots up to Jan 19, 2011 — and, likewise, a glimpse at what we can roughly hope to see for the upcoming 48 games. Before and after January 19, 2012 Here, we can see that the glory days of Bobby Orr flying in front of the net seem to be over. It appears that, on the whole, defensemen no longer attack the crease, preferring to shoot from the back of the zone.
Shots and goals by defensemen in the 2010/11 season
Employing Edward Tufte’s ‘theory of small multiples,’ can you spot arenas where shot patterns appear atypical? Hypotheses abound.
All Rinks
Radial heat maps of shots and goals at each rink during the 2010/11 season
One of the benefits of creating an interactive hockey vis system was the ability to quickly address a personal rivalry between our two hometown teams. Hannah’s Penguins may have taken the championship in 2009, but Chad’s Bruins took home LORD STANLEY’S CUP in 2011! (We both choose to ignore Chicago’s 2010 season and last year’s epic LA Kings run.) This is what the champion Bruins’ regular season looked like (from lots of angles because Chad has insisted):
Bruins by Advantage Type
Shots and goals by the Boston Bruins in the 2010/11 season
Bruins Radial Heat Map
Radial heat map of the Boston Bruin's shots and goals in 2010/11
Bruins away goals
Away goals by the Boston Bruins in 2010/11 season by opponent
If you are interested in learning more about the SnapShot system you can check out our 2012 VisWeek paper. Hannah Pileggi and Chad Stolper are two PhD students at Georgia Tech who bamboozled their advisor Dr. John Stasko into approving their pitch to create a vis system for sports data. Hannah is a Human-Centered Computing student with a specialization in Social Computing, a shoe addiction, and has been addressed as an obnoxious Steelers fan. Chad is a Computer Science student doing research in Information Visualization, along with being a ginger, Bostonian nerd who worships the Red Sox.

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