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Edmonton Takes Another Small Step Into the World of Hockey Analytics

The Oilers announced Hackathon 2.0 yesterday; an analytics contest giving you the chance to win a spot in the team's inner circle.

When I hear Oilers and analytics in the same sentence this image immediately comes to mind.
When I hear Oilers and analytics in the same sentence this image immediately comes to mind.
Dave Sandford

Yesterday morning the Oilers announced an analytics contest that they’re calling Hackathon 2.0. Essentially what the Oilers are doing is making the data they’ve compiled over the years available to people who want to do some analysis and try to answer four questions. It’s a concept that I find more than a little intriguing and that’s why, when the Oilers contacted me about the contest launch last week, I agreed to be in attendance for the contest announcement yesterday. In fact, if you watch the video of the launch on the Oilers website you’ll see my smiling face at the 40 second mark.

Before attending the announcement I knew only that there was going to be an analytics contest and nothing more. I asked for more details but the Oilers wouldn’t budge and even asked me to keep the contest under my hat until they’d had a chance to officially launch it. I didn’t know what the questions would be or anything about what prizes would be going to the winner(s). Now that I’ve had a chance to look through the fine print I’m no less intrigued by what the Oilers are doing but I also see a few things that I dislike as well..

Let’s start with what’s good here. Basically, it offers fans a chance to peak behind the curtain a little and that is, to me at least, very exciting. As fans we dissect each and every move that the Oilers make but we really have no idea what is going on behind the scenes when Oilers management makes a decision. We use the best data we have available to critique the moves but we don’t know what the team was looking at so we only know part of the story.

Having a chance to look at the data the Oilers have access to obviously won’t eliminate the knowledge imbalance between the fan and the team but it will give the fan a better understanding of what the team has at their disposal when making a decision. And ultimately, the contest winner will get a chance to participate in the Oilers Analytics Working Group. That’s like peaking behind the curtain behind the curtain. That really would be an interesting experience; even if you were nothing more than a fly on the wall I think that would be interesting.

But, like I pointed out earlier, this contest isn’t without its flaws. Tyler Dellow has already broken down a few of the bigger problems with the contest on his site and he is correct across the board. He correctly points out a strike shortened season would produce unreliable results due to the sample size and even the questions themselves aren’t likely to produce the kind of data that would give the Oilers a competitive advantage even if someone does produce an accurate model. This makes me wonder what the point of all this is unless, and this scares me, the Oilers themselves don’t realize that the results wouldn’t help them.

Looking at what the Oilers are trying to do here I think that they see some value in analytics but not very much. If they really valued the work they would be better off to just hire a few of the people already doing this kind work rather than going through the hassle of holding a contest; and if they did opt for a contest the prize for winning would be much more substantial in order to provide a real incentive for the people they want/need to attract. The grand prize, while something I would place significant value on, isn’t going to hold the same value for everyone (read non Oilers fans) and almost certainly isn’t valuable enough to get anyone who is serious about entering this field as a career to participate. So in the end what they will likely get is a knowledgeable fan. Doubtful that fan will be a game changer.

Call me a cynic but at the end of the day I think the Oilers are looking to get something for free here. There is nothing wrong with something that's free but it’s worth remembering that you almost always get what you paid for.