April 10, 2016 11:41 am
Updated: April 10, 2016 11:54 am

As Canucks struggle, Vancouver hockey analytics conference looks to the future

WATCH: The Canucks faced the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night in their final game of the season after failing to make the playoffs. Even though fans were eager to get an autograph with the players Saturday afternoon, they also had plenty to say about what needs to be done in to make the team a Stanley Cup contender. Nadia Stewart reports.

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When most people think of big data and professional sports, the first thing that comes to mind is Moneyball, the 2011 sports drama starring Brad Pitt.

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“Analytics didn’t rise on its own, it didn’t become popular by itself, it didn’t become popular because Brad Pitt starred in a movie called Moneyball,” said Peter Chow-White, an SFU communications professor, sports fan and co-founder of Vancouver’s first Hockey Analytics Conference, which took place Saturday, the same day the Vancouver Canucks wrapped up their disappointing 2015-16 NHL season.

Chow-White and others say big data is changing the way baseball, basketball, soccer and other sports are being played thanks to new technology that offers more opportunities for analysis. However, advanced statistics for hockey have been a bit more challenging.

“Baseball’s a discrete game,” SFU statistics professor Tim Swartz explained. “The ball is pitched and only so many things can happen. Hockey’s a continuous game — players are moving in complex patterns. What somebody’s doing on one side of the ice affects the player with the puck.”

Conference organizers said advancements are being made, but convincing seasoned hockey executives to break away from the status quo and approach the game differently won’t happen overnight.

“Part of that is the organization of hockey, but part of that is we’re still trying to understand what analytics matter and what works in making decisions for coaches and people in back offices,” said Chow-White.

As for the Canucks, they beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 to wrap up disappointing seasons for both clubs.

Alex Burrows, who turns 35 on Monday and has spent the last 10 years in Vancouver, scored in the shootout in what may have been his last game in a Canucks uniform.

“Frustrating, disappointing,” Burrows said of the season. “We tried to battle together and finish it off on a good note.”

– With files from The Canadian Press

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