I subscribe to the school of thought that, absent the television presence and cultural significance of other major U.S. sports, the NHL must-must-MUST keep nurturing its fanbase through constant innovation and service to its addicted fans via the Weberrific world of Sportsfan 2.0.
One small part of that involves making the league site and all team sites -- despite MSG's own individualized ambitions -- an excellent, informative, full-service destination for fans.
So at first glance, the relaunch of a "new NHL.com" looks good. Of first priority to me: Making the stats machine ever richer and easier to navigate. They've done that. Just because the nature of our sport doesn't allow players' on-ice performance and situations to be placed in tidy slots the way baseball players are in sabermetrics, doesn't mean this info isn't rich and useful for the fans.
But the NHL has long sat upon a treasure chest of stats information without making it so easy to access. (Remember when the league stopped publishing blocked shots totals for fear they gave players a negotiating tool because they were unreliable?). Just this summer, when the Isles inked Doug Weight, I was trying to get a sober picture of the kind of ice time (not just minutes, but what kind of minutes and against whom) that he received last season in Anaheim, vs. in St. Louis. We knew Weight's role diminished considerably in his move from the Blues to the Ducks, but we didn't know by just how much.
That info was retrievable to an extent, but limited and requiring a lot of jotting down notes. His season stats page did not distinguish what ice time came with what team, so I had to go game-by-game to tally a picture -- when a simple, old print media function would have laid out a line of ALL of his stats with the Blues on one line, with ALL of his Duck stats on the other.
Happy to say that the new version of NHL.com makes retrieving things like Weight's average time-of-ice breakdown as a Duck only much easier. That's so niiice.
The relaunch of NHL.com has several other features like fan interactivity that are important, business-wise, even if they are of little interest to me. Accessing schedules and TV tables, finally, is as easy and intuitive as it should be. It's all a good sign that, in this department, the league knows very well what it is doing.
Is it "a watershed moment in hockey history?" That may be too much hyperbole. But "the most immersive hockey experience on the Web today?" Well yeah, actually, I think it is. Bravo.
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