Hockey’s Next Competitive Advantage


By: Topher Scott

One of the things I love about hockey at the higher levels is the fact that it’s constantly changing.  Once you think you feel comfortable in knowing-what-you-know…BAM! What you know is a thing of the past.  And while there will always be people that are painstakingly resistant to new ideas, the beauty of our game is in its consistently evolving nature.

It’s fun to look at the history of the game and pinpoint times where it took on dramatic shifts.  You can look at how Bobby Orr changed the way defensemen played.  You can look at how Wayne Gretzky revolutionized playing behind the net. You can look how the game has shifted to speed and skill after the rule changes following the recent lockout.

Today, the focus on analytics has completely shifted the way we think about the game.  It’s altered the way we coach, the way we scout, and the way we look at development.

In using hard data to explain the game, teams that jumped on analytics early gained a competitive advantage.  They snatched up mathematicians and statistical bloggers that had a wealth of information about how and why certain players and teams were successful on the ice.

For the time being, it put them ahead of the curve.  But here’s the thing:

Everyone does that now.

So while analytics will continue to be a huge part of the game, I’m not so sure it provides teams that real, competitive advantage anymore.


The implementation of video and the use of analytics, for all of their benefits, have also made hockey a “copycat” game.  Every high level team is examining what other top teams are doing, quantifying it, and providing their coaches and managers with ways to implement it within their own team structure.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

This summer I went to a bunch of hockey retreats and conferences.  I got to listen to a lot of high level people speak about the game.  And they were great.

But if I have to listen to another presentation on zone entries or exits, the need for a defenseman to break a puck out and jump in the rush, shot volume vs. shot selection, or how to go north and play fast…I’m going to bang my head against a wall.


It was all great information from really knowledgeable people.  But it was ALL. THE. SAME.

At the end of the day, analytics gives us a different and enlightening portrait of how the game is played.  They’re extremely useful.

But they no longer give teams that real, competitive advantage.

And that competitive advantage is what every high level coach and executive craves. They fight tooth-and-nail to find any little thing that will make their team 1% better than their competition.


Now that analytics has become more accepted and mainstream…what will the next competitive advantage be?

I really think the next wave will be in how organizations treat their PEOPLE.

In the professional hockey world, it’s easy to see players as commodities (especially with the rise of analytics).  But I think the teams that will succeed in the future are the ones that treat their players, and their families, like they are most important things on the planet.

The teams that will succeed are the ones that will invest time and resources into things like mental health and wellness.  The teams that truly create a culture centered around the player experience and their health and well-being will be a step ahead of the curve.

Do teams do this already?

Yes…To a certain extent.  But there’s so much room in this area to grow.  Because gone are the days where organizations have to care only about a HOCKEY PLAYER.

The rise in athletes having major problems transitioning from the game has been well documented.  So has the rise of drug abuse in major sports.  With the pressure that athletes are under today, I know players think about that a lot.

So they will want to be a part of organizations that provide them a great experience…one that cares about them as a WHOLE INDIVIDUAL, not just as a player.

Creating a culture where the player experience and well-being is put ahead of everything else…that’s where the game is going.  At the end of the day, players play the game because the love to play the game.  But playing hockey at a high level is a grind and during a long season that feeling can get lost.

By investing time, money, and resources into helping players outside the game…which in turn will no doubt have a positive effect on how they play the game…organizations will also create that culture where the players feel cared about and part of something greater than themselves.

That is what building a team is all about.  Investing in people.

And there is no greater investment than that.

1 Response
  1. John Ives

    Right on Topher! Look no further than the New Zealand All Blacks for a blue print to build the culture your talking about, and they know a lot about long term success.