I very recently began digging into Rob Vollman's 2014 edition of Hockey Abstract (available here). If any of you purchased the first installment last year, you know more or less what to expect here (more on that in a second). If you haven't heard of the book or haven't considered giving it some time, allow me to elucidate you: buy it. It is great.
This is a stats book, yes. But this is also not a stats book, not really. This is a book about hockey theory more than anything, using stats to back up its findings. This is how stats should be used to begin with, of course. When it isn't getting into theory, it is looking at the sport in ways we haven't thought of before. It is a proper hockey analysis book that requires no knowledge of numbers or statistical preferences.
Basically, the book shares the same ambitions as Baseball Abstract, but about a good sport (I'm kidding).
A quick word for anyone who has read 2013's Hockey Abstract. That book laid the necessary foundations for what Vollman wanted to achieve with the book. It was split up a bit awkwardly for some, which also made sense once you got through the book but was probably off-putting for new readers. This year's book is much more accessible to new and casual readers.
Because I wasn't able to get as early a start on reading (and reporting on) this in the offseason, I've decided to write up shorter posts on sections of the book at a time in order to a) drum up discussion and awareness of the topics being discussed in hockey, both in the blogger community and on up, and b) bring you along with things I learn that I'll be attempting to put into my work here in the future.
Vollman had some help with the 2014 edition, in the form of Iain Fyffe and Tom Awad. This post is going to be about the first part of the book, in which Fyffe discusses the Hall of Fame's selection standards and Awad discusses a few topics plus a look at what makes good players good.
The first parts of the book are written by Fyffe and Awad, respectively. Fyffe handles a look at the Hall of Fame selections, a sort of historical analysis. I've never been much of a Hall of Fame person, whether tracking who makes it or caring who doesn't, but I appreciated the metrics used and thought put into this part of the book. This is analysis of an off ice part of the product, one that many people do care about, even if I don't.
With the Ducks having recently had (and potentially having now) some Hall of Fame caliber players on the roster, having a better idea of the process was interesting. Looking at a player like Paul Kariya through the metrics discussed here really changes your outlook of the individual player himself without his perennial Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne. But for me it kickstarted the idea that modern players, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, have pretty strong cases for Hall of Fame consideration far into their futures.
Awad writes the next portions, and they are fabulous. It starts with shot quality, runs into scoring effects (with such great explanations and metrics used to back it up), and then ends with a look at good players by position: forward, defender, goaltenders. It was this information and presentation that really prompted me to want to share my experiences here, with you all.
This is some "core" stuff in terms of fancystats, as you know. We track shot attempts for possession proxy and also as a correlation to goal events, which are rarer. Shooting and save percentages work their way in there, quite a bit, and there we stand: usage charts and line graphs of possession and Corsi/Fenwick numbers tossed about everywhere. I can explain it until I'm blue in the face and if you want to buy it, you will. If not, you won't.
Awad's section in the 2014 edition of Hockey Abstract doesn't just say it. It SHOWS exactly why we settled on this without ever mentioning it. The facts supported here, both in showing where the game is decided or which players decide it most, are simplified for casual and hardcore readers alike. With a combination of tables and charts and numbers and concise writing, the "why" that many of us like to try to carefully explain is pretty simply shown.
And this is all without getting into the meat of the good stuff, the theory and ideas Vollman begins getting into next. I have dried my highlighter out reading through this. And more than anything, it has opened my eyes to some different ways to analyze this going forward. It has allowed me to notice ways I can improve my own descriptions of what I see, what I notice, and how I can best relate it.
I am about one-third of the way into the book. I would have paid full price for the first third alone, but again I can consume hockey nonstop all the time. That there's so much more to dig into is great for me. But what about you, whether you are a casual or hardcore hockey fan?
I recommend the book, even as the hockey season nears. You may feel you missed the summer window for it, but the ideas contained in it are as timeless as they can be. Rarely are specific players mentioned (only when pertaining to specific analysis/numbers), and the Idea is paramount.
I think a lot of you will enjoy this book, particularly as a gateway toward watching the game with a more discerning stats-based eye. (This would be true even if you never looked at Corsi/Fenwick numbers again.) I've often referred to Anaheim Calling as a young community in terms of fans (of a young team) and interest in stats as a whole, but youth is not "disinterest." I've seen a growing appetite for steady analysis in my time contributing, so getting my hands on this book to give some impressions here was important to me.
The next post I do will be about the last two-thirds of the book and my thoughts on the broader topics. I wish I could have gotten this out to you all earlier in the summer, when there was no hockey on. As it stands, give it a read between classes or on your lunch break or when emptying the bowels of pizza perhaps. Give it a look at intermissions. It is lighter reading than you'd think, and there's so many interesting concepts right off the bat, you'll feel rewarded quickly.