Folks, here at FlamesNation, you know we don’t often use this space to shill or endorse things. Thus, when we do, you know it’s probably for a good cause. This is one of those times. Our good friend Robert Vollman, who you all probably know and love for his excellent analytics takes, has written a book (along with some other great contributors). It’s about hockey analytics, something near and dear to all of our hearts. You should buy a copy. And don’t just take our word for it. Here’s ga heart-felt discussion of the merits of Hockey Abstract 2014 by Mr. Vollman.
Oh, and Mr. Vollman was also on NHL Numbers’ Log Off Podcast earlier this week discussing this tome for your listening pleasure.
Hockey Abstract 2014 is all about
hockey analytics and their mainstream applications and limitations.
It’s a book that asks interesting questions, like who will be in the
Hall of Fame, who is the best penalty killer, and what actually makes
a good players good, and shows how objective statistical analysis can
be used to help find the answers. More information is available over
It sounds like a great book, so why
haven’t you heard about it before? Basically, because it’s an
independent self-publication that isn’t backed by a big media outlet.
That means that the only way to get this book into the hands of those
who would enjoy it most is through podcasts, websites, and
word-of-mouth. That’s why Kent has invited me to share a preview, and
why I’m going to make my case here, despite the fact that humility
comes far more naturally to me than this kind of self-promotion.
First of all, if you’re reading this
far, you must have at least some interesting in a book on hockey
analytics. If so, you may enjoy detailed explanations about how
today’s new statistics actually work, how they can be applied, and
what their limitations are. You may also appreciate a handy reference
for hard-to-find data, and for today’s leading edge studies. It’s
also a heck of a fun read, and a great way to support the analytics
On the flip side, the most obvious
reason to take a pass on buying this book is because of all the free
content available online. With great sites like this, and statistical
databases like Behind the Net and Extra Skater, all available for
free, why buy a book?
That’s an awfully good question, I’ll
admit. First of all, it can sometimes be a hassle to wade through all
the various websites and articles. It isn’t always easy to find the
truly fascinating and ground-breaking work, and even when you do,
sometimes it can be hard to locate the necessary background
information. At the very least, this book organizes a lot of that
information into a single place.
Indeed, some readers enjoy Hockey
Abstract primarily as a reference to all of the latest studies,
including over 150 references to work of over 50 authors. While the
work of some analysts are well-promoted, there’s some amazing work
being done by more obscure statisticians, including those who have
specialized in specific areas.
For example, did you know that Rob
Pettapiece studied how AHL goalies fared against NHL-calibre
opponents? Or that Brian MacDonald (now of the Panthers) developed a
playmaking metric? Or how about Paul Busch’s “Dirty Rat Penalty
Minutes” statistic, and how it can be used to determine the value
of enforcers? One of the greatest appeals of Hockey Abstract is how
it covers some new ground, and studies interesting questions from as
many different perspectives as possible, and not just the prevailing
consensus approach of the day.
Furthermore, online pieces normally
need to be kept short, but the format of a book allows analysts to go
into additional detail. With the additional space, there’s no need
for the writer to rush any particular point, allowing us to develop
our thoughts in full, exploring all the applications and limitations
in detail, and in a variety of ways (e.g with words, charts, tables,
and examples). For example, you may have achieved a cursory
understanding of score effects, or a high-level familiarity with the
shot quality debate, but this book allows you to get right into the
meat of it.
Of course, the other advantage of the
online format is that the statistics can be kept current. But Hockey
Abstract is not meant as a point-in-time book, nor an annual guide
book. Much like the Bill James Baseball Abstract books that inspired
it, Hockey Abstract is intended to be more of a timeless reference
about how hockey analytics work, and how they can be applied. There
is a brief section of team essays, but it’s more about how various
analytics, like Corsi data and Player Usage Charts, can be used to
evaluate the current status of today’s NHL teams, as opposed to
stand-alone evaluations themselves. David Staples of the Edmonton
Journal, for example, has already used it to
take a closer look at the Oilers this season.
And if you bought last year’s inaugural
edition of Hockey Abstract, you’ll be pleased to read about another
similarity with Baseball Abstract. This new 2014 edition is not a
simple re-hash of last year’s book with updated data, but is 40%
bigger with all new material. It builds on the 2013 version with a
deeper dive into the most popular topics, like goaltending analytics,
and breaks some brand new ground, like drawing penalties.
Buying this book is also a great way to
support and build the hockey analytics movement. After all, don’t you
wish you were a baseball fan so that there would be lots of books
like these from which to choose? And be honest, didn’t you wish that
this book had been written by your favourite analytics guy, instead
Don’t worry, I’m not taking that
personally, because I’d also have loved to read a similar book
written by, say, Gabriel Desjardins. But do you know why he hasn’t
written a book? Probably because it’s an incredible amount of work
for virtually no money.
Buying books like this can change all
of that. Based on the support last year’s book received, I already
know of a couple of analysts putting serious thought into following
suit. As these books come out, and as the sales numbers rise,
publishers will start seeing its value. And then the day will finally
come where we can stroll through Chapters or Indigo, see several
books with hockey stats, flip through the pages, and select our
And besides, it’s not like we’re a
bunch of slouches. At the risk of appearing immodest, it would be
difficult to assemble a more established collection of authors in
this area. Tom Awad, Iain Fyffe, and I have been in this field since
around 2000, have co-authored a combined nine books, and have
developed dozens of key innovations, including GVT, Player Usage
Charts, Quality Starts, the VUKOTA projection system, and advances in
translating data from other leagues to the NHL (NHLe), just to name a
Kelly Hrudey, TSN’s Steve Dryden, Scott
Cullen, and Steve Kouleas, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail,
Nashville play-by-play commentator Willy Daunic, and Jeff Solomon of
the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are all among those who
offered back cover endorsements, and Hockey Central’s Jeff Marek
recently tweeted that the book was “outstanding”. Dimitri
Filipovic just gave it a glowing review on the Sporting
News, and it’s currently the #1 best-selling
hockey book on Amazon (publishing in early August has its
advantages), as was last year’s edition.
Of course, the most compelling reason
to buy this book is because it’s fun to read. It’s not a hostile
attack on the mainstream, nor some kind of contest to prove who’s the
most clever guy in the room. The authors involved have a deep love
for what they do, and it really shows. There are lots of fun stories,
and illustrations, and digressions. Iain Fyffe’s take on the value of
enforcers, for example, or my response to last year’s spectacularly
blown prediction about the Ottawa Senators, are arguably worth the
cover price by themselves.
So that’s my case! If you have any
interest whatsoever in hockey analytics, this is a great way to get
up to speed on all the different types of statistics, and how they
can be used to shed light on some fascinating questions. If you’re
already quite comfortable with analytics, it’s a great way to explore
the underlying details, and discover more about how these analytics
can be applied, and to become more familiar with their limitations.
And everyone can enjoy the book as a reference for hard-to-find data,
and leading edge studies from more than just the half-dozen analysts
that we all know best. And, if nothing else, it’s a great way to
support the analytics community and ensure more books like these hit
the shelves in the future.
Hockey analytics is my passion, and I
feel truly honoured to have been allowed to serve as one of its
voices for so long, and appreciate the opportunity to continue. Get
more information at Hockey
Abstract, including details on how to buy it on
Amazon, or how to purchase a PDF version.