By Dom Luszczyszyn
Inspired by Bill James’ Baseball Abstract of the 1980s, Rob Vollman, one of the founding writers for Hockey Prospectus and the creator of player-usage charts, set out to create something similar for hockey, a sport that’s still lagging behind in the advanced stats world.
In the first version of Hockey Abstract, released last year, Vollman went over the basics. For his recently released second version, he went bigger and better, delivering entirely new content and enlisting two colleagues from Hockey Prospectus, Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe, to provide analysis.
The best of their work has Awad showing what makes good players good by grouping them into tiers based on ice time and looking at the differences in shot attempts and goals across the tiers. For Fyffe, it’s his deduction of what it takes to make the Hall of Fame and his prediction for which current players have the best shot (‘Sid’ and ‘Ovie’ can pretty much retire today and punch their ticket into the Hall of Fame).
Most of the book, though, is centered on everyday fan questions, but the answers aren’t as typical. Who’s the best goal-scorer? Well, that depends on who scores the most per 60 minutes, while accounting for manpower, usage, linemates and competition. Who’s the best penalty killer? Look at who suppresses shot attempts best relative to the rest of his team, while also accounting for who he’s up against.
These types of questions are a staple of Hockey Abstract. The best of them was an examination of who the biggest rat in the league was, which introduces a hilarious stat called “dirty rat penalty minutes.” The player who led the league last season is who you might expect: Brad Marchand.
How Vollman and company tackle these questions, though, is where the book really shines. Each answer promotes meaningful discussions on the topic at hand rather than rigid conclusions. Every angle is taken into account and arguments are presented in a clear, concise way that provides thorough and insightful observations about the sport. On top of that, the book is heavy on graphs and charts, making it much easier to visualize the concepts being outlined.
The book also contains analytic essays for every team that look at how each team fares in various categories including possession, goaltending, special teams and depth, culminating with a big-picture outlook of how that team stands from an analytics perspective.
With the second edition of Hockey Abstract, Vollman has created an essential resource for not just numbers junkies but also curious newbies ready to dive in to the growing world of hockey analytics.