It started with one hockey analytics blog suddenly disappearing from the internet. Then the rumors on twitter. Then the unconfirmed reports that the blogger had been hired by a team. This was repeated 4 or 5 times over the course of this summer as hockey analytics gurus who were once chided by mainstream journalists, players, owners, and coaches were suddenly finding themselves in the offices of some of the teams that once mocked the whole notion of #fancystats (or "advanced stats" or hockey analytics, whatever you want to call it).
More recently St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was even quoted about overcoming his own personal stubbornness about "advanced" hockey analytics and talked about how he uses the numbers to determine whether or not his line combos are working during the game.
For some hockey fans, the notion of "advanced stats" can be intimidating merely because of the word "advanced." While others who are interested in learning about the stats and how they are used have a hard time finding where to begin. And still others are simply unconvinced of any use for numbers beyond wins, goals, and hits. Last year Rob Vollman attempted to bridge that gap by publishing his first edition of Hockey Abstract. The book broke down who the best players are for offensive, defensive, and goal tending. He also provided a straight forward explanation of the "advanced stats." Then he wrote up essays for each team with an accompanying player usage chart. It was everything you wanted to know about hockey stats in one neat and tidy package.
This summer Vollman released his 2014 edition of Hockey Abstract, and this year he added new analysis written by Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe. Fyffe's contribution focus on Hall of Fame criteria. He looks at what it took to get into the Hall of Fame in the past and what it takes to get into the Hall of Fame now. Awad tackles some of the tough questions surrounding shot quality, score effect, and what makes a forward, defensemen, and goaltender good. His contributions can be thick to wade through if you are not a stats person, but he does a great job summing up his points at the end of each article. So if you are not a stickler for details, you can read till you get bored, then skip to the end to get his main points. And trust me, it will change how you watch hockey and how you evaluate certain players.
Vollman's additional goal tending analysis provides a bright spot for St. Louis Blues fans. Vollman's method of evaluating goaltender performance finds Brian Elliott in pretty good company alongside Lunqvist, Rask and other top NHL goalies. However, the downside to this analysis is that those goalies are starters who have seen lots of on-ice time and Elliott hasn't seen those types of minutes yet. But we are Blues fans right?
So hope springs eternal. So we'll just assume the worst.
Vollman also includes an essay on each team with accompanying player usage chart from last season. He then ends the book much like how he started the 2013 edition by breaking down the best players in the NHL by goal scoring, penalty kills, and position.
Vollman's book is easy to read even if you have a math phobia. You can always skip over the math and read the summary points for each of the sections, and still come away with a better understanding of hockey and hockey stats than when you started. For those of you who are wanting to learn more about this new era of hockey and hockey analytics, Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract is the perfect place to start. Get it now just as the season starts, and you will be able to watch the games and see the concepts you're reading about in the book at the same time. It will change how you watch hockey.