Rob Vollman was nice enough to send me a PDF version of his book Hockey Abstract which I have spend a bit of time the past couple days looking over. I have not read it right through but have read over a few sections and skimmed through a good chunk of the rest of the book. I must say, if you are looking for a fairly readable, not math heavy, practical introduction to hockey statistics this is an excellent start. I like how Vollman uses statistics to answer very simple questions such as “Who is the best player?” and “Who is the luckiest team?” and in doing so explains why certain statistics are used and why some are not.
While I think Hockey Abstract is an excellent intro to hockey statistics and everything I read is useful and informative I think one of the most important paragraphs in the book is in the Introduction on page 1.
One of the most common and recurring criticisms of statistical analysis in hockey is that it isn’t comprehensive and foolproof, which is why I want to establish upfront that none of these answers are meant to be definitive. After all, in several cases this book will be the first serious attempt to answer certain questions this way. Plus, I love hockey arguments―I want to refuel the conversations, not end them!
One of the things that irritates me about some that use hockey statistics to make arguments is that they often write in absolutes. This players corsi isn’t very good therefore he is a bad player. That teams PDO is high therefore they are lucky and undeserving of their record. While there is ample evidence to suggest a poor corsi is evidence of a bad player or a high PDO is evidence of a lucky team suggesting the are absolutely true might be a false claim. There are a number of good players that have poor corsi statistics and there are teams with elevated PDO’s that achieve them through talent, not luck.
There is a lot that statistics can tell us about an NHL player or team, but there is still a lot we don’t (fully) know and can’t yet (fully) quantify. For example, I’ll argue that we can’t yet properly isolate an individuals contribution and talent from his line mates and the best we can do infer it by looking at a series of WOWY numbers or other statistics but it is far from fool proof. There is still a lot to learn about hockey stats and we need to fuel more discussions and research, not end them with absolute statements (from either side of the pro/anti stats fence).
So, with that in mind, Hockey Abstract is a great introduction to hockey analytics and presents a good current view of much of what is currently known in hockey analytics. After reading Hockey Abstract I am certain one would be far more familiar with the hockey statistics and how, why and when we use them. I know I won’t have a problem recommending it to any of the numerous people who e-mail me asking for where they can get an intro to hockey statistics. My recommendation though would be to read it with a critical, but open, mind whether you are a big proponent of the value of hockey analytics, a skeptic, or somewhere in between.
Time permitting I’ll write a more detailed review and critique once I have finished reading it.