September 06 2016 02:00PM
I honestly cannot remember the first time I read Rob Vollman's work on advanced statistics and hockey analytics. I'm sure it had to have been sometime around 2005 or 2006, but by that time he'd already become ubiquitous with what I like to call "looking at hockey with an academic sensibility." After a few years of working in relative obscurity, Vollman has broken through into a mainstream niche as the go-to guy in analytics – evidenced by his column on NHL.com and plentiful radio hits on places like Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
Vollman's first print book, Hockey Abstract Presents... Stat Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Hockey Analytics, is exactly what you would expect from him – it's what he's been doing, but on a larger scale. To put it another way: if his previous editions of the Hockey Abstract were his Evil Dead, Stat Shot is his Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness. It is an extension of his previous work, but on a much larger scale.
One word of warning: if you're a newbie when it comes to hockey analytics, you might be a little lost early on. The book helpfully references many blog posts from all over the hockey-related web that illustrate concepts. The challenge is that early in the book, you might feel like you've wandered into the middle of an ongoing conversation and have to leap back and forth between the book and your laptop in order to get your feet under you. It's a minor quibble, and if the alternative was clogging up the first chunk of the book summarizing work that had been done elsewhere on the web or in previous Hockey Abstracts, the editorial choice that Vollman made is completely understandable.
Once you can get your feet under you – and for me it took a bit of the opening section to get my head on straight – Stat Shot is an immersive read. The book is handily broken into a series of digestible sections:
- What's The Best Way To Build A Team?
- What Do A Player's Junior Numbers Tell Us?
- Who Is The Best Faceoff Specialist?
- Who Is The Best Shot-Blocker?
- Who Is The Best Hitter?
- Who Is The Best Puck Stopper?
- Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Shot-Based Metrics (But Were Afraid To Ask)
- What Was The Most One-Sided Trade Of All-Time?
If it's not obvious based on those topics, there's a little something for everyone here. Curious about how excited to get about a prospect's gaudy junior or college numbers? Iain Fyffe puts everything into context. Want to know what metric you should be using to weigh goaltenders against each other? What do shot-blocking and hitting statistics actually mean, and why should you be wary of them?
If you have some curiosity about anything analytics, Vollman and co-authors Fyffe and Tom Awad provide a lot of information and help get you up to speed on the debates in each area. The book as a whole may seem a little daunting at just over 300 pages of dense material, but breaking the book into chunks was a really savvy move.
For fans of previous Hockey Abstracts, the book format is both a blessing and a curse: the expanded format allows Vollman and company to really dig into things and provide a series of nice-looking tables and graphics, arguably moreso than they would be able to do in a PDF. The challenge is that due to the lead time needed to produce such a fancy book, Vollman had to lock his book down before the 2015-16 season... which will probably lead to some chuckling for Flames fans given how well Jonas Hiller fares relative to the rest of the league's goalies in the metrics provided in the book.
Whether you're a hardcore believer in advanced statistics in the realm of ice hockey, or are merely curious and open-minded, Stat Shot will provide illumination about some area of the game that you never really considered, or maybe even challenge some of your preconceived beliefs.