Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Book review corner: Hockey Abstract’s 2015 Update

A year ago at this time, I first reviewed Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, and try as I may, I couldn't wrap my head around it.

I knew that Rob was at the forefront of the hockey analytics movement. I appreciated the scope, breadth and depth of Hockey Abstract--which has turned out to be as seminal and fundamental work as I assumed it would be--but I was still wrapping my head around the "analytics" movement.

It took a full season for me and several rinks' worth of people to digest the concepts beyond counting up shot attempts and having a good feeling that the team that attempted more shots was carrying play.

Hockey Abstract itself is a fine gateway leading one toward an analytics-based look at hockey, and Hockey Abstract's 2015 Update, I might argue, is a better way to start one's journey along the analytic route, because it's simply not as literally or figuratively a "heavy read" as Hockey Abstract provided.

This update allows you to approach analytic systems without having to digest as broad an discussion thereof, and some of us who are, for example, former engineering majors who burned out in Calc IV, to more gently let down our guard and read a refreshed introduction to hockey analytics.

Hockey Abstract's 2015 Update is more than "filler" between the original volume and its successor: the 163 pages of statistical discussion and team analyses do a fine job of helping one understand the potential as well as the limits of analytics, with the team analyses for the past season serving as the main course for those who are well-versed in the language being spoken.

The tone Rob employs, however, is perhaps the most useful aspect of his writing, because he explains the metrics he's employing without demanding that the average fan abandon the "eyeball test," the concept of changes in momentum or even puck luck to embrace the aids that possession statistics, zone starts and player usage provide to even the most statistically-impaired of us. There's a sense that this "stuff" can be understood by stats majors as well as the mathematically-impaired fan, and the fact that the reader isn't talked down to, combined with clear, concise analysis, yields a read that I was more able to wrap my head around.

In this instance, having only a few dozen pages of dedicated analytic discussion to digest instead of a couple hundred pages before the team updates begin just struck me as less imposing than trying to take on all of Hockey Abstract itself, and in that sense, the update--which still includes additional metrics and advances the analytic discussion for the die-hards (if you will)--is really the ideal "starter" for anyone interested in examining hockey analytics from a beginner's perspective.

There's still enough there for the analytic junkie, especially in terms of context of the team-by-team capsule updates that constitute the majority of the Update's text, so it's worth your time and worth your money coming from whatever side of the analytic spectrum that you find yourself occupying, but I think that the smaller size and slightly less densely-packed statistical discussion is the perfect "gateway drug."

A year into the more widespread adoption and acceptance of what Rob's been doing for years for ESPN and other publications as an essential manner by which to view and analyze the game, Hockey Abstract's 2015 Update gives the beginner a guidebook and still affords the analytic expert enough meat on the bone to advance the discussion. I highly recommend it.

I'm also impressed to say that the Update is available as a digital download for only $7.25, and that all three of Rob's books are available for a sum total of $23.

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.