Book Review: Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract


Between my full-time day job, my summer project recording last season’s scoring chances for the Tampa Bay Lightning at this site and shifting my blogging allegiance from Lightning 101 to Raw Charge, I haven’t found myself with a lot of leisure time lately.

But with a spare moment here and there, mostly on the bus to and from work, I recently finished reading my copy of Hockey Abstract, written by Rob Vollman (who writes for ESPN and Hockey Prospectus and has long maintained a site of the same name as his book) and released on July 24.

Following in the footsteps of Bill James’ monumental Baseball Abstract, which set the stage for the statistical revolution that has materialized in baseball, Vollman does a superb job of collecting the disparate findings, statistics, theories and analysis of the fractured, sometimes inaccessible hockey analytics movement strewn across websites, blogs and other media outlets and synthesizing them into an introduction to the current state of so-called “advanced statistics” in hockey today. Vollman shows how they’re being used, who is using them, and the purpose they serve.

Vollman frames his primer rather ingeniously by first appealing to the emotional side of many sports fans. A barstool argument about who is the best player, coach, or team in the NHL is something that every sports fan — regardless of their own personal opinions about statistics — can relate to and something that every self-declared sports fan has likely done at one point or another.

So when Vollman approaches these subjective questions with an objective statistical process, you’re invited to follow along and see his logic: how many of the metrics were created and how they can be applied to those great sports debates that never really had a solid answer, like “what was the most lop-sided trade in NHL history?”.

Beyond that, the true success of Hockey Abstract is that it excels at something the analytics movement in hockey has sometimes struggled with: presenting its case in an engaging manner that won’t lead someone unversed in the terminology and methodologies to turn up their nose. Hockey Abstract is instructive but avoids being pedantic, it’s thorough but never tedious and is approachable without being simplistic.

I really can’t say much more about Hockey Abstract and the work Rob Vollman has done. I highly recommend you take a look. If you have even vague interest in analytics and/or hockey, you will not be disappointed. You can purchase a paperback version on Amazon or you can direct download the PDF version here.

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