Reviewing the 2013-2014 Hockey Prospectus Guide

Cover of the .pdf version

The 2013-2014 Hockey Prospectus Annual is a book much different in style and content than the 2013 Hockey Abstract written by Robert Vollman. The Abstract was Vollman’s general look at where statistical hockey analysis is in the year 2013, while Prospectus focuses on teams and players, and less on theory.

The writing is primarily done by Vollman, but there are many familiar names that pop up if you read often about hockey metrics online, such as Adam Gretz, Ryan Wagman and Corey Sznajder. With Vollman writing up many of the essays introducing teams and players, it’s no surprise that the tome is heavily stocked with player usage and performance charts.

Unlike the 2011-2012 version, the final chapters of this book aren’t packed with essays about the advances in statistical analysis. We read about quality starts for goaltenders and had an early look at zone entries and puck touches back during the fall of 2011, but each of the team chapters are now good at introducing concepts relating to that team.

As an example, the models of projection of junior statistics to the NHL are introduced in the section dealing with the Edmonton Oilers. Dustin Brown’s proficiency for drawing penalties is introduced in Los Angeles’ chapter. In setting up the Buffalo Sabres, author Brian MacDonald mentions that Ryan Miller’s backup Jonas Enroth has had a higher even strength save percentage in the last four seasons (.933 to .929), but discusses sample size, number of shots faced and attempts to estimate a “true” save percentage based on what we know about the two goalies.

Some of those essays are pretty cool, and particularly the Buffalo chapter introduced me to some analytical writing I hadn’t read before. After a two-to-three page essay, every team has six visual charts, the coolest being an “offensive profile” chart where a player’s shots per 60 minutes and estimated passes per 60 minutes are presented on the chart. Vollman wrote a very good essay about passes published on Hockey Prospectus and that would have been a good thing to tack onto the end of the book as the stat isn’t really explained in as much depth as it deserves.

One of Bill James’ strengths when writing the original Baseball Abstracts was his witty and biting commentary about players and teams. The 2014 Prospectus Guide has let up a little bit on criticism of teams, but there are some pretty funny lines about certain players. Gretz calls Colorado enforcer depth forward David van der Gulik a player “who has more syllables in his name than he has career goals” and Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith is brought up as a player who “set a record with his sixth consecutive appearance in The Hockey News Future Watch this year”.

The meat of this book lies for poolies, and even though most of you should have finished your draft by now, having a copy on standby will be good for midseason acquisitions, or prospects (Corey Pronman’s full list of 100 is present in the guide, his last bit for Prospectus before heading off to ESPN), for those of you in keeper leagues. VUKOTA projections for every player are present, which should give fans a general picture of what a player in a certain player’s position should put up. The projections get ruined every year because hockey is a game full of randomness and surprises, but I’d say that VUKOTA, which projects 12 30-goal scorers this upcoming season, will match reality closer than ESPN, which projects 37 30-goal scorers.

What is also handy for fans is the detailed and objective paragraphs for every player including GVT (goals versus threshold) projections for the upcoming season. GVT and VUKOTA all have flaws, and these are highlighted by creator Tom Awad in the intro, but they’re easily accessible if that sort of stuff is your jam. Each paragraph takes on a focus, whether it’s an informed comment about a player’s stylistic abilities, or his quality of competition or his PDO. I think that the player paragraphs could be better sorted, by future team rather than past team in the case of players that have moved, but the current format has the advantage of loading the book with guys like Peter Mueller and Dylan Reese that signed contracts to play in Europe.

The book is loaded with meat, and probably worth a buy if you have interest in analytics but don’t have the time to look at spreadsheets all day and generate conclusions about hockey players. It’s written by smart people and inherently objective. As a whole, the book is good for reference and a couple of the essays stretch outside the basic tenets of analysis like Corsi and PDO into different forms of player projection.

The Hockey Prospectus 2013-2014 Guide can be bought here, in digital .pdf or in paperback by Amazon.