Book Review: Hockey Prospectus 2011-12

Hockey Prospectus 2011-12

Before Moneyball (the book, not the movie), there was Bill James.

For those of you who may not know, James is the grandfather of Sabermetrics (baseball #fancystats) and is currently a senior advisor on baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.

Part of my personal #fancystats book collection

He began writing The Bill James Baseball Abstract in 1977 which was “the first of its kind to scientifically analyze and study baseball, often through the use of statistical data, in an attempt to determine why teams win and lose.”

Luckily, Hockey Prospectus is there to carry the torch into the Moneypuck era.

Since I got their inaugural copy last year I have been waiting for Hockey Prospectus to make their 2011-12 annual available. Finally, I got to download it last week.

For those not familiar, the book is, for the most part, an in-depth analysis of each NHL team. It certainly has a #fancystats element to it, so those who love stats will enjoy it. But make no mistake: this is for anyone interested increasing their knowledge of hockey, sounding smarter on Twitter or just as a guideline for expectations for the 2011-12 season.

For example, here’s a look at some of the Washington Capitals content:

 This team is pretty loaded with offensive talent, and just needs to take advantage of it. For instance, the second-best player in the world, Alexander Ovechkin, cannot possibly be worse than he was last season, can he? Expect the most physically dominant player in the world to at least eclipse 45 goals next season.

His linemate Nicklas Backstrom did not have an impressive season or playoff campaign. Some suspected Backstrom was playing with the weight of his contract extension on his shoulders, which may be true, but he also faced tougher competition and was put in less favorable offensive situations. Combine that with his poor shooting percentage, and it is at least a partial explanation for his offensive totals. With some favorable bounces, and increased intensity (he lost a lot of puck battles during the playoffs, seemingly looking lazy at times), there is no reason he should not bounce back to be a top NHL scorer.

There are also projections for every player. Here is friend of the blog Andrew Gordon’s who hopes to catch on with Anahaim:

I even used their VUKOTA projections to draft in my ESPN league.

And lastly, there are some great essays, including revisiting Corsi, Timo Seppa’s Ultimate Faceoff Percentage and how age affects a player’s development.

The PDF version is $10 bucks (also available on Amazon) and is money well spent. Just think, you’ll be able to tell people “before Moneypuck, there was Hockey Prospectus.”

  • Peter

    hey wait…

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great review Neil.  I wasn’t part of the first annual, but this one was a blast to contribute to.

  • Mathieu

    Even though I’m a stathead and I figure I’m part of the target audience, and I have a great deal of respect for several of the authors, I’m hesitant to buy the book because of my perception that it’s overreliant on GVT and GVT-derived metrics. GVT is fine for what it does, but it has a number of sizable blind spots (not distinguishing luck vs. ability, ignoring context such as strength of competition) that make it unsuitable for a number of purposes, such as evaluating how a player will do in a very different context (hi there, Ville Leino), my impression based on what they publish on their site is that they stretch it past the breaking point. To me this is a serious issue — evaluating D-men’s defensive prowess without considering their strength of opposition and offensive zone starts is misleading at best.

    I’m also concerned about how much its GVT reliance overshadows Corsi-based research in its assessments. Corsi, Fenwick and other shot-based metrics underpin a great deal of what we know about how hockey works, but reading the Hockey Prospectus site, sometimes you’d barely realize they exist. Teams like Tampa and Montreal had massive turnarounds in their shot metrics that coincided with big opposite swings in percentages, leading to a relatively modest improvement in goal-differential — something I’m not sure GVT metrics capture well.

    But that’s all my perception, sight unseen, based on reading up on their website. How does it measure up to reality?

  • I don’t think it as heavy GVT-based as you think it might be. Nor do I think the HP guys ignore Corsi and other metrics all that often.

    I agree the GVT metric has flaws (what metric doesn’t?) but overall it is a very good one-stat metric by which to evaluate players.

    If nothing else, the book gives you insight into teams that are unavailable elsewhere and for anyone into hockey it is worth the money.

  • Kent Wilson

    I understand your reluctance sicne I have some misgivings of GVT myself. However, with the addition of me, Jonanthan Willis and Ryan Popilchak, you’ll see a lot more discussion of possession, zone starts and situational awareness in this annual.