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The Noon Review: Hockey Prospectus 2011/2012

Stat holiday. No number today, instead, a review of the Hockey Prospectus 2011/2012 annual, the second of its kind. It can be sampled here.

There's a number of essays at the back of the behemoth Hockey Prospectus Guide to the 2011/12 hockey season that will make you re-think a few of the things that you look for when you watch a hockey game.

It's written by some great people. Gabriel Desjardins shows up with his usual spiel on our quest for new information, while a number of other all-stars like Timo Seppa, Robert Vollman, Ryan Poplichak and Kent Wilson cameo appearances using numbers to open up new ideas on the sport. It covers numerous topics and is a very complete picture on what happened in the NHL last season, detailed for each team and player.

While you may not be convinced, as Seppa says of Henrik Lundqvist that "fans have observed big differences in his ability to keep the [New York] Rangers in the game" and that shutouts "signal King Henrik's lack of consistency" based on his high totals. Seppa does this in an article promoting the use of a Quality Starts metric for goaltenders as a measure for success.

You can look at the conclusions offered in the data, such as that Evgeni Nabokov is the second best goaltender since the lockout, and disagree based on your own interpretation, but you can appreciate the objective research that went in to finding out that in 63.8% of Nabokov's starts resulted in a game where he conceded 2-or-fewer goals or a .913 save percentage. In those games, Seppa would state "he has played well enough to allow his team a chance to win. Last year, the top three netminders in Quality Start Percentage matched Vezina voting: Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo, and Pekka Rinne."

The essays produce a number of conclusions that may make you think twice or confirm your own beliefs. "Great, you've introduced me to something called Corsi, which sounds like this winter's flu strain" a reader hypothetically asks Poplichak and Wilson in an article about possession statistics, and uses Anze Kopitar as an example to show how Corsi numbers can determine a player's value.

Like the old Bill James Baseball Abstracts, the essays are included with full analyses of each of the league's 30 teams. Teams are used to express concepts. Anaheim and Tampa Bay, for example, are a terrific way to discuss how variance can positively affect a hockey team over the course of a season. "Whatever transition factors boosted Anaheim's shooting last season are not likely to continue indefinitely" writes Vollman about the Ducks before predicting "it is going to be a long, dull season in Anaheim."

The tome discusses the benefit of the Rangers getting over their contract malfortune, the "three ring circus" in the Philadelphia Flyers net last season. Of the Vancouver Canucks Wilson talks about how coach Alain Vigneault has "tipped the scales in the twins [Daniel and Henrik Sedin] favour" by saving "offensive faceoffs for the twins. The shift in tactics worked incredibly well," and the pair won consecutive scoring titles. He also discusses the Canucks as a very strong team and that "the overwhelming majority of the evidence suggests the Canucks have built one of the very best teams in the league and the impulse to drastically change course due to potential knee-jerk reactions after losing the Cup probably be resisted."

Whether your own method brings you to the same conclusion as the Hockey Prospectus staff, this is a very handy guide for the regular season. You'll have a detailed paragraph on most players who will see NHL ice-time this season along with detailed projections (for any late poolies these can come in handy) based on the VUKOTA ranking system. The book also has a primer for Goals Versus Threshold, or GVT, a system created by Tom Awad which measures the number of goals a player contributed over a replacement level player. It also has a detailed list of hockey's top 100 prospects—Minnesotas Mikael Grandlund as #1—by Corey Pronman.

It's a terrific guide that will have staying power beyond this season, and the format is very readable on a PDF. If it does have a drawback, it's a very threatening read with a lot of information to sit through and won't be something that keeps you up all night unless you're well interested in the subject. Printing off a section or two and reading it while cooking is a very do-able feat. It's also good to have next to you if you want some quick information on a player you're sure you've never heard of. It's handy if you want a chunk of information about players, and it's also a great buy if the statistical movement has you interested, as it offers up some great primers and shows off the practical applications in how team's seasons were shaped.