A funny story: When I started working on the scoring chances project, I mentioned to Derek Zona that I could see exactly why the Jackets were outshooting opponents but not finding success.
"I'm sorry", he said,"I just changed how you're going to look at games for the rest of your life."
He's right in some ways, but also wrong in others. When I'm trying to break down games or looking at trends, the more I get into working with hockey statistics the more I feel like I can get into the hows and whys of what's happening on the ice - sometimes even without being there. The detailed play by play sheet for last night's game between the Avs and Sens, for example, shows me a ton - you can almost feel the momentum building for Colorado's first PP goal as they get chance after chance right in a prime scoring area - a wrist shot from 11' away. Another shot from just inside the circles. A shot from right at the top of the crease. A blocked shot in front of the net. Finally a wrister right in the slot. BOOM. A takeaway right in the prime scoring area leading directly to a quick wrist shot for a goal. BOOM.
But at the same time, when I go to a game as a fan, it's not so hard to just enjoy the ebb and flow of the game, cheering with my friends, groaning with pain at a bad turnover, screaming my head off for a goal. Perhaps it's a case of right brain vs. left brain, but I'd say it only increases my enjoyment as I have two totally different ways to get into the game.
So I told you that story so I could tell you this one: In those moments where I want to feed the growing hunger for hockey knowledge I'm developing, though, Hockey Prospectus has become one of my go to sources for advanced stats, prospect reporting, and player value. I've linked to their articles from time to time, but I really was surprised when they contacted me to ask my thoughts on the Jackets for this upcoming season. I ended up having a great conversation with HP writer Robert Vollman, who I later asked to take a look at a couple of our players, and in exchange the guys at HP were kind enough to send me a copy of their 2011-2012 guide for this season.
Breaking down every team in the NHL, they provide an intro to their main advanced stats (Goals vs. Threshold, aka GVT, and their VUKOTA projection system to determine a player's likely performance), then get into a look at a team's history, their record over the past three seasons, and their VUKOTA predictions (for the record, the Jackets come in with a projection of 234 goals for, 242 goals against, a GVT of -9, and a finish of 88 points.) They break down players who do the heavy defensive lifting, additions, subtractions, the power play projections, goaltending, and special teams.
Continuing a trend we've seen from other stats based analysis, they also point out the biggest stone around the Jackets' collective neck is their division - perhaps again arguing that a move to the East would cure a lot of ills - and do believe that the team is moving in the right direction.
From there, the HP breaks down every player on a team for the past three seasons before offering a 2012 projection, and here's my one complaint - the organization of players depends on who they played for LAST season, which means Columbus' entries start with guys like Mike Blunden and Nikita Filatov, while someone interested in taking a look at the numbers on Jeff Carter or James Wisniewski will have to go over to look at Philadelphia or Montreal. I figured it out pretty quickly, but it still gives you pause for a minute.
Once you've gone from Anaheim to Winnipeg, we hit some essays that look at the return of the Jets, breaking down several different advanced metrics (from CORSI to trying to find better ways to track faceoffs and goaltender starts), and the core ages of hockey teams.
Next, the HP guys break down the top 100 NHL prospects (Ryan Johansen is there at #3, while David Savard checks in at #15), and round things out with stats tables that range from all time player stats to a quick reference guide to the their 2011-2012 GVT and VUKOTA predictions.
The sheer depth of knowledge and numbers in this book can be a bit intimidating, but the HP team have really worked to make it accessible and easy to follow by breaking things down and explaining their reasoning each step of the way. This is a fantastic reference for anyone who wants to get into the numbers behind the game, and the fact that it's available either in a bound copy or a PDF is a nice touch, especially if you'd like to take the quick reference guides with you to a game.
Disclaimer: As mentioned, I was consulted for my thoughts about the offseason turnovers here in Columbus and was provided my copy of the 2011-2012 guide in exchange. I did not contribute to any actual writing, which means the numbers are about 300% more accurate than if I had.