on November 17, 2010
I bought this book, because after reading books such as "Blink," "Freakonomics" and "Soccernomics," I figured a hockey book was right up my alley (as a diehard fan). However, the book is written like an amateur and seems to jump too hastily to conclusions that can't really be assumed from the data. This book is more of a mathematical statistics/statistical analysis, as opposed to a book that gives insight on various pieces of hockey (as did the previously mentioned books on their respective subjects). I found myself skimming, as opposed to reading, and by the end of the book, I was happier to be done with it than I was to be reading it. Nonetheless, I still give the book three stars, because the author clearly did incredible research, which I, as a writer, researcher and former psychology student, can truly appreciate.
on December 27, 2014
"HockeyNomics" probably wins the award for most awkward title of a sports book. Some people are probably going to consider it shorthand for hockey economics. "HockeyMetrics" might have been more descriptive of what this book tries to do -- to come up with ways and test cases of measuring the productivity of players and teams in a variety of ways.
Darcy Norman is the author, and he's given some thought and effort to the matter. He starts the book with a review of statistical analysis in sports, first tipping his hat to the baseball pioneers like Bill James and then moving on to hockey research. I can't say I had heard much about Alan Ryder and Ken Kryzwicki before this. They along with some others have been trying to get a handle on an unwieldy subject. Hockey is difficult to quantify, at least when compared to baseball, and some of the tools that could be useful haven't been around for very long in public (ice time) or just aren't kept.
Norman then jumps into a real-life example of how statistical study could be useful. What free agent should be signed by a team looking to do itself the most good? He reviews the class of 2007, and breaks them down in a variety of ways in a search for the most productive player and the potentially biggest bargain. This gets into some odd statistical breakdowns, but if you didn't think that was coming you probably wouldn't have picked up the book in the first place.
From there, Norman writes essays on a variety of issues. Now, speaking as someone who had a Web site dedicated to hockey statistics, let me assure you that Norman's thinking is going down the right paths. For example, he tries to determine which team drafts the best, a very worthy exercise. He has a good essay on whether Wayne Gretzky's 92-goal season was the best ever relative to the rest of the league (he argues no, and makes a case).
One chapter is called "Is Martin Brodeur Overrated?" Norman basically says that Brodeur has been lucky enough to play on a good defensive team throughout his career and thus has piled up wins and shutouts over the years despite some relatively mediocre save percentages. The author comes close to concluding that Dominik Hasek of the late 1990's was the best goalie in modern times, although he's not quite that definitive.
Other chapters don't work so well. There's a few cases in which Ryder's work is presented as factual without much backing evidence; we just have to take the author's word for it. The techniques and numbers may come up with defendable results, but it seems a little early to accept them as gospel -- particularly when it comes to award voting. And an essay on Crosby vs. Ovechkin doesn't seem to prove much, except that Crosby might be a shade more valuable because he is younger -- and I think we knew that.
The book might have been more valuable if Norman had simply stuck to essays about recent season or seasons, and written more of them. This is quite a quick read. Even so, "HockeyNomics" does show that there are ways to examine hockey statistics in a variety of ways to make them more relevant, and that sort of thinking is always welcome.
(And from the perspective of a few years later, he probably helped point some people down this path. Hockey statistics have grown in a number of ways since this was written.)