Who will win the Metropolitan Division in 2015?

DC Sports Dork

DC Sports Dork

We are finally here, ladies and gentleman!!! The NHL season is upon us. Before I get into the divisional previews, one change that has been made is instead of having expected wins under each team preview like I did last year, I will be using the Luck Score Rob Vollman developed on his website and explained in detail during his first hockey abstract. The luck score is calculated based on five separate categories. They are PDO (combined 5-on-5 team shooting and save percentage multiplied by 1000), Special Teams Index (combined power play and penalty killing percentage), winning percentage in one goal games and in games decided in overtime or the shootout and the combined Cap Hit on Injured Players (or CHIP for short. The data collected for this numerical value is courtesy of the blog, Springing Malik).

At this point in time, I am realizing my explanation for expected points could have plenty of poor assumptions and has not been backed up enough by how valuable this number can be as a predictable tool for future performance. As the season goes along, I will be posting about what is the proper method to calculate expected/pythagorean wins and whether or not there is a trend as to how much a team improves or worsens for next regular season versus the previous regular season based on a higher or lower total than a team’s actual amount of standings points. When observing Luck Score in simplistic terms, it seams like you want to avoid going beyond ten points in the positive or negative direction. All teams that had a positiv +10 Luck Score in the lockout shortened 2013 season had their standings point total decrease by an average of 17.3 points. Meanwhile, only Florida had a -10 Luck Score that season and if you include teams that had a -6 Luck Score or worse, those teams had their standings point total increase by an average of 16.8 points. Yes, there are outliers (hello, 2014 Colorado Avalanche!!!) and this is only one season of research and more has to be done as to whether the luck score is a valuable predictor from year to year. For now, Rob Vollman did his research and he’s a BAMF! So let’s give him his due and put him in my divisional preview posts.

8. Carolina

  • 36-35-11, 83 points, 7th in the Metropolitan
  • -23 goal differential, -6.61 Rob Vollman Luck Score (RVLS in short) (6th unluckiest)
  • 30.4 even strength SF60 (7th), 30.9 even strength SA60 (23rd)
  • 50.3% Corsi (15th), 52.6% FO (4th), 994 PDO (23rd)
  • 14.6% PP (28th), 81.7% PK (17th), +40 penalty differential

So let’s get this straight, Carolina will have a new head coach and general manager. The new General Manager did absolutely nothing to make a mediocre team better. The team has always been top-heavy for the last hand full of years and it does not seem like younger reinforcements are showing up anytime soon. Now, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal are already out for quite a while to a concussion and broken leg, respectively. The real sad thing is that Carolina actually has some really talented forwards in Skinner, Jordan and Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. Jiri Tlusty and Elias Lindholm could join that group if they weren’t so poor in the posession game. Now that two of their best forwards are out, there will be loads of pressure on this team to score goals from their bottom six and that just has never been in Carolina’s mantra. Jay McClement should be able to contribute on the penalty kill, but Brad Malone is an addition that only last place teams pull off and that is what Carolina is.

In defense, Andrej Sekera is a free agent next summer and after having a very solid season last year, it will not be surprising to see plenty of interest during the trade deadline or off-season. He will partner up with Justin Falk, who had another fine season in his progression as one of the better young offensive-defenseman in the league. Ron Hainsey was a very underrated acquisition last summer and Tim Gleason returns, awkwardly, after being traded to Toronto on New Year’s Day last season. Pressure will be on Anton Khudobin to continue developing into a solid goaltender; especially if time might be called to put an end of having Cam Ward as the starter because of chronic injuries. If you really want a sleeper for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, Carolina might be your best bet.

7. Philadelphia

  • 42-30-10, 94 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan
  • +1 goal differential, 1.86 RVLS
  • 28.8 even strength SF60 (18th), 31.0 even strength SA60 (24th)
  • 50.0% Corsi (17th), 50.0% FO (16th), 1003 (11th)
  • 19.7% PP (8th), 84.8% PK (7th), -22 penalty differential

Since their elimination from the New York Rangers in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers added former goaltender Ron Hextall as General Manager, while Paul Holmgren stayed on board and received that descriptive title that is President of Hockey Operations. Already, Hextall is off to a terrible start to his job by deciding to give Andrew MacDonald a six year, $30 million extension. Add Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossman into the mix and you are talking about three of the most overpaid and talentless defenseman in the league. What is sad, was that Flyers management were looking to keep Sam Morin or even Shane Gostisbehere on the 23-man roster and none of them can do so because of how tight they are to the salary cap. Mark Streit could be their best defenseman by default despite being 36 because Kimmo Timmonen is currently dealing with blood clots that could end up being career threatening.

To make matters worse, Hextall also traded Scott Hartnell to Columbus for an aging R.J. Umberger, solely for cap purposes. If it wasn’t for very productive undrafted free agents in Michael Raffl, Matt Read and Jason Akeson and more underrated contracts like Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, who knows how much of a disaster this roster would look. Claude Giroux will always be the best player for this team, but at $8 million per year, who knows if his goal-scoring will really live up to the contract. To the surprise of no one, Vincent Lecavlier has been a disaster in orange and is stuck playing fourth line center to should-be-AHLers Zach Rinaldo and your choice of Ryan White, Blair Jones or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. If we learned anything out of the salary cap era, and especially the 2010 version of this team is that bottom six forwards matter and the list of players I just mentioned on that fourth line will never cut it beyond round one of the playoffs. If anything, it should be about time some of these terrible contracts start to bite Philadelphia really hard.

6. New Jersey

  • 35-29-18, 88 points, 6th in the Metropolitan
  • -11 goal differential, -6.97 RVLS (5th unluckiest)
  • 26.2 even strength SF60 (26th), 23.8 even strength SA60 (1st)
  • 54.4% Corsi (3rd), 47.0% FO (27th), 985 PDO (27th)
  • 19.5% PP (5th), 86.4% PK (1st), -23 penalty differential

If Down Goes Brown thought the Maple Leafs were the ultimate test case as to whether possession stats matter, the same should be applied to the New Jersey Devils. With a Corsi of over 54%, that screams Stanley Cup contender, but they finished with less than 90 points in the standings instead. Simply put, this team is the oldest in the league and they simply don’t bother shooting the puck, ever. Bad goaltending was also an issue with this team last year as future hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur was on his last legs. In comes Corey Schneider, who should be among the better goaltenders in the league if it wasn’t for his lack of playing time. The defense could get interesting if Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill continue to develop and Adam Larsson can have his first healthy NHL season. Andy Greene is one of the more underrated stay-at-homers and Marek Zidlicky will hope that father time doesn’t catch up to him after a tremendous 2014.

Up front, Jaromir Jagr has replaced Teemu Selanne as the player most undecided when to retire in the NHL, and rightfully so after still leading the team in scoring well into his early 40s. Mike Cammalleri now comes in after having a successful rebound season in Calgary and will join the likes of Patrik Elias to form the Devils top line. Martin Havlat also joins the team, but he joins Michael Ryder, Dainius Zubrus, Ryan Clowe and Tuomo Ruutu as players that hope that this is not the beginning of the end to their NHL careers. Secondary scorers that don’t get their due for this team are two-way forwards Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac. There is talent on this roster and everyone in the advanced stats community notices them, but their age and potential lack of offense are the difference between making the playoffs or not.

5. Washington

  • 38-30-14, 90 points, 5th in the Metropolitan
  • -5 goal differential, 0.39 RVLS
  • 27.1 even strength SF60 (24th), 31.6 even strength SA60 (26th)
  • 47.7% Corsi (24th), 48.4% FO (3rd), 1002 PDO (13th)
  • 23.4% PP (T-1st), 82.0% PK (16th), +7 penalty differential

Even though Barry Trotz will be one of the biggest head coaching upgrades in the NHL, the Caps need an almost historic improvement in their defense and puck possession in order for them to ever regain contender status again. There are pieces on this roster to make it happen. Whether Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen work or not, Washington easily has the most depth along their blue line in the Ovechkin era. Mike Green will be a free agent at the end of this season, but cheaper reinforcements are on the way in Madison Bowey, Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt and Steve Oleksy if he decides to leave or ends up getting traded. Dmitry Orlov is also expected to make an impact once he recovers from a broken wrist. Goaltender Braden Holtby could be the story of the Metropolitan division if things break right for him. After a fantastic postseason two years ago, Holtby will be coached by Mitch Korn, who has Dominic Hasek, Pekka Rinne and Tomas Vokoun as people that should be thanking him for his work in developing them into NHL leading netminders.

The entire hockey world will always talk about Alex Ovechkin and whether or not he can score over 50 goals, play defense, sign peace treaties, end world hunger and find a cure for ebola every season. Instead, the focus should be how Trotz can utilize his lines to the best of their abilities. He has gotten off to a fascinatingly good start by bringing in rookies Andre Burakovsky and Liam O’Brien into the NHL roster and promoted Eric Fehr onto the first line. The fourth line could be a sight to watch, as Jay Beagle and the human turnstile that is Aaron Volpatti could struggle to get playing time this year. In comes Michael Latta and Chris Brown while all eyes will be on Tom Wilson to see if he can contribute and improve from his 82-game rookie season last year. Evgeny Kuznetsov will also get to play his first full NHL season, but having him, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich utilized in the middle tier of the lineup will be crucial to Washington’s success offensively. There are plenty of NHL caliber players to go around on this roster, but placing them in the correct positions will be the key to whether or not Washington makes it to the playoffs this year.

4. Columbus

  • 43-32-7, 93 points, 4th in the Metropolitan
  • +15 goal differential, 1.21 RVLS
  • 28.7 even strength SF60 (19th), 29.4 even strength SA60 (17th)
  • 49.9% Corsi (18th), 51.6% FO (9th), 1008 PDO (6th)
  • 19.3% PP (11th), 82.1% PK (14th), 0 penalty differential

Columbus is no longer a Cinderella. The Eastern Conference now knows that not only is this team a threat, but also a team that is not going away for quite a while. With Ryan Johansen finally scoring in bunches and getting paid in a capacity (despite it still being disgracefully too low and too short), hopes are now that the traded Scott Hartnell and a much healthier Nathan Horton can help him develop further into one of the best young players in the league. Even their depth forwards brought enough production to scare plenty of teams within the NHL and almost upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu bring plenty of center line depth for a consistent playoff team while Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert bring plenty of skill and two-way play along the wings.

In defense, Jack Johnson is a head coach’s best friend but a hockey statistician’s nightmare. That being said, his pedigree is enough for him to deserve a place amongst the top-four defenseman. When best utilized, Ryan Murray and James Wisniewski can become a very strong top pairing together (54.0% shot attempts when together last year), with Johnson and Fedor Tyutin in the second pair. Despite being young of age, Dalton Prout, Tim Erixon and David Savard round out the third pairing that will be expected to get plenty of playing time. In net, Sergei Bobrovsky has taken advantage of his opportunity of getting more playing time than he did in Philadelphia: so much so that he won the Vezina trophy in 2013 and carries the best goaltender contract in the NHL. That deal will come to an end next summer and if keeping Ryan Johansen happy was an issue,  keeping Bobrovsky or not could end up becoming a critical moment in Blue Jackets history. With all this young talent on the NHL roster and in their pool of prospects, there is no doubt Columbus should be in the playoffs, but making it beyond round one and turning into a Stanley Cup contender will now be the next step.

3. New York Islanders

  • 34-37-11, 79 points, 8th in the Metropolitan
  • -42 goal differential, -9.69 RVLS (3rd unluckiest)
  • 29.6 even strength SF60 (14th), 29.5 even strength SA60 (T18th)
  • 49.4% Corsi (20th), 47.2% FO (27th), 984 PDO (28th)
  • 17.8% PP (17th), 78.1% PK (29th), +11 penalty differential

Yes, I have joined the bandwagon! I thought the Islanders were about this good on my book before the preseason came to an end, but now with the additions of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, all options are on the table to make the Islanders something else. Jarsolav Halak and Chad Johnson easilly upgrade the goaltending tandem the Islanders will have over Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson and the more than aging Nikolai Khabibulin. Before Leddy and Boychuk came to town, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan were expected to be the team’s top pairing and actually produced quality possession numbers (51.8% shot attempts when together) with big minutes. The Lubomir Visnovsky-Thomas Hickey and Matt Donovan-Matt Carkner pairings could apply the same production before the trades, but both pairings were given sheltered minutes under head coach Jack Capuano. Also, only Hamonic was able to stay healthy and play more than 70 games last year. Trust me, these trades had to happen. As a footnote, the Griffin Reinhart watch is on if injuries affect this part of the team again.

With the team heading to Brooklyn next year and John Tavares hitting the prime of his career, now was the time for GM Garth Snow to do whatever it took to upgrade this roster, especially after leaving the Thomas Vanek fiasco with no first round pick in a deep entry draft class this summer. In order for the Islanders to win now, Snow brought in Mikhail Grabovski to play second line center and former teammate Nikolai Kulemin to partner with him on the right wing. Now that Randy Carlyle is no longer coaching them, their 52%+ shot attempts partnership from two years ago should be expected with either Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson enjoying their fruits on the left wing. Nelson or Strome could also play with another strong partnership in Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the top line, while the third line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner is certainly a formidable one that brings different skill sets and can withstand tough assignments. The fourth line may need more moble upgrades, but Cal Clutterbuck is the one to watch in that unit. The talent is there, but there is a sense that Jack Capuano hasn’t been able to get the most out of this team yet and he is about to hit year five of his tenure. Heads will roll if the soon-to-be Brooklyn Islanders don’t play further into April.

2. New York Rangers

  • 45-31-6, 96 points, 2nd in the Metropolitan
  • +25 goal differential, 0.36 RVLS
  • 32.3 even strength SF60 (4th), 28.7 even strength SA60 (14th)
  • 52.4% Corsi (7th), 48.8% FO (22nd), 997 PDO (19th)
  • 18.2% PP (15th), 85.3% PK (3rd), +32 penalty differential

After (slightly) surprising everyone during their Stanley Cup Finals run, the New York Rangers went on to lose plenty of their key depth players to free agency and decided to amnesty star forward Brad Richards to free up cap space. For some teams, regression is expected to be in the cards, but the Rangers have been one of the unluckiest teams the last couple of years, based on pythagorean wins and goal differential. Their puck possession was tremendous and their offense should have scored way more than it did previously. More will be expected from the young players in Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider this year while Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are expected to lead from the front. Pressure will be on Derek Brassard to live up to his expensive contract extension and on J.T. Miller to finally have his perfect opportunity to stay in the NHL full-time. Lee Stampniak and former sniper Matthew Lombardi were added to replace the production Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot brought during the postseason. Rookies Kevin Hayes and Anthony Duclair, along with veteran Ryan Malone will be interesting stories to follow this regular season.

In defense, Ryan McDonagh was given the “C” on his sweater and his partnership with Dan Girardi has always dependable for quite some time now. With a healthy Marc Staal and the addition of Dan Boyle to replace Anton Stralman, the blue line might actually be better than it was last season. John Moore, Kevin Klein and Matt Hunwick are replaceable bottom pairs, but will be sheltered just enough for the top four to shine through all season. The last piece is a now 32-year old Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the season like his usual self after a miserable October. Now he is in the beginning of an eight year, $64 million deal. He has been the best and most durable goaltender of his generation but this year was the first sign of chink in the armor for such a true talent. Maintaining his success will be critical for a changing roster if the Rangers want to play in June again.

1. Pittsburgh

  • -51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Metropolitan
  • +42 goal differential, 4.46 RVLS (6th luckiest)
  • 28.3 even strength SF60 (23rd), 27.4 even strength SA60 (7th)
  • 48.7% Corsi (21st), 51.0% FO (12th), 1001 PDO (14th)
  • 23.4% PP (T-1st), 85.0% PK (5th), +24 penalty differential

If there is one team that will be facing pressure to perform as well as they do in the regular season, it will be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Johnston comes in after leading the Portland Winterhawks into multiple successful seasons at the Canadian Junior Level. Statistically, his teams put up video game line numbers on offense, which could benifit a forward group that has lacked depth and top-to-bottom scoring punch over the last couple of seasons. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will do their usual business if they stay healthy, with or without James Neal partnering them. Pascal Dupuis returns after missing the majority of last year to a torn ACL and Chris Kunitz will continue to deliver under his way-too-modest contract. Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spalling were brought in from the James Neal trade and Steve Downie and Blake Comeau were added to bring production to the bottom six lines. Pressure will be on Beau Bennett to produce under Malkin on the right wing and Marcel Goc, who saw his possession numbers plummet after being brought in from Florida at the trade deadline.

In defense, Christian Ehrhoff is a perfect replacement for the loss of Matt Niskanen and was given a perfect contract considering how tight Pittsburgh is to the Salary Cap. The rest of the blue line has question marks. Paul Martin and Kris Letang have to stay healthy or they will no longer be counted on as core players for the franchise, no matter how talented they are. Olli Maatta was brilliant last year and will be counted on to further develop his game, especially if Martin leaves next summer to free agency. Rob Scuderi is not getting any younger and loads of pressure will be on either Simon Despres or Robert Bortuzzo to possibly play top four minutes in the long term. Marc Andre Fleury will also be a free agent next summer and GM Jim Rutherford decided to bring in Thomas Greiss as his backup. Greiss is serviceable, but he should not be seen as a long term replacement for Fleury. “Flower” has to get things right during the regular season as he has been below average at even strength save percentage every year since he has won the Stanley Cup. There is no doubt Pittsburgh has the talent to win the division, but a question like that isn’t even bothered being answered by local Pittsburghers. They only care about winning the Stanley Cup now and there just seems to be too many holes for this team to pull it off in the short and long term.

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