Week 1 & 2 of The Nerdy 30: Elliote Friedman and Small Sample Sizes

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Welcome to a new segment from the DC Sports Dork this hockey season: the Nerdy 30. For those that know me like a book, I hate doing anything that would make me a conformist and so it really does annoy me that I join every sports journalist in the United States and write a power rankings every week. But hey, I can get a job at Bleacher Report doing this, right (right?!)?

Anywho, I am blabbering on too much. Every week, I will try to come up with an analytical theme and use that as the main subject when writing about the nerdy 30. I did not do one last week because not every NHL team had played their home opener then but now we are beginning to develop a sample size (even if it is as tiny as Roy Worters). Is it enough to make dead-on-the-money conclusions with every team? Absolutely not!!!! But even at this point in time, you can already eliminate a few teams from the playoffs and start to see the league take some form of shape; even if it looks like the equivalent a pile of play-do a toddler only played with for a few seconds until he/she feels like picking his/her nose would be better time well spent.

So with that, I am still remembering Elliote Friedman’s piece from last year regarding an interesting fact. He stated that coming into last season, only three teams since the 2004-05 lockout started the year four points or more out of a playoff spot by November 1st and found a way to improve and advance into the postseason. Those three teams at the time were the 2007 Calgary Flames, the 2011 Buffalo Sabres and the 2012 Boston Bruins.

Last year, the Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers joined that list, but that was while Dallas was getting used to their new head coach in Lindy Ruff and Philadelphia had to fire Peter Laviolette three games into the season. Even if this accomplishment is no longer such a daunting task, that still makes it five teams out of the last 144 playoff teams. So with that in mind, I looked through each team’s standings points that Bovada predicted via SB Nation and calculated every team’s strength of schedule for the month of October. Again, it can’t be stressed how meaningless October can be, but there are a few teams that play as many as 13 games this month (Boston is one of them and they just completed six games in eight days!!!!) and if they get off on the wrong foot, they are already on the outside looking in. With all this in mind, let’s look at the first installment and see which teams have outlier schedules this month.

  • 30. Buffalo
  • 29. Edmonton
  • 28. Carolina
  • 27. Florida
  • 26. Winnipeg

Even if it is not shocking that Carolina is off to such a bad start because of all the injuries to their key players, the Hurricanes have the easiest schedule out of any team in October with an average opponent’s point total of 80.6. They play a league-low eight games and only the New York Rangers were expected to hit over 90 standings points, let alone be a playoff team coming into the season. Now the New York Islanders might be good, but the Hurricanes then lost to Buffalo in a shootout last Tuesday (even if they out-shot attempted them at even strength a whopping 55-26). Their leading scorer is far is Chris Terry: the same Chris Terry that was a fifth round pick, is only getting over 11 minutes a night, is 25-years old and has only played 17 career NHL games. It just can’t be overstated enough how embarrassing Carolina’s front office has allowed this team to be so unbelievably top heavy, especially at forward, and how the prospect pool is one of the least talented in the league. I refuse to hear how this team is rebuilding, because that’s what’s been going on for five years now and new GM Ron Francis may have no choice but to trade away Eric Staal at the mid-season deadline. At this point, this franchise has hit Oakland Raiders/Washington R#@!%*^s (hey, I don’t want the FCC to fine me) level of incompetence.

  • 25. Toronto
  • 24. Colorado
  • 23. Philadelphia
  • 22. Arizona
  • 20. Calgary

From a strength of schedule standpoint, we go from one spectrum to the other (pun partially intended). The Flyers have an average strength of schedule of a whopping 99.4 standings points this October in their 11 games and they have to play five of those games against teams expected to hit the 100-point mark (Boston, Anaheim, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Evil Zombie Twins).

Even if the Flyers have a PDO below 97% right now, their Fenwick Close (even strength shots-on and -off target percentage when the game is within a one-goal margin in the first two periods and tied from the third period onwards) is 23rd at 46.7%. They are giving up  30.5 shots on goal per game (close to two full shots above league-average) without a possibly-retiring Kimmo Timmonen and an injured Brayden Coburn. If two former players from the crummy New York Islanders days are playing the most minutes on your blue line, that better state how dire it is over there. Even if you want to trash Andrew MacDonald, as is customary tradition amongst anyone that loves hockey analytics, the Luke Schenn-Michael Del Zotto pairing and Mark Streit better perform like Norris Trophy candidates. Del Zotto and Schenn are playing AHL scrubs every night and Streit is getting close to 70% offensive zone starts. And you thought Mike Green was all offense, huh Flyers fans?

That being said, they laid the smack down on Dallas, possession wise, last Saturday and hopefully it will kick-start something the rest of the way.

  • 20. Ottawa
  • 19. Boston
  • 18. New Jersey
  • 17. Montreal
  • 16. Detroit
  • 15. Nashville
  • 14. Anaheim
  • 14. New York Rangers
  • 13. Columbus
  • 12. Vancouver

This group of teams can be jumbled around in so many different ways because the season is so early and stats like PDO show that they are either over-achieving or under-achieving at this point in time. Injuries can also play a factor among these teams and for the most part, it won’t be until December or January that we can get a true grasp as to how good these teams are.

  • 10. New York Islanders
  • 9. Washington
  • 8. Dallas
  • 7. Pittsburgh
  • 6. Minnesota

The other team that also has the toughest October in the league is Minnesota. Even if their win-loss record does not indicate it yet, they are once again off to a hot start in puck possession. This year, they are currently second behind Chicago in Fenwick Close and Corsi (even strength shots on goal, shots off goal and blocked shots percentage). Yes, they have played against Colorado twice, but they even out-attempted the Kings 45-26 at even strength last Sunday, despite losing 2-1.

Despite the top line of Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville has been excellent so far, the Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek partnership has been an unmitigated disaster so far. Even with the positive infusion of Justin Fontaine into that line the last two games, it still hasn’t fully helped them out. Look for Mike Yeo to really see how they can get the best out of their secondary scoring because the talent level is there, but they can not afford to slip up in a tough Central Division.

  • 5. Tampa Bay
  • 4. St. Louis
  • 3. San Jose
  • 2. Los Angeles
  • 1. Chicago

Lastly, we go to the team that should win the Eastern Conference this year in Tampa Bay. John Cooper’s men have the second easiest strength of schedule this October with an average opponent expected to hit 83.6 points and the only “tough” teams on their schedule that month are Montreal, Minnesota and Philadelphia. Even though Tampa has produced some good possession numbers, they have already lost to New Jersey and Edmonton. If anything, Edmonton did not look out of place in their game with the Lightning last night and maybe it is a sign of a team that is dealing with some injury trouble. Even if super prospect Jonathan Drouin just made his NHL debut after returning from a broken right thumb, Victor Hedman is now out for over a month due to a broken digit of his own. Radko Gudas and Alex Killorn have also missed some playing time and Ryan Callahan might be joining that list as well. As deep as Tampa is, injuries will not help this lineup gel together and even with the supposed easy month, results like last night could still happen for them.

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