Week 9 of the Nerdy 30: Oil-canned and Dancing with the Devils

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Shaughn Butts/Edmonton Journal

This NHL seasons, plenty of changes have been happening. Three-on-three overtime has been a thrilling success, yet the coach’s challenge has been a complete blunder with it’s lack of clarity. One change that might be ignored by fans and media, could be that the Eastern Conference finally might be better than the West. If the season were to go through it’s usual pace, the average Eastern Conference team will rack up 93.5 points in the standings while the average Western Conference team will pick up 90.5 points. Along with that, six teams in the East are expected to surpass 100 standings points with it’s ninth seeded team expected to hit 94 points while the Western Conference could see only four teams with 100 points and it’s ninth seed picking up an abysmal 79 points. There may have been some signs of that last season, but the amount of depth there is between the two conferences has clearly swung more towards the East this season.

One major reason for that is the Western Conference has become too deep in the Central Division, while the Pacific Division has been an absolute nightmare. While the Los Angeles Kings have returned to be the darling of the division, every other team in the Pacific is either close to are are currently in rebuilding mode. One of those teams is the next team eliminated in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Calgary (82-game standings points pace: 69 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Colorado (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 28)
  • 28. Columbus (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. Edmonton (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 25)
  • 26. Buffalo (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 27)
  • 25. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 24. Arizona (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 18)

Let’s be blunt here. Edmonton’s season died as soon as Connor McDavid broke his collarbone, and that’s a darn shame. This was supposed to be the year where a veteran coach was going to mentor a young team with a history of good tactics and analytical results. Instead, it’s another wasted opportunity. Even worse, this could be another season where an eternally bad front office just can’t help but pull the trigger when the going get’s tough.

In this case, Craig McTavish and Co thought it was a good idea to cut ties with analytical darling Mark Fayne. Yes, Fayne is not generating over 50% shot attempts and his talents may overshadow his great analytical play, but it’s also not like other things are wrong for this hockey team. For example, why on earth are you giving so many minutes to Oscar Klefbom on the seventh worst penalty kill unit in the NHL? Another example could be that there something wrong in terms of how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is deployed. Since the team’s dip in puck possession in mid-November, the 22-year old center was demoted to the second line to balance the scoring lines and help out Jordan Eberle, who is returning from injury.

Edmonton 3

5-game rolling chart by war-on-ice.com

Edmonton

5-game rolling chart by war-on-ice.com

Edmonton 2

5-game rolling chart by war-on-ice.com

As you can see in the charts above, it may have actually unsettled the balance amongst the top six forward group and has resulted in the team’s worsening puck possession. That’s a darn shame because Taylor Hall might be having his best season of his career. For some time, he is the best projected goal scorer based on Don’t Tell Me About Heart’s expected goal totals. Either way, moves like cutting Fayne should say something that Edmonton’s front office, time and again, promises a slow rebuild that they continue to make rush-to-judgement moves and go for win now solutions when they should accept process and development instead.

  • 23. Anaheim (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
  • 22. Carolina (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 23)
  • 21. Pittsburgh(Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19)
  • 20. New Jersey (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 22)
  • 19. Toronto (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 21)
  • 18. Ottawa (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 20)

So now that we have a hint of a sample size, how to the historically boring New Jersey Devils look under a new head coach and a new general manager. It turns out, nothing much from previous years. They are, once again, the most uneventful hockey team based on shot attempts by a very comfortable margin and this, of course, leads to loads of boring hockey games.

So far though, wins are coming New Jersey’s way, but that doesn’t mean this team is expected to make it to the playoffs anytime soon. So far, their puck possession is still below 48% and the team still demands that Mike Camalleri to score the most goals. But they are not without some improvements. While still carrying the worst power play unit in the NHL, the Devils’ penalty kill has improved from 18th to 6th based on shot suppression.

Adam Larsson and Andy Greene may not be seeing good puck possession while on the ice, but their relative zone starts are comically the worst in the NHL at over -34%. That has allowed Damon Severson more playing time in the offensive zone and to play better offensively in his second year in the league. One thing to watch out for is that New Jersey’s three top point getters in Camalleri, Adam Henrique and every mathematician’s favorite, Lee Stempniak, have PDOs over 104. With Camalleri being the only forward with on-ice puck possession over 50%, this is quite concerning. For one moment in the season though, there are some nice things happening in New Jersey. Only time will tell as to whether John Hynes is a legitimately good hockey coach or is he replacing Hartley Magic with Hynes’ Hygenes.

  • 17. San Jose (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 14)
  • 16. Vancouver (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 16)
  • 15. Florida (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 15)
  • 14. Winnipeg (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 17)

Coming into this season, one of the biggest fears of the Florida Panthers was the lack of shot generation from the team overall, specifically at forward. Surely enough, that is rearing its ugly head in the worst way. After finishing with a mediocre offense and the seventh best shot suppression team in the NHL at 51.1 shot attempts per 60 minutes, Gerard Gallant’s team has fallen to one of the worst shot generation teams with 46.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Only the aforementioned Devils are worse. To top it all off, Florida’s 20.3 scoring chances per 60 minutes are more than three shots worse than last year and is the lowest rate out of any team in the NHL.

Individually, the “shut down” defensive pairing of Eric Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell might be one of the worst in the NHL as both are giving up over 64 shot attempts per 60 minutes while they are on the ice together. Also, you know it’s flat out horrible when Shawn Thornton is your second best player in generating offense. Something needs to change within the top two forward lines as Jaromir Jagr and Vincent Trochek are not firing the puck at the same rate as they have in the past. Once again, Alexander Barkov is not a shutdown forward and Jonathan Huberdeau is continuing to disappoint as a top-five draft choice. Either way, there are warning signs that Gallant’s systems are either not working and are too conservative. If Florida ever wants to be a consistent playoff team, they are going to have to find a way to out-generate teams like Detroit, Boston, Tampa and Montreal on offense.

  • 13. Minnesota (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 13)
  • 12. Nashville (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Boston (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
  • 11. St. Louis (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 8)
  • 9. Tampa Bay (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 7)
  • 8. New York Islanders (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
  • 7. Detroit (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 12)
  • 6. New York Rangers (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 5)
  • 5. Chicago (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 10)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 129 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Washington (Pace: 126 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Los Angeles (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Montreal (Pace: 120 pts, LW: 1)

Despite being on pace for over 100 standings points, is the magic wearing off in Minnesota? So far, the Wild’s puck possession has worsened to below 50% this season and their shot generation and suppression are struggling to stay in the top-20. What is making them successful so far is that their 102.0 PDO is the third highest in the NHL and their penalty differential is sitting very nicely at +30.

Individually, only Jared Spurgeon has a PDO below 100 amongst Wild skaters with 100 even strength minutes this season. One thing to keep an eye on is the deployment amongst the Wild defenseman. Ryan Suter has been mainly paired with Spurgeon and it has done wonders with his possession numbers. Meanwhile, Jonas Brodin has been miserable this season and has struggled to be with any partner and improve the team’s possession. Meanwhile, the likes of Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba are playing much better overall and without him even though they are getting less ice time. Solving what to do on the Wild blueline is critical if they ever want to get beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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