Now that Boxing Day is upon us, not only does NHL hockey return to our television screens but the start of the World Junior Championships begins in Finland. Unlike last year, where the future of the league seemed to be on full display with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, this year’s tournament is much more subdued. However, the number one overall pick in this summer’s draft in Auston Matthews will be doing his best to showcase his skills for the United States while Canada will continue to be loaded with some of the best future NHL players under the age of 20.
In the meantime, the Nerdy 30 is back and since every team has played over 29 games (or 5/14ths of the season), another team has to be knocked out of the rankings. As mentioned in my previous Nerdy 30 post, the Western Conference has been looking like a shell of themselves, especially because of the performances by those within the Pacific Division. Still, they have the edge over their Eastern Conference opponents in their head-to-head matchups, just like they have been doing since the NHL has had 30 teams. However, the margin of victory is truly closing.
Thus, I am still eliminating a Western Conference team, because the lower class has been that awful and this one is a shocker if you just started following this NHL season.
30. Columbus (82-game Standings Points Pace: 63 pts, Last Week: 28)
29. Calgary (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 29)
28. Edmonton (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 27)
27. Colorado (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 30)
26. Anaheim (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 21)
So what the heck has happened to what many considered a Stanley Cup Contender? For one, the Ducks got off to a very poor start and, even with the return of Jiri Sekac, they’re on-ice percentages have been one of the worst in the league. Before November 11th, Anaheim’s score-adjusted possession was 49.8%. Since then, it has climbed to one of the best in the league in that span at 54.7%. However, the team’s on-ice shooting percentage has stayed just above 5.1% at even strength all season while the goaltending has gone from 93.5% from that first month and a half of the season to 90.6% since November 11th.
These pieces of information has led to many circumstances. It has led to Ryan Getzlaf only having one goal all season. It has also led to the team abandoning having three NHL viable goaltenders by sending Anton Khudobin to the AHL. And despite having two shutouts in 9 starts, John Gibson’s quality start percentage is a shocking 33.3%, while Frederik Anderson sits at 56.3% despite a 91.1% save percentage and giving up two shorthanded goals on nine shots. One positive that has been coming from the team has been the development of Josh Manson. With him and Hampus Lindholm together, the Ducks have a whopping 61.2% of their shots in their favor. Despite all the horrible luck and first month of the season, Anaheim still has a shot at making the playoffs. Eighth place Arizona is still five points away from eighth place Arizona, but lots of puck luck has to return Bruce Boudreau’s way in order for them to return to competence, let alone back to becoming a Championship contender.
- 25. Buffalo (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 23)
- 24. Philadelphia (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 24)
- 23. New Jersey (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20)
- 22. Arizona (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 25)
Speaking of Arizona, how is it that a team that is in the middle of the playoff hunt be so low in the Nerdy 30? Welp, After starting the season off to an unexpected 9-6-1 start, they have now been out-attempted in nine of their last fourteen games. With Arizona having such an opportunity to return to relevance, it is critical to improve their on-ice performances. One way to do that is to give rookie Anthony DuClair more playing time.
Despite having 50.6% of his shot attempts go in his favor while he’s on the ice and is 16th in goals per 60 minutes and 17th in points per 60 minutes while amongst NHL forwards with 100 even strength minutes, the 20-year old is only receiving 11.4 minutes of even strength playing time per game. With Martin Hanzal and Tobias Reider being his most common linemates, you would think that DuClair would get top line minutes. Instead, the likes of Brad Richardson are getting more playing time and despite being known as a dependable checking line forward, he is only having 45.2% of his shot attempts go his way while he’s on the ice.
- 21. Ottawa (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 22)
- 20. Vancouver (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 19)
- 19. Carolina (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 14)
- 18. Pittsburgh (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 17)
Now that the Penguins have finally put an end to the Mike Johnston era, fans from Pittsburgh are hoping another outside-the-box hire for a head coach hoping that it would put an end to the salary cap nightmare that began at the end of the Ray Shero era. While Mike Sullivan has been around the NHL coaching circles as John Tortarella’s top assistant coach, he hasn’t been a head coach a full season since the 2005-06 season.
While he was with the Bruins that season and the one before, he was known for improving his team’s defensive systems and propping them to league-wide respectability. Even in his six-game stint as interim coach for Vancouver in January 2014, the Canucks went on to give up less than 50 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength in his first three games while a horrifically below average offense all year generated over 56 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength in five of his six games.
No matter what Sullivan brings to the table, he will have to work his magic again on a Penguins team that clearly had plenty of flaws. One action that was taken care of was trading away Rob Scuderi and his defensive corpse for Trevor Daley to be a better pairing for Olli Maatta. Overall, that shouldn’t be that much of an upgrade as Daley’s relative shot attempt percentage (-1.9% in 714 career games since the 2006-07 season) is only a small upgrate Scuderi’s (-2.9% in 795 career games since the 2006-07 season), Daley is a more than four years younger and his power play skillset offsets the now non-existent penalty killing production from Scuderi. In the 55 minutes and 51 seconds Daley and Maatta have played together at even strength, 59.2% of the shot attempts have gone the Penguins way. It has really helped the Penguins blueline immensely so far and the Brian Dumoulin-Ben Lovejoy refuses to listen to any doubters. The next step will be whether to give a sweater to David Warsofsky more often then failed trade acquisition Ian Cole.
Another task for Mike Sullivan and maybe general manager Jim Rutherford is to figure out what to do with David Perron. The veteran top six forward is on the last year of a $3.875 million per year contract has usually been a positive possession player wherever he has been, but this year, he has been a complete disaster with a -3.7 relative shot attempt percentage. Even if he were to to improve his on-ice performances for this year, there is a strong chance Perron won’t be resigned as the Penguins will need to make seven figure contracts to, at least, Beau Bennett and Maatta.
Pittsburgh will certainly pay attention to what the league offices will announce as to how much the salary cap increases, because it should not come as a surprise to see Maatta worth somewhere in the $3 million to maybe even $6 million range. The higher range will certainly anger Penguins fans considering that is roughly the amount of cap space that will be available once the offseason rolls around, but at 21 years old, he is one of the premier young defenceman in the game, even with the poor injury history that he has developed in the last two years. Even with Pittsburgh pursuing to make the playoffs, trading assets that don’t match their salary is critical for long term success and without a first round pick from the Phil Kessel trade, it is paramount Pittsburgh either stockpiles more draft picks or trades their two current second round picks to get a possible top ten pick this summer.
- 17. San Jose (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 16)
- 16. New York Rangers (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 15)
- 15. Toronto (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 26)
- 14. Winnipeg (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 12)
Like Anaheim, Winnipeg is a team on the outside looking in, but with the ninth best score-adjusted shot attempt percentage at 51.8%, they should be performing much better. What has been failing them have been their efficiency on special teams.
All year, the Jets have been among the worst shot suppression teams on the penalty kill (102.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes) and it has led to a poor efficiency rating (77.7%). Meanwhile, their power play has been suffering some harsh luck. While still being quite mediocre in shot generation (92.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes), their power play percentage shouldn’t be among the worst in the NHL (13.6%).
While their physical play has drawn the fifth most penalties in the league this season at 158, only Columbus has been penalized more than the 175 times the Jets have committed this season. The accumulation in penalties has resulted in having Winnipeg give up the most goals on the penalty kill in the NHL at 28 and a -24 goal differential in that situation. When you eliminate all special teams situations, the Jets would actually have a -1 goal differential throughout the entire season. Instead, it is a -12 and that side of Winnipeg’s game needs to clean up if they ever want to build momentum out of last year’s playoff run
- 13. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 7)
- 12. Minnesota (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 13)
- 11. St. Louis (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 6)
- 10. Nashville (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 10)
Over a month has passed since we last covered Nashville, and they are still struggling to score goals at even strength. After starting the season 11-3-3, the Predators have gone 6-9-3 since November 17th and have been shooting below league average at even strength 12 of those 18 games.
Individually, there are plenty of players that stand out in this dilemma. Cody Hodgson, who always has a poor shot accuracy at even strength, has seen his shooting percentage drop from 6.1% in the last three years to 3.7% this season. Meanwhile, both Paul Gaustad and Colin Wilson have failed to score a single goal at even strength. While one has also continued to post poor individual shot attempt rates in Gaustad, Wilson has been a solid offensive player his whole career and has seen his shot attempt rate increase to 13.43 per 60 minutes. On defense, Seth Jones has dramatically increase his shooting rate to 13.68 per 60 minutes, only to see 1.8% of his shots on goal in the back of the net. Outside of Barret Jackman, an antithesis of offensive defensemen, all of Nashville’s blueliners has seen their on-ice shooting percentage drop by 0.73% or more in comparison to their percentage from the last three years at even strength.
Another worrying concern is Nashville sitting in the bottom ten in shot generation from the power play at 88.2 attempts per 60 minutes. While Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Filip Forsberg and James Neal receiving over two minutes per game on the power play and are on the ice for over 95.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes, no one else on the team has an on-ice shot attempt rate above 83. One person that could improve Nashville’s power play is Calle Jarnkrok. Despite only getting more than 36 minutes of ice time on the power play in 33 games, the 24-year old has been on the ice for a team-leading 111.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Even if you feel like Jarnkrok will be too tired to continue his stellar work on the penalty kill and as a two-way forward at even strength, remember that Filip Forsberg also gets heavy minutes on the penalty kill as well.
Along with giving Jarnkrok more time on the man advantage, seeing if young forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Austin Watson and Miika Solamaki develop as shoot-first point getters. Otherwise, head coach Peter Laviolette will have to wonder if any of his veterans can turn it around at even strength.
- 9. Detroit (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 9)
- 8. Boston (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
- 7. Chicago (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 5)
- 6. Florida (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 18)
You have seen it here first! Florida are your new leaders of the Atlantic division. While analytics will tell you that Montreal and Tampa should be waking out of their slumber real soon, embrace the fact that Gerard Gallant has been developing this young core nicely and has them going in the right direction for once in this franchise’s history.
Not only have the Panthers won five of their last six games, but their even strength shot suppression has been magnificent throughout the month of December. During that span, they have given up less than 50 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength in 11 of 13 games. In the fore-front of that defensive success has been Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov in defense. One stat that might shock you is the fact that Florida has the fifth best shot suppression on the penalty kill in the NHL, yet Ekblad has been on the ice for only 13 minutes and 44 seconds and 52.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes against them. Meanwhile, Willie Mitchell is the team leader in shorthanded time on ice amongst Florida defensemen with 101 minutes and 29 seconds, yet is on the ice for 96.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Those numbers aren’t bad for a veteran like Mitchell, but it should say how good Florida’s blue line is if we are recommending his playing time to go down and just how disgusting it is that the former number one overall pick isn’t talked about enough in NHL circles as one of the best hockey players in the world.
Yes, Florida’s offense is terrible. Yes, too much is being banked on Jaromir Jagr to score all the goals for them and their on-ice shooting percentage has ballooned a bit. But let’s soak in the fact that, once again, Ekblad is breaking out to a level that “Tylie Benguin” did last year and you all should be witnesses to it.
- 5. Tampa Bay (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 8)
- 4. Montreal (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 1)
- 3. Washington (Pace: 130 pts, LW: 4)
- 2. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Dallas (Pace: 126 pts, LW: 3)
Don’t let their win-loss record fool you. Tampa Bay is starting to improve their underlying numbers and once they get on a good winning streak, not only will they reclaim the Atlantic division with ease, but they should once again contend for another Stanley Cup final appearance.
Even without Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, the Lightning have been able to generate over 53.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength in five of their last seven games and have one five of their last seven as a result. One adjustment that has happened to John Cooper’s team is that Steven Stamkos is no longer playing with the proverbial corpse of Ryan Callahan. Instead, he has been playing more with Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov.
Time will tell as to whether this line will stay together once Johnson, Palat and even Jonathan Drouin return from injury, but it has done wonder’s with Stamkos’ on-ice production. When Stamkos is on the ice with his new linemates, Tampa is seeing a whopping 60.2% of their shot attempts go in their favor. When apart, Stamkos’ on-ice shot attempt percentage drops to a shocking 47.6%. It has not been a secret how Stamkos has just not been himself this year, individually. Whether that has to due with the rumors of him going to Toronto or the never ending saga about his future with the Lightning after this offseason, the 25-year old captain has to find a way to snap out of it and become the superstar that he is if Tampa can contend for a Championship again.