Week 12 of the Nerdy 30: Slashed Sabres and Karmanos’ Eternal False Hopes

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Kevin Hoffman-USA Today Sports

Happy New Year everyone!!! Before I start talking about this week’s post, I want to thank everyone for reading all the articles I have written within the last year. Through all the work that was done for every post, you tend forget the success that is received within such a vast amount of time. It almost feels like a decade since I applied and got accepted to working for The Hockey Writers, but that really happened last January.

Even with such accolades, I still don’t feel like I have hit my full potential as a writer. Things like this are great motivation for me in 2016 to keep putting out great material for you all and I can not be more excited. Make sure you keep following me on twitter and on facebook, and on my profile page over at The Hockey Writers. With that said, onwards to the Nerdy 30!

After a night of shaking off the New Years-ness and holiday cheer out of our bodies with a thrilling return to rec league ball hockey, my teammates and I found some time to look at our NHL smartphone apps and put our two cents in to how the season has been going so far. The usual rants continue to be things like how shocking it is to see Anaheim look so bad (though they have been getting better) and why Edmonton continues to flounder. However, the Oilers are on pace for 72 points. That’s still bad for most teams in the NHL, but for such a pathetic organization as Edmonton, this will be their best season they have ever had since 2012 when they had 74 points and it will be their second best season since 2009.

What I put down on the table was the fact that there just aren’t any “terrible” teams in the NHL this season. Maybe we have gotten used to Buffalo tanking all the time or Edmonton doing Edmonton things, but so far Columbus has the lowest point total in the league and are currently on pace for 68 points. That will be the highest total for any last place team in the league in an 82-game regular season since Los Angeles and Tampa Bay tied for 71 points in the 2007-08 season. It has certainly made life miserable anytime an extra 14th-point of the season has been completed and I have to eliminate someone from the rankings.

Those Anaheim Ducks I eliminated last week? They’re tied with San Jose now for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Calgary and Colorado from blog posts past? Just a few points away from that mark. So let’s go ahead and try to eliminate someone who is almost guaranteed to not make the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, this week’s scratch-off has been a familiar friend on the wrong side of the rankings, but since they are on pace to be 14 points back from a playoff spot in the east it makes sense to eliminate the Sabres in this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 72 points, Last Week: 25)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Calgary (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. Edmonton (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 28)
  • 26. Colorado (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27)
  • 25. Anaheim (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 26)
  • 24. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 24)
  • 23. Arizona (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 22)

Even though Buffalo never came in to this season expecting to have the talent needed to make the playoffs, they should take pride in the fact that this team is making progress with their analytical numbers. After all, where else can you go from here after recording the worst puck possession on record (since the 2007-08 season) at 37.5%?

Under new head coach Dan Bylsma, the Sabres have at least become a more well-rounded team on both sides of the rink. With Jack Eichel and Evander Kane in the fold, you would expect the Sabres would be still potent on offense. Instead, the Sabres are still among the ten worst in the league, generating 49.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength and only averaging 2.26 goals per game overall.

What has made Buffalo more intimidating and what has been Bylsma’s calling card has been their shot suppression at even strength. Before Bylsma took over as head coach of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh, the Penguins were one of the worst teams in the league that season in preventing shot attempts at even strength at 57.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes. After Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien on February 16th, 2009, Pittsburgh improved dramatically in their shot suppression to the tune of 49.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes; good enough for 10th in the NHL during that span. Since that time, Pittsburgh would finish 15th, 6th, 5th, 20th and 13th in that same category along with 10th, 2nd, 1st, 14th and 20th in shot suppression while shorthanded during his remaining years as head boss at Pittsburgh.

At Buffalo, Bylsma has improved the team that went from a historically bad 67.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength to the 14th best defense in the league at 53.1. While a man down, the Sabres are now sitting a still-improving 20th in the NHL in shot suppression at 99.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes while their power play has been surprisingly good at 99.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Their forward lines are still in need of a massive upgrade after Kane, Eichel and the continued development of Sam Reinhart, but their defense has some interesting pieces now. Rasmus Ristolainen has been the team’s best offensive weapon and has been carrying the some of the toughest minutes as well while Zach Bagosian, for all his warts, has brought an offensive punch as well. If the Sabres can continue to follow the plan and let Bylsma’s systems become second nature, they should be able to live up to their potential real soon.

  • 22. Ottawa (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 21)
  • 21. Vancouver (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 20)
  • 20. New Jersey (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 23)
  • 19. San Jose (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 17)
  • 18. Carolina (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 19)
  • 17. Pittsburgh (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 18)
  • 16. New York Rangers (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 16)

In the two games Washington has played this last month against the Hurricanes, they were constantly out-attempted all game long and were a pest in all three zones. This isn’t just the Hurricanes showing up against a really good team, however. This has been their calling call now ever since Bill Peters has taken over as head coach. This season, name any important shot generation or shot suppression statistic and you will see Carolina sit in the top-ten. Sadly, what has been lacking from such great analytics has been the team’s shooting percentages.

According to a piece by David Johnson, numbers like this are luck-based statistics, but throughout the course of the season, they can also be considered “talent-based” as well. Sure, talent is need to outshoot or shutdown the opposition in all facets of a game, but a new head coach with a set of ideas can also change how a group of individuals can attack and defend and thus, have as equal a chance of swinging the shot totals. Since not all players are created equal, shooting percentages still need to be accounted for as long as there is the sample size and the proper context to be taken into account.

With the 7th worst shooting percentage and 2nd worst save percentage at even strength, Carolina just doesn’t have the luck or talent to mesh well with Peters’ systems. Even if you want to state that the Hurricanes are due for a rebound, the team is the fourth youngest team in the NHL based on weighted average at quanthockey.com so there are not enough skaters to make perfect conclusions as to whether or not they will progress to the mean. Along with that, Cam Ward has been below average since 2012 and has carried the worst quality start percentage out of any goaltender with over 100 games during that span. Eddie Lack was supposed to be the apprentice, but his quality start percentage of 41.7% and 89.2 save percentage have really been a complete let down. It’s another symbol to an always miserable front office that if they don’t spend on veteran talent and draft elite players en masse, Carolina will always be stuck as a woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ franchise.

  1. Toronto (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 15)
  2. Boston (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 8)
  3. Detroit (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 9)
  4. St. Louis (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 11)
  5. Winnipeg (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 14)
  6. New York Islanders (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 13)
  7. Minnesota (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 12)
  8. Nashville (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 10)
  9. Chicago (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)

While Chicago has been worse than they predictably were last season when they won the Stanley Cup, it’s not been such a marked difference. After finishing 3rd and 11th in the NHL in shot generation and shot suppression at even strength, respectively, the Blackhawks sit 4th and 13th in those categories this year. While losing the likes of Brandon Saad, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg last season has hurt the depth at forward, the continued development of Teuvo Teravainen and the acquisitions of Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov has helped prevent any major regressions.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Blackhawks last year was to find the best linemates for Patrick Kane. While Kane seemed to have a solid partnership with Richards, Bryan Bickell was just not good enough to round out that line. What helped the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup was head coach Joel Quenneville realizing this and making Bickell a healthy scratch and replacing him with Versteeg for game four onwards. This year, Kane has been with Anisimov and Panarin and, thus, has increased his relative puck possession from -1.3% last year to +0.6% this season. The issue may now be what is best for the top line of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. With Saad gone, it has been a hodgepodge of Teravainen, Kane, Andrew Shaw and even Ryan Garbutt. While in need of top tier talent, the opening spot needs to be a fantastic two-way player as Toews and Hossa have been two of the best shutdown forwards since hockey analytics went public. Either way, Chicago is in a good place, barring any more injured players to add with Michal Roszival’s and Marcus Kruger’s ailments, or Rob Scuderi’s Rob Scuderi-ness. Even if they are no longer a guaranteed Stanley Cup contender, the Blackhawks still should be able to scare plenty of their opponents when the playoffs role around.

  1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 7)
  2. Florida (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
  3. Montreal (Pace: 96 pts, LW : 5)
  4. Washington (Pace: 127 pts, LW: 4)
  5. Dallas (Pace: 120 pts, LW: 2)
  6. Los Angeles (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 1)

With Florida improving so much within the last month, they have now been one of the six teams that I deem now to be a Stanley Cup contender. While their defense has always been great, their offense has skyrocketed by scoring three or more goals in seven of their last eleven games and winning 10 of those games in the process.

As for the remaining five teams highlighted, check out my analysis in my latest piece from The Hockey Writers.

 

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