Week 14 of the Nerdy 30: Raked Leafs and Toothless Predators

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John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

Before we start this week’s power rankings for the NHL, I just want to give a big thank you to those that have been working for war-on-ice.com since it’s inception in the Fall of 2014. Without them, we would have never had the world of hockey analytics reach another step. Whether it was re-defining what a scoring chance was and other shot quality data, showing score-adjusted numbers or attempting the most detailed version of a singular rating system for the best player in the NHL, it has arguably been the greatest tool of research I have ever come across for analyzing players and teams in the NHL.

Last weekend, it was announced that the site will no longer be around after March 31st. For some of you that are wondering where I get a decent amount of my graphs and data from, War On Ice certainly is certainly one of them. When I think about a day in which we see such a great website no longer to continue such high quality production, I think a lot about the people responsible for creating such a masterpiece.

I was fortunate to meet with then PhD student Sam Ventura and associate professor A.C. Thomas when attending the Pittsburgh Hockey Analytics Conference at their home of Carnegie Mellon University in November 2014. Not only did you get to see how smart their knowledge of hockey was, but also the eternal pursuit of wanting to make War On Ice better and their humbleness of wanting to know more about the sport they love through the knowledge of others.

Now that Ventura is working for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Thomas is at the University of Florida, it is understandable how such a large idea demands great responsibility. It is a constant reminder that we in the hockey statistics community must continue to grow and improve the knowledge of those beforehand. Remember that Bill James hasn’t written anything in decades and Baseball analytics continues to thrive. The same must be done in hockey. I will miss War On Ice but I am also excited for the future of what is to come.

Now that we are at the halfway point of the season, another team has been eliminated and it’s a team that’s used to losing and making their fans miserable. I would argue, however, that there shouldn’t be that much turmoil coming from those neck of the woods. Toronto is the next to be crossed off in this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Columbus (82-game standings points pace: 66 points, Last Week: 29)
  • 29. Buffalo (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Colorado (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 26)
  • 27. Calgary (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 28)
  • 26. Edmonton (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 27)
  • 25. Anaheim (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Toronto (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 19)

Let’s not have this as a typical day in the life of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, let’s celebrate the fact that this hockey team has gotten so much better. Like the Washington Redskins, however, that may not be acceptable for a fan base that demands eternal promises of Stanley Cup glory, whether that is justified or not.

Still, Mike Babcock has this team going in the right direction. After being one of the most comical possession teams in the history of corsi, Toronto is now sitting near 50%, with their shot generation being the fifth highest in the NHL at 57.3 per 60 minutes at even strength. While their defense is still not great, their 57.8 per 60 minutes rate is still much better than the 60.4 attempts given up per 60 minutes last year. Along with that, both special teams units have been well into the top three in shot generation and shot suppression, respectively. That is world class coaching in a nutshell.

What Toronto needs to continue to work on is finding the right players with affordable contracts that can fit into Babcock’s systems. Whether you like him or hate him, a Toronto Maple Leafs team without Phil Kessel is a downgrade no matter what. After being considered one of the worst defensive forwards in the NHL, James Van Riemsdyk is back to scoring at a top-50 rate while sitting around league average for on-ice shot suppression. Sadly, the 26-year old will be out for six to eight weeks with a broken bone in his left foot. Afterwards, you have Leo Komarov, of all people, leading the Maple Leafs in scoring.

That is not ideal for a team that hopes to improve in an ever-changing Atlantic Division. One thing to watch the rest of the season is how Nazem Kadri is producing. Despite having his shot-on-goal distance decrease each season and leading the team in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes, the 25-year old is only seeing 5% of his shots go in the back of the net and he is struggling to maintain a half-point per game pace. Considering where he is in his career, it is now or never for Kadri to begin hitting peak performance.

  • 23. Vancouver (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 24)
  • 22. New Jersey (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 21)
  • 21. Arizona (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 22)
  • 20. Ottawa (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 23)
  • 19. Philadelphia (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 20)
  • 18. Minnesota (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 14)
  • 17. Carolina (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 16)
  • 16. Pittsburgh (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 18)

I’ll just go ahead and leave this tweet by famous Penn State beat writer Ben Jones (you really haven’t lived if you aren’t following this hilarious human being) right here to explain the soul reason for Philadelphia’s turn around.

In all seriousness, it shouldn’t be so shocking to see Shayne Gostisbehere is immediately Philadelphia’s best defensemen. The rest of the defensemen include aging or poor-to-begin-with players like Mark Streit, Nick Schultz and Andrew McDonald, while Michael Del Zotto, though nice to see such a criminally underrated player get his due, is leading the team in time on ice after being almost unwanted from the rest of the NHL.

Now the Flyers have lost a good chunk of it’s dead weight with Luke Schenn, Vincent Lecavlier and the Sam Gagner experiment no longer wearing black and orange. Despite only getting a prospect and a mid round pick in return, it certainly isn’t nothing. That prospect turned into Jordan Weal, a borderline NHL/AHL goal scoring threat that, while undersized, is capable of producing at a top-six level.

Lastly, Sean Couturier is finally living to the hype as “Patrice Bergeron in training”. The 22-year old is now leading the team in even strength points per 60 minutes, on-ice shot suppression and  on-ice shot attempt for percentage. After so many years being with poor teammates or not being able to create offense, things are turning the corner for the top-ten pick. With a cap hit that will only shoot up from $1.75 million this year, to $4.33 million next year, Couturier could also turn out to be the best bargain on a franchise that desperately needs many.

With Pittsburgh and Montreal falling apart, Philadelphia could claim a final playoff seeding if the team continues to ride the work done by head coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall.

  • 15. Winnipeg (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 12)
  • 14. New York Rangers (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
  • 13. San Jose (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 17)
  • 12. St. Louis (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 11)
  • 11. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 15)
  • 10. Detroit (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 10)
  • 9. Boston (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 13)

Since no one is claiming any playoff spot with complete confidence in the Pacific Division outside of Los Angeles, it is nice to see San Jose care about the present and win some hockey games. Honestly though, this is a fairly mediocre hockey team with league average possession stats all around. However, their +7 goal differential indicates that they are doing something right. While the Sharks aren’t racking up shot attempts the same way they did back when Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were still under 30, at least they’re accuracy is clicking at a level that creates goals. However, none of them stand out to a level where you would think that the shooting percentage numbers are going to decrease anytime soon. So far, San Jose sits in 8th place in even strength shooting percentage and 9th place in power play shooting percentage.

One thing that could be fueling this aging roster has been their ability to generate more power play chances. At +17, San Jose’s penalty differential is the 6th best in the NHL and with a penalty kill that has been so embarrassing all year (2nd worst in shot suppression), that has been critical to keep the lucky charms going near Silicon Valley. Things also help when you have one of your best players in Logan Couture return to the lineup. After his first 14 games of the season, San Jose has gone 7-4-2. With everyone healthy and everyone playing a disciplined game, the Sharks can at least claim a nice peice of an imperfect pie that is the Western Conference playoff picture.

  • 8. Nashville (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 8)
  • 7. Florida (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 6)
  • 6. Montreal (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 4)
  • 5. Tampa Bay (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 7)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 3)
  • 3. Chicago (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 5)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 130 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 1)

Like the Pre-Devan Dubnyk Minnesota Wild last year, this year’s Nashville Predators are doing what they are supposed to be doing to win hockey games. Find any possession metric and they are sitting among the three best in the NHL. So therefore, you would expect the Predators to be among the best in the league, right? Sadly, that is not the case one bit.

With a -10 goal differential, something is not adding up for a team that had all the talent to threaten for a place in the Stanley Cup Final sans Blackhawks matchup last year. It has been already stated how poor the offense is at scoring goals despite their high shot generation and things have only improved slightly since the swap with defenseman Seth Jones with forward and John Tortorella’s latest character assassination victim Ryan Johansen.

The narrative that might be missing all along is whether or not Pekka Rinne can ever be a league average starting goaltender anymore. With him and Carter Hutton, Nashville sits 24th at even strength save percentage and a top five best penalty kill based on shot suppression is sitting second worst in save percantage while a man down.

From 2008-09 to 2011-12, Rinne finished in the top three in Vezina Trophy voting twice and carried a 58.6% quality start percentage in 239 starts and 247 games. Since then, that percentage has dropped to 55.4% in 166 starts and 169 games. You may think that that drop off is insignificant, but take Rinne’s rebound season last year and that number plummets to 48.0%. Whether it’s the lingering affects of playing a league-leading 73 games in 2012 or a hip injury that forced him to miss the majority of the 2013-14 season, the fact that teams around the NHL now know how to score on him after being exposed miserably in last Spring’s Blackhawks series, or the fact that he is 33 years old and has 415 grueling regular season games under his belt (good for 90th all-time), it is extremely hard to see Rinne hitting the peak of his powers anymore. Meanwhile, Hutton has always been a mediocre back up with a career quality start percentage of 42.1% in 57 starts and 65 games and will be an unrestricted free agent after his age-30 season.

While 20-year old Juuse Saros could be one for the future, Nashville lacks options for a complete replacement for Rinne and the answers to Nashville’s lack of lucky charms. Like Minnesota last year, they might have to scavenge everywhere for some form of a solution at goal fast, or they may miss the playoffs without deserving it.

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