After two weeks since the first Nerdy 30 of the season, the calculations have finally been complete to generate this week’s rankings. During that time, 12 games have been played by all 30 teams in the NHL, at minimum.
That means that one-seventh of the season has already been played and two teams have to be proverbially eliminated from playoff contention. These two teams are not actually eliminated based on how far off they are from a playoff spot in the NHL standings. It just means that these two teams are showing little signs of improving based on their underlying numbers.
Before we continue, I just want to mention that for the second straight year, the formula for these power rankings. I have used the methodology from the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg to calculate who are the best teams in the NHL. However, instead of using fenwick close, and all shot attempts while score-adjusted previously, I have now used expected goals from corsica.hockey.
Expected goals have now been the latest trend in hockey analytics thanks to the work done by another goal-based sport, soccer. Expected goals is a sum total that is determined based on the quality of each shot attempt. Each shot attempt has it’s own qualitative value based on distance, shot type (deflection, back-handed shot, slap shot, etc.), score state (trailing, tied, leading, etc.), whether or not the shot was from a rebound and whether or not the shot came from off a rush. The first to bring up these calculations was by Dawson Sprigings, also known as Don’t Tell Me About Heart on twitter and his blog. With his calculations, it was determined that expected goals are a better predictor for future success than shot attempts. Puck luck will always exist, but eliminating them as much as possible will always be why hockey analytics will continue to progress.
With all that, let’s continue with latest edition of the Nerdy 30.
30. Arizona (82-game Pace: 63 standings points, Last Week: 29)
28. Vancouver (Pace: 60 pts, LW: 30)
- 27. Calgary (Pace: 60 pts, LW: 27)
Two weeks ago, I predicted with just a six-game sample size that Edmonton will make the playoffs, even if they had some flaws on their side. These bottom three teams are why that will be the case. Bluntly, the Pacific Division is an absolute disgrace and are being sunken by teams that are either in the middle of rebuilding plans or don’t have a plan at all.
That is certainly the case for Vancouver as they have replaced Buffalo as the worst scoring team in the NHL. Simply put, they only capable goalscorers for the Canucks are either on the wrong side of 30 (Loui Eriksson and the Sedin twins) or Bo Horvat. You can not count on anyone else to deliver 40 plus points from up front. Along with that, Vancouver does not have the puck carriers that will allow them to retain possession for vast amounts of the game. Not only are they dead last in score-adjusted shot attempts per 60 minutes, but their on-ice shooting percentage is only better than Colorado’s at 5.57% while at even strength.
Meanwhile, Arizona is among the worst teams in defense. Only the New York Islanders are worse in adjusted shot attempts per 60 minutes and have given up a 4th-worst goal’s against average this season in the process. This is considering that Louis Domingue has now taken over as the team’s starting goaltender ahead of Mike Smith and boy has it not worked out. You know your goaltending situation is dire when you have no choice but to give Justin Peters some game time. More will also be required from Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Alex Goligoski as the trio have combined to only score two goals this season. To go along with that, Goligoski is not only not generating positive puck possession, he is dead last among all regularly playing Coyotes defensemen in this category. Boy are times grim for the always cash strapped Glendale team.
- 27. Colorado (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 25)
- 26. Nashville (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 15)
- 25. Carolina (Pace: 63 pts, LW: 24)
After the P.K. Subban trade, you never would have predicted the Nashville Predators being this bad, but here we are. Amazingly, it hasn’t been Pekka Rinne’s fault this time around. The 34-year old is saving at 92.4% clip and also has a 72.7% quality start percentage. If it were not for him, Nashville would be among the worst defensive teams in the NHL based on being the sixth-worst team in adjusted shot attempts per hour at even strength. Along with that, their penalty kill is only working at a 78.5% clip while giving the fifth most adjusted shot attempts per hour in those situations.
It’s not like there are plenty of adjustments to the blue line either. Yes, Subban has replaced Shea Weber, but both were considered above average defenders based on underlying numbers. Only Yannick Weber has come on to replace Barret Jackman and the former shouldn’t be that marginally worse than the latter.
If anything, the fourth line of the Predators has shown signs of being abominable, especially considering that they’re the only ones getting defensive zone starts in Peter Laviollete’s systems. So far this season, only Toronto’s Ben Smith and Buffalo’s Macklemore look-a-like Nic Deslauriers have been worse than Colton Sissons and Austin Watson in un-adjusted puck possession this season. If those two don’t get better, the Predators will generate the exact same issues as the New York Rangers did last season when Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore prevented them from generating positive puck possession and thus, deep playoff runs.
- 24. Dallas (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 14)
- 23. Ottawa (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 22)
- 22. Toronto (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 20)
- 21. Buffalo (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 28)
So it is quite evident that the Dallas Stars are in the middle of an injury crisis right now. Ales Hemsky and his usually fragile body couldn’t stay healthy forever and Mattias Janmark and Cody Eakin have been sidelined with knee injuries. Along with that, Patrick Sharp is out with a concussion and Jiri Hudler and Jason Spezza have gone down in the last week due to an illness and a lower body injury, respectively. That’s five top nine forwards that I just mentioned right there. No NHL team can perfectly replace that and just staying above water is the goal now for a Stars team that was expected to make a run at a Championship if all their pieces were in place.
Now, just making the playoffs and hoping their proverbial dam doesn’t leak seems to be this season’s plan. It’s a real darn shame because this Stars team has plenty of talent to go far. It would be nice if Dallas also upgraded in goal for a change, though.
- 20. New York Islanders (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 18)
- 19. Winnipeg (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
- 18. New Jersey (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 19)
- 17. Chicago (Pace: 123 pts, LW: 13)
While Dallas has some sound excuses as to why they are not performing to their capabilities, the New York Islanders have to be wondering what has happened to them. They have been absolutely poor on goaltending and on both special teams units while John Tavares and Josh Bailey have been the team’ only positive puck possession players. This is disastrous for a franchise that expects much better performances with the current roster they have.
You know your team is in a dark place when Cal Clutterbuck is getting top line minutes. Just remember that two years ago was the only time he has ever been a puck possession player and his age-23 season back in 2010-11 was the only time he recorded over 30 points in a single season. If that is not the definition of a career fourth line forward, I don’t know what is. Even his lack of smile on his hockey reference profile shows is dismay.
Meanwhile, thank you for being dunderheads and using Jason Chimera as a top-six forward while forgetting that he too is a terrible possession forward. Also, Andrew Ladd as a linemate for Casey Cizikas?!?!? Wow! These really are dark times for Brooklyn. Looks like Jack Capuano is on the top of the list for head coaches most likely to get fired this season.
- 16. Montreal (Pace: 146 pts, LW: 2)
- 15. St. Louis (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 6)
Speaking of sack races, you would think that Michel Therrien would be gone by now. Not only is he still coaching the Montreal Canadiens, but he is leading them to the best start in the NHL. Their only loss was a shocking 10-0 defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets in which Al Montoya was in net instead of Carey Price. Still, Montoya has done well to still have a goals against average just above three and an 80% quality start percentage in such a small sample size after that disaster of a game.
Along with having the best goaltending finally healthy after such a disastrous season, the Canadiens also hold the fourth highest on-ice shooting percentage at even strength. It’s one thing to see Alex Galchenyuk and Shea Weber have higher than normal shooting percentages. It’s another thing to see Paul Byron and Torey Mitchell average over half-a-point per game so far this season. Will all these numbers stay high in while competing in a perplexing Atlantic Division or will they crash to earth like they did close to this time last year?
- 14. Detroit (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 21)
- 13. Edmonton (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 5)
- 12. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 16)
- 11. Anaheim (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 8)
Another reason why I am calling the Atlantic Division perplexing is because the Detroit Red Wings are on pace to make it into the playoffs despite Jeff Blashill Donald Trump-ing out Mike Babcock’s tactics. Like Montreal, on-ice percentages is what is saving them from being a complete disaster. At even strength, the Red Wings’ shooting percentage is ninth while their save percentage rounds out the top-five.
Even though he is injured at the moment, you can be rest assured that Thomas Vanek won’t finish the season shooting over 30%. Meanwhile, 36-year old Henrik Zetterberg can’t possibly get to 60 points while also holding a massive 88.9% Individual Points Percentage and only generating a bit over 9 individual shot attempts per hour at even strength. Lastly, as much as I love Mike Green, his 12% shooting rate will surely drop more towards his career rate of 8.1% by the end of the year.
With teams like Montreal, Boston, Florida and Toronto where you really don’t know what type of season they are going to have, it only makes sense that a not-so-talented team like the Red Wings makes the playoffs again.
- 10. Boston (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 12)
- 9. Florida (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 9)
- 8. Columbus (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 23)
- 7. Los Angeles (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 17)
What’s more shocking in 2016: Donald Trump winning the presidency or John Tortorella coaching a potentially good hockey team again? Now, that aforementioned 10-0 win to Montreal really boosted their goal differential and it will be interesting to see if it will continue to help them out in the long run. That’s because the Blue Jackets are still terrible in puck possession. Right now, they sit in the bottom five in both adjusted shot attempt for percentage and in expected goals for percentage.
In fact, while they have only given up 28 goals this season, corsica.hockey has calculated that Columbus should have given up over 41 of them. Plenty of that is due to the work of both Sergey Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhenny for saving at a 93.7% clip this season and only having three starts that were not considered quality performances out of 12 games.
Meanwhile, their offense is only three goals luckier than what they have produced after the 10-goal game anomaly. To see Alexander Wennberg, Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson and Brandon Saad light up the score sheet has certainly been a joy to watch while Nick Foligno is back to scoring at a point-per-game pace. He shouldn’t shoot over 31% this season since his career average is only at a still respectable 13.7% clip. However, anything in between his regression to the mean to his out of nowhere 2015 will make the Blue Jackets a better team.
Pay attention to Josh Anderson the rest of the season. The 22-year old has already played his 12th game this season while he came into the campaign only playing 18 during his NHL career. Already he is at five goals and six points, but his NHL translations indicate that he is only expected to hit 10 goals and 20 points in his 319 professional and junior games since his 2011-12 draft year. While noticing that Rob Vollman’s translations usually give a conservative outlook on prospects’ offensive talents, it can’t be ignored that Anderson is clearly exceeding his expectations perhaps a bit too much.
- 6. Tampa Bay (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 3)
- 5. San Jose (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 1)
- 4. Pittsburgh (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 10)
- 3. Minnesota (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 11)
- 2. Washington (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 7)
- 1. New York Rangers (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 4)
While Tortorella is succeeding in his own brand of hockey in Ohio, his former employers are performing well in the most dominating fashion this season. This offseason, the New York Rangers could have yined and improved the backend to replace the retiring Dan Boyle and the exhausting workload of Dan Girardi. Instead, General Manager Jeff Gorton yanged and improved the depth of the Rangers forwards more talented and younger.
Gone were the decaying assets of Dominic Moore, Tanner Glass and Eric Staal and in came the youthful bliss of Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey and Mika Zibanejad and the speed of Michael Grabner. Along with that, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are a year older and more confident in their style of play.
If anything, the Rangers have now taken the playbook of last year’s Dallas Stars and the 2008-10 iterations of the Washington Capitals. Simply put, you stack the deck up front and intimidate as many teams as possible with their speed and scoring. Except, unlike those teams that employed questionable goaltending (what up Kari Lehtonen and Jose Theodore?!?!), they have the space alien himself, Henrik Lundquist. Surely enough, the 34-year old will start to age terribly for the sake of my Capitals to make it and win a conference championship plus a Stanley Cup. He has struggled out the gate with a 90.8% save percentage, but with a 60% quality start percentage, only time will tell if this is the beginning of the end for the all-time leader in games played among goaltenders since the 2005 lockout (26th overall). You just can’t believe until you see it with King Henrik.