Week 10 of the Nerdy 30: Jet Streamed and Stung by Jackets

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Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP

As if we can’t have any more mainstream media vs. analytics battles, Mark Spector put up this fine and dandy piece about how Colorado is broken and needs to follow the Edmonton model of building a winning hockey team. Like Kris Russell being a world-class defensemen, calling Edmonton a “model franchise” is just way too silly.

Last time I checked, they still haven’t clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2007. So if anything, Spector is much better off suggesting that Colorado should follow a better model, like oh I don’t know, the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins: a team that was built to last and kept its corp through their last title in 2016.

In detail, Pittsburgh did get a number one overall pick in Sidney Crosby followed by a few other high end picks in Marc Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin. For Colorado, that has been Nathan Mackinnon after picking Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog in previous years. However, Pittsburgh won their first Stanley Cup, they had many other draft picks work for them too. In defense, Kris Letang became a Norris Trophy contender after being a second round pick.Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot were useful bottom line forwards after being drafted in the fourth round and eighth round, respectively. Rob Scuderi was a useful defensemen at his prime after being selected in the fifth round.

The point being is that depth will forever and always win you Stanley Cups. Talbot would go on to score both of Pittsburgh’s goals to help them win game seven of that 2009 Final. A past his prime Brad Richards dominated the series clinching game six of the 2015 Final for Chicago. Alec Martinez scored the series clinching goal for Los Angeles in 2014. The list goes on and on. Bluntly, Colorado always finds the wrong role players (Carl Soderberg, Erik Johnson when Kevin Shattenkirk was still on the team and Francois Beauchemin among others) and pay too much money for them. The same can absolutely be said of Edmonton of years past (what up Andrew Ference?).

It’s not like Mark Spector is completely wrong here, but his analysis on solving Colorado’s issues is just not the right way to go about things and that’s why us analytics people have been on social media ward with mainstream Canadian hockey media for too long.

Anywho, off to this week’s Nerdy 30, where, as punishment for bad journalism, a Canadian franchise has to go.

  • 30. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 67 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Colorado (Pace: 61 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New York Islanders (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Winnipeg (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 22)
  • 25. New Jersey (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 26)
  • 24. Calgary (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 23)

As much as I would like to get rid of the New Jersey Devils or Detroit Red Wings, both teams are just beginning to remove themselves from the playoff picture. Instead, I have to pick the Winnipeg Jets because they have consistently been on pace for 70-80 points throughout the season.

With a bigger sample size, both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have not been able to be massive upgrades to Ondrej Pavelec. As a result, Winnipeg’s 104 goals against is way bigger than their 93.48 expected total from corsica.hockey. While Hellebuyck is saving at about a league average rate of 92.4% at even strength, his struggles on the penalty kill are what’s holding the Jets back. In those situations, that save percentage dips to 83.3% and is the fifth worst in the NHL among goaltenders that have played 50 minutes or more in 4-on-5 situations.

It also doesn’t help that the Jets give up a third worst rate of 108.5 shot attempts per hour on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, their power play isn’t compensating for that as they continue to struggle in that department. With a 14.9% conversion rate, Winnipeg is suffering on the man advantage due to their league worst 7.1 shooting percentage. Plenty of that poor statistic is because Dustin Byfuglien has not scored a single goal off of 27 5-on-4 shots and that Patrick Laine is the only player on the team to be able to attempt shots at above a league average rate while shooting a high percentage. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are the only other players to score a goal on the team’s top unit.

Lastly, the team is clearly lacking a lot of scoring depth, beyond Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine, Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers, not a single Jet has been able to reach 10 points, let alone the 22 or more these five players are totaling. Having Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and Alexander Burmistrov hurt for the majority of the season has hurt Winnipeg’s offensive output, but having an unadjusted shot attempt below 50 an hour has also been miserable too. You know your a bad offensive team when you can’t aim the puck towards the net as well as New Jersey does. That is why Winnipeg has to be knocked out of this week’s rankings.

  • 23. Detroit (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 24)
  • 22. Dallas (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 25)
  • 21. Buffalo (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 19)
  • 20. Nashville (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 20)
  • 19. Florida (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 18)
  • 18. Ottawa (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 21)
  • 17. Tampa Bay (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 17)
  • 16. Edmonton (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 13)

As we get closer to the turn of the Calendar year, the Dallas Stars have been slowly bringing back players from injury. Cody Eakin, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler have gone on to play a few games this month. However, that was all before Eakin decided to give a cheap shot towards Henrik Lundqvist and get suspended four games as a result and before Sharp picked up a concussion that placed him on long term injured reserve.

There’s just too much turnover from a Dallas team that was just so successful from previous years. Patrick Eaves can replace Sharp on the top line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but Jason Spezza lacks the quality of skilled forwards to support him on the second line. Along with that, less experienced players like Brett Ritchie, Devin Shore and Steven Johns have had to come in and demand to play at top four defense pair or top nine forward roles when they may not be good enough for the position. When Esa Lindell and Adam Cracknell are getting major roles on the team, you know things are not good.

Among Dallas’ top fifteen point-getters from last season, only five have returned and are still racking up points at that level. Among those five, John Klingberg has not scored a goal at even strength and Tyler Seguin is only shooting at 4.1% at 5-on-5 versus 12.88% last season. Jamie Benn has also seen his even strength shooting percentage plummet (10.1% last season vs. 6.5% this year) and it should say something when Antoine Roussel is the team’s fifth best forward.

The Stars still have a chance at a playoff spot because of how miserable the Western Conference has become, but it should be noted that their downgrade from a fun hockey team to a franchise in crisis is part of the conference-wide problem and not a potential solution.

  • 15. St. Louis (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 14)
  • 14. Chicago (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 16)
  • 13. Anaheim (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 8)
  • 12. Philadelphia (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 12)
  • 11. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 15)
  • 10. Toronto (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 11)
  • 9. Boston (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 9)
  • 8. Los Angeles (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 10)
  • 7. Washington (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 7)

Alright, I guess I have to write something about my favorite hockey team. Honestly, having them in seventh position is a fair one. If anything, you almost have to do a double take as to how this team is still on pace of 111 standings points. The power play is below expectations and Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov have regressed after having strong 2016 seasons. To top it all off, Alex Ovechkin’s puck possession numbers are terrible and it seems like there’s no one to blame but himself.

If anything, what makes Washington look like their season will go to bust before we get into May is that their expected goals totals have been very poor. According to corsica.hockey, the Capitals are outscored 2.53-2.60 per 60 minutes at even strength, while they have been outscored 86.35-86.56 total in all situations.

When you compare that to actually outscoring opposition 83-69, the first conclusion has to be that Braden Holtby is having a fantastic season. To pull a Bill Simmons, I will give you two goaltenders and I want you to see which one you prefer.

Goalie 1: 92.2% All-Situations Save percentage, 63.6% Quality Starts, 0.194 Goals Saved Above Average per 60 minutes, 0.189 Point Shares per 60 minutes

Goalie 2: 92.6% All-Situations Save percentage, 62.5% Quality Starts, 0.329 Goals Saved Above Average per 60 minutes, 0.211 Point Shares per 60 minutes

You’d take Goalie 2 every day of the week, right?! Welp, congratulations, you prefer this year’s edition of Braden Holtby versus last year’s Vezina Trophy winning version of him. Always remember that Holtby was terrible in for a good portion of the second half last year and he didn’t play a single game of this fall’s World Cup of Hockey with team Canada. To say that there is nothing more for him to achieve individually is ludicrous.

It should be noted, however, that while Washington is improving defensively when it comes to shot attempt suppression (54.0 per 60 minutes un-adjusted last season to 51.0 this season), their suppression on high quality chances has increased from a league average 8.22 times per 60 minutes last season to a 5th worst in the NHL rate of 9.72 chances per 60 minutes this year according to corsica.hockey. As a result, the expected goals against at even strength has worsened from 2.35 per 60 minutes last season to an 8th-worst rate of 2.60 this campaign.

This is a bit strange because each Capitals shot against is close to the same average distance this season (35.03 feet) as it was last season (35.07 feet). Dare I say it, but we might need to pay attention to turnovers. According to nhl.com, Washington has recorded 355 giveaways in 31 games, which is about 11.5 giveaways per game. That is a massive increase to the 726 giveaways in 82 games (or 8.9 per game) from last season. We all know the NHL’s counting stats of giveaways, takeaways, hits and blocked shots are massively flawed, but until there are better alternatives, these numbers might need to be taken into account.

And with that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see how these turnovers can lead to the opposition attacking Barry Trotz’s team with such fury and looking like the faster of the two teams most games. With that, things will need to be cleaned up for Washington to make any kind of noise, otherwise a massive retooling will need to be done for this hockey team to ever lift the Stanley Cup.

  • 6. San Jose (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Minnesota (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. New York Rangers (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 1)
  • 3. Columbus (Pace: 126 pts, LW: 2)
  • 2. Montreal (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 4)
  • 1. Pittsburgh (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 3)

That is all because the Columbus Blue Jackets are a real hockey team…and boy do I hate writing that sentence. With that, there are four legitimate Metropolitan teams that can find some avenue towards the Stanley Cup Final if their path during the postseason works in their favor.

If you look at all the peripheral data that stats.hockeyanalysis.com brings, you will see that their unadjusted on-ice shot attempt rates at even strength are not that different from Washington’s. However, their 10.2 scoring chances per 60 minutes generated at even strength is the fifth best rate in the NHL according to corsica.hockey. That is a full 1.5 scoring chances per hour better than what Washington delivers on offense and that is why Columbus’ expected goal tally (89.9) is is about the same as the goals they have racked up in real life (90). Like Washington, their goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky has done a great job at saving shots from all areas (57 goals against) in comparison to what the team as a whole should really be giving up (85.1).

One thing that could be making Columbus’ expected goals against tally so high is their lack of preventing quality chances while shorthanded. According to corsica.hockey, their 26.83 scoring chances per 60 minute against is the fourth highest rate in the NHL and their expected goals rate of 7.09 per hour is the third worst rate. Columbus is able to prevent all types of shot attempts (10th best rate at 94.4 per hour), but as the shot quality increases (14th best unblocked shot attempts against rate at 72.7 per hour), the Blue Jackets don’t seem to be putting a …. straight jacket… on the opposition (24th best shots against rate at 54.2 per hour).

Meanwhile, their league leading 27.1% power play efficiency ain’t gonna last either! At a 6th worst rate of 86.4 unadjusted shot attempts per hour on the man advantage, Columbus will need to find different ways to score once their league leading 20.8% shooting begins to dry up.

Columbus has done enough to solidify themselves to be a playoff team barring a massive collapse, but don’t be surprised if they start to show signs of weakness at any point during the regular season either. Not every NHL team is perfect.

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