Week 11 of the Nerdy 30: It’s a Winter Classic

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As we get closer to another new year, plenty of people will be looking forward to more resolutions that may or may not be achieved, fewer celebrity deaths, less political vitriol, more world peace and fresher starts. Almost all that were on that list is not guaranteed to happen, but one thing that is certain is that we will start 2017 with outdoor hockey.

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Centennial Classic the way hockey’s forefathers saw it: in the middle of an MLS stadium. On the next day, a much more heated rivalry will partake between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in what should be another prelude to a possible first round matchup in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Games like this one are what NHL’s leading figureheads wanted out of its new four-division structure for deciding the participants and pairings in the postseason back in 2014.

However, it’s amazing that all but seven teams have already played an outdoor game during the NHL regular season since Winter Classics have started in 2008. To the surprise of no one, though, those seven teams are all warm weather teams and/or have not been around for more than 25 years (Columbus, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville, Dallas, Arizona). Still, these seven teams were all part of Gary Bettman’s plan to make the game grow throughout the entirety of the United States. Even if it sounds farfetched, what would be wrong with having a Panthers-Lightning Stamkos vs. Jagr matchup at Tropicana Field on New Year’s day? Or, once the Coyotes have an exciting forward or two, have a Max Domi & Nolan Patrick vs. Tylie Benguin matchup at Cowboys Stadium? Lastly, Columbus can get cold in the winter. Why not have them play Detroit at the Horseshoe on New Year’s Eve and have the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry reach even greater heights? The possibilities are there Gary and you know it! Just make it happen.

Anywho, it’s time to looking all four teams playing Outdoors in the coming week on the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 59 points, Last Week: 29)
  • 29. Arizona (Pace: 62 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New York Islanders (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Winnipeg (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. New Jersey (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Buffalo (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 21)
  • 23. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 23)

People, it’s time to rebuild the Detroit Red Wings. Their puck possession continues to be miserable under the supposed Mik Babcock clone Jeff Blashill and they’re goal scoring has dried up to almost non-existent. When you look at the roster, there’s also not a single player on the team where you can GUARANTEE that they can reach world class status in the NHL and are in that under 27 age range that you can build around for years to come. Sure, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha can be good players, but both have to flirt with 60-70 point seasons for them to ever be considered key pieces on a Stanley Cup contender.

Along with the roster getting old, there have just been too many bad contracts for this team to find a way to be sustainably sound when it comes to handling the salary cap for the long term. Both Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen have failed to keep building on their career seasons, whether that is due to performance or injury. Also, Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader all got way too favorable ratings during their in-house evaluations and received contracts that are just nowhere near what their output usually is.

Lastly, Detroit needs to put an end to keeping their prospects in the farm system for so long. Sure, having a guy like Mantha stay in the minors until he was 22 could be good in keeping salaries for their young players low, but like every prospect for every NHL team, eventually they need to prove that they are good enough or not. Considering that forwards peak at 24 or 25, wouldn’t it be best to start trying out their best prospects earlier and keep them in Detroit for a full season?

Now that the potential of finally missing the playoffs after 25 years is happening, what have they really got to lose?

  • 22. Dallas (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Nashville (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 20)
  • 20. Calgary (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 24)
  • 19. Florida (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 19)
  • 18. Ottawa (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 18)
  • 17. Philadelphia (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 12)
  • 16. Chicago (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 14)

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Chicago is a phony. If anything, they are duking it out with Ottawa as the luckiest team in the NHL this season. Yes, Minnesota and Columbus are the two top teams at even-strength PDO, but that is being fueled by their double-digit winning streaks. Unlike those two teams, Chicago goes from having a +15 goal differential in all situations to a -14.2 expected goal differential !!! That’s right, that’s more than a 29 goal swing and an expected goal differential that is almost as bad as Colorado’s -16.9.

Both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have rebounded a little bit after their miserable 2015-16 seasons, but they’re clearly no longer in discussion for Norris Trophy considerations anymore. Brian Campbell hasn’t brought the positive puck possession that he was supposed to bring from Florida and their bottom pairing has just been a hodge-podge that may not be counted upon at all come April.

Up front, Chicago’s five best forwards (Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov) have been great, but it is not even funny how massive that chasm gets between them and the rest of the forward group. Marcus Kruger has had to work overtime this season and has done wonderful, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to place him as third line center and expect Stanley Cups anytime soon. Can you really depend on Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman for secondary scoring and what part of Jordan Tootoo is not a top-12 forward do the Blackhawks not understand?

The Blackhawks should be fortunate the rest of the Central Division has regressed horribly and that Corey Crawford is having a Vezina Trophy level season. Otherwise, they may not even be a playoff team.

  • 15. St. Louis (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 15)
  • 14. Edmonton (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 16)
  • 13. Tampa Bay (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 17)
  • 12. Anaheim (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)
  • 11. Carolina (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 8)
  • 9. Boston (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 9)

To be honest, I don’t know what to make of St. Louis. Their goaltending has been horrendous at times, but it shouldn’t be able to remove the overall talent level that St. Louis possesses. They’ve always been an okay possession team, fantastic on the penalty kill and have all the necessary pieces needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. A couple of things do stand out about the 2017 iteration.

For starts, it seems like the bottom-six forward group is outplaying the top-six cohort. That’s a bit surprising considering the types of skilled players they have on their team. Having Nail Yakupov among the team’s best in puck possession may not be so surprising considering that he was a former number one overall pick, but to have Ryan Reaves and Dmitri Jaskin up there is quite perplexing.

Another item that also stands out for St. Louis is how slow their games have become while playing under head coach Ken Hitchcock.

This is considering that they were seeing 106.9 total attempts per 60 minutes at even strength. Like New Jersey, they have won before while playing a slow style. During the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, the Blues made the playoffs while playing to a pace below 99 attempts per 60 minutes. But like the Devils, if goals are not coming from five-on-five and the always good special teams don’t pitch in every night, how will St. Louis continue to win hockey games. It may not be time to panic now, but these are things to think about as they are getting closer to April.

  • 8. Washington (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 7)
  • 7. Toronto (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 10)
  • 6. San Jose (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Pittsburgh (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 1)
  • 4. New York Rangers (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Montreal (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Minnesota (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 5)
  • 1. Columbus (Pace: 127 pts, LW: 2)

After looking at them earlier in the season, we are now getting a bigger sample size to see how a young Toronto Maple Leafs team has been progressing. The results are about what has been expected of them. They are not perfect, but they are a massive improvement to last season’s iteration.

There’s no denying that Toronto will be well coached under Mike Babcock as they are one of the best teams in the NHL in puck possession. This December, Toronto’s 55.6% event, score and venue adjusted shot attempt percentage was only bested by Columbus and Montreal. Along with that, they have the most potent offense and have the second highest ratio of expected goals at even strength in the NHL. Only Boston’s 55.2% is better than Toronto’s 55.0%. The real question now is whether or not they can translate that into actual goals, which will lead to wins.

Some metrics will have them outside the playoff spots behind Boston, Montreal, and Ottawa, but you would have to think the Senators will regress to their mediocre selves as the season moves along. However, one interesting tidbit is the fact that the Maple Leafs unadjusted puck possession plummets to 50.4%. That rate would have them sit more within league average. The reason for such a possible dip could be the fact that Toronto’s puck possession begins to go below league average when they are playing with a massive lead or deficit in a hockey game.

When playing the sixth most even strength minutes while winning a game by two goals or more, they’re puck possession sags to 42.0%. That may be good for 13th in the NHL, but when you only include events when they are up by three goals or more, Toronto drops to a 19th best 39.0% according to puckon.net. Along with that, their 57.5% puck possession when trailing by three goals or more is only 18th best in the NHL. When you consider that the Maple Leafs are the best at puck possession when tied, they’re potential for being such a killer team should be no discussion. But for a team that is still developing, cleaning up their state of play in such relaxed situations could make or break Toronto from breaking out into a team of the future this season.

January 1st update: The previous draft had the venue of the Maple Leafs-Red Wings game at Rogers Centre where Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays play. It has now been changed to take into account that the venue is actually at BMO Field.

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