Week 24 of the Nerdy 30: Empires Fall and Leafs are Changing

Jonathan Quick

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Here we go ladies and gentlemen! We’re down to the last 10 days of the NHL regular season and the field of sixteen to make this year’s playoffs is just about set. What’s remaining is who will get the third seed in the Atlantic Division and who will be the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference. With that said, it’s getting pretty obvious that the Los Angeles Kings are not going to make the playoffs this season. So it is time to say goodbye to them in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 46 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Arizona (Pace: 67 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New Jersey (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 25)
  • 25. Buffalo (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 26)
  • 24. Dallas (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 24)
  • 23. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. Winnipeg (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 21)
  • 21. Philadelphia (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 22)
  • 20. Carolina (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 20)

It was right around the beginning of the month that I eliminated Carolina from my power rankings. Since then, however, they have gone 10-1-4 and have returned to fighting for playoff contention.

Their never ending issues of shot quality have been written throughout the entirety of Bill Peters’ time as head coach, but it looks like things have been returning to his favor. While the Hurricanes had an adjusted even strength puck possession at 51.9% during this run of form according to puckon.net, their PDO has been an amazing 101.9 according to Natural Stat Trick. Plenty of that has to do with the goaltending that has turned around the corner at just the right time. While Cam Ward continues to be mediocre (91.4% save percentage since March 5th), it has been Eddie Lack that has been performing brilliantly (93.5% save percentage while going 5-1-1 during the same time span).

It’s stats like that that made Lack’s game-ending injury in an overtime loss to Detroit that more magnifying. Fortunately, Lack left the hospital the next day and was only diagnosed with a neck strain. Still, he will be counted upon to continue Carolina’s recent success and even a dip in form because of the aftermath from that fateful game could be crucial.

Along with that, Peters’ special teams units have been brilliant this month. Since March 5th, Carolina’s power play has scored on eight of their 37 opportunities while the penalty kill has only given up four goals in their 29 opportunities. While the Hurricanes continue to be the most suffocating shorthanded unit in the league, their power play has finally surged in their shot generation to the tune of 118.6 attempts per hour. This is a massive improvement when you consider that they have generated about a league-average 98.5 attempts per hour all season. Now the Hurricanes have given up three shorthanded goals this month, but when you consider that the season-long total has been five against and 10 for, this shouldn’t be an issue that is not fixable.

If the unit can stay consistent the rest of the way, maybe Carolina can pull this miracle off. They start the remainder of the schedule with Dallas, but then they’ll have to play Pittsburgh, Minnesota, the Islanders and St. Louis before their fate is sealed. That’s a rough slate of games and it will certainly be excruciating for a fanbase that hasn’t seen playoff hockey this decade. At the very least, this team has built some positive momentum in the long haul after it looked like it wasn’t there anymore.

  • 19. Tampa Bay (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 19)
  • 18. Los Angeles (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 13)
  • 17. New York Islanders (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 18)
  • 16. Ottawa (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 17)
  • 15. Calgary (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 16)

Darryl Sutter has done amazing things for the Los Angeles Kings throughout his tenure. He’s taken them to two Stanley Cups, and a conference finals appearance from 2012 to 2014. Along with that, he’s Los Angeles’ all-time leader in wins and win-percentage. Still, good things don’t last long. Even if he arguably the best systems coach in the NHL outside of Mike Babcock, his time as head coach has to be running out. No NHL team, let alone Los Angeles can accept missing the playoffs two out of the last three seasons.

That said, not everything has been Sutter’s fault for what has happened on the ice. General Manager Dean Lombardi surely should be released soon as well. That said, his former right-hand man, Ron Hextall is gone and hoping to free Philadelphia from the pits of salary cap despair while current assistant GM Rob Blake might be a bit too green to promote him. Lombardi’s exploits in the World Cup of Hockey must be forever remembered for the wrong reasons in order for lessons to be learned about building any hockey team, let alone the best-of-the-best from one country.

His reasons for not bringing in Phil Kessel must be disclosed in it’s complete entirety because giving the likes of Justin Abdelkader top line skilled forward minutes is nothing short of disgraceful. It’s been quite amazing how a man who built the best team, analytically, over the last seven years has somehow ignored what made the formula work and go with an all-forecheck side instead.

You can tell how harmful the mindset has been on Los Angeles’ roster long term. As mentioned two weeks ago, Los Angeles basically has Adrian Kempe to look towards hoping for some form of future gains. The best players on this team are still well over their primes and are now chewing up way too much of the team’s cap hit. Despite being over 32, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik have cap hits above $4.75 million with five, five and four years to go until their contracts run out, respectively. While both have no movement clauses, it will be nothing short of comical if any other team wants one of these players so they can help them improve.

Along with that, Anze Kopitar will be 30 next season and will have another seven years left of a cap hit that’s exactly $10 million. Only Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby can rival Kopitar’s two-way production, but that’s still not enough to justify him being only the third player since the salary cap was introduced to receive a cap hit in the seven figure range. Lastly, this season is going to end with two goalies getting paid over $4 million on the team. Take it from Detroit to see how that has turned out!

Even resigning good analytics but not great production defensemen Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez to $4 million cap hits for another three to four years has been detrimental. Over time, these contracts just eliminate any chance of replenishing the talent on this hockey team.

Even with teams like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington who have been up against the cap for so many years have been able to creatively retool to keep their future strong. Plenty of that has to do with how these teams have scouted during the draft and beyond. Chicago can thank Artemi Panarin and even the likes of Nick Schmaltz for keeping Jonathan Toews and Co. young. Pittsburgh has Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel and possibly Zach Ashton-Reese to look forward to. Washington has Nate Schmidt, Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana to make Alex Ovechkin vibrant again. Meanwhile, Los Angeles hasn’t done anything since their last Stanley Cup to give you the sense that their scouting staff has done anything “creative” when it comes to player acquisition. I personally felt like Jordan Weal would be a key contributor when given the chance, but instead, he was treated like a no-name piece in the Vincent Lecavlier-Luke Schenn trade.

Now that Los Angeles is seeing their time run out, it’s just very difficult to see them recover from the mess that they are in. Only creative front offices can find a way to get out of these situations and Lombardi has been proven that he may not be able to do that.

  • 14. St. Louis (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 15)
  • 13. Chicago (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 11)
  • 12. Nashville (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 14)
  • 11. Anaheim (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 12)

Just when it we seen as a disaster area, the St. Louis Blues just keep finding ways to win. Since Mike Yeo has taken over as head coach, they have gone 18-7-1 and have generated a PDO of 103.3 during that span. That high level of puck luck has been due to turning Jake Allen and Carter Hutton from pumpkins into royal carriages. Before all of St. Louis’ goaltending was only able to save 90.8% of their shots at even strength. Since letting go of Jim Corsi and having Ty Conklin and Martin Brodeur work on the goaltenders, the results have flipped to the tune of 95.8%!!!

That has been massive to St. Louis’ success as their puck possession has still been hovering a little over 50% while generating some of the lowest rates from both sides of the rink. The offense still isn’t at a level where they will bring so much fear towards the opposition. During Yeo’s 25-game tenure, the Blues have only been able to score three or more goals in 13 contests. But one discovery that has been uncovered has been the development of Ivan Barbashev. The 21-year old rookie has expectations of long-term NHL success since being one of Russia’s best players in the 2015 World Junior Championships producing well with the AHL Chicago Wolves. Even though he has eight points in 24 games, five of those points have come in his last 12 contests.

Along with that, the trio of Barbashev, fellow rookie Zach Sanford and the rewired Nail Yakupov have formed a third line that has been generating some fantastic results. With only 34 minutes and one goals scored while together, the young group has produced a 57.1% shot attempt advantage, including giving up only 42.3 shot attempts per hour according to puckalytics.

Lastly, while Kevin Shattenkirk’s services have been sent to Washington, St. Louis’ power play hasn’t skipped a beat. Alex Pietrangelo has taken over as the go to point shot for the team’s top unit and the captain has contributed to six of the eight power play goals scored since the trade deadline. While the overall unit has generated a meh 96.6 shot attempts per hour in those situations since that said trade deadline, this is much better underlying play than the 88.3 attempts per hour generated previously.

While St. Louis probably doesn’t have anything significantly unique to bring to the table in the postseason beyond that Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko will always rack up boat loads of points, they can use these last two improvements as positive signs to come. If for anything else, they should be able to give Chicago and Minnesota a run for their money in the first round.

  • 10. Toronto (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 8)
  • 9. Edmonton (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 9)
  • 8. Montreal (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 10)
  • 7. San Jose (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 7)
  • 6. Pittsburgh (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 4)
  • 5. New York Rangers (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Boston (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 6)
  • 3. Columbus (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 3)

If Toronto can’t clinch a playoff spot after the run that they are on, I really don’t know what to tell you. Since looking like the Maple Leafs will fall apart like their autumn version of themselves, they have been tearing it up since March 5th. During that time, the team has gone 9-2-1 and has only given up more than three goals twice during that stretch.

Frederik Andersen has definitely improved during this run of form thanks to a 93.9% save percentage during that span in all situations, but the defense in front of him has also been able to contribute as well. While the Leafs are still one of the worst shot suppression units in the NHL, their 55.0 adjusted attempts per hour given up at even strength since March 5th is much better than the 57.7 attempts per hour they have given up all year.

That being said, the offense has been hitting a bit of a weird stride. While only generating 52.1 adjusted shot attempts per hour these past 12 games, Toronto was still able to score three goals or more in nine occasions. That has been due to a power play unit that has been absolutely white hot and one of the best in the business. They have scored in 10 of their last 34 power play opportunities and only has Buffalo to rival their 23.4% season-long efficiency.

It just goes to show what happens when you have three top-ten draft picks become major hits and should be able to become league-wide stars in the long run. And with that, may their success continue as long as they don’t have to play the Capitals in the postseason.

  • 2. Washington (Pace: 119 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Minnesota (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 1)

With Boston catching steam to claim the final spot in the Eastern Conference bracket, it’s looking like they will be Washington’s first round opponent. So to recap, the Capitals will probably have to play the fourth best team in the NHL in the first round, followed by playing either the sixth or third best team in the NHL in the second round. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division currently has the fifth, eighth, 10th and 16th best teams in the NHL in their side of the bracket. Of course this situation is given to the Capitals!!!

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