As we approach the month of December this NHL season, league officials must be coming into the office with their chests held high when reports are coming out that Seattle has approved the construction of a new multi-purpose sports arena. This opens the door for them to become the 32nd NHL franchise by as soon as 2019 with an ownership group looking to be in place in short order as well. As long as they can fork over $650 million in expansion fees ($150 more than what Las Vegas spent on their franchise just two years ago because of course that makes sense), Gary Bettman and Co. should be seeing the league flourish in ways that they haven’t seen since taking over the league almost a quarter century ago.
The real statement of the league’s growth is the annual release of their salary cap and how much it grows between seasons. Today, the league made its first projections where next year’s maximum spending on players could hit as much as $82 million per team. That is almost a 10% increase when you consider that this year’s cap is $75 million. We haven’t seen that much of a jump since in nearly ten years; right when the implementation of revenue sharing was just beginning.
That being said, I can count on Bettman, Bill Daly and the like to continue to find the most creative ways to mess this up and be so out of touch with their customers. Along with that, they time and again push agendas without ever being in touch with reality as well as failing to set much higher yet attainable targets for the sport. In this instance, I still hark back to the fact that Arizona, Florida and (despite being under new ownership) Carolina are not the healthiest teams in the league via attendance and generating interest in their respective hockey markets every year. Along with that, the sport is nowhere near profitable where you’re seeing such increases in the value of each franchise the exact same way you are with the other three biggest professional sports in the United States.
Until that changes, I don’t trust Bettman to implement a new team in Seattle and expect it to work. That being said, my rankings are always bulletproof. Let’s move on and take a look at where everyone stands in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.
31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 50 points, Last Week: 31) 30. Buffalo (Pace: 53 pts, LW: 30) 29. Florida (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 29) 28. Montreal (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 28)
- 27. Anaheim (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 27)
- 26. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 26)
- 25. Ottawa (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 24)
So we kind of knew that Detroit was going to be among the worst teams in the league. Therefore, where they stand right now should not be shocking under any circumstances. The question now is if there are any bits for silver lining for this team that either clearly is or clearly must be in the middle of a rebuild.
For starts, Dylan Larkin is back with a team-leading 19 assists, 23 points and 52.9% puck possession. Apparently, playing more with the two-way force that is Tomas Tatar and less of a puck watcher like Tomas Vanek can do wonders to your output. For goodness sakes, he’s making Justin Abdelkader look great! Anthony Mantha continues to be a force and Mike Green got off to a hot start offensively to start the season. To top it all off, Detroit is actually a top ten unit defensively this season based off of shot attempt prevention at even strength.
That said, it is the complete opposite on the offensive end and once you add the continued mediocrity of Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard in goal, you see why Detroit are where they are. This might also be the beginning of the end for Henrik Zetterberg as his puck possession has dwindled to a shocking 47.3% this season. Simply put, you would think that a Zetterberg, Mantha and Gustav Nyquist top line would be so much better than where they are this season. Lastly, it looks like it is Andreas Athanasiou’s turn for being chucked around every line combination head coach Jeff Blashill throws out and his numbers are suffering as a result.
So Detroit are going to be competitive this season and they will have pieces that the front office will want to keep beyond this season. However, this rebuild will continue for the near future and there will be more shocking nights ahead beyond last Saturday’s 10-2 loss to Montreal.
- 24. Colorado (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 19)
- 23. Washington (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 25)
- 22. Edmonton (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 21)
- 21. Vancouver (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 22)
- 20. Boston (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 23)
- 19. Chicago (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 13)
- 18. Calgary (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 14)
- 17. Pittsburgh (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 20)
At first, it looked like the start of a second straight season in which Chicago will outperform their overall underlying numbers. The script has changed since Corey Crawford was put on injured reserve in the beginning of December due to a lower body ailment. Since then, Chicago has lost five in a row with each scoreline looking worse by the game.
So without Crawford, the running joke continues about how Chicago hasn’t been the same since their 2015 Stanley Cup title thanks to aging, bad contracts and too much turnover. It turns out that’s not really the complete case. At even strength, Joel Quenneville is bringing his team back to an elite status thanks to a ninth best defense and a second best attack based on shot attempts per hour after score adjusting.
Right after being signed since days before the regular season, Cody Franson has amazingly become Chicago’s best defenseman, analytically, and has become the perfect defense partner to keep 34-year old Duncan Keith young. Up front, the Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews partnership is back and the latter’s two-way play is all the better for it. If anything, it has balanced the Blackhawks’ top six where Patrick Kane can be seen easier zone starts and competition with Artem Anisimov and Nick Schmaltz. The third line even has some solid potential thanks to Alex DeBrincat carrying over his record-breaking scoring from the OHL over to the top flight of professional hockey.
Where the Blackhawks continue to struggle, however, is on special teams. As has always been the case throughout the Quenneville era, Chicago has so much talent to build a strong power play, yet they struggle mightily to hit 18% efficiency almost every year. This season is no different thanks to a 15.5% success rate as well as a seventh worst 93.9 shot attempts per hour on the man-advantage. While their penalty kill is elite thanks to a 84.0% success rate, expect that to dip massively now that Crawford is out for the foreseeable future. Despite such high production while shorthanded, the Blackhawks unit gives up a seventh worst 108.2 shot attempts per hour. If it wasn’t for a fourth best 90.4% save percentage, Chicago would be in a much worse situation than they are now.
Simply put, there’s no excuse for them to have just a break-even goal differential while also having a +16 penalty differential. In short, Chicago are genuinely a better team than in years past thanks to the role players they have brought in. But if they can’t sort out the minor issues of their team, they will keep shooting themselves in the foot and prevent themselves from making the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
- 16. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 18)
- 15. Minnesota (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 16)
- 14. Winnipeg (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 15)
- 13. Carolina (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 8)
- 12. New Jersey (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 10)
- 11. Dallas (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 11)
- 10. New York Rangers (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 17)
- 9. Nashville (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 12)
Speaking of playoff droughts, when on earth is Carolina going to get their shooting numbers right in every situation?!?! This season, Bill Peters continues to have his Hurricanes play some of the best puck possession hockey you will see and the PDO at even strength is nowhere near as bad as it was last season. However, Carolina’s special teams time and again has been their crux this season. With a combined 90.7% special teams efficiency for both power play and penalty kill units, you can only find the Edmonton Oilers surpassing such levels of incompetence.
That being said, Carolina’s penalty kill is justifiably bad thanks to a sixth worst rate in shot prevention at 108.5 attempts per hour. Once you add an even more abysmal 82.7% save percentage while shorthanded, you see how the Hurricanes are not even at Category 1 status in that department. On the man-advantage, that one seems to be a bit more confounding thanks to an eight BEST 106.4 shot attempts per hour. Sure, shot quality is a tad of an issue for this team, but when you look at such categories like scoring chances and high definition shot attempts, Carolina is still above league average in volume. That’s not enough to explain why they have a seventh worst 10.5% shooting while a man-up, a number that even mediocre teams reach in all-situations.
Like the Blackhawks, Carolina has no excuse being a -5 in goals despite having a +23 in penalty differential. Like the Blackhawks, Carolina will not make the playoffs unless that stat gets better, even if it counts for 10-20% of the average ice time of a regular season game. Unlike the Blackhawks, Carolina could and probably should fire their coach and find someone with fresh ideas if they don’t make it to the postseason. Somewhere along the line, stagnant shooting and goaltending can’t be just the players’ fault anymore after four years of the same thing. Will the front office go conventional with this belief or will new owner Tom Dundon and Erik Tulsky lead the charge enough to keep Peters for more seasons to come?
- 8. New York Islanders (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 6)
- 7. San Jose (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 4)
- 6. Columbus (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)
- 5. Vegas (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 3)
- 4. Toronto (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 5)
- 3. Los Angeles (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 9)
- 2. St. Louis (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 123 pts, LW: 1)
So all it took was bringing in a much calmer voice in the dressing room and freer tactics to get the Los Angeles Kings back to the NHL’s elite. Under John Stevens, they have have become a much more explosive team offensively. Along with that, Jonathan Quick has returned to full health and is playing some of the best regular season hockey of his entire career. And through such revelations, the Kings have found themselves in the middle of a seven-game winning streak and in first place in the Pacific Division.
Now because of their offense-first mentality, the Kings have been sacrificing a bit on defense. After so many years as being one of the best shot prevention teams in the league, Los Angeles is only sitting in 16th place at 57.7 adjusted shot attempts per hour at even strength. To go along with that, the Kings aren’t that much better in generating shots themselves thanks to a league average 57.3 attempts per hour going their way at 5-on-5.
When you deep dive into the numbers that truly indicate shot quality, it gets much worse. Just by looking at high definition attempts, the Kings sit in the bottom ten in both shot prevention and shot generation from those events at even strength. As a result, when you see that Los Angeles has the fourth highest PDO in the NHL at 102.0, you know that number is bad and they are due for some massive regression.
But the Kings have to be sustainable and good somewhere in order for them to be a top-ten in these power rankings, right? Welp, their fourth best 112.0 shot attempts per hour on the penalty kill should translate to something much better than their 16.8% power play efficiency. However, I seriously doubt Los Angeles can keep up a league-best 92.5% save percentage while shorthanded, especially when their goalies are the always injured Quick and a Darcy Kuemper that Minnesota couldn’t wait to get rid of.
That said, it was expected that the Pacific Division would be so bad that the top team could take advantage of it with ease. We just didn’t expect Anaheim and Edmonton to be two of the three worst teams. With Vegas and San Jose being the only realistic threats for the conference finals, the Kings have a pathway that doesn’t look too treacherous. Whether they can keep their momentum under Stevens throughout the course of a season is anybody’s guess.