Weeks 20-22 of the Nerdy 30+1: Final Stretch Divisional Breakdowns

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James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

As a head’s up, today’s post was published before taking into account of today’s (March 11th) games

Hello, how are you all? My name is the DC Sports Dork and I have been away on vacation for far so long that I thought it was fair to reintroduce myself.

Anywho, lots have happened in the NHL landscape since then that it is quite difficult to digest this in one post. A trade deadline has passed, everyone wanted to watch the women’s Olympic tournament that deserved great fanfare while nobody would prefer to watch the men’s tournament for obvious reasons. If anything else, I’m fine having this Youtube video being played on a loop.

Lastly, James Wisniewski came in from the players union proposing that it will take miracles to seeing official public data tracking being implemented in the NHL just like you see at multiple leagues in soccer, the NBA and Major League Baseball.

As much as Wisniewski’s points about how any negativity can affect a player’s contract negotiations in the long term deserve to be scolded at, consider that in the history of the NHL, there have been too many pieces of unnecessary data being recorded: like hits and turnovers. Add in the history of arena biases and you see why players and management always believe in the eye test rather than stats to determine a players worth. But running tests on the data and constantly proving if it is valuable by showing consistent results and high correlations, in the long run, is why it is important to find data points that matter. If sprints just don’t happen to match what you see on the eye test, don’t use it. But if shot attempts prove why Brooks Orpik has been terrible as a Capital this season, let alone throughout his entire tenure, because of decades worth of proof, use it.

It’s all about tracking the right information and what I saw at the Vancouver hockey analytics conference is proof that people are considering this. It is only a matter of making it known across all that enjoy the game and continuing to properly educate the audience. Until then, hockey will just continue to be stuck in the stone-age run by cavemen.

In the meantime, let’s go ahead and take a look at how the league is doing on the whole but with a different twist. Instead of just counting down 31 through one, I’d figure that it would be nice to take a look at it from a divisional perspective instead. After all, the playoff races are getting tight and after eliminating two teams from the picture, it is really tough for me to figure out which remaining four will be next. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy the big picture on the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.

  • 26. New York Islanders (82-game Standings Points Pace: 82 pts, Last Week: 26)
  • 24. New York Rangers (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 23)
  • 21. Carolina (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 14)
  • 20. Washington (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 20)
  • 16. Columbus (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 17)
  • 15. New Jersey (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 16)
  • 14. Philadelphia (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Pittsburgh (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 10)

We start by looking at the Metropolitan division that has plenty of parity, but little star power at the top. Pittsburgh is finally back to the top where they belong, but they still are dealing with a 97.9 PDO that is the second worst in the NHL. While that is going on, Washington is falling apart while still having a top-five PDO at 101.6. Below them in the standings is a frisky Philadelphia team that may or may not have what it takes to make some noise in the playoffs. Finally, you have two teams in Columbus and New Jersey that just have no idea what direction they are heading towards.

But first, let’s commiserate on the two latest teams to get knocked out of these power rankings. First, we’ve known for some time that the New York Rangers have been wanting to hit the reset button on their franchise. They certainly did that at the trade deadline by getting rid of Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Micheal Grabner and Rick Nash. All three of these players gave the Rangers massive returns for their future as they now have seven picks in the first three rounds of this summer’s entry draft: including three first-round picks. Along with Lias Andersson, Igor Shesterkin, Sean Day and Filip Chytil, they have great potential to build one of the best prospect pools in the NHL.

Until then, they have no choice but to play Paul Carey for more than half a season and Cody McLeod is still in the NHL because of this rebuild. However, the Rangers did bring in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov with the former off to a brilliant start in Manhattan with 12 points in seven games. Both will be useful players as the front office will try to build a winning side as soon as possible. But the Rangers definitely know that they will have plenty of work to do for them to return to the high standards they built in the early 2010s where they made three conference finals and a Stanley Cup final in a four-year span.

As for Carolina, what else is there to say about the Bill Peters era. They are so great in possession, but all their attack comes from their defenseman, which will always be an inefficient process for scoring goals. Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Justin Williams and Teuvo Teravainen have been great but it just seems like there aren’t enough forwards that are contributing enough, on the whole, to make this team ever reach the playoffs. That’s why they stand 26th in the league in total goals scored. Among the individual examples, how is it that Joakim Nordstrom played 63 games and has only four points to show for it. After five years of being on this team and being selected sixth overall in the 2013 entry draft, how does Elias Lindholm still not have common linemates?

Lastly, poor Scott Darling. This was supposed to be the year that he can prove himself to be a long-term starting netminder and he has gone on to post an 89.0% save percentage, a 36.4% quality start percentage and has given up almost 22 goals more than what was expected of him if he was league average. All those marks are dead last among goaltenders that have played more than half of his team’s games this season. Carolina has made the effort to make their goaltending better in the coaching ranks already by bringing in Mike Bales from Pittsburgh, so there’s no excuse for the players to still maintain their mediocrity.

To top it all off with this franchise, new owner Tom Dundon “promoted” Ron Francis as president, which is hockey’s way of firing as general manager. There’s been talk that Dundon didn’t like the lack of activity at the trade deadline and that the Hurricanes have been too penny-pinching for too long. That’s all well and good that Dundon is coming in with hopefully new ideas. But like transitioning Sam Hinkie to Jerry Colangelo with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, the franchise can’t afford to avoid its roots of drafting well and staying patient. Their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers have pretty good this season with plenty of their draft picks from the previous three years coming through and contributing. Along with that, Elliotte Friedman made a solid point that showing your hand could lead to the rest of the league taking advantage of Dundon’s new hire by giving up a fortune for the players Carolina wants.

No matter what happens this season, Carolina is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They could either stay the course by keeping Bill Peters and hope that great drafting can lead to the franchise building a sustainable team in the long run. Or, Dundon blows the whole thing up and start to spend wildly on free agents and trade for veterans that may or may not work. They could either be Tampa Bay or they could be Buffalo if they decide to go the latter. Either way, Dundon better learn quickly how to avoid being known as Dumb Dumb for the rest of his hockey life.

  • 31. Ottawa (82-game Standings Points Pace: 70 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Buffalo (Pace: 67 pts, LW: 30)
  • 27. Detroit (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 28)
  • 25. Montreal (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 25)
  • 19. Florida (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 24)
  • 8. Toronto (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)
  • 2. Boston (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 119 pts, LW: 1)

While the Metropolitan division is still looking for some team to look consistently strong, the Atlantic Divison has always had three teams that have hit elite status all year long. The reason why they have been in this position could be a chicken and egg situation depending on how you look at it.

First, Tampa and Boston have consistently been two of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. With the Bruins adding youngsters that can produce as well as be a part of a strong process, they are now a great hockey team more so than a great team, analytically. As for the Lightning, we’ve been there and done that for this franchise for the past four years and everything they have touched just always finds a way turn into gold, even if there have been a handful of speed bumps along the way in their journey.  Meanwhile, Toronto has three of the best young forwards in the NHL and are carrying them through to bigger and better things, even if the entire 23-man roster isn’t perfect.

So there’s the chicken part. The egg part is the fact that four of the seven worst teams in the NHL reside in this division. It would have been five if it wasn’t for the Florida Panthers deciding to catch absolute fire since the All-Star break. During that span, they have gone 15-3-1 and have outscored opponents 70-49. If you make these tallies as averages, you’re looking at nearly a 4-3 scoreline every night. Clearly, the offense is driving Florida’s hot streak, but only 52 of those 70 goals have come on even strength and their 58.6 shot attempts per hour still has them as a mid-table team on offense. Their PDO during their run of form is at 101.4, which is quite high, but certainly not so high that you fear for a crashing-to-earth level of unsustainability coming.

If anything, the fuel to Florida’s resurgence has been their white-hot power play. Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have converted 18 of their 61 chances with only Washington having a higher shooting percentage than Florida’s 18.0% during this span. Even if everything stops turning to gold for this unit, the Panthers sit ninth in the NHL with 111.7 shot attempts per hour. Vincent Trochek is making his money on the man-advantage as his 23 points are almost double his tally in those situations than any other season in his career. Add in the contributions of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov and you have three forwards that are almost averaging a point per game. Don’t sleep on Evgeni Dadonov either who now sits at 51 points, including 22 in this 19-game stretch.

On the backend, as long as James Reimer is not in net, Florida is fine. Roberto Luongo has returned from injury and has gone 8-1-1 with a 93.3% save percentage. Even call-up Harry Staltieri joined in the fun with a 93.8% save percentage when he was playing. As for the unfortunate Reimer: while still going 3-1-0, he only recorded an 87.5% save percentage, including games where he has given up seven, five and three goals during that stretch. And yes, this franchise has employed Antti Niemi this season. Things have truly worked out well for Florida, but it would be nice for them to have some stability in net for the long run. Luongo and his 38-year old just has to return to planet Earth sooner rather than later and Reimer might just be playing himself out of the league. The problem is both goaltenders are under contract until 2021. Here’s hoping this doesn’t come back to bite them hard.

Speaking of things biting them hard, let’s talk about the Buffalo Sabres. Welp, they traded Evander Kane at the deadline, so that’s something. What’s, even more, something is that Buffalo doesn’t get a single 2018 draft pick out of the trade. In fact, both conditional picks they received are for 2019 which still sets up the Sabres to only having seven picks for this summer’s entry draft. Danny O’Regan scored quite well while he was at the Boston University, but he is 24 and only has 22 career NHL games under his belt.

To top things off, Jack Eichel is out injured again with a high ankle sprain. Even if he were to return later this season, that’s another season where the savior of this team is missing too many games. Add in Zach Bogosian’s season-ending hip surgery and Kyle Okposo’s concussion and you wonder what on Earth is it with this team getting hurt all the time. Last season, the Sabres used 38 players because of the number of injuries and poor play they suffered from. This season, they are using 36. That’s never going to get the job done, regardless of who the head coach and general manager are.

For now, I do think the Sabres have a few good prospects who should come good. Alex Nylander should eventually face his older brother multiple times in their careers, while Cliff Pu and Casey Middelstadt could be NHL ready by as early as next season. And that’s the thing with the Sabres: you can’t say they’ve been complete failures in the draft. In fact, the Sabres have been able to draft at least one sustainable NHL player (one that has played five years (aka 410 games) worth of NHL hockey during their careers) since 2007. The problem is only Zemgus Girgensens, Jake McCabe, Sam Reinhart, Eichel, and maybe Brandon Guhle are still with the Sabres. Loads of good prospects were traded away thanks to acquiring Evander Kane and too many others’ developments were stalled as a result of signing and trading for too many wasteful veterans like Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, and many others. Until the front office fixes their ethos, the Sabres will still be among the worst teams in the league and they will see a guaranteed talent like Eichel either squander his career or force the Sabres to have him play elsewhere.

  • 22. Chicago (82-game Standings Points Pace: 78 pts, Last Week: 21)
  • 17. Colorado (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 18)
  • 11. St. Louis (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 12)
  • 7. Minnesota (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 8)
  • 6. Dallas (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Winnipeg (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Nashville (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 4)

After witnessing a top-heavy Atlantic division that may or may not have three Stanley Cup contenders, it’s time to show you what a deep and talented division is all about. We all know about Chicago’s struggles this year and plenty of that has had to do with bad luck and injuries. The rest of the division is harder to understand other than every one of them is good in some capacity.

One team that not only hasn’t been good but has been in dire straits has been the St. Louis Blues. Since the start of February, the Blues have gone 5-9-2 and until yesterday, haven’t looked like winning since Joel Edmundson suffered a broken forearm. Add in Jay Bouwmeester’s possible season-ending hip surgery and the fact that we’re seeing bad Jake Allen all year and you see why the Blues are where they are. It’s not like St. Louis has been super terrible during their run of form, however.

Sure, losing this much momentum and now being on the outside of the playoff places is a bad thing, but being outscored 36-47 during their 16-game stretch is much closer than a team that is in genuine crisis. Just like the Panthers and their hot streak, St. Louis has been mid-table in both shot attempts for and against at even strength and while their PDO has been at 99.2, it’s not like that is the reason for their bad run of form. Like the Panthers, their issues have come on special teams.

And again, St. Louis isn’t terrible on the penalty kill because they have been a top ten team in shot prevention all season. The problem has been the 81.4% save percentage since February, which is the third worst rate in the entire NHL. Because of that, the Blues have given up 11 goals in 49 shorthanded situations: which just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. Add in the fact that more shots are starting to come from closer to goal this season than last season and you see why the losses to Edmundson and Bouwmeester have been so huge. On the other side of the rink, St. Louis has been a disgrace all season on the power play, but that’s kind of how Mike Yeo coached teams roll. During this stretch though, they have only scored five times in 47 attempts. Add in a league-worst 7.25% shooting percentage during this span and you’ll see why the Blues are where they are.

This leads us to the Paul Stastny trade where if you didn’t see the details, you wonder why St. Louis would trade their fourth leading goal scorer and one of their top power play specialists when they have struggled mightily to score goals all year. In the micro sense, Stastny was always too expensive for his own talents and with the likes of Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Edmondson hitting restricted free agency, general manager Doug Armstrong needed to find a way to free up cap space for the long term. Now the Blues did help out their division rivals Winnipeg by retaining $3.5 million of his salary, but the Blues should be able to receive a first-round pick and Erik Foley might be a solid prospect up front. If anything, this will be a good return considering they lost their own first-round pick in the Brayden Schenn trade.

For the Jets, what else is there to say about them? They have officially hit the NHL’s elite and this is without the likes of Adam Lowry and Jacob Trouba due to injury. Even Steve Mason, Mark Scheifele, Tobias Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov have been out with various niggles. Through all that, Winnipeg has still gone 15-5-2 in their last 22 games, including a 16-9 advantage on special teams during that span. With that, the Jets have a 24.4% power play efficiency rate, plus a 12th best attack and fifth best defense based off of shot attempts. They are as well rounded of a hockey team as you can get and Paul Stastny will surely make them a better side.

If there is one weakness about the Jets is that they have been a bit too much like the Alex Ovechkin-era Washington Capitals where they have been so good in scoring goals, but their shot quality might come to roast them in the long term. While they have been great at generating shot attempts, they are only 16th in scoring chance rate and 19th in high definition chances all season. In fact, they have only been 26th in the NHL in high definition chances during their hot run of form. Despite all this, Winnipeg has been a top-six side in on-ice shooting percentage at even strength at 8.57%. With the bloodbath that is the Central Division, is this style of play going to be enough for them to make it as far as they can in the postseason? But with the addition of Stastny and his style of play, his seven goals in six games have been the net-crashing presence that Winnipeg needs to make a deep run in the postseason.

With such a young side with the likes of Patrick Laine doing his own Alex Ovechkin impersonation, the excuse could be that the Jets are “learning what it’s like to win” whenever they get eliminated. But take it from a Caps fan that it only gets harder from here. After this season, Trouba, Lowry, Joel Armia, Josh Morrisey and Conor Hellebuyck will be restricted free agents. Along with that, Stastny, Enstrom, and Shawn Mathias will be hitting the open market. Cheaper contracts like Bryan Little’s and Nikolaj Ehlers’ will become expensive ones. Despite having $21 million to work with, those cap spaces for next year always find a way to be fools gold once the RFAs receive contract extensions. So it will be up to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be smart and keep this team competitive in the long run. That means continuing to draft well, develop the later picks well and finding diamonds in the rough. Whether they can do it and survive this bloodbath of a division is the story yet to be written.

  • 29. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 65 pts, Last Week: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 27)
  • 23. Edmonton (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 22)
  • 18. Anaheim (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19)
  • 13. Calgary (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 15)
  • 12. Los Angeles (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)
  • 9. San Jose (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
  • 3. Vegas (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 3)

Lastly, we take a look at my least favorite division in the NHL because nothing in this picture makes sense. Sure, we all knew Vancouver and Arizona were going to be terrible, but we did not expect Edmonton to join them in the league of misery. Along with that, the Kings were going to bounce back somehow but not because they were going to ride the puck luck train instead of maintaining some form of former head coach Daryl Sutter’s playbook. Lastly, San Jose is somehow still good while Vegas is somehow really good. I still stand by the fact that because the division has been so bad on the whole and that the league is full of aging and worsening sides that Vegas was going to take advantage and have the season that they are having.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the two teams that I think are a microcosm of how the division has turned out. First, how in the world is a Randy Carlyle coached team still winning?!?! Better yet, how is a team that deploys Francois Beauchemin and Kevin Bieksa so much every night still winning?!?! As we’ve stated before, John Gibson and Ryan Miller have been brilliant all season for the Ducks and have saved roughly 37 goals better than expected according to Corsica. With their combined powers, only Nashville’s goaltending has performed better than Anaheim’s 93.2% save percentage at even strength.

Offensively, this Ducks team is still a mess. Only Rickard Rakell, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf are on pace to surpass 40 points this season and it’s not like the team’s power play has helped matters either. Even Ryan Kesler (nine points in 31 games) hasn’t contributed that much to the goal-scoring department. If there is one thing that the Ducks have improved over the course of the season, it has been their shot suppression at even strength. But as we discussed before, plenty of that has had to do with reintroducing Kesler into the lineup and bringing stability within the top six forward lines.

But once the dust settles on this season, I just seriously don’t know where this Ducks team goes from here. They didn’t really bring in anybody to improve their goal scoring unless Randy Carlyle thinks Chris Kelly, J.T. Brown and Jason Chimera are going to be good enough in that department. But once this season is over, the Ducks only have less than $12 million in cap space with Nick Ritchie, Brandon Montour and Ondrej Kase needing new contracts. Those three shouldn’t be able to combine for said $12 million, but GM Bob Murray still needs to find six additional players once those contracts have been signed. Is it best for the Ducks to go through a youth movement or do they still try to go all in while Getzlaf and Kesler are still good. Even if they go for the latter game plan, who would want any of Anaheim’s veterans considering how poor they really are. Then again, I’m sure the Vancouver Canucks will be happy to bring Bieksa back. Maybe even the Oilers would love to have Antoine Vermette’s leadership.

Kidding aside, let’s talk about another team that is on the other end of the spectrum in Calgary. I personally loved this roster coming into this season, but it has been a struggle for them to click. After winning seven games in a row to get 2018 on the right foot, they went on to lose six in a row. Since then, the Flames have gone 9-3-6. That may look good for those that are so used to wins, losses, and ties being concrete things, but this is the NHL we are discussing. If overtime losses never existed, the Flames would be just playing .500 hockey while being outscored 52-53. That scoreline basically makes sense for a team playing the way that they have, but what if I were to tell you that Calgary has been playing well instead.

Yes, my friends, the Flames have been so good at even strength since January 20th that they have the number one offense with 68.5 attempts per hour. Along with that, their defense is a ninth-best 56.8 attempts per hour during that same span. Their biggest problem is puck luck where the team is seeing a 98.5 PDO putting an end to their season. You would think goaltending is a massive culprit to this, and it has been up until Mike Smith went down with a groin injury on February 11th. Though weirdly enough, David Rittich and Jon Gillies have come in and stepped up really well for the Flames since being brought on to the team. If anything, all the worries have to be observed with what’s going on offensively.

For starts, the Flames seem to be a bit too predictable on the power play, where they either rely on a bomb from the point or they crash the net with any of their talented forwards. That’s all well and good, but in man advantages, there does need to be predictability along the way. Calgary just doesn’t even bother shooting it from the half wall, even if it’s just for the sake of stretching the defense, for some reason. Meanwhile, that is not the case with five-on-five, those fears in shot quality certainly aren’t the cause of concern.

If anything, their even strength offense is either the best or in the top three in all forms of shot categories since that January 20th start date. But that 7.15% shooting percentage is just straight up hitting them hard at a time where they can not afford to be behind the eight-ball in the standings. That being said, despite the fact that Jaromir Jagr and Travis Hamonic have given the Flames nothing, thus leading to the same-old lack-of-scoring-depth problems they have dealt throughout the Jonny Gaudreau era, they are still not far off from fixing this problem. While it might take some voodoo doctor to get the curse of employing Bob Hartley’s systems for too long or something, I’m still optimistic about this team and all it takes is a few dumb results to change the whole complexion of this division.

 

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