It has been a strange start to the season.
While a lot of teams we thought were going to be good (Tampa, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Columbus, Chicago) are indeed good, so too are teams we could have never expected. Colorado? Detroit? New Jersey? Vegas?
What’s going on out there? Obviously a lot of this can be chalked up to luck, but you knew that already. But is there more to it than all that? Let’s find out together.
Telfo asks: “Surely Vegas isn’t actually extremely good, but are they actually better than what we thought they would be?”
Surely not. However, there’s a big “but” here, and I cannot lie.
BUT: Vegas looks better than they have any right to, based on the quality of that roster. And I don’t just mean in terms of wins and losses, or goals for and against.
In terms of adjusted corsi share, they’re at 48.3 percent, good for 20th in the league heading into Wednesday night. But that’s only an average of getting out-attempted by a little more than two a game, and I don’t think anyone would have said that was gonna happen. The other stats aren’t as kind to them, but they’re keeping up with the competition in that one regard.
Goes without saying that their PDO is extremely high right now — fourth in the league — and they are assuredly not going to continue either shooting 11-plus percent or stopping 93.6 percent of the shots they face at 5-on-5. (The same, it must be noted, goes for everyone’s favorite upstart Devils. They’re shooting the same but getting better goaltending. That won’t last either.)
Also, keep in mind their quality of competition for most of Vegas’s games (Arizona twice, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo). Once they get into the more difficult stretches of the schedule, things will get a little hairier.
But hey, it’s a great way to get everyone excited right off the bat. They led their division for a good week at the start of the year! Cool.
James asks via email: “Is there any one metric that you think is the best proxy for a skater’s value?”
Obviously, in an ideal universe, the answer is “WAR” but there’s not really a nailed-down version of WAR everyone agrees upon. That metric would have to account for quality of teammate and competition, deployment, special-teams time, and so on, plus get to the actual value of every shot attempt for and against, and its result, then maybe even account for good or bad luck. Not easy.
Until that time, I’m gonna say there’s no one single number I buy into fully and completely. There can’t be. However, I think expected-goals percentage does a good job of at least approximating how much a guy does to push play in the right direction, and either generate or suppress shot quality. It’s not perfect, but it can be quite telling.
Christopher asks: “Exactly how bad are the Rangers, really? How do they fix it?”
They’re not great, certainly, but I think everyone would agree that they’re also not “1-5-1” bad.
They are, however, in the bottom 10 in the league in terms of 5-on-5 xGF%, which is sub-optimal. The problem, as one might expect, is defense. The offense is roughly league average, which I think makes sense if you look at the roster, but they’re not finishing at all. You can call that bad luck, I think.
But as to the defense: They allow the fourth-most expected goals per 60 minutes of hockey in the league, at nearly three per hour. It’s a terrible number. It’s almost enough to make you want to cut the goalies some slack, but not quite.
Lundqvist being .902 is, perhaps, an unavoidable because he’s getting up there (he’ll be 36 in March) and he’s got a lot of miles on him. But man, it sucks nonetheless.
As to what they can do to fix it, well, there’s no good answer that’s not “Blow it up and hope someone will take all their big contracts.” No one will. So I don’t know… ride it out I guess?
Casey asks: “Can a team win the cup without an elite goalie? Murray was a rookie a few years ago but has proven himself to not be a fluke. Is it possible?”
I guess the last team to win a Cup without an elite goalie is the Kings, right? Jonathan Quick is often cited as a roughly average goalie who had a couple amazing runs.
He was the only reason LA even made the playoffs in 2011-12, as he went .929 in the regular season, and those are beyond-elite numbers. After that, mostly he’s been plus-1, plus-2 on the league average save percentage, and you might say a lot of that had to do with the quality of the team in front of him.
The caveat here is that Quick was also dynamite in the 2011-12 Cup run, going .946(!!!) in 20 games.
But at the same time, he went just .911 in winning the Cup two years later, which is bad. And even then, they ground it out over 26 games; the only series in which they didn’t go seven games was the Cup Final. Funny how that works.
So that’s the answer to your question: You need to have one of the very best teams in recent hockey memory to get by with mediocre-ish goaltending.
Dylan asks via email: “As a fancy stats kind of guy is there an advanced stats explanation, or I guess any explanation really, of why Derrick Pouliot was such a disappointment for the Penguins?”
It’s hard to get a real good read on a guy with so few minutes (only about 1,100 in his entire career).
His numbers are mostly pretty good. Solid CF%, good relative to his teammates (which you’d expect given that he’d play mostly lower-level competition). But he didn’t really drive offense even against weaker competition, and he actually took a hit defensively against them. Which, y’know, you don’t want.
If you can’t do much to push around bottom-six opponents, that’s not gonna win you any friends in the coaches’ offices. Especially because, surprise, the Pens also got badly outscored when he was on the ice, so even if you’re doubling back against the “fancy stats” and just looking at how the team did with him out there, the answer was, “Bad.”
Sometimes guys just don’t work out. That’s life.
Jimmy asks via email: “How do you project Alex Tuch’s career to play out? Is his game good enough for him to be an NHL regular?”
I saw plenty of Tuch in college and I always thought he was a well-above-average college player. Played both ends of the ice well, scored at a good clip (but not overwhelmingly so). Plus he’s big, so people are always gonna love that.
As a 20-year-old rookie last year he put up decent numbers in the AHL, which earned him the look at the NHL level. Clearly, he’s a guy that can score at the lower level (39 points in 43 career games).
That probably makes him look at a lot like a top-six talent, and probably middle-six at worst. There’s just so much runway with a 21-year-old and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities in Vegas just because they don’t have a lot of offensive pop to go around. Let’s put it this way: He’s already on their No. 1 power play unit, right? He’d have to play his way off it at that point.
So I think you’re not gonna see him score more than a point a game at any point but he’ll be a guy that can help your team long-term. Which, hey, that ain’t bad to have.
Rhys asks: “The Oilers have (roughly) a zillion dollars in cap space this year. What should they use it on?”
First and foremost, we all know it would have to be a pure rental, since there’s the whole issue of that Connor McDavid contract next season. From what I remember, it was a big one.
So who’s a guy they might be able to trade for? It’s someone who their team would be willing to give up, who makes a decent amount of money right now but isn’t signed beyond this year. The problem for the Oilers is that anyone they might want to target has at least some no-move or no-trade protection.
Rick Nash, limited no-trade. Joe Thornton, full no-move. The Sedins, no-moves and Vancouver wouldn’t move them if it could (due to dumbness).
Frankly, the Oilers’ biggest issue is on defense, and the crop of pending UFA defenders right now is……woof. Not a whole lot of big-ticket guys I’d want regardless of their availability. Hell, not a lot of small-ticket guys I’d want either.
Looks like that cap space is just gonna go to waste. Unless they can convince Thornton to come aboard. And they totally should.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.
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