Friday Focus: October 4th
In what I hope to become a weekly post (please forgive me if life or other work gets in the way the some weeks), I would like to welcome you to the first version of AFP Analytic’s Friday Focus section. In the Friday focus I hope to highlight some of the most interesting events from a numbers perspective during the past week in the NHL. If something catches my eye from other sports, I might mention it here as well. I am intending on this being more of a quick hitter type of read that I hope everyone enjoys. I would also invite any readers to shoot us questions (@afpanalytics) and we will try to answer them every week. With this being a short week in the NHL, this post will probably be the shortest for the foreseeable future. Without further ado, here are some things I found interesting this past week:
NHL Teams Reluctance to Put Waiver Claims on Players
Claiming players through waivers is not going to help you build a perennial playoff team but a few strategic claims could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs or winning versus losing a round in the playoffs. This week there were some interesting names on waivers that some teams should have thought long and hard about claiming. Ultimately, there were only two players claimed, the Winnipeg Jets claimed defenseman Carl Dahlstrom from Chicago and the Arizona Coyotes claimed goaltender Eric Comrie from the Jets. It makes sense that the Jets would put a waiver claim in for a defenseman but Dahlstrom seems like an odd choice. I would have preferred the Sabres’ Casey Nelson, whose has had slightly stronger numbers over the past three seasons. He also is right-handed, which would have provided more balance on the Jets’ blueline. Thomas Hickey is another defenseman who could have been an interesting option, though I don’t know if the Jets should have added his salary.
It isn’t a surprise to see Eric Comrie get claimed as he appears to have a bright future but by claiming him, the Coyotes now have four goalie who could provide respectable NHL minutes (Adin Hill, Darcy Kuempher, Antti Raanta). With many teams already having their NHL goaltending tandems set, it isn’t surprising that neither Pheonix Copley nor Casey DeSmith were claimed though they appear to be capable NHL goalies. Columbus is a team that probably should’ve considered one of the two.
Although I can’t say I’m surprised, I do find it interesting that not a single forward on waivers was claimed. Dan Sprong seemed like a very logical player for a team to claim. His inclusion on waivers looks incredibly bad for the Anaheim Ducks after they traded Marcus Pettersson for him. Pettersson is exceling in Pittsburgh while Anaheim’s blueline is lacking. Sprong is a quality young forward who would have provided an upgrade for most teams. I guarantee there will be teams that will trade for a worse forward later this season. The same can be said for Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin. The other interesting forward to clear was Josh Ho-Sang. Although his advanced metrics are fantastic, the intangibles around him has clearly scared teams off. Some team will trade for him and as long as everything works out off the ice, will likely end up with a steal.
Golden Knights and Sabres dominate
The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the worst teams in this decade while the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the best. Thursday night the Penguins hosted the Sabres who were playing their first game under their new coach, Ralph Kruger. Kruger has been hyped as a coach but I would’ve expected the team to struggle playing in a new system against a top team while on the road. The Penguins were the team who looked lost. Teams regularly play good and bad teams but the Penguins were absolutely dominated by the Sabres. A few numbers from that game to consider:
- The Sabres had an adjusted Corsi For% of 62.52%
- The Sabres had an adjusted expected goals for% (xGF%) of 76.43% propelled by having a scoring chance for% of 71%
- No Sabre had an unadjusted Corsi For% or xGF% under 50% so at no point did the Penguins control play
- The Sabres’ best player was Kyle Okposo with a CF% of 77% and xGF% of 86.91%. He also had the highest individual expected goals.
One game is too small to draw definite conclusions but this win by Buffalo was incredibly impressive and Sabre fans have to hope they can continue to play at this level. The other question to ponder is maybe Pittsburgh isn’t as good as expected. Again, too small of a sample to say anything definite but Pittsburgh could not have started worse.
I think the Sharks are a better team than Pittsburgh, though Erik Karlsson’s late scratch certainly hurt, but the beatdown Vegas put on San Jose was impressive. If there were any questions about Vegas coming into the season, the team came out and looked to show they are an absolute force once again. Their numbers in the game looked very similar to what Buffalo had against Pittsburgh. Jonathan Marchessault had an insane 81.48% CF% and 95.32% xGF%. Though it is early, that may end up being the most dominant performance for the entire season. San Jose did nothing while Marchessault was on the ice. Vegas does have to be concerned about Nate Schmidt’s injury that appears to be serious enough to keep him out weeks. The biggest concern for Vegas coming into the season had to be their depth on the blue line. Losing one of their best, if not the best, defensemen might give the team some difficulty. If a depth defenseman finds their way on waivers in the next week or so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vegas put in a claim. They could also trade a late round pick for one.
Player to Watch
Rasmus Sandin had an amazing debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Of course, that debut came against the Ottawa Senators who seem destined for last place this season and may approach some of the futility records of recent years. In his debut, Sandin skated just under 9 minutes while posting an adjusted CF% of 69.23% and a ridiculous 96.36 adjusted xGF%. I will be keeping my eye on his performance to see if he will continue perform at a high level or if his numbers were propped up by playing the lowly Senators.
Game to Watch
I am definitely intrigued by the Golden Knights-Sharks rematch tonight and the Lightning visit Toronto next Thursday in what should be a tremendous game. However, the most intriguing game for me this week Tampa Bay at Carolina. Once the playoffs roll around, I think there is a good chance these two teams will be the favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams play a fun style of hockey as well. It is unfortunate that they are playing on a NFL Sunday and won’t draw as many eyes as it should.
If you have any thoughts or would like to submit questions for next week’s Friday Focus, tweet us, @afpanalytics, or me, @k_sticher.
All data is courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and capfriendly.com
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.