Friday Focus: November 1st
Welcome to the fifth edition of AFP Analytics’ Friday Focus section. In the Friday Focus post 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. In honor of Day of the Dead, today’s post is going to look at teams whose fans should already start mourning their 2019-2020 because they are likely dead. But first…
Last Week’s Players to Watch – Jason Zucker, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin
Last week I highlighted Jason Zucker, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Rasmus Dahlin. Zucker had been playing incredibly well during 5v5 play but had only managed one point in that time (and three power play points). I had not given any fantasy advice but I was strong in my belief that he would put up some points soon. If you read my column last week and heeded my advice, you are probably very happy as he had three points during 5v5 play and an additional power play point in the past week, doubling his total point output on the season.
The other players I highlighted were the Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin and Ristolainen. They both appeared on the list because they were trending in the wrong direction. I wondered if Dahlin could get back on track and whether Ristolainen would bounce back or settle into where he has always been, a player who struggles to control play during 5v5 hockey. The Sabres played two games (Detroit and Arizona) since the last post and Ristolainen got absolutely abused during 5v5 play. Both his Corsi For (CF)% and Expected Goals For (xGF)% were below 35% for both games. Those performances are absolutely brutal. It is not surprising that reports are surfacing that the team is more likely to trade Marco Scandella than Ristolainen because he will probably fetch better value, keeping in mind that value is relative. Dahlin had an ok week but still wasn’t at the level the team needs him at. His xGF% were below 50% in both games. I will be paying close attention to him this next week as the Sabres will only play four games in two weeks and two of those games will be in Dahlin’s home country of Sweden. I wonder if some rest and a trip back home will do him some good.
Last Week’s Game to Watch
In last week’s post, I highlighted Arizona at Buffalo. The game wasn’t the cleanest hockey game played but it was entertaining, especially the overtime period, which saw both teams have multiple quality chances at ending the game. The overtime serves as a perfect case for why the NHL should look to eliminate the shootout as it was such an anti-climactic ending to an interesting game. Buffalo hasn’t been playing as well recently and was significantly outplayed by Arizona during 5v5 play. They were lucky to get a point out of the game. Arizona has been playing incredibly well lately and is a team to watch out for.
In Honor of Day of The Dead…
With the old business out of the way, I will now move into which teams’ fans should begin mourning the death of their team’s season and which fans could see a miracle by Easter.
Ottawa was actually decent to start the season with their CF% and xGF% hovering around or above 50% for much of October. Their performance metrics have quickly fallen to where everyone expected them to be coming into the start of the season. A team devoid of talent, with poor metrics, that starts and plays in a tough division has absolutely no chance of making the playoffs. This won’t come as news to most hockey fans but I of course have to include Ottawa here. The only question around Ottawa is whether or not they can finish with the best odds in the NHL for the draft lottery.
New Jersey Devils
I am not as confident in New Jersey’s season being dead as Ottawa but I don’t see how they overcome their slow start to the season, especially with a major decision looming on Taylor Hall. To be direct, I think New Jersey should be better than they are but their CF% and xGF% rank near the bottom of the league and being tied for the fewest points with Ottawa means something has to change and quickly if they hope to be an Easter miracle. I do not think New Jersey makes the playoffs and will have a critical decision to make when the trade deadline comes. Unless Hall has signed a new contract by the deadline, I think New Jersey has to trade him. They can’t afford to let him leave for nothing.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit makes this list because they have mediocre numbers and a steep hill to climb to secure a playoff spot. Mainly they are on the list because there are six teams in the Atlantic Division who are better than them. It seems like Boston, Toronto, Tampa, Montreal, and Florida are clearly better teams and the Sabres have banked enough points to start the season while also playing decent hockey to make them a playoff contender as well. There is no chance Detroit overcomes those teams.
New York Rangers
New York has been the worst team in CF% and xGF% in the NHL. They have only managed to get 45% of their possible points. I expect the Rangers to improve but like Detroit, they may have too much ground to make up. Washington and Carolina are near locks in their division with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as strong playoff contenders as well. When you combine those teams with the six teams in the Atlantic Division and a playoff spot seems near impossible. I think playoff teams will be happy the Rangers miss because I think they have too many new players who are taking too long to jell together. Later in the season, I could see them going on a too little, too late hot streak.
I thought Chicago could have a chance to surprise this season. I liked the offseason additions they made and they still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. However, they have been awful to start this season. They are fourth worst in the NHL in both CF% and xGF%, so I don’t think their poor start is undeserved. If they commit to Robin Lehner as their full-time starter, they might be able to go on a nice run but teams who get owned during 5v5 play can have moments but generally finish low in the standings. The one positive they have going for them is they are playing in a division where only three teams have started well and St. Louis’s numbers haven’t been overly inspiring. Their loss of Vladimir Tarasenko will hurt those numbers even more. However, Chicago will be hard pressed to overtake any of Colorado, Nashville, or St. Louis in their division and have to compete with six teams from the Pacific division who have gotten off to surprisingly strong starts. Speaking of the Pacific division…
San Jose Sharks
San Jose has terrible numbers during 5v5 play and haven’t gotten the points they need to stay competitive. They are probably the most talented team in this section on paper and because of that could overcome. However, the theme persists that they have dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome. If any team in this section is going to have an Easter miracle, it will likely be San Jose. They are most similar to last year’s St. Louis Blues.
Teams that Could Have an Easter Miracle – Los Angeles Kings & Minnesota Wild
Both the Kings and Wild have been off to a dreadful starts as far as points go. However, their numbers during 5v5 play have been surprisingly impressive. Minnesota has an even CF% and their xGF% is 53%. Those types of numbers are usually put up by playoff teams. Los Angeles is even stronger with a CF% of 51% and xGF% of 53%. I don’t think either team ends up in the playoffs but if I were going to make a longshot bet on a team, one of these two teams could be worth a shot.
Player to Watch
I am interested to see how the New York Rangers’ Filip Chytil performs after an incredibly strong performance in his season debut. Chytil should have started the season with the Rangers. Chytil wasn’t overly strong last season but was awesome in his debut against the Lightning, scoring a goal and posting a CF% of 57% and xGF% of 74%. Let’s see if he can keep that performance level up.
Game to Watch
An easy game to pick here would be tonight’s matchup of Washington vs Buffalo but I don’t think Sabre fans are going to enjoy the game too much. I also would keep an eye on Pittsburgh at Boston on Monday, Carolina at Philadelphia, Arizona at Calgary, and St. Louis at Vancouver on Tuesday, Vegas at Toronto and Washington at Florida on Thursday. However, my game of the week will be Colorado at Arizona on Saturday. I will continue to beat the drum for Arizona and Colorado has proven to be one of the more fun teams to watch this season. I am also interested to see they perform at a high level without Landeskog or Rantanen.
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.