Friday Focus: November 8th
Welcome to the sixth 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.
Last Week’s Player to Watch – Filip Chytil
Last week I highlighted the New York Ranger’s young forward, Filip Chytil who has an impressive season debut. I was interested to watch to see if he would continue it as he played more games. His results have been an interesting mix since his season debut. The Rangers played four games since last week’s post so Chytil faced Nashville, Ottawa, Detroit, and Carolina. He played well against the weaker Ottawa and Detroit, ok against a good Nashville team, but had a rough outing against a strong Carolina team last night. Against Ottawa and Detroit, the Rangers controlled the shot counter while Chytil was on the ice but struggled with shot quality. Against Nashville they were slightly outshot but did better in quality. Against Carolina the Rangers outscored Carolina 1-0 while Chytil was on the ice but otherwise got caved in and score effects can only be partially blamed.
Last Week’s Game to Watch
In last week’s post, I highlighted Colorado at Arizona and it is starting to become a weekly tradition that the game I choose as my game of the week ends up being a blowout. Colorado has not responded well to the loss Rantanen and Landeskog, which isn’t surprising but is a little worrisome. Colorado hadn’t been the strongest possession team prior to the injuries so some regression was bound to occur. The loss of their two-star players sped the process up. I also don’t want to take away from Arizona who are continuing to prove that they are a team to be taken seriously.
Islanders are Going to Regress
I was wrong last season when I kept thinking the New York Islanders were going to regress because their Corsi For (CF)% and Expected Goals For (xGF)% were below 50% for much of last season. Simply put, they were getting outplayed in the majority of the games they played but still managed to win most of them. Somehow they are doing it again this year. They are doing worse in controlling shots but slightly better in shot quality this season. They have also been winning a lot of one goal games lately. They have a lot in common with last season’s Buffalo Sabres. Their numbers do not support the success they are having but they were able to piece together a 10 game winning streak by winning four one goal games (plus two where they added late empty net goals). Last year, Buffalo won nine of the ten by one goal so the Islanders haven’t been living quite as much on the edge but it isn’t great. The one thing the Islanders are doing well is they are controlling the goal differential during 5v5 play. I will probably end up being wrong again but I don’t know if the Islanders can sustain their success again. However, their ability to bank significant points early in the season set them up to once again make the playoffs.
What Should We Make of the Maple Leafs?
I try to very my discussion each week to the point where I feel as though I have touched on a good portion of the notable teams. I have purposefully avoided discussing the Maple Leafs because I frankly have had no clue what to make of them. I’ve decided to finally discuss them. I think they are a very average team. They are ranked sixth in the league with a CF% of 52.41%, which means they are doing a pretty good job of controlling play but they rank 21st in the league in xGF%, with a measure just under 50%. Even though they are controlling quantity, their quality is lacking. They should make the playoffs but without some major changes, they aren’t a team that is likely going to make some noise. For Leaf fans this will certainly be a disappointment. The blueline the team has constructed is not good enough. For as much success as Mike Babcock has had, the Leafs might need to consider a change behind the bench to bring a fresh voice. For a team that has to win in the next few years, being an average team isn’t good enough.
Are the Canucks for Real?
The Vancouver Canucks have been highly criticized for some head-scratching moves in recent years. Earlier this year, they waived some players who can play in the NHL and gave some odd reasons for why they made the decisions they made. They also committed significant money to Tyler Myers, despite being in a little of a cap crunch. Many people were picking the team to finish toward the bottom of the standings again. By next week, most teams will be close playing a quarter of their games and many people like to talk about how the teams in playoff positions by American Thanksgiving usually make up the bulk of the playoff teams. Vancouver finds themselves in second in the Pacific division with a game in hand on first place Edmonton. The question on many people’s minds has to be whether they are legitimately good. I think they are. They are fourth in CF% and third in xGF%. Those numbers indicate the Canucks are probably good. Edmonton and Vancouver are certainly two surprising teams to be at the top of the Pacific Division. If you were to bet on one to stay there, the smart money is on Vancouver.
The one major question I have is how their players respond as the season grinds on. Quinn Hughes played in college last season, where they play less than half the games in an NHL season. Elias Pettersson is in his second professional season and has to stay out of the sophomore slump. They rely on many other young players who have little experience as the pressure ramps up. They also have an older Alex Edler and injury prone Tyler Myers and Chris Tanev. Their numbers support their position in the standings. However, a bad stretch of hockey can certainly hurt their underlying metrics and cause them to regress. Some injuries or fatigue can certainly make that happen, which would make me a little nervous if I were a Canuck fan, considering who they are relying on. As an aside, Travis Green has to be one of, if not the, favorite to win the Jack Adams award for coach of the year.
Player(s) to Watch
I am interested to see how both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres respond once they return from Europe. Two years ago, Ottawa was one of the best teams in the NHL and had just traded for Matt Duchene when they got back from Sweden. They ended up finishing second to last. Colorado struggled immediately upon their return but went on a tear later in the season to finish third in the Central. Last season, Florida and Winnipeg traveled midseason and both teams performed well immediately after returning but Florida had a miserable end to the season while Winnipeg didn’t finish how they hoped to either. With only four teams traveling overseas in the middle of the season in recent history, it is tough to draw any definite conclusions.
If Tampa doesn’t leave Sweden with at least three points, they cannot afford any slipup when they return home. The Sabres have a little more cushion but anything less than a split puts them in a difficult position as well in a competitive Atlantic Division. Neither team can afford any sort of hangover when they get back or their seasons could be in peril. I will be interested to see how the teams respond. The NHL and NHLPA should be keeping an eye on how these teams respond to the midseason trip. I think the NHL must play games globally but they might want to reexamine when those take place if both teams falter after the trip.
Game to Watch
There are always going to be matchups that look intriguing on paper. Buffalo playing against Tampa certainly bears watching because both teams are doing ok in the standings but aren’t lighting it up during 5v5 play. With both teams traveling to Sweden it will be interesting to see how they play with almost a week off. Vegas at Washington also certainly bears watching but my game(s) of the week both involve the Florida Panthers, who started slowly but have been playing some great hockey lately. This upcoming week sees them play at two of the hottest teams in hockey, the New York Islanders (Saturday), who I have already discussed above, and the Boston Bruins (Tuesday).
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.