Wild West Summer Series 2019: Chicago

by chriskane on June 24, 2019

Welcome to week four of our summer series. Like last season, this series is intended to take a look at the teams in the Western Conference one by one. We will do a short recap of what took place, but the deep dive here will be into the players that helped make it so, for better or worse. We will be taking a look at a few players who out or underperformed their expectations and be considering whether this performance might just be the new normal.

 

And now for the technical details. We will be using the Fantasy Hockey Geek tool to get a ranking that combines all of a player’s stats for the searched categories. These ranks are based on a 12 team, head-to-head league, using the categories of goals, assists, power play points, shots, hits and blocks for forwards/defensemen and wins, saves, save percentage and goals against average for goalies. The idea is to compare this ranking with an expected ranking based on the average draft positions from the start of the year. This process does not necessarily identify who was the most important player to each team but gives us not only an idea of who was a steal/bust on draft day, but where each player was valued going into this season. Player eligibility for this series is based on Yahoo, and draft ranks are based on average draft positions compiled from Yahoo, ESPN and CBS by FantasyPros.

 

This week: Chicago

 

Recap:

Chicago finished the 2018-19 season with 84 points, good for 10th in the division and six shy of a wild card playoff spot. They had a few impressive performances (we will get to a couple in a moment), in fact they scored the third most goals in the West, but also had the highest goals against in the West, and not by a little.

 

Undervalued:

Erik Gustafsson: How can we not start with Gustafsson? The guy seemingly came out of nowhere to take the top power play spot in Chicago and destroy all his previous career highs. Gustafsson was drafted at 144th overall between Jake Muzzin and Brandon Montour. He finished as the 50th ranked player (and 14th ranked defensemen).

 

Player

Team

Position

FHG Rank

ADP

Darnell Nurse

EDM

D

44

205

Tyson Barrie

COL

D

49

71

Erik Gustafsson

CHI

D

50

144

Dougie Hamilton

CAR

D

52

81

Ryan Pulock

NYI

D

55

159

 

Gustafsson saw a huge change in role in 2018-19. He increased his general time on ice by more than four minutes. In addition over a minute and a half of that time was on the power-play. His 18 power-play points certainly contributed to his career high in total points.

 

GP

Goals

Assists

Points

Points/ Game

Shots

S%

Hits

PPPts

Blocks

PPTOI

TOI

79

17

43

60

0.76

160

10.6

100

18

115

3:02

22:35

 

On the whole this one is pretty straight forward. Gustafsson saw a giant increase in deployment and also saw a large increase in offensive output. For the most part his underlying numbers look pretty decent. His shooting percentage is a touch high for his career, and for most defensemen, so it is possible that drops a little, but not a guarantee as this is the first time he has really been put into a position to succeed.

 

2019-20 really comes down to two things. Will he keep his deployment? And can Chicago keep up their high octane scoring, particularly on the power-play. The answer to the first is likely yes. Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook aren’t likely to challenge at this point. Henri Jokiharju was given a quick look last season, but clearly didn’t run with the job. It is possible that if Gustafsson falters someone else may step in, but given his 2018-19 performance, it really does look like it is Gustafsson’s ice to lose.

 

As far as Chicago’s goal scoring goes, that is a bit of a question mark. They have the individual talent for sure, but will that translate into goals at the same rate? In 2018-19 they combined for 267 goals (8th highest in the league), but only had an expected goal number (via Natural Stat Trick) of 220 (17th in the league). That gives them the fourth highest over-performance differential in the league. That certainly doesn’t mean they won’t repeat their 2018-19 performance, but it does beg the question.

 

Overall 60 points seems like a reasonable point projection for Gustafsson as the top power-play defensemen on a high scoring team, so as long as those two factors are repeated, I am buying.  

 

Alex DeBrincat:

Debrincat was drafted 118th overall – right between Wayne Simmonds and Cam Atkinson (side note – crazy to think the collective we viewed those three as similar going into 2018-19). He finished the season in excellent company at 93rd overall.

 

 

Player

Team

Position

FHG Rank

ADP

Phil Kessel

PIT

RW

74

28

Mark Stone

VGK

RW

78

139

Alex DeBrincat

CHI

LW/RW

93

118

Timo Meier

SJS

LW

96

216

Brendan Gallagher

MTL

RW

97

165

 

In his second season DeBrincat put up 76 points, improving on his 52 point outing in 2017-18.

 

GP

Goals

Assists

Points

Points/ Game

Shots

S%

Hits

PPPts

Blocks

PPTOI

TOI

82

41

35

76

0.93

220

18.6

35

24

26

3:16

17:42

 

A big reason for that jump came because of his increased role. His total time on ice increased by more than three minutes, and his power-play time by more than one. His linemates also improved from time with Jonothan Toews, Anthony Duclair, Patrick Sharp, and Ryan Hartman in 2017-18 to Toews, Patrick Kane, and Dylan Strome (though at various points in time) in 18-19. Those two factors essentially make up for all of the gains. He saw a slight spike in personal shooting percentage, and a slight increase in the team’s five on five shooting percentage while he was on the ice. Those could be an indication of unsustainability, but also could be an indication that he is playing with better players in better situations.

 

So what does that mean for DeBrincat in 2019-20? All signs point to sustainable. A couple of percentages are a touch high, but he should also continue to grow and develop as a player. That growth should be more than enough to account for any small fluctuations in chance. He is likely going to keep seeing that top deployment, and we are fast approaching the time where we are asking who gets to play with DeBrincat? Not the other way around.

 

Overvalued:

Corey Crawford:

 

Chicago was in a fairly unique position among the Western Conference teams. Essentially all of the players drafted performed at or above their draft position. In general the ones that ended the season poorly weren’t drafted so it is hard to say they were overvalued. The one possible exception to this rule was Corey Crawford. I say possible as his season long value certainly has an asterisk next to it due to the fact that he missed quite a bit of the season with an injury.

 

Crawford was drafted at 131st overall between Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo. He was taken a bit lower than usual in 2018-19 as he has spent the majority of 2017-18 injured, and his status was not entirely clear. Even so his end of season value has to be considered a disappointment.

 

 

 

 

Player

Team

Position

FHG Rank

ADP

Mackenzie Blackwood

NJD

G

334

ND

Alexandar Georgiev

NYR

G

341

ND

Corey Crawford

CHI

G

353

131

Anders Nilsson

OTT

G

378

ND

Louis Domingue

TBL

G

383

ND

 

He ended the season as the 353rd ranked player, the 40th ranked goalie, and is the only goalie in his immediate grouping that was drafted at all.

 

Now I might be tempted to point to the injury and the reduced number of games as the main culprit of his fall, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

 

GP

W

GAA

SV

SV%

QS%

39

14

2.93

1068

0.908

38.5

 

Crawford played 39 games, which while is certainly a decline from the 55+ games he was getting from 2013-14 to 2016-17, is still enough to have a reasonable sample size for the year. Unfortunately much of Crawfords low ranking is due to poor production – not lack of games. His save percentage fell to .908 (his lowest since 2011-12) and his 2.93 GAA is his worst season average since… well ever. His quality start percentage was an abysmal 38.5%, by far the worst of his career.  

 

Chicago as a whole had a pretty terrible defensive season. They allowed a league high 291 goals against, to go along with their league high 261ish expected goals against (Natural Stat Trick). Now, much of that damage can be laid at the feet of Cam Ward (.897 save percentage over 33 games) who performed much worse than his expected goal numbers, while Crawford’s numbers appear to be right in line with his expected goals against. That is not much comfort though. It implies that Crawford performed slightly better than average given his workload and that workload still dragged him down to the worst season of his career.

 

2019-20 is the question. Team wide it is hard to tell what might happen. The summer is full of opportunities to address defensive concerns, though those concerns have been rising for several seasons now, and as of yet there aren’t too many indications that things are going to change. That means it is likely that Chicago will still struggle a bit on defense – which is going to impact Crawford’s ability to put up strong numbers.

 

Looking historically (last four seasons), there are 13 instances of goalies 34 and older playing more than 40 games and putting up a save percentage higher than .913 (only three had a save percentage higher than .92). So while there is some precedent of an older goalie having a average season only three times did they end up being more than that. One further note: only seven goalies made the original list with guys like Roberto Luongo, and Pekka Rinne making multiple appearances.

 

So 2019-20? Crawford is still the starting goalie going into the season, but his health is a concern. Crawford is 34 and has spent big chunks of the past two seasons on IR. He isn’t likely to lose out on starts if healthy, as Cam Ward demonstrated a fair amount of ineptitude during Crawford’s injury, but his age and recent injury history puts a big question mark on the number of games he is going to play. Even assuming he does stay healthy, Chicago’s ability to play team defense is another concern. A league worst expected goals against doesn’t just fix itself, and puts Crawford in a position of needing to play well above average to get decent stats. Unfortunately there is more bad news there as historically, there are very few instances of goalies who have been able to put up better than average performances in their age 34+ seasons.

 

Best case then looks like an average-ish season on a team that has enough run support to be a  borderline playoff team. Worst case 2019-20 shows 2018-19 was not a fluke, that Chicago lacks team defense, Crawford’s numbers suffer, and/or he gets injured. He has had a very successful career so I am not going to completely write off a bounce back, but I don’t plan on targeting him and it might be a risk I would prefer someone else takes.

 

Thanks for reading

 

Next week: Colorado

 

Previous Team Articles:

 

Anaheim

Arizona

Calgary