Ramblings: Playoffs? (Mar 27)

by steve laidlaw on March 27, 2018

 

A few years ago I took a deep dive on the statistical qualities that best portended to playoff success concluding that the best predictor of any playoff series was goal differential. Since then, Adam Gretz has come out with his own model for Stanley Cup winners focusing on teams who finish top-10 in goal prevention, penalty killing and puck possession (score-close Fenwick percentage).

There is no perfect model, but I still believe that goal differential is a much better predictor of playoff success than anything. You can predict two thirds of all playoff series correctly just by banking on the team with the highest goal differential. Who cares how they got there? Whether it’s elite goaltending, puck possession, or shot quality, teams who consistently outscore their opponents over 82 games, tend to do better come playoff time. No Cup winner in the cap era has won without finishing top-10 in goals-for percentage.

There appears to be a very clear line that teams need to cross to have serious Stanley Cup credentials. They have score at least 52.5% of the goals in their games to win the Cup. No team with a percentage lower has won the Cup in the cap era and only three of the 24 Cup finalists of this era finished with a goals-for percentage lower than 52.5%. More than three quarters of all Conference finalists in the cap era have had a goals-for percentage above 52.5%.

In the average year nine teams will have a goals-for percentage above 52.5% so this doesn’t exactly whittle the field tremendously but let’s see who fits the criterion heading into last night’s action:

 

GF

GA

GF%

Boston

242

187

56.4%

Nashville

238

185

56.3%

Winnipeg

247

194

56.0%

Tampa Bay

266

211

55.8%

Vegas

247

201

55.1%

Toronto

248

211

54.0%

Los Angeles

219

189

53.7%

San Jose

228

200

53.3%

Colorado

237

217

52.2%

Minnesota

229

211

52.0%

Anaheim

213

197

52.0%

Pittsburgh

249

231

51.9%

Washington

233

220

51.4%

St. Louis

206

196

51.2%

Philadelphia

228

221

50.8%

Columbus

209

204

50.6%

New Jersey

220

221

49.9%

Florida

220

221

49.9%

 

Of the 18 remaining serious playoff contenders, eight are above the “Cup threshold” but only seven of them currently sit in a playoff spot. Conspicuously, there isn’t a single Metro team above the threshold meaning a “non-contender” could be looking at an easier ride to the conference finals, while the three contenders in the Atlantic division are left to slug it out for one spot. The imbalance of the playoff structure is one that should be rectified but that’s a discussion for another time.

As you gear up for your playoff pools it will be interesting to see where teams land in terms of goals-for percentage. This is one extra piece of information to help you pick teams to load up on.

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30-goal season for Brendan Gallagher, the first of his career. He’d have gotten there sooner if not for injuries, which you have consider when valuing Gallagher going forward, but you also have to consider that he still isn’t an 18-minute a night forward so there is production being left on the table. It is worth noting that Gallagher’s minutes are up near 17 minutes a night during this productive second half where he has 15 goals and 28 points in 36 games. That portends to a strong 2018-19 season.

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Aleksander Barkov is carrying an obscene load on a nightly basis. He and Anze Kopitar are the only two forwards in the league averaging over 22 minutes per game. If they sustain this pace they’ll be the first forwards to do so since the lockout shortened 2013 season. How Barkov is doing this, with predominantly defensive shifts against the oppositions best is crazy, but it’s even wilder that he has kept it up when you consider his injury track record. The 73 games he has played blow away his previous career high and may force us to reconceptualize what to expect from him going forward.

I want to see another healthy season from Barkov before forgetting the injury history, but I was singing his virtues pre-season even assuming he’d miss 10-15 games. He’s that good.

By the way, in that 2013 season Ilya Kovalchuk led all forwards in ice time averaging 24:44 per game, which is just unfathomable.

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There are some extreme shooting percentages happening but Valentin Zykov sure is making an impact for the Hurricanes now that he’s finally getting a crack. In four games since being recalled he has three goals, five points and 12 SOG. They are giving the rookie an honest shake playing him 14 minutes a night with 75% of his shifts alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. He could be a decent option with which to close the season.

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Just 11 minutes of action for Lias Andersson in his NHL debut, but he scored his first career goal so it was a productive one.

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Matt Niskanen is having a solid close to the season with 10 points in the last 17 games despite being shutout of power play time. Niskanen might hit 30 points despite missing double-digit games and skating less than a minute of power play time per game. That’s impressive especially with what’s happened to Washington’s depth scoring. Niskanen’s fantasy value could spike if John Carlson (having a career year) heads elsewhere in free agency.

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Some big-name prospect signings who should be in NHL lineups later this week:

Casey MittelstadtBuffalo

Dynamic playmaking forward with speed and skill. The Sabres could use about five more of these to truly get competitive, but Mittelstadt will help. It sucks that he comes in only after the team lost Evander Kane at the trade deadline. One step forward, one step back. The fact that the Sabres are so bad opens up vast opportunity for Mittelstadt right away. One hopes he skates on Jack Eichel’s wing to start. There probably isn’t room on the top power play unit with Sam Reinhart having a big second half, but there will be minutes for Mittelstadt.

Read more about Mittelstadt here.

 

Henrik Borgstrom – Florida

Borgstrom destroyed college hockey with 95 points in 77 games and should be ready to make an immediate impact. With the enviable strength that the Panthers boast down the middle with Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, we may see Borgstrom start out on the wing. He could have ludicrous value if plunked onto Trocheck’s wing opposite Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers could also slot him in on a depth line in an effort to get more out of one of the league’s worst bottom-six groups, but fantasy owners have to hope he can displace the unimposing trio of Frank Vatrano, Denis Malgin and Jamie McGinn that has been occupying time on that Trocheck line.

Read more about Borgstrom here.

 

Jordan Greenway – Minnesota

The forward has massive multi-category potential and should slot in on the third line with Matt Cullen and one of Nino Niederreiter or Charlie Coyle. The Wild have had a tough time finding PP time for Coyle lately so there may not be much for Greenway either.

Read more about Greenway here.

 

Adam Gaudette – Vancouver

He rates lower than Greenway and Mittelstadt but still has a high ceiling. Gaudette will no doubt get some NHL action given some of the Canucks’ injuries up front and could even get onto the top PP unit if they decide to bump Sam Gagner.

Read more about Gaudette here.

 

It’s worth noting that based on the timing of the signings, specifically that each player is 20 or will have turned 20 by the end of the calendar year, they’ll burn a year off their entry-level deals. This does push them closer to restricted free agency, but as long as these teams keep their professional games played under 10 they won’t have accrued a year of professional experience. That is going to have long-term ramifications for these players. They’ll be restricted free agents in the summer of 2020, but if they play less than 10 pro games (including AHL, Europe, etc.) they won’t have arbitration rights or even the ability to sign an offer sheet with another team. Essentially, they are without a contract but also without leverage. That’s a huge opportunity for these teams to squeeze them on contract #2.

Ensuring that these players don’t hit 10 pro games will also have ramifications for the looming Seattle expansion. If these teams keep the players from having accrued a year of pro experience this season, they’ll only have two under their belt come expansion draft time, which is huge because players with two years or less pro experience are exempt from the draft.

This only really affects Borgstrom and Greenway as I don’t believe Gaudette or Mittelstadt will be eligible for the AHL playoffs unless they are sent down rather than closing the season in the NHL. Would the Wild and Panthers trade RFA leverage and expansion draft eligibility for a long playoff push if Greenway and Borgstrom could be difference makers? I’m sure they would, but there are no guarantees. It’ll be interesting to see how they play this.

The Bruins let it ride with Charlie McAvoy giving him four AHL games before calling him up for six strong playoff games in their opening round loss to the Senators.

Pete Harling has more on the latest college prospect signings in his latest prospect ramblings.

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I’m planning on doing a blowout Q+A in Friday’s ramblings so drop a line below or on Twitter, respond to this tweet.

Thanks for reading!