2014-15 NHL Season Preview: The Pacific Division

Photo by "Kaz Andrew", via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Kaz Andrew, via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I put together something as broad as a division preview, especially since the divisions have expanded, I usually try to slap something together that helps me get a quick impression of the teams as compared to one another. This time around, I put a little work into generating a 5v5 simulation of this coming season, specifically among the projected top 6 forwards, top 4 defensemen, and goaltenders. As 5v5 play comprises a little over 80% of all NHL gameplay, and these players tend to more consistently drive results (as players of around 3/5 to 2/3 of gameplay), focusing on their 5v5 performances from last year bring us to use a bit more stable indicators of future team performance. The quick-and-dirty approach here benefits from the fact that most of the Pacific lineups are quite similar from last year, and the top 6 and top 4 players tend to be deployed in the same roles from year to year. So, I took the average 5v5 Corsi-For% of the entire of the top 6 and top 4 for each team, the average 5v5 shooting percentage of the same group (for Johnny Gaudreau, I assumed a forward league-average 9%), and the career 5v5 save percentage of the projected goaltenders (for Fredrik Andersen I assumed a goaltender league-average 92.1%), and ended up with a projected 5v5 season that looked like this:

Team Poss Avg Sh% SV% Exp SF Exp SA Exp GF Exp GA Exp G Diff
SJS 54.85 9.9 92.6 1097.0 903.0 99 67 32
LAK 57.33 7.4 92.4 1146.6 853.4 92 65 27
ANA 50.28 11.5 92.1 1005.6 994.4 91 79 12
VAN 52.68 6.1 92.5 1053.6 946.4 74 71 3
ARZ 49.37 7.2 92.4 987.4 1012.6 79 77 2
CGY 47.41 8.9 92.7 948.2 1051.8 76 77 -1
EDM 47.32 8.3 92.5 946.4 1053.6 76 79 -3

Among their top 6 and top 4, teams typically generate about 1000 5v5 shots-for (and face about 1000 5v5 shots-against), so I used the Corsi-For% average among that group to determine their expected shots-for and against. I allowed top groupings with 2% or higher divergence from 5v5 league-average shooting (7.9%) a standard deviation above/below league-average, and gave league average to the rest. I made no such adjustments for the goaltending (as you can see, they are all pretty much on top of each other). They are sorted above by their expected goal differential, which ends up a bit higher in-part because the Pacific is a strong division, in-part because this process mutes some possession effect, and in-part because the bottom two teams have strong-ish goaltending projections.

To be fair, this is really just a template for me to go off of; everybody should reserve the right to diverge from statistical projections, so long as they’re as simplistic as the one I used above. The “eyeball” adjustments in this case would be whether I think bottom 6/bottom pairing should upset the projection above, ditto special teams. Combining the projection above with any potential adjustments below, my division ranking with Top 6, Top 4, goalie projections and explanation:

#1 – Los Angeles Kings

LW C RW
Marian Gaborik Anze Kopitar Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson Jeff Carter Tyler Toffoli
LD RD
Jake Muzzin Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr Slava Voynov
G
Jonathan Quick
Martin Jones

I led this piece with a photo of Jonathan Quick because he is really the deciding factor here. Is there any reason to believe this team can’t be one of the strongest in the division? A person would be justified in saying a rough season for Quick could buck the Kings down far enough to have to claw their way into the playoffs. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and let him at his average (following the rules of projection there). The Kings hold this spot because their challenger has an equally risky goaltending situation (Quick and Niemi are both good-not-great), have a bit better bottom 6/bottom pairing, and the Sharks are threatening to seriously shake up their winning formula (which would hurt their evens and powerplay).

#2 San Jose Sharks

LW C RW
Tomas Hertl Joe Thornton Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau Logan Couture Matthew Nieto
LD RD
Scott Hannan Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic Justin Braun
G
Antti Niemi
Alex Stalock

I can’t really detract entirely from the Sharks’ shooting success from last season, but I do think some regression is in the cards. Niemi could have a good season, or have a bad start and never get the chance to right the ship (thrusting the team into the risk of a goaltender with only 30 games of NHL experience and spotty AHL play). Doug Wilson made so much noise about his uncertainty that it’s hard to say he might not move to dismantle what seems to be such a strong group above. You could say it ain’t broke, but at a certain point the people who make the most important decisions need to see a Cup, especially when you’ve had arguably the second-best team over the past decade.

#3 Anaheim Ducks

LW C RW
Dany Heatley Ryan Getzlaf Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano Ryan Kesler Jakob Silfverberg
LD RD
Hampus Lindholm Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler Sami Vatanen
G
Frederik Andersen
John Gibson

There is no lack of talent on the Ducks, just too many questions marks. There is definitely shooting talent here that probably won’t go away entirely, and you have to wonder how soon it will be before Boudreau bucks Heatley down in favor of Patrick Maroon. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think Andersen could be strong for the Ducks, though I’d also be foolish to say I thought he came without risk. The guy has posted very strong numbers in every league he’s played in since 2008, but teams have been burned by too many Swedish Hockey League star goaltenders to be over-confident about it. I’m really intrigued to see what Silfverberg can do in a healthy season.

#4 Vancouver Canucks

LW C RW
Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Radim Vrbata
Christopher Higgins Nick Bonino Alexandre Burrows
LD RD
Alexander Edler Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis Kevin Bieksa
G
Ryan Miller
Eddie Lack

The projection has Vancouver pretty close to Arizona, but I think overall the gulf is a bit wider. The Sedins have “bounceback” written all over them, and Vrbata was a pretty savvy add (to Arizona’s detriment). This squad is very top-heavy in its talent, but there is every reason for that top to get a lot of favorable use – most of the bottom 6 performed strongly in tough assignments. After years of the Canucks’ management doubting Luongo, they essentially have to learn to like another 34+ year-old model of consistency in Ryan Miller. His rough St. Louis stint was a small blemish on 6 years of good goaltending.

#5 Arizona Coyotes

LW C RW
Mikkel Boedker Antoine Vermette Sam Gagner
Shane Doan Martin Hanzal Martin Erat
LD RD
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Michael Stone
Keith Yandle Connor Murphy
G
Mike Smith
Devan Dubnyk

There’s still a bit of speculation in this top 6/top 4, so that should be your first indicator that there are some players here that might not be top material. Doan is a long-timer that doesn’t have a lot of years left, and Michael Stone is by no means a lock for that spot next to OEL (less so than Murphy alongside Yandle, in fact). While they “replaced” their lost assets of Mike Ribeiro and Vrbata with Gagner and Erat, I don’t think it’s a complete replacement. For a team that was in the middle of the pack last year, with few players that have room to grow, you don’t want your net assets to move in that direction.

#6 Edmonton Oilers

LW C RW
Taylor Hall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
David Perron Mark Arcobello Nail Yakupov
LD RD
Oscar Klefbom Jeff Petry
Nikita Nikitin Mark Fayne
G
Ben Scrivens
Viktor Fasth

It’s no coincidence that, as you get further down this list, the top 6/top 4 become more uncertain. Case in-point: having to remove Martin Marincin from the top LD spot last night. Really, all the defensemen on this team are in speculative spots, though this appears to be the top 4 for the moment. Arcobello has been frequently discussed as 2nd-line center for most of camp and preseason, but the last game had Leon Draisaitl in that spot; I’m guessing Draisaitl gets sent down. Why does Edmonton get the boost above Calgary? There’s so much gold in them hills, partner, and now we know the Oilers have a guy (Tyler Dellow) who will be using some good tools to find it. I also don’t think Scrivens is nearly as much of a question mark as a guy like Frederik Andersen or even Mike Smith.

#7 Calgary Flames

LW C RW
Jiri Hudler Sean Monahan Joe Colborne
Johnny Gaudreau Mikael Backlund Mason Raymond
LD RD
T.J. Brodie Mark Giordano
Ladislav Smid Dennis Wideman
G
Jonas Hiller
Karri Ramo

The Flames, to me, are a bit like what Edmonton was last year, or even the year before that: loads of potential, but management/coaching is not quite ready to turn it loose – and some of that talent (Sam Bennett, Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk, Markus Granlund) just isn’t ready yet. By the time they are ready, though, they have a world-class 1st pairing behind them in Brodie and Giordano…too bad it’s a tire fire beyond them. For what it’s worth, it won’t be much worse than the defense Jonas Hiller was playing behind in Anaheim, so there’s that. And for Calgary fans, it must be a relief to see Hiller in net after the no-starting-goalie experiment last season. Further bragging rights over Edmonton? Calgary has accumulated a load of prospect talent without needing #1 picks.

—–

Projections are always a risky business when percentages have the ability to fluctuate and drive teams higher or lower in the division than perhaps they belong. That said, to aggravate against that is to either a.) be someone who bets on sports, or b.) be someone who dislikes what makes hockey exciting. Since I’m neither, I’m happy to put my predictions up and enjoy the results, whatever they are.

Stay tuned to Hockey Graphs over the next couple of days as we continue to perfectly predict everything that will happen this year by punching numbers into TI-83s in our mother’s basements.

One thought on “2014-15 NHL Season Preview: The Pacific Division

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