Jason Lewis covers the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus and wrote several chapters of Hockey Prospectus annual 2015-16
Welcome back for another NHL season folks! Also, welcome back to our first of many Around the Pacific articles on the year.
The Pacific division is a bit of a curious beast. On the surface it may be the weakest of the four divisions, but it was one of the more active divisions in offseason acquisitions. Some of those, like Lucic to LA, Hamilton to Calgary, and Paul Martin/Joel Ward to San Jose, were quite significant. Almost every team made some sort of addition via trade or free agency. It still is a division arguably a step behind the talent in the Central or Metropolitan, but it has been habitually successful against the other divisions.
This year is starting a bit different. Projected powerhouses have stumbled out of the gate, surprise players have come forward, and, oh yes, we already have goaltending controversy. Hopefully you picked up the Hockey Prospectus 2015-16 book to be up to speed with some of these teams. If not, let’s ease in to what has been happening around the Pacific through these first half-dozen games of the season.
The Ducks were pegged by many pundits not named Hockey Prospectus to be a potential conference AND cup winner before the season started. While our own Vukota rankings here had them down at 13th on the year, that is still a top half of the standings team.
The start, however, has been less than inspiring.
Let’s face it, the Ducks have never been an incredibly deep team. They have always relied heavily on the play of several key players to get things done. We are, of course, talking about Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. As of last year the Ducks also got very important and worthwhile performances from the now departed Matt Beleskey, Jakob Silfverberg, and Ryan Kesler. Those pale in comparison though to how heavily the Ducks rely on Getzlaf and Perry.
Both have looked uninspired so far offensively.
Through five games the two have combined for no goals, two assists, and a -1 rating. Furthermore, Getzlaf is currently ranking as the second worst regular forward for the Ducks in scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength. Perry, a player who averaged almost 9 shots per 60 minutes last season at even strength, is hovering just a smidgen above four, and has total six shots through the first five games. Combined, Getzlaf and Perry are holding a 25% and 33.3% goals for percentage respectively. The two are still logging some very strong corsi for numbers (55% and 57%), but the offense has been non-existent. They are not scoring, and they are generating some pretty paltry numbers given the possession time. It is doubtful this sort of slump continues for them. The Ducks problems are not mystical at this point. Their league low five goals for is directly related to the fact that their two most talented and productive players have yet to score a goal. A left wing that is different every single game probably also doesn’t help, but that’s a different topic for another day.
The moves in the offseason were great. Frolik and Hamilton were the presumed panacea to a team that struggled in so many analytical categories last season it was hard to fathom that they made the second round of the playoffs. Another step forward for Shawn Monahan, another step forward from Johnny Gaudreau, A healthy Mark Giordano. How could you not be high on the Flames coming into this year?
Oh, right, goaltending.
If the tandem of Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo did not convince you as a Flames fan to start the year, then you are probably crying into your jersey right about now in a curse word laden tirade that would make John Tortorella blush.
The Calgary tandem are posting an 86.6 on ice save percentage at even strength. That is bested by only the Columbus Blue Jackets with an 85.7. That is a Blue Jackets team that just fired their head coach mind you.
While there are some other somewhat troublesome numbers, there is not anything that screams a 1-5-0 start with a -13 goal differential. They are 22nd in scoring changes against, 24th in shots against, and a mere 27th in corsi for percentage at 45.7. This is not new territory for the Flames though. They were bottom ten in the very same categories last season. However, that 86.6% save percentage at even strength is currently burying the Flames. Between Hiller and Ramo, is there a fix in sight?
The beauty of hockey, and sports in general, is that sometimes you just cannot see some things coming. In Arizona, that unseen impact is coming in the form of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Reider. Prior to the this season, there was only 90 games NHL experience between them (72 Reider, 18 Ducair, 0 Domi). Yet, they have scored 11 of the Coyotes 18 goals and have helped get the team off to a respectable 3-2-1 start.
Not to kill the romanticism surrounding them, there are some trends that will regress at some point. Anthony Duclair has five goals on nine shots. That is a lofty 55.6%. On the positive side though, he and Reider have been playing with corsi friendly Martin Hanzal. The big Czech center has managed to be one of the more consistent players in the past several years despite a wide range of success and quality from his team.
With Reider and Duclair, Hanzal has seemed to find a duo of potentially productive linemates. It will be interesting to see if a Duclair Hanzal duo is in the works. With Hanzal leading the league with eight assists, and Duclair coming in at second with five goals, it would be best to ride that hot hand. Meanwhile, Domi’s high-flying energetic style has meshed with Boedker and Vermette in the production department, but they have yet to be punished for a corsi against per 60 rating that is up in the 70’s. That kind of possession is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sustainable. It is nice to dream though. Between Hanzal, Reider, Boedker, Duclair, Domi, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes may be a fun team to watch this year. Their success offensively is bound to level off, as is the inhuman goaltending of Mike Smith (.971 save percentage through six games). Make no mistake though, there is some really exceptional young talent coming up in the desert that is worth noting. Below the Surface The numbers of the Edmonton Oilers promising young talents like Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid have actually been very good through the opening games of the season. We are seeing positive possession numbers, positive scoring chance numbers, and signs of some really good hockey. However, like most teams with top heavy talent, it comes down to the supporting cast being serviceable. This big, ugly, annotated chart illustrates everything great and everything worrisome with the Oilers right now:
This represents both scoring chances for percentage and corsi for percentage on the Oilers roster. As you can see, there are great signs from the top players. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are in the black on both categories. As is the veteran Matt Hendricks. Andrew Ference is right at a good baseline, as are players like Klefbom, McDavid, Schultz and Yakupov. Those are some really great names to have hovering at or above 50-percent.
The scary part? The glut of names in the negative region. The entirety of the Oilers bottom six is in the negative. Not just a little bit negative either. Some of these numbers are mind-boggling bad.
Gazdic, Letestu, and Lander are all below 40%, with Klinkhammer, Gryba, Reinhart, Slepyshev and Korpikoski all below 43%. It is not a stretch to say that the Oilers may have the worst bottom pair and bottom six in the league right now. That kind of dichotomy in the roster is going to put a strain on the positive players. They have been pretty good so far, and they are definitely shouldering the load created by a boat anchor bottom six.
Player to Watch
Before we finish up each edition, we will toss in a player to watch for the next two weeks from the division. It may be a player who is performing well above his head, well below expectations, or simply someone to watch out of pure enjoyment of the game. We may highlight games as well.
Our player to watch in the upcoming weeks is none other than goaltender Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks.
He has been fantastic for San Jose to start the year, and with a tough stretch in front of the Sharks it will be interesting to see where his numbers are at by our next Around the Pacific.