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March 22, 2012
Howe and Why
Does Radulov Shift The Balance Of Power?

by Robert Vollman

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In their quest to advance deep this postseason and keep their team together, the Predators sacrificed significant long-term potential at the trade deadline in order to rent some useful depth pieces. But now, with the return to the Predators of the KHL's best player Alexander Radulov, has Nashville moved up to stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the Western Conference?

To answer this question, let's compare the current talent level of each of the potential Western Conference playoff teams using GVT, ignoring the shootout contributions (as there are no skills competitions in the postseason).

Team       GVT/GP
St. Louis   2.29
Detroit     2.15
Vancouver   2.13
Nashville   1.79
San Jose    1.63
Los Angeles 1.59
Phoenix     1.56
Chicago     1.52
Colorado    1.44
Dallas      1.43

The St. Louis Blues lead the pack with 2.3 more goals per game than a team of replacement-level AHL players would earn, followed by the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks, then Nashville, followed by a tight stable of dark horses hovering in the 1.5 goal range.

Red Wing Rehab

Of course, this doesn't account for Detroit's recent spate of injuries, affecting goalies Jimmy Howard and Joey MacDonald, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Johan Franzen and Darren Helm. While several of these players are hopefully set to come back in time for the postseason, the exact status of the key three (Howard, Franzen, and Lidstrom) can considerably affect how the West should be handicapped.

Detroit's Situation                        GVT/GP
Detroit full strength                       2.15
Detroit with Howard and Franzen or Lidstrom 1.85
Detroit with Howard                         1.69
Detroit with Franzen or Lidstrom            1.60
Detroit badly injured                       1.42

Depending how things go, the bottom seeds might be in the unusual situation of actually rooting for a first-round Detroit matchup.

Detroit's not the only team going into the postseason a little banged up—how about St. Louis? Andy McDonald, Jason Arnott, and David Backes are working through injuries, while Matt D'Agostini, Alexander Steen, and Kris Russell are recovering from concussions. And Vancouver might not be much luckier—Duncan Keith recently elbowed Vancouver's Daniel Sedin so hard that even Henrik might have felt it. The race in the West might be settled by the doctors and trainers!

Fortune has certainly smiled on Nashville, because injuries alone might have propelled them up into the top three, but can one more stroke of luck get them to the top?

Radulov's Return

The addition of Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad, and Andrei Kostitsyn alone has boosted them up a notch, pulling them closer to the top three even if Alexander Radulov turns out to be completely ineffective in the NHL.

Radulov's Performance  GVT/GP
Radulov is Malkin       2.41
Radulov is Erat         2.17
Radulov is ineffective  1.98
Pre-deadline Nashville  1.79

Radulov would only need to play as well as Martin Erat to pull even with a healthy Vancouver and Detroit, a level of play of which he was certainly capable the last time he was in the NHL, but only in the very unlikely event that he should reach his considerable potential and play anywhere near the level of Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, or Steven Stamkos could Nashville supplant a healthy St. Louis as the favorite in the West.

There's almost as much riding on Radulov as there is on Detroit and St. Louis' medical staff. Fortunately, we can use KHL-to-NHL translations to get a better idea of what to expect from Alexander Radulov, just as we did for Jaromir Jagr in a pleasingly accurate way.

Radulov's 1.26 points per game in the KHL this season surpasses anything any other NHL players accomplished, a level at which he's consistently played for several seasons since he left the NHL as a 58-point 21-year-old. Normally, that would translate into a more than point-per-game pace in the NHL, but you can see the wide variation among players to head in one direction or the other in the past few years:

Points per game for KHL players in the NHL

Player            KHL   NHL
Pavol Demitra     1.13  0.57
Evgeni Malkin     1.02  1.09
Jaromir Jagr      1.02  0.75
Jiri Hudler       1.00  0.51
Alexander Radulov 0.92  0.72
Oleg Saprykin     0.86  0.51
Nikita Filatov    0.82  0.29
Jan Bulis         0.82  0.29
Alexei Morozov    0.79  0.67
Alexei Yashin     0.77  0.86
Linus Omark       0.64  0.53
Sergei Fedorov    0.58  0.63
Nikolai Zherdev   0.56  0.39
Richard Zednik    0.49  0.47
Alexander Semin   0.45  0.95

The higher one's scoring level, the lower the translation factor tends to be, given how much more difficult it is to get comparable ice-time, opportunities, and easy competition in the NHL. Adjusting the translation for his higher scoring rate, Radulov should fall slightly short of the point-per-game pace, but even those 70-80 points (over a full season) would make him the highest scoring Predator since J.P. Dumont and Jason Arnott each recorded 72 points in 2007-08—imagine if he realized his full potential for a 35-goal, 90-point campaign!

The Others

The Chicago Blackhawks have already bought their postseason tickets, and remain a top-10 team—very bad news for whichever top seed has to host them in the first round. The Dallas Stars have an edge over the Los Angeles Kings on the valuable third seed, which is also the only way to avoid facing one of the aforementioned juggernauts in the first round. The remaining two spots could go to any of Phoenix, San Jose, Colorado, or even Calgary.

Team     Probability
Dallas      73-80%  HOT
Los Angeles 65-71%  HOT
Phoenix     48-56%  COLD
Colorado    39-54%  HOT
San Jose    30-37%  COLD
Calgary     23-24%  COLD

As of March 22, 2012

The Verdict

Normally, we'd never bet on the Nashville Predators. With the exception of what was essentially a bye last year, they've never won a postseason series, and more importantly, the teams that tend to advance deep in the postseason are the puck-possession teams. Nashville is second-to-last in the league in possession metrics, while St. Louis and Detroit are in the top three (with Pittsburgh).

With injuries plaguing the West's two top teams, and the sacrifices they've made to bring in a high-potential player like Alexander Radulov and an assortment of effective secondary players, the Predators could easily be positioned as the team to beat. Believe it or not.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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