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January 27, 2010
Illegal Curve
Expect The Unexpected, Sort Of

by Richard Pollock

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Prior to this season, Tom Awad unveiled the Puck Prospectus VUKOTA projections. Looking through the preseason point and GVT projections had me wondering how many teams were being led in the GVT category by the player Tom’s system projected to be atop the respective team lists. (Note: This article excludes goaltenders.)

Let’s take a look at the projected team leaders for all 30 NHL teams:


Team         Projected GVT Leader   Projected Total
Anaheim	     Getzlaf	            17.6
Atlanta	     Kovalchuk	            16.6
Boston	     Savard	            14.3
Buffalo	     Roy	            12.8
Calgary	     Iginla	            14.8
Carolina     Staal	            16.2
Chicago	     Kane/Toews	            14.5
Colorado     Stastny	             8.7
Columbus     Nash	            16.2
Dallas	     Ribeiro	            12.6
Detroit	     Zetterberg	            17.7
Edmonton     Souray	            11.2
Florida	     Booth	            10.4
Los Angeles  Kopitar	            13.5
Minnesota    Havlat	            13.6
Montreal     Cammalleri	            12.3
Nashville    Weber	            14.1
New Jersey   Parise	            18.2
NY Islanders Streit	            13.6
NY Rangers   Gaborik	             8.8
Ottawa	     Spezza	            13.5
Philadelphia Richards	            17.1
Phoenix	     Doan	            11.4
Pittsburgh   Malkin	            26.8
San Jose     Thornton	            15.3
St. Louis    Boyes	            11.4
Tampa Bay    Lecavalier	            12.0
Toronto	     Kessel	            13.8
Vancouver    D. Sedin	            14.8
Washington   Ovechkin	            27.6

None of those names are overly surprising, as all are top-flight NHL talents. However, let’s see how the top player projections have translated to performance so far this season:

 
Team         Current Leader   Current Total  
Anaheim	     Ryan 	       8.7
Atlanta	     Kovalchuk	      12.6
Boston	     Chara	       8.6
Buffalo	     Myers	       9.2
Calgary	     Bourque	       7.7
Carolina     Jokinen	       6.8
Chicago	     Keith 	      16.2
Colorado     Wolski	       7.5
Columbus     Nash	       9.9
Dallas	     Eriksson	       9.6
Detroit	     Datsyuk	      10.4
Edmonton     Penner	       9.1
Florida	     Weiss	       7.2
Los Angeles  Doughty	      11.8
Minnesota    Koivu	      10.9
Montreal     Plekanec	       9.3
Nashville    Hornqvist	       8.5
New Jersey   Parise	      14.4
NY Islanders Moulson 	       7.9
NY Rangers   Gaborik	      14.2
Ottawa	     Fisher	      10.0
Philadelphia Pronger	      12.5
Phoenix	     Jovanovski	       7.1
Pittsburgh   Crosby	      18.1
San Jose     Marleau	      15.6
St. Louis    McDonald	       6.1
Tampa Bay    Stamkos	       9.8
Toronto	     Kaberle	       9.0
Vancouver    H. Sedin 	      20.1
Washington   Ovechkin	      20.2

The above findings are quite interesting. First off, this is certainly not an indictment of VUKOTA projections; the system is quite good and, obviously, no projection of any kind is foolproof. The percentage of players who were projected to be the top GVT players on their teams (excluding goaltenders) is 17 percent (Kovalchuk, Nash, Parise, Gaborik, and Ovechkin). None of the names on that list are surprising. Instead, the surprising findings to me are the fact that the tremendous players on the projection list up above are not leading their respective teams in GVT.

Players like Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri, Patrick Kane, and Ryan Getzlaf have had terrific seasons. All are tremendously skilled players that have been healthy for the majority of the season—save for the few games Getzlaf missed. Moreover, these five players have had very productive seasons. So, then, what’s the reason for these top players not leading their respective teams in GVT?

There is no one answer to a question like that. Rather, there are a myriad of factors such as injuries, breakout performances and amazing surprises.

In terms of injuries, players like David Booth, Eric Staal, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin, Marc Savard, and Jason Spezza have missed significant time due to injury. VUKOTA attempts to predict games played, but no system can predict that David Booth is going to get hit by Mike Richards in the first month of the season. Had these six players been healthy all season, most, if not all, of them would be leading their teams in GVT.

When it comes to breakout performances, players like Duncan Keith, Patric Hornqvist, Drew Doughty, Patrick Marleau and Steven Stamkos have exceeded expectations. Granted, these expectations were not overly low to begin with; it is just that, in some cases, these players came quicker than many believed, while in Marleau’s case, he has benefitted from playing with the “C,” alongside Joe Thornton and Dany Healtey—and, of course, in a contract year.

As for amazing surprises, one name comes to mind, and that is Matt Moulson. Moulson was signed as a minor-league free agent this offseason by the Islanders, and had it not been for his instant chemistry with John Tavares, he may be in the AHL right now. Luckily for Moulson and the Islanders, that did not happen. The other amazing surprise on this list has to be Tyler Myers. Myers’ surprise play contrasts Moulson’s in that the big defenseman was a top prospect and highly thought of youngster coming into the season. Even so, the huge former WHL blueliner instantly became the Sabres’ best defenseman and is currently being relied on as if he is a ten-year veteran. Analysts thought he’d be good, but I don’t know if anyone, including Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff, thought his progression would happen so rapidly.

In the end, the VUKOTA projection system is very valuable for projecting a player’s performance in the season ahead. However, as said above, no system can account for Mike Richards’ hit on David Booth, so I guess that is why we play the games.

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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