AHL-NHL equivalencies in a lockout year

Eric T.
October 17 2012 07:35AM

Zac Rinaldo has been saying for years that if he ever got a chance to play on a top line, people would be surprised to see that he has more skill than they think. The lockout is going to give him that chance; he has been put on the Phantoms' top line with Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, two premium prospects.

This left me wondering: what should we expect of him? How many points would he have to put up to back up a claim that he has legitimate offensive talent that has previously gone untapped?

Gabe Desjardins put together some excellent conversion factors and concluded that AHL points are a little more than twice as easy to come by -- you can multiply a player's AHL points per game by 0.45 to estimate roughly what he would have in the NHL.

But that's in a normal AHL, and if there's a protracted lockout this year, that would undoubtedly elevate the quality of play and make points harder to come by. So I got curious what we should expect for a translation factor this year.

To take a quick pass at that, I looked back at the last lockout. There were 76 forwards who played at least 40 games in the AHL in 2004-05 and then played at least 40 games in the NHL in 2005-06; let's look at how their performances compared and how that might inform our assessment of AHL performances during the current lockout.

Translation between AHL and NHL scoring for the previous lockout

Players who averaged x points per game in the AHL during the lockout went on to have x * 0.63 points per game in the NHL the next year. So at a first pass, that would be our translation factor for a lockout-strengthened AHL.

Of course, in 2005-06, the NHL put new rules in place that sharply increased the number of power plays and the amount of scoring. That year, scoring was 15% higher than AHL scoring had been the previous year, something that we should not necessarily expect to be true coming out of this lockout. If the league scoring rates are the same as last year, when the NHL had 3% fewer goals than the AHL, then we might revise that conversion factor down from 0.63 to 0.53.

However, that revision is probably a bit too sharp. It would be correct if everyone's scoring was uniformly inflated by 15% in the NHL that year, but that's not what happened -- the increased penalties didn't affect everyone equally.

It is likely that the rookies coming out of the AHL got somewhat less than the average amount of power play time and therefore benefitted less than their veteran teammates from the increased number of penalties. So instead of applying a revision that assumes their scoring was inflated by 15%, we might assume something more like 8-12%, which would put the translation factor somewhere in the range of 0.55. Even after accounting for the comparatively wild 2005-06 NHL season, the improved competition in the AHL still gives us a translation factor higher than in a normal year.

So if Rinaldo wants to convince people that he has the skill to be a typical ~40-point second line winger at the NHL level, this is his chance -- he just needs to average about 0.9 points per game in the AHL this year.

Previously by Eric T.

Eric T. writes for NHL Numbers and Broad Street Hockey. His work generally focuses on analytical investigations and covers all phases of the game. You can find him on Twitter as @BSH_EricT.