September 20 2013 11:58AM
Behind the Net has always been an invaluable resource for checking in on team data, particularly for metrics like Fenwick Close -- a shot-attempt differential that mitigates the damage often inflicted by score effects in hockey games. Unfortunately, the data is usually tabled by season, and it's sometimes difficult to jump back and forth between seasons, particularly when looking at improvement or decline in performance.
Below, I've compiled the FenwickClose% data for each NHL team, sorted by conference, and dropped into a graph that's not particularly friendly to the color-blind, like myself. I've also grabbed a hold of the biggest one-year risers/fallers, something I think speaks a bit about coaching in today's game. I think it's a nice little tool to gaze at, especially if you want to get a quick grasp of the true best/worst teams of the last six years.
I think, if you compare this graph to the Western Conference one below, you can see that the true 'power' teams haven't really been there, at least relatively speaking. I don't know if that speaks to the strength of the middle/bottom or speaks about the lack of quality at the top, but it seems to be there. Other than Washington 2008 and Pittsburgh 2012, there hasn't been a team really buzzsawing the competition here.
At the bottom, holy hell, Atlanta. The worst team in the Behind the Net era, in runaway fashion. Interestingly, last year featured three (!) teams that at least didn't get lapped by the Thrashers in the race to futility -- the Sabres, Lightning, and Leafs. Two of those teams fired their coaches and are starting over. The third was a goal away from reaching the second-round of the post-season. Hockey.
And, more on Tampa Bay: what a weird little run they've had. I've talked about how much the move to (and, from) the 1-3-1 has changed things for the Bolts over the past few years. In that system, boring as it's alleged to be, the team was great. They got away from it, and Guy Boucher became history rather quickly.
You also should take notice of the Washington Capitals decline. If you can't make it out, I've separated them from the lot.
Not particularly encouraging if you're a Capitals fan.
Let's move on.
Few teams that really stand out at the top here, including the earlier Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks of a few years back, and that terrifying Los Angeles/Chicago duo of the 48-game season. I'm actually more excited than a normal person should be about the prospect of another LA/Chicago playoff series next year. It's somewhat clear to me that they're head-and-shoulders above most of the conference, even if some teams last year -- St. Louis and San Jose -- provide ample competition.
Weird to see the two worst Eastern Conference teams come in the same year, but that's what's happened in 2011. For all of the blogosphere wars between Oilers and Wild fans, I think this is equally ironic and amusing.
Back to the LA Kings for a minute: a lot of stuff has been expended on that team's run last year, where they seemingly yielded about three shots against per night through the entire regular season. What I think is cool is how this team has come along over the last six years. I've again separated them from the lot, just as I did with Washington earlier. On quick glance, I don't think any team has established more consistent improvement.
With the data at hand, I also went ahead and grabbed the biggest one-year risers/fallers over the last six years. Only five teams have improved their Fenwick Close in one season by five or more percentage points, and only five teams have watched their Fenwick Close fall by five or more percentage points in the same. It's kind of tough territory to break.
Can a coach sandbag a team? I say yes. We already know Wayne Gretzky was single-handedly pulling the reins back on the Coyotes for some length of time. When his replacement came (an excellent one at that), the team's numbers spiked, and it wasn't really a gradual thing.
Other teams in that mix saw coaching flips, too. Montreal just last year picked up Michel Therrien and went off. Guy Boucher adopted the 1-3-1 in Tampa Bay the year they blew up, then inexplicably killed it off. Los Angeles, same thing. Terry Murray in, playoff appearances are had.
The other end of the spectrum here:
You'll immediately see a few things. One, all of the teams are from the Eastern Conference. Two, Carolina's one-year drop-off was excessive, even benchmarked against other teams who had painful declines in their own right. Three, last year's Pittsburgh Penguins are in that group.
I think Pittsburgh's a team to watch next year, obviously. There's so much talent on the roster. And, the Eastern Conference really is open for a superpower to come in and go to work. I'm curious to see just how much carrying Sidney Crosby, et al. are going to have to do in order to get this team over the hump, though. Their bottom-six is a tragedy, and the questions about Marc-Andre Fleury aren't stopping anytime soon. A team with this kind of individual talent can easily get away with 50% Fenwick. But should they have to?