Calder Cup 2014 Possession Preview

Josh W
April 21 2014 08:30AM

calder

While the Stanley Cup playoffs are well underway with most series 2-3 games in, we cannot forget the AHL and the farm teams of our beloved NHL clubs. The AHL regular season just wrapped up with post-season set to start later this week. 

This post is intended to be a short primer on each of the Calder Cup's first round series as well as some simple fancystats so we can try and make some guesses on which teams will move on and which players will start their off season training early to earn another two-way contract for October.

If you're a fan of this blog you should already know about puck possession, Corsi and Fenwick. The latter two are simply ways to expressing how often a team has the puck in the offensive zone.  If you have the puck a lot, you are more likely to score, less likely to be scored against and in the long term means you're more likely to win. We don't have the play by play data in the AHL as we do in the NHL but we have other methods of estimating puck possession in the AHL.

This is what I will be presenting for each of the 8 series in the Calder Cup. The problem with puck possession in the AHL is that teams talent are so volatile. Due to call ups and injuries in the NHL, AHL teams can quickly go from top possession to bottom possession teams in short order. Syracuse is a good example of this: they started the year top of the AHL and quickly fell down, out of playoff contention, with their top talent playing in Tampa Bay. 

For each series, I will be presenting the two teams season possession average, their rolling possession and their PDO (SV%+SH%). From this we can make some guesses on which team is most likely to win.  

In the NHL the better team only wins a game ~62% of the team, due to random chance, and in a best-of-seven series the weaker team usually wins 25% of the time. In the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, teams play a best-of-five, which means even more room for randomness to reign. Meaning - we might be able to identify which is the stronger team, but it doesn't mean they will advance to round two.

For further analytics of each team I will be doing a few blog posts on the Nations Networks of specific clubs (Utica, Abbotsford, OKC) with much more numbers at the team and player level including: Possession, Possession-Close, Monte-Carlo Work analysis, PDO, STI, Individual players Gf%, rel Gf%, WOWYs, Est TOI, Quality of Competition, Quality of Teammates, Usage Charts and more.  If you have an AHL/NHL blog and want me to work with you for a guest post covering your team/farm-team, feel free to send me a message.

Without further adieu, here are the match ups.

Western Conference

(1) Texas Stars vs. (8) Oklahoma City Barons

texas okc


(Note the scale has been adjusted on this set of rolling numbers versus the other series due to the averages peaking higher than 60%)

The Texas Stars are the AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars while the Oklahoma City Barons are the farm team of the Edmonton Oilers. The Stars are entering the post season with the #1 possession metrics, at 56.87%, in close situations (all possession numbers in this post are in close situations) and the Stars have been sitting at the top of the league for the season. It doesn't hurt to have a 101.22% PDO after 76 games thanks mainly to their higher Sv%.  Their opponents OKC are actually ranked 23rd in Puck Possession at 48.37% with a normal PDO at 99.99%.

When looking at the 10-game rolling possession numbers, we see that OKC is much better than their season average. They have been steadily improving all year but it seems like Texas is much stronger right now than their season average, at times they were hitting over 60% possession.

Expect Texas to win this series.

(2) Chicago Wolves vs. (7) Rochester Americans

chicago rochester


The Chicago Wolves are the AHL Affiliate of the St. Louis Blues while the Rochester Americans are an affiliate with the Buffalo Sabres. Chicago is another Top-5 possession team at 52.70% with a 101.31 PDO.  Rochester is probably the worst AHL team to make the playoffs in terms of possession at 46.77%, which puts them in 28th with a 100.87 PDO.  Rochester was involved in a dog-fight between four or five teams trying to fight for the last 2 playoff positions in the AHL East and it was not settled until the last game of the year.

We can see that Chicago has been consistently better than Rochester with the Americans barely spending any time over 50% over the course of the season. Given how bad Buffalo is it's more surprising that Rochester is not even worse. 

That being said Chicago should walk out of this series as the better team.

(3) Toronto Marlies vs. (6) Milwaukee Admirals

toronto milwaukee


The Toronto Marlies are the AHL affiliate with the Montreal Canadians (just kidding, it's really the Toronto Maple Leafs) while the Milwaukee Admirals are affiliated with the Nashville Predators. On the season, Toronto has been worse at possession than Milwaukee being ranked 22nd with 48.59% with a 101.24 PDO.  Milwaukee is up in 19th with a season average of 49.02% and a 100.91 PDO. 

In the more recent activity Toronto seems to have stagnated around 49% while Milwaukee has been all over the place but for the last 20 games has just been dropping. While this series appears to be much closer than their rank suggests, I would think the Marlies are the better team here.

(4) Grand Rapid Griffins vs. (5) Abbotsford Heat

grandrapids abbotsford


The Grand Rapid Griffins are the AHL Affiliated club of the Detroit Red Wings while the Abbotsford Heat are affiliated with the Calgary Flames. I find this match up very interesting, despite being 4 and 5 in the West these two teams are no where near similar talents. Abbotsford has been near the top of the West for most of the year but they are a classical analytics case of having low possession with a high PDO that eventually crashes.

Abbotsford is 27th with 46.97% with a PDO of 101.49%. You have to wonder if their 10.23 Sh% will show up in the playoffs. Throughout the season the Heat have barely been able to touch above 50% for even 10 games. The opposite of Grand Rapids who started near 50% possession and continued to rise all year.  Grand Rapids is 4th in the league in possession at 52.96% with a 101.34 PDO. 

I'd put my money on Grand Rapids in this series.

Eastern Conference

(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (8) Norfolk Admirals

manchester norfolk


The Manchester Monarchs are the AHL Affiliate of the LA Kings while the Norfolk Admirals are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks. During the year Manchester ranked 9th in possession at 51.30% with a PDO of 101.76%.  Norfolk is down in 25th at 47.31% possession with a similarly high 101.25%.

Looking at their season rolling averages both teams seem to be heading in the upwards direction but towards the end of the season Manchester has a huge differential than Norfolk and I would bet my money on them.  

(2) Springfield Falcons vs. (7) Providence Bruins

springfield providence


The Springfield Falcons are the AHL Affiliates of the Columbus Blue Jackets while unsurprisingly the Providence Bruins are affiliated with the Boston Bruins. These two teams are another pair that seem much closer than their rankings would suggest. Springfield is in 10th in possession at 51.02% with a PDO of 101.38% while Providence is actually ranked higher than them in 8th at 51.45%. Despite having better possession, Providence PDO is normal compared to Springfield at 100.13%.

If we take a closer look at their season rolling numbers we can see they are in somewhat of the same trend.  Though more recently Providence has dropped down to 50% while Springfield has spiked up to 54%.  This series is too close to call and it is that small difference that makes me lean towards Springfield.

(3) Binghamton Senators vs. (6) W-B/Scranton Penguins

binghamton wbscranton


Another pair of no brainers.  

The Binghamton Senators are affiliated with the Ottawa Senators while the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bingo is another example of a team who has low possession numbers, at 49.34% good for 17th in the league, with a high PDO of 102.04% thanks in part to their 11.41% Sh%.  We will see if that carries into the post season. The Baby Penguins are the opposite case: a very strong team ranked 6th in possession at 52.54% with a 100.33 PDO.

While the BSens had some positive numbers about 3/4 of the way through the season those have tanked again as they are lying in the 46% range. The Penguins have bounced all over the place and most recently are lying around 48% with what seems to be a positive trend. I would lean towards the Penguins in this round.

(4) St. John's IceCaps vs. (5) Albany Devils

stjohns albany


The St. John's IceCaps (soon to be Thunderbay?) are affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets while the Albany Devils are affiliated with the New Jersey Devils. In our final series we are reviewing you have the St. John's Ice Caps who spent a large portion of the season in the top 3 in the AHL but most recently have dropped down to 7th with 51.67% while their PDO is at 101.90%.  Albany is the 3rd ranked team at 53.80% with a 100.38 PDO.  

Taking into account their most recent trend with their season average I would lean on Albany winning this match up.

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I am a Van Fan in Bytown. Living in Ottawa for work, I research Sports Analytics and Machine Learning at the University of Ottawa. I play hockey as well as a timbit but I compete in rowing with hopes of 2016 Olympic Gold. Follow me on twitter at @joshweissbock and feel free to give me a shout.
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#1 X
April 21 2014, 03:40PM
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Good stuff. I'd expect the Ice Caps to put up a pretty good fight in the playoffs, some pretty decent possession players came back from the NHL at the end of the season. They were a pretty good possession team with the better callups in the lineup, not so good without them.

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#2 thymebalm
April 22 2014, 03:46PM
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Abbotsford is a very interesting case. At times decimated by injures and callups, at times without a goalie who could backstop them to Ws. Right now the Heat are filled with snipers (Granlund, Reinhart, Locke, Steet, etc) who all shoot above 10%. Joni Ortio has managed to play well above .900 all season. I don't expect any regression for the top players and how they play.

When Abbotsford has had a full team, they seem to possess the puck, even during line changes, and rack up considerably more scoring chances than the opposition.

After watching every game this season, I'm not surprised at the dips in chart (correlate strongly to losing keys players) but I'm shocked that the peaks aren't higher when the team is firing on all cylinders.

I'm interested to know where and how you are collecting the advanced stats for a club like Abbotsford, as they are numbers I would really mess around with myself.

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#3 Old Hockey Fan
May 03 2014, 07:55AM
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First off I need to confess that I have not studied numbers and graphs sometimes boggle my mind, but having said that I have a question. Is it not a priority for the Toronto Hockey organization to do well in the puck possession area? It appears to me that you can not score if you do not have the puck, so it would follow in my mind that the more I have the puck the more opportunities I will get to score and thereby increasing my chances of winning the game.

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