November 14 2016 12:00PM
It's more of a 'Bottom to Top' but 'Top to Bottom' sounds better. This is a monthly feature where I'll do a dive into each team's underlying numbers to see if they match up with where they currently sit in the standings.
It's been one month. At this point, we can, in most cases, start to see patterns unfolding that indicate whether teams are good or bad based largely on their underlying numbers. Still, though, one month isn't an entire season. While we can start to get a decent picture of what's going on, there are teams who haven't yet hit their stride, are struggling to adapt to new rosters or coaches, or are simply overachieving based on a hot goalie or strong performances due to a favourable schedule. Let's see who, after one month, is as good or as bad as their place in the standings indicates.
30. Arizona Coyotes
5-9-0 (7th in Pacific), 46.6 Even Strength Goals For % (19th), 46.6 Even Strength Corsi For % (27th), 100.1 Even Strength PDO (Save%+Shooting%) (12th)
The Coyotes are a young, interesting, rebuilding team who took some strides towards the finish line last summer. Because of that, there was some hype that they could potentially surprise in a relatively weak division ripe for overachievers. Was it legitimate? Probably not. There’s a tremendous amount of young skill on this roster, but the transition from junior to the NHL isn’t always automatic. Like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair did last year, Jakob Chychrun has grabbed the opportunity and ran, while Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak, on the other hand, have had a terrible time. There’s going to be a lot of growing pains with this team, which is to be expected.
Verdict: They’re young and rebuilding, and it isn’t going to be pretty. These results so far are to be expected.
29. Calgary Flames
5-10-1 (6th in Pacific), 44.8 GF% (23rd), 51.1 CF% (9th), 97.6 PDO (24th)
It really hasn’t been the season the Calgary Flames expected. I don’t think anyone figured they would be Cup contenders this year, but nobody expected them to be sitting in the basement one month in. If there’s a team to give a little more time before making a judgement, it’s probably them. They had some significant turnover in terms of roster composition from this year to last, their best player wasn’t around during training camp, and they have a new coach with different systems to learn. On the other hand, though, while those excuses make some sense, it’s certainly a little worrying that Dougie Hamilton ranks fifth on the team among defencemen in ice time, behind both Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland.
Verdict: The Flames are better than what they've showed so far. It’ll take them some time to become cohesive as a group.
28. Carolina Hurricanes
4-6-4 (8th in Metro), 45.1 GF% (22nd), 54.0 CF% (3rd), 97.3 PDO (5th)
The Hurricanes were a trendy choice to be a low-key good team in the Eastern Conference this season, but after a month they haven’t come anywhere close to living up to that expectation. Last year, they boasted great possession numbers and hung around the wild card race until Eric Staal was dealt at the trade deadline. Ultimately, their undoing came from being a low PDO team, which would usually signal some poor luck. But in this case, it was probably more an indication of a lack of skill than anything. This season, just like last, their possession numbers rank towards the top of the league, but their goaltending is still very, very bad, and they simply don’t have enough offensive firepower to compensate for it.
Verdict: A team with a poor record but good fancy stats is usually a team to bet on, but the Hurricanes, like last year, will be done in by poor goaltending.
27. Colorado Avalanche
6-8-0 (7th in Central), 35.6 GF% (30th), 48.9 CF% (20th), 96.0 PDO (29th)
It’s like 2013-14 but in reverse. Remember when the Avs rode a ridiculously high PDO all the way to a 52-22-8 record despite having some of the worst possession numbers in the league? This year, they're nearly dead last in PDO, but unfortunately, the reversal doesn’t go all the way, as Colorado’s possession numbers one month in don’t indicate that the team should be performing much better. Surely their goaltending is better than what they've showed so far and their shooting percentage will normalize, but it’s hard to imagine the Avs climbing much further up the standings.
Verdict: They aren’t as bad as they’ve shown so far, but there still isn’t much upside with this group.
26. Vancouver Canucks
6-9-1 (5th in Pacific), 36.7 GF% (29th), 49.9 CF% (15th), 96.6 PDO (27th)
After starting the season with four consecutive wins, the tires have completely fallen off the Vancouver Canucks. And that isn’t surprising. They're a pretty bad team. They aren't the historically bad, 63-point team ESPN figured they would be, but this is a group lacking in skill being dragged through the mud by two 36-year-old Sedin twins without much upside anywhere else on their roster. They’re dead last in the league in scoring, and while their poor PDO indicates a team that hasn’t had much luck, their roster doesn’t give much indication that things are going to get better. That said, their goaltending is, and has been solid, so Ryan Miller and Jakob Markstrom could certainly steal this team some wins.
Verdict: The doomsday predictions about the Canucks being the worst team in the league appear to be correct.
25. New York Islanders
5-7-3 (7th in Metro), 54.2 GF% (9th), 46.4 CF% (28th), 101.1 PDO (9th)
The Islanders’ front office is aware that John Tavares only has one more season after this one on his ridiculously team friendly contract, right? Because based on the team they’ve put together around him, it seems as if they aren’t (fire emoji). They let two of their better forwards walk last summer, and spent a good chunk of the savings ($8.85 million per year) on two guys who are currently on their fourth line which was quite puzzling. Regardless, there’s still quite a bit of skill on this roster, and while their fancy stats are ugly, there’s still reason to believe this is a group that can could turn it around. They might need a new voice from behind the bench to do so, though.
Verdict: The Islanders have been underwhelming so far and appear to be a prime candidate for a coaching change.
24. Buffalo Sabres
5-6-4 (8th in Atlantic), 47.6 GF% (15th), 49.0 CF% (19th), 99.5 PDO (16th)
At a glance, the Sabres’ record is pretty underwhelming for a team who appeared poised for a breakout this season, but based on their injuries, they've actually done an impressive job staying above water. They’re having a hell of a time scoring goals, which you’d expect, given that Jack Eichel and Tyler Ennis, are out of the lineup and Evander Kane also missed significant time. Their goaltending really deserves a pat on the back, because if not for excellent play from Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson, Buffalo’s season easily could have spiralled out of control quickly.
Verdict: If the Sabres can stay above water long enough, they can make a legitimate run at the playoffs when healthy.
23. Los Angeles Kings
7-8-1 (4th in Pacific), 52.9 GF% (13th), 54.4 CF% (1st), 99.4 PDO (17th)
Such as they always seem to be, the Kings are at the top of the league in even strength possession numbers, but don’t have the results you’d expect them to have. This is an inevitability with their system, in that they're never going to be a team who scores a bunch of goals. But L.A.’s problem right now isn’t what they're doing at evens, it’s their special teams, which both rank in the bottom five in the league. Regardless of how good you are at playing the possession game, if you can’t convert on power plays or kill penalties, it isn’t going to matter much.
Verdict: It’s difficult to worry about the Kings because of how successful they've been in the past, but their roster leaves a lot to be desired.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs
6-6-3 (7th in Atlantic), 42.3 GF% (27th), 50.5 CF% (11th), 97.8 PDO (23rd)
Fans in Toronto are immediately seeing a payoff from the team’s rebuild. Their young star forwards, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, have grabbed the opportunity and lit the league on fire in their rookie seasons, helping the Leafs perform much better than most could have realistically expected they would. Looking at the bigger picture, the Leafs also have solid possession numbers, a below-average PDO, and multiple veterans who haven't quite yet hit their stride, so while it seems predictable to say they're going to slow down any time now, there’s some evidence to suggest otherwise.
Verdict: Young teams are difficult to gauge, but there’s a lot of reasons to think the Leafs can compete for a playoff spot.
21. Florida Panthers
7-7-1 (5th in Atlantic), 46.9 GF% (17th), 53.0 CF% (5th), 98.7 PDO (21st)
It hasn’t been the start to the season the Consensus Summer 2016 Champs expected it to be, but that can realistically be blamed largely on injuries. Florida’s possession numbers are strong, which is exactly what you’d expect from the team assembled by their analytics-focussed front office. But their problem through one month has been scoring goals, which is something that’ll improve when Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad return to their lineup.
Verdict: Let’s wait until the Panthers are fully healthy before worrying about them.
20. Nashville Predators
6-5-3 (6th in Central), 53.5 GF% (12th), 49.2 CF% (18th), 101.0 PDO (10th)
Checkmate, analytics nerds. This is what happens when you doubt Shea Weber. Obviously trading their captain to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban has resulted in Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal having a combined shooting percentage of seven per cent. Jokes aside, moving from Weber to Subban is quite the transition, so it isn’t surprising that the Predators have had an ugly start to the season as the team adapts to having a completely different player anchor their blue line. Also, that horribly bad shooting percentage thing that I mentioned earlier will dissipate over time and the Preds will start winning games as expected.
Verdict: The Predators have been disappointing so far, but things will come together with time.
19. Philadelphia Flyers
7-7-2 (6th in Metro), 43.5 GF% (26th), 52.6 CF% (6th), 96.4 PDO (28th)
The Flyers are an interesting team to analyze. They score a lot of goals, but they also allow a bunch of goals themselves. Their good possession numbers and low PDO indicate a team that’s struggling with some poor luck on the defensive side of things, but a deeper look indicates a team who’s been hanging their goalies out to dry with a lot of high dangers chances against. It’s easy to say the team with the worst save percentage in the league needs better goaltending, but this could also be a reality of the run-and-gun style they’re playing with.
Verdict: The Flyers appear to be a good team struggling with poor goaltending, so we’ll need to take more time to assess what their holes truly are.
18. Dallas Stars
6-6-4 (5th in Central), 47.3 GF% (16th), 48.9 CF% (21st), 99.4 PDO )18th)
The Dallas Stars got by last season off of their incredible offence. Their goaltending was quite bad, their defence was decent, but they scored goals like a goddamns 80’s team. This year, their scoring punch hasn't been strong enough to compensate for their still bad goaltending. Part of that can be blamed on Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp being injured, and another can be pinned on dealing with life after losing two of their top two defencemen to free agency. Things could change over time, but the Stars’ underlying numbers make them look like a shell of last year’s group.
Verdict: The Stars were a trendy choice to take a step back this season, and that prediction looks to be correct.
17. Columbus Blue Jackets
7-4-2 (5th in Metro), 58.0 GF% (6th), 46.2 CF% (29th), 104.1 PDO (4th)
Even though The Blue Jackets aren't looking all too hot in the standings, their underlying numbers suggest they're overachieving. If having a top-five power play and penalty kill coupled with a sky-high PDO and incredible, Vezina calibre goaltending only has you as a middling team in the standings, things aren't looking good for you. But hey, this is a team who can put up ten and eight goals on the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues and has a goalie with the ability to go completely insane for periods of time, so maybe there’s something there that I’m missing.
Verdict: The Blue Jackets, at best, look like a PDO-bubble team who could sprint to moderate success, but a basement finish is more likely.
16. Detroit Red Wings
8-7-1 (5th in Atlantic), 53.7 GF% (11th), 45.4 CF% (30th), 102.1 PDO (7th)
The Red Wings got off to a hot start this season, but it was quickly erased by a five-game losing streak. Their possession numbers currently rank dead last in the league at even strength, suggesting the team who lost five in a row in closer to the real thing than the one who won six in a row earlier on. Since the Wings don’t boast much talent on their roster, if they're going to keep their playoff streak alive, they’re going to need to do so on the backs of Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard.
Verdict: It looks like the Red Wings’ playoff streak is going to come to an end this year.
15. St. Louis Blues
7-6-3 (4th in Central), 40.0 GF% (28th), 54.4 GF% (2nd), 95.4 PDO (30th)
We’ve talked a lot already about PDO-bubble teams who ride ridiculously high percentages despite being, well, pretty bad. The Blues are on the exact opposite end of that spectrum. They're second in the league in even strength corsi for percentage, but as a team are only scoring on 5.85 per cent of their shots. In some cases, that can be an indication of a lack of skill, but when looking up and down St. Louis’ roster, it’s clearly more of a luck thing. Also, if you’re still in a playoff position despite having percentages that low, good things are ahead, because your luck isn't getting any worse.
Verdict: The Blues’ luck will even out and they'll bounce back to being one of the best teams in the West.
14. Anaheim Ducks
7-6-3 (3rd in Pacific), 46.9 GF% (18th), 49.2 CF% (17th), 99.6 PDO (15th)
It’s difficult to assess the Ducks after just one month considering they spent half of it without two of their better players, as Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm came into the season without contracts. The Ducks looked horrible to begin the season, and, unsurprisingly, since they added Rakell and Lindholm to the lineup, they've been been better. The Randy Carlyle effect has resulted in their possession numbers taking a hit from last season, but they're better than both their record and 18th ranked corsi for percentage indicates.
Verdict: The Ducks likely aren't a Cup contender, but they're still a good team.
13. Tampa Bay Lightning
8-6-1 (4th in Atlantic), 45.8 GF% (21st), 50.7 CF% (10th), 98.9 PDO (20th)
The Lightning are definitely underperforming in the standings, but not to an extent where it’s worth worrying about. Their 8-6-1 record is underwhelming, of course, but their underlying numbers suggest they've been better, and this isn’t much different than what we saw from them in the first few months of last season.
Verdict: The Lightning are a contending team off to a slow start.
12. Minnesota Wild
8-5-1 (3rd in Central), 59.2 GF% (5th), 48.1 CF% (24th), 103.3 PDO (5th)
Usually Bruce Boudreau’s teams see an immediate, major jump in the standings when gets behind the bench, but that hasn’t really been the case in Minnesota. They’ve been moderately successful so far, but most of that can be pinned on the performance of Devan Dubnyk, who’s posted some absurd numbers through the first month of the season. Otherwise, this Wild team is loaded with underachievers who aren’t producing much offensively, which doesn't bode well, especially in a stacked division.
Verdict: The Wild have relied heavily on goaltending so far and need more from their offence if they're going to contend this season.
11. Winnipeg Jets
8-7-2 (2nd in Central), 46.0 GF% (20th), 50.3 CF% (13th), 98.9 PDO (19th)
Coming into the season, the Jets were a prime choice for a rebound. They weren’t as bad last year as their record indicated, as poor goaltending and issues with discipline and special teams resulted in a disappointing finish. Regardless, they were rewarded at the draft with an elite talent in Patrik Laine, who’s already been a major difference maker. Their goaltending still leaves a lot to be desired, but, so far, their dynamic offence has been able to compensate for it. Also, they've managed to be successful even without Jacob Trouba in the lineup, and now that he’s signed, it should add another boost to the team moving forward.
Verdict: The Jets have rebounded nicely after a disappointing season and appear to be a playoff team.
10. San Jose Sharks
9-6-0 (2nd in Pacific), 44.0 GF% (25th), 52.2 GF% (7th), 97.1 PDO (26th)
The Sharks, like the Blues, represent the opposite of a PDO-bubble team. They have a poor shooting percentage, a tremendous amount of skill, as we know, and their goaltending at even strength hasn't been as strong as you’d expect it to be. Eventually they’ll balance out and hit their stride. That said, one thing to be concerned about with this group is the usually-overly-hyped phenomenon of the Stanley Cup Final hangover. Going on a deep playoff run doesn't automatically mean you’re going to struggle the following season, but the Sharks are an old team, so they could be more prone to fatigue issues later on in the season than other teams.
Verdict: The Sharks have looked solid this year despite underachieving.
9. Edmonton Oilers
9-6-1 (1st in Pacific), 50.0 GF% (14th), 50.4 CF% (12th), 99.7 PDO (14th)
The Oilers are this year’s personification of the analytics vs. the world argument. It started with the Kris Russell signing and has extended into the team outperforming their underlying numbers. Skeptics suggest the team isn’t as good as their record indicates and their underlying numbers should be reason for some concern, but the vocal majority of their fanbase believes otherwise. Can you blame them? The team is actually winning games, and for the first time in a decade, it looks like there can be playoff hockey in Edmonton. This is a much more balanced Oilers team than we’ve seen in recent years, but them ultimately kicking the door down and making the playoffs will largely come down to whether Cam Talbot can continue to be excellent.
Verdict: The Oilers are overachieving based largely on a hot start, yes, but they're good enough to push for a playoff spot.
8. Ottawa Senators
9-5-1 (3rd in Atlantic), 44.7 GF% (24th), 47.5 CF% (26th), 98.7 PDO (22nd)
I saw the Ottawa Senators at the top of the standings and immediately figured it was a high percentage bubble thing. But that isn't the case. The Sens have poor possession numbers, as you’d expect, but they’re in the basement in shooting percentage and in the middle of the pack in save percentage at even strength. That, uh, doesn't make much sense. One explanation could be the volume of bad teams they've beaten, and another could be the fact that four of their nine wins have come beyond regulation. Maybe I’m just looking for reasons not to believe in the Ottawa Senators, but their results simply don’t add up.
Verdict: There isn’t much evidence to suggest the Sens are going to continue winning at this rate.
7. New Jersey Devils
8-3-3 (4th in Metro), 55.0 GF% (8th), 48.2 CF% (23rd), 101.0 PDO (11th)
As usual, New Jersey Devils aren’t generating much offensively. But that’s okay, because their goaltending and defence are good enough to compensate for it. Last season, they ranked dead last in the league in goals for per hour at even strength, meaning there was literally no way their ability to keep the puck out of the net could bail them out. This year, the slight improvement in offence generation (largely due to the acquisition of Taylor Hall) coupled with elite play from Cory Schneider has the Devils as one of the top teams in the East after a month of play.
Verdict: The Devils have the goaltending to steal them a lot of games, but there isn’t much else there to fall back on.
6. Washington Capitals
9-4-1 (3rd in Metro), 59.6 GF% (4th), 52.2 CF% (8th), 102.3 PDO (6th)
The Capitals are right where you’d expect them to be after one month. They’ve only lost five games, and four of them came against playoff teams. Beyond that, they've only been outshot twice, which certainly bodes well for future success. They're the league’s best team at producing goals and sixth at keeping the puck out of the next at even strength, but so far, their special teams have left a lot to be desired. But hell, if that’s the only qualm against your team, you’re doing well.
Verdict: The Capitals were expected to be a Cup contender, and after a month, they've looked like one.
5. Boston Bruins
10-6-0 (2nd in Atlantic), 53.8 (10th), 54.0 CF% (4th), 99.7 PDO (13th)
The Bruins are tied for fifth in the league in corsi for percentage at even strength, and they're fifth in the league’s standings. Damn! It makes things easy when things work out like that. The one thing to worry about with the Bruins is an apparent lack of depth, as 15 of the teams 40 goals have come from either David Pasternak or Brad Marchand, and a 39-year-old Zdeno Chara is taking on a massive role on the team’s blue line.
Verdict: The Bruins look to be a playoff team, but their top-heavy roster is cause for concern.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
10-3-2 (2nd in Metro), 56.1 GF% (7th), 49.8 CF% (16th), 101.6 PDO (8th)
The defending Stanley Cup Champions have looked like a team that just won the Stanley Cup, which makes sense because they came into this season with virtually the exact same roster that they won with last spring. Despite not having Sidney Crosby in the lineup at the beginning of the year, the Pens looked great, and with him back, there’s no reason to expect anything less than another deep playoff run.
Verdict: The Penguins haven't missed a beat, and barring some major injury issues, will contend again.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
11-3-2 (1st in Central), 68.2 GF% (1st), 50.3 CF% (14th), 105.2 PDO (1st)
Somehow, someway, they keep doing it. The past, what, four summers, everybody’s said that this will be the year that the Chicago Blackhawks take a step back, that this cap hell fire sale will be the one that leaves them with too little depth to be a contending team. But it just hasn’t happened. We’re one month in and Chicago has the best record in the Western Conference. They're a middle-of-the-pack possession team who isn't riding an outrageous PDO or unrealistic special teams success. They’re a team that manages to win because they have a core of excellent players who can control a game and a goalie who’s capable of bailing them out.
Verdict: The Blackhawks, despite what everyone expected, look like a contending team again.
2. New York Rangers
12-4-0 (1st in Metro), 61.1 GF% (3rd), 48.1 CF% (25th), 105.0 PDO (2nd)
It’s hard not to be skeptical of a team that’s scoring on 14 per cent of their shots in all situations and 8.95 per cent of shots at even strength. The Rangers are producing offence at an obscene rate, and everything, like their aforementioned shooting percentage and below-average possession numbers, points to it not being sustainable. But on the other hand, the Rangers might be on to something here. They're rolling four skilled scoring lines, and because of it, they're pummelling their opponents shift after shift, giving them many high quality scoring chances and opportunities to shoot in high danger zones. It’s hard to imagine them actually continuing to score four goals per game, but this high shooting percentage could be more than just some wacky, small sample size luck thing.
Verdict: We’ll have to give them some more time, but the Rangers could be on to something here. And if it’s actually sustainable, they look like a serious contender.
1. Montreal Canadiens
13-2-1 (1st in Atlantic), 63.6 GF% (2nd), 48.8 CF% (22nd), 104.6 PDO (3rd)
You can pretty much hand Carey Price the Hart Trophy at this point. The Canadiens look like a completely different team then last year when he missed most of the season with injury. Through 10 games, Price has allowed only 13 goals, posting an absurd 0.957 save percentage and 14.31 goals saved above average in that frame. But better yet for Montreal, the team isn't making his life quite as difficult as they did a couple years ago when he won MVP. They're still a below-average possession team, but they generate offence at a high level, which somewhat negates the volume of attempts they allow themselves, especially considering who they have in net.
Verdict: The team isn’t as great as their dominant record indicates, but they're good enough to be successful with their elite goalie.
Stats courtesy of Corsica, Hockey Reference, and Hockey Analysis