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Predicting the 2008-09 Season, Part 2

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In Part One, I discussed the four team attributes that are most likely to carry over from one season to another.

Sara asked a good question, which is why those team tendencies discussed in Part One were slow to change. To be honest I don't have an easy answer to this question. I will point out that three of the four items are linked to the quality (or lack thereof) of a team's defense. Most NHL teams do not make wholesale changes to their blueline during the off season. Change tends to happen more slowly there.

I also believe (again, no data here just a belief) that really good defensemen are more consistent year-to-year than really good forwards. Were I a NHL general manager I'd lean towards investing more money into my defense than my forwards. (note: In 2005-06 the Thrashers spent more money on forwards than all the other NHL teams.) I think that the NHL undervalues star defensemen to some degree. Defensemen also play more minutes than forwards do and have more opportunity to effect the outcome of the game.

In the rest of this post we will take a look at the other end of the spectrum--four areas that rarely remain the same from one season to antoher. If your team is strong (or weak) in one these areas don't count on this continuing into the future!

Least Consistent Team Attributes

1. Overtime and Shootout extra points.
  • In 2005-06 the Dallas Stars were red hot in the shootout.
  • In 2006-07 Slava Kozlov almost never missed in the shootout.
  • In 2007-08 the Edmonton Oilers won a crazy amount of bonus.
All of these moments were very exciting for the hometown fans, but the truth is that these points are almost entirely the product of luck. The correlation between SOW/OTL points from one season to the next is essentially zero. That means that there is no consistent relationship league wide in this area. A team that stunk it up in SOW/OTL is just as likely to finish at the very top of that category next season. Any GM that counts on excelling in this area is building his house on the sand with a hurricane bearing down on him.

2008 Bonus Point Leaders: EDM, NJD, ATL
2008 Bonus Point Trailers: STL, TBL, CBJ
Thrashers Rank: 3rd

2. Penalty Kill Percentage
Both the Penalty Kill and Power Play are fairly inconsistent from one season to the next. Why? Part of it is a small sample size--teams spend 3/4 of the game playing 5 on 5 and only about 1/4 in special teams situations. In that small amount of time luck matters more than it does at even strength. Some years a team gets more bad breaks--the puck goes in off the post, a stick breaks on the PK and the opposition scores, a puck makes two deflections and eludes the netminder.

For Thrasher fans looking for some positive news here it is-->our PK% was so poor last year that we are almost bound to have some better luck and rebound a bit in 2008-09. Regression to the mean baby!

2008 PK% Leaders: SJS, DAL, NAS
2008 PK% Trailers: TOR, LAK, BOS
Thrashers Rank: 27th

3. Shot Percentage (Share of Shots that become Goals) The ability of a team to convert shots into goals runs hot and cold. Few teams can stay "hot" or maintain a high ST% from one season to the next. The ability to prevent shots is fairly consistent, the ability to generate shots is less consistent and the ability to convert shots (at the team level) is very inconsistent.

The Thrashers were above average in shooting percentage last year. Ilya Kovalchuk's red hot start had a lot to do with that. Can he be as accurate in 2008-09 as he was in 2007-08? I hate to doubt Ilya, but the stats suggest he might slip back towards the rest of the NHL a bit.

2008 ST% Leaders: MON, DAL, PIT
2008 ST% Trailers: NYI, NYR, CBJ
Thrashers Rank: 11th

4. Power Play Percentage. The fact that the Montreal Canadians finshed #1 overall in consecutive seasons is what we call an "outlier" or a highly unusual data point. In general it would be unwise for a NHL GM or Coach to assume that their Power Play will be exactly the same as last season. Power Play units--much like goalies--can get red hot or ice cold for significant stretches of time. Consistency on the power play is something eludes many quality hockey clubs.

The Canadians, Flyers and Red Wings are all unlikely to stay on top next season--however each of those clubs boast strong Even Strength scoring talents which should keep them in contention even if the PP cools off.

2008 PP% Leaders: MON, PHI, DET
2008 PP% Trailers: STL, NYI, COL
Thrashers Rank: 23rd

There are four fairly random (i.e. least likely to repeat) team statistics mentioned above. The Thrashers were good in two of them (shooting percentage and bonus points) and bad in the other two (PP% and PK%). Since change in this area is fairly random I will not be making any predictions other than wait and see.