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Year-End Odds and Ends

posted Dec 30, 2017, 7:39 PM by Robert Vollman
As 2017 comes to an end, who was the player of the year? According to a Twitter poll, it’s a close, three-way race between Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, and Sidney Crosby.  I’m not sure who the “Others” could be, except maybe a goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky, or someone being a homer for Auston Matthews or something.

Who do I think is the player of 2017? Well, Crosby did with the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe and the Maurice Richard. McDavid won the Hart, the Art Ross, was a First Team All-Star, and has the most points in 2017, with 111, followed by Crosby with 109, Kucherov with 104, and then Niklas Backstrom with 97. 

However, on a per-game basis, Kucherov had 1.3 points per game, far more than McDavid, 1.17, and Crosby, 1.14. Plus, Kucherov had the most goals, with 51, which is much more than Crosby, 40, and McDavid, 35. He’s followed by Filip Forsberg, 47, and then Ovechkin and Marchand, 45. 

While it’s admittedly very close, I agree with the popular opinion. Kucherov had a breakout year, which now has him considered to be among the league’s elite players. 

Workhorse of the Year

Goalies who handle a lot of minutes and shots are highly respected. Those who handle them well, doubly so. From that perspective, Pekka Rinne was the workhorse of 2017.

Rinne faced 2,467 shots, of which he saved 2,280 for a save percentage of .924. Compare that to the three other goalies with the greatest workloads, Frederik Andersen, who was .917 in 2,377 shots, Henrik Lundqvist, who was .916 in 2,357 shots, and Cam Talbot, who was .916 in 2,347 shots.

Poor Buffalo

The worst team in hockey right now? Apparently, it’s a two-way tie (although Ottawa fans may be discouraged to even be included in this conversation).

How can Buffalo fix its problems? Well, they have good young strength down the middle with O’Reilly, Eichel, and Reinhart (who is currently being used on the wing), so they should build on that. They have also done well to pick up some castaway veterans, like Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, and Benoit Pouliot. Obviously it was a big risk to replace an experienced and accomplished coaching staff with someone who has just four years of coaching experience as an NHL assistance, but the Sabres were surprisingly not alone in deciding to do just that. Although, it should be pointed out that those who invested in an experienced coach (cough Vegas cough) did better than those who rolled the dice (cough Buffalo Florida Arizona cough). 

Then again, I think the real problem is the blue line, not the bench. After just a few injuries, Buffalo was using players like Matt Tennyson, Zach Redmond, Taylor Fedun, and Justin Falk, sometimes all at once, and sometimes in the top four. Even when healthy, Rasmus Ristolainen is absolutely buried with Andy Greene-like minutes that it doesn’t appear that he’s yet equipped to handle effectively. They need more defensive depth, including someone who can shoulder that burden. Scandella was definitely a stride in the right direction, but they need another.

Esso Minor Hockey Week

I’m honoured to be taking part in the charity game to kick off this year’s Esso Minor Hockey Week, as part of the Opening Ceremonies on January 13. I’ll be on Rob Kerr’s media team, and we’re up against Jamie Macoun’s Flames Alumni. If you think I’m not taking it seriously, think again, because I have been eating right and exercising and have lost 10 pounds since I heard the news of my inclusion six weeks ago.

Obviously I have about as much chance keeping up with former hockey players as they would have keeping up with me with math and stats, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t do my very best to make it a fun and exciting game, and help teach the young players the importance of hustle. There’s a meet and greet that evening at the Molson Canadian Hockey House Lounge, so I hope to see you there!

Closing Thoughts

Something very unusual happened mid-month: teams were losing when someone scored a hat trick. In the last seven times one of a team’s players scored a hat trick, teams are 3-3-1. Over the last 100 such games, that brings the record to 90-6-4. So, that’s 87-3-3 before that weird week, then 3-3-1. 

My friend @lw3h of @NHLInjuryViz ran some year-end numbers for me, and found that the team that had the most injuries this calendar year was the Vancouver Canucks, with 420 man-games lost, and the healthiest team was the Calgary Flames, with 65. In the standings, Calgary earned 92 points in the standings, and Vancouver earned 69, but at least some of the gap has to be explained by the wide difference in injury luck.

There’s a separate section on this website for checking out my latest articles for NHL and ESPN, but I encourage you to check out my writeup on Johnny Bower, who I have ranked one of the top five goalies of all-time. It was a real honour to be asked to put that together.

Don’t be intimidated by the perceived complexity. Roll up your sleeves, and develop ways to gather interesting hockey data by yourself. To that end, I pointed out Harry’s scraper (which gets regular updates) last week, but there are a lot of options out there. For example, look into R.J. Weise’s scraper on GitHub. He also has a number of Tableau visualizations. If you also have a scraper to share, let me know, and I’ll mention it next week.