Metro Division picks, NHL gimmick team (Puck Daddy Bag of Mail)

NHL

You have my word that I will not be doing any more White House/Penguins stuff for a while, even if the Penguins keep coming out and saying wrong, bad stuff about it. There’s nothing new under the sun with these guys, as far as this subject is concerned, so that’s the end of that for a while.

Also, I don’t know if you guys noticed, but the season starts in less than a week, and college hockey starts in two days. So let’s just do questions about that so I don’t end up screaming at my monitor for two hours straight again ha ha ha ha ha.

The good news is people whose lives haven’t been ruined by Politics Twitter have plenty of questions that need answering, and as a smart genius I have all the answers.

So let’s go:

David asks (among several questions) via email: We see a lot of stats that evaluate individual players (e.g. corsi) – are there emerging statistics that can evaluate configurations (e.g. pairings, linemates, deployment)?”

Well we’ve had WOWY — with-or-without-you — stats for a long time. If I’m not much mistaken, Hockey Analysis pioneered them, but now they’re generally available on sites like Corsica (coming back soon!) or Natural Stat Trick, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.

How telling these stats are can be a little disparate. If you go on Natural Stat Trick and click on, say, Mark Giordano’s page, you can click around and see who he played with or against, and all kinds of stats — like corsi, goals, scoring chances, etc. — for just about any situation. And as the WOWY name suggests, you can look at these numbers for those players together and apart, showing how much of an impact playing with, say, Dougie Hamilton has versus playing with, say, Dennis Wideman. The same is true of evaluating what happens when he’s matched up against Connor McDavid or Daniel Sedin.

But when you start to slice and dice these things, I wouldn’t be too comfortable making broad pronouncements. If Ryan Getzlaf has a low shooting percentage matched up against Giordano (and he didn’t score a goal against Calgary with Giordano on the ice), you have to keep in mind that it was only in 44 minutes of ice time. Very small sample. Tough to know how sustainable these things are with any certainty, except to say that obviously you’re going to want to match your best defenseman against the other team’s best center.

I wouldn’t be too comfortable making a pronouncement about a player’s ability to shut down opponents or drive performance without like 500 minutes of 5-on-5 TOI head-to-head, and that’s just simply not going to happen in a single season. So you use your best judgment.

Where WOWYs might be useful is if, in evaluating a second- or third-line player, you see that he consistently makes his teammates better, or consistently outperforms opponents’ depth players, you might want to bump him up in the lineup and see where that gets you.

Thomas asks: “Who is going to win a Cup first, Vegas or Arizona?”

Obviously the answer is “neither any time soon” but right now you’d have to say, even if it’s on a fluke, that Arizona is closer to a Cup. They simply have everything set up already in a way Vegas doesn’t and can’t.

I said a few weeks ago I think they’ve improved a decent amount this summer, and they still have a healthy prospect pool, a farm system, and all that. Meanwhile, you know there’s a 50-contract limit for organizations? Vegas only has 40, and that’s with all but 11 guys on their current NHL roster — including LTIRs — on expiring contracts.

They’ve signed some guys, drafted more than their normal share, but even if every one those guys become NHLers — and they absolutely won’t — there’s still not enough NHL talent there for the team to be reliably good within even three or four years. At a minimum, if everything goes exactly right — and it absolutely won’t — Vegas is five years out from being meaningfully competitive in any real way.

That’s not a knock on them, it’s the reality of the situation. Even with this, the NHL’s lauded “best expansion team ever,” you have to remember one thing: Expansion teams are awful for a really long time, and most of the first crop of prospects they pull are past their primes by the time the team is any good.

Brendan asks: “With Bouwmeester out for the start of the year, is Jake Walman going to be able to fill in for the Blues?”

He’s probably going to have to, so it’s not a matter of being able to. The good news is Walman has all the tools to be successful in the NHL, though maybe not, y’know, right this second. He’s a left-shot D who moves well and shoots in volume. That, however, is the kind of thing you can say for a lot of 21-year-olds coming into the league.

I know he occasionally drove his coaches crazy at Providence College with his on-ice approach, which resulted in a lot of goals for the kid himself (20 in 66 games from the blue line over the last two seasons is nothing to sneeze at) but a few headaches as well.

I like the kid as a player. I think he’ll be an NHL talent for a while. But right this second? I’m not so sure. Use him on your bottom pairing and second power play unit and you might have something, but any bigger role than that and you’re playing with fire.

Tom asks: “How do you think the top five shakes out in the Metro this year? Do they send four or five teams to the playoffs?”

I think right now I’d go with the Pens (gap), Caps (gap), Rangers and Jackets (gap), and Hurricanes in that order, with the possibility that New York and Columbus flip-flop.

But there are a lot of what-ifs here.

Columbus is, I think, about the same as they were last year in terms of team quality but they’re not going to get that shooting percentage so their points will thin out. You honestly don’t know what Henrik Lundqvist provides. The Penguins are maybe about the same if Matt Murray can stay healthy. The Caps took a clear step back. Carolina’s entry here is qualified with, “If Darling is as-advertised” which is tough to say for sure because he’s never been a starter and Carolina hasn’t had good goaltending in forever.

So, I reserve the right to change my opinion, but that’s where things stand on paper.

Zach asks: “With Florida forsaking progress in analytics, is it up to Arizona to essentially write the book on analytics in player evaluation?”

At this point, most teams have analytics people on staff and use them to drive decision-making to one extent or another. The Wild hired most of the crew from War on Ice a few years ago, the Penguins took the other one, Carolina leans heavily on Eric Tulsky, Toronto has a bit of a war room, etc.

So pretty much everyone does it, but not everyone abides by what the data tells them, which I guess you’d mostly expect, right? I think it’s fair to say there’s no purely “analytics-driven team” in the NHL, and probably there never will be. Even with Florida and Arizona getting the reputation as Computer Boys, they were still making decisions that sometimes had stats guys shaking their heads (and moreover, I’m not sure if the stats Arizona is using aren’t a good mix of the real stuff and snake-oil).

Point is, all this is here to stay, even if some Old School Hockey Guys are gonna grumble about it.

Matt asks: “You’re making a gimmick team where every player’s surname starts with the same letter (ex: Bergeron, Burns, Bishop) what letter do you pick?”

I love this question! And I think you have to go with M, like, without even thinking about it, don’t you?

Here’s a quick lineup I put together off the top of my head from players whose surnames begin with M:

NHL

The defense is a little thin and I had to play fast and loose with some of the wingers but that’s a team that probably doesn’t lose too many games on the goaltending and center depth alone.

Keep writing in!!!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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