Hockey Abstract Favours Sens In 2013/14

According to its inaugural addition, Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract projects the Ottawa Senators to have a 32.2-percent chance of winning the President’s Trophy for the upcoming 2013/14 season – the highest projected odds in the NHL.

When Eugene Melnyk told Bryan Murray to do whatever it takes at the eleventh hour to bring Alfie back into the fold, perhaps Murray should have asked Vollman to make a pitch to the former captain instead.

As much as I would love to use this opportunity to crack on Alfredsson’s decision to join the Red Wings because himself a better chance to win the Stanley Cup (you know, assuming you took Alfie’s reasoning at face value), but Detroit actually finished second behind the Senators in Abstract’s projected standings.

As an aside, I’ll be writing a full fleshed out review in the coming weeks but, this is just going to be a cursory post about a section of Vollman’s work that Senators fans should be made aware of.

If you’re a hockey fan who even has a remote interest in some hockey numbers and the emerging sabermetric developments taking place in the game, go buy the book. It’s well worth your time. And even if you’re not numbers-oriented, I’d still recommend it because it explains the metrics and how statistics can be misapplied and should never be applied wholly used to explicate a situation or a player. Context is massive part of the evaluation process in hockey and it does explain how statistics should never be the be-all and end-all.

What Vollman does well is provide great statistical backstory and compelling points of discussion while sparing readers from the condescending tone that non-statheads loathe. At its best, this book helps bridge the gap between the statgeeks and traditional hockey fans and creates an enlightening experience which hopefully leads to more engaging hockey conversations and debate.

Now where was? Ah yes…

Hockey Abstract’s method for predicting next year's standings is two-fold:

1. Take the previous season's standings and regress all the luck-based factors towards the norm (which means move them towards league average), like injuries, close-game and post-regulation records, and the percentages (save, shooting, special teams).

Using this step, Vollman calculated Ottawa’s luck-neutral 2012/13 standings over the course of a full 82-game schedule which had the Senators finish first with 104 points.

Working in Ottawa’s favour last season was the fact that the team managed to hold its own despite the absence of many of its best players to prolonged periods of time. Injuries derailed the seasons of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Jared Cowen, but thanks to the depth of the organization and some exceptionally ridiculous goaltending, the Sens persevered and clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season.

It was this unexpected continuity of success that left fans and Vollman wondering what could have happened had this team managed to stay relatively healthy last season.

I do however have to wonder how weighted the various goaltender save percentages were. One thing that I assumed would have had a greater bearing on Ottawa’s forecast (in a negative fashion) would have been the regression of their ridiculously inflated goaltender’s shorthanded save percentage rates.

2. The second step is to make adjustments for all the major roster changes, including mid-season trades, free agent signings, rookies and other players coming in from
other leagues and, in some cases, the natural improvement or decline of particularly
young or old teams.

Using the goals versus threshold metric, the additions of Ryan, Conacher, MacArthur and Corvo relative to the absences of Alfie, Silfverberg, Gonchar and Bishop could translate into 15.1 more goals for and 13.1 fewer goals against over the course of a full 82-game season.

Extrapolating the data from its two steps, Vollman projects Ottawa to tally 269 goals for and 208 goals against; good enough for 105 points and the President’s Trophy. That's a 71 more goals than the Senators would have scored last year over the course of a full season.

The returns of Karlsson and Spezza can help push the team in that direction. When both were last healthy for a full season, the Senators scored 249 goals in 2011/12. To flirt with this magical 269 goal number, they're going to need both players to be productive and hope that Spezza's return as the first line center provides the insulation necessary to give centers like Kyle Turris and Zack Smith, easier matchups and more opportunity to take advantage of their situations. 

Via @wham_city, for the Sens to approach this number, they'll need the following kinds of contribution: 

The caveat to all of these projections is that they’re completely luck dependent, but for an offseason that has had more ups and downs than the average Eugene Melnyk interview on the Fan 590, it’s reassuring to hear that prognosticators, backed up by some statistical metrics, believe heavily in the team Bryan Murray has assembled.

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