Down Goes Brown: 30 numbers for the 2016-17 NHL season

It is the month on the hockey calendar when everyone looks ahead and every team is a contender. Buckle up, hockey fans, because tonight is opening night.

Hockey fans love numbers.

Granted, we don’t all love the same kind of numbers, and if they get too fancy we break out into yet another round of the Great Analytics Debate that’s been going on for five years and still flares up every 15 minutes or so. But we all love some numbers, even if they’re the old-fashioned kind.

Numbers are part of what makes sports fun.

So with the season finally underway, let’s go through the NHL and dig up one interesting number for each NHL team. Some may be surprising, some will reaffirm what we already know, and some will be just plain weird. And most of them won’t be all that complicated.

We’ll go alphabetically, which means we start out west…

Anaheim Ducks

31 – Years since a team had led the NHL in both power-play and penalty-kill percentage before the Ducks pulled it off last year. (The last team to do it was the 84-85 Islanders.) That’s typically the sort of performance that earns a coach a raise. In Anaheim, it got Bruce Boudreau fired, so the pressure will be on Randy Carlyle to keep both units humming.

Arizona Coyotes

300 – Power-play opportunities by the Coyotes last year, the most in the league by a wide margin. The gap between the Coyotes and the No. 2 team, the Flyers, was bigger than the gap between No. 2 and No. 10. But it didn’t translate to much of an advantage, since the Coyotes also ranked first in time spent on the penalty kill.

Boston Bruins

1.25 – Goals scored per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time last year by David Pastrnak, which ranked third in the NHL. These sort of rate stats always yield some weird results, since they boost up players like Pastrnak who are productive without getting many minutes or much power-play time. Still, finishing third is impressive for a kid who didn’t even turn 20 until the season was over.

Buffalo Sabres

1.84 – Goals-per-game of offensive support that the Sabres gave Robin Lehner in his 21 games last year, ranking him dead last among the 58 goalies who saw at least 20 games. Lehner’s first season in Buffalo was a sidetracked by injury, and he only won five games. But his .924 save percentage was good, and with a little more support the success should come.

Calgary Flames

37 – Games in which the Flames allowed four or more goals last year, the most in the league. The Flames went 5-29-3 in those games; in their other 45 games, they were 30-11-4. The Brian Elliott acquisition looms kind of large.

It’s fair to say that last night was not a great start.

Carolina Hurricanes

7.96 per cent – The Hurricanes’ shooting percentage across all situations last year, the second worst mark in the league ahead of only the Maple Leafs. That doesn’t feel all that out of place, given the lack of scoring talent on the roster, but these things to tend to regress at least a little bit, which would be good news for a Carolina team that struggled to find offense.

Chicago Blackhawks

10 – Rookies who were in their age-23 or older season who managed 0.75 points-per-game or better in the last 25 seasons, including Artemi Panarin’s Calder-winning campaign last year. The bad news is that none of the other players on the list went on to stardom, and several saw their production drop quickly.

There are a ton of caveats here – none of those guys got to play with Patrick Kane, and Panarin’s 77 points in 2016 is a lot more impressive than what Nelson Emerson or Ken Hodge put up in the high-flying 90s. But the overall point is worth remembering: Older rookies are tricky, and they don’t always develop the way you might expect.

Colorado Avalanche

0 – Number of times a player has scored more than 30 goals for the Avalanche since 2007, which seems odd given how much talent they’ve had up front over the years. I’m not sure that’s actually all that useful, but I just wanted to give Avalanche fans a break by using a number other than “their possession stats were terrible and that means they’re going to be bad” for the first time in years. (Although for the record, they were and they are.)

Columbus Blue Jackets

25.5 – The average age of the Blue Jackets’ opening day roster, making them the youngest team in the league. It figures to be a rough season in Columbus; even given how unpredictable the Metro looks, the Blue Jackets are in a tough cap situation, have a brutal early schedule, and John Tortorella isn’t exactly inspiring confidence these days. Given all that, it’s nice to remember that this a very young team, with at least some reason to look ahead to the future.

Dallas Stars

.917 – The Stars’ team 5-on-5 save percentage last season, good for 27th in the NHL; they were the only team in the bottom eight to make the playoffs. Sure, it’s almost clichéd at this point to harp on the Stars’ goaltending, but it’s worth remembering that the issue didn’t just reveal itself during the playoffs. They were downright bad all year.

Detroit Red Wings

29 – The all-time record for consecutive playoff appearances, one that’s held by the Boston Bruins and which the Red Wings are still in a position to threaten. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of optimism that they’ll make it, and if anything, the hockey world seems to be expecting them to miss out this year. If they do, it was a good run. And hey, in this age of parity, it’s not like establishing an all-time post-season streak record should even be possible anymore, right?

Edmonton Oilers

11 – The Oilers’ streak of missing the playoffs if they fail to make it this year, which would establish a new all-time post-season streak record. Huh. That was some unfortunate alphabetical ordering there.

Florida Panthers

22-7 – The Panthers record last year in games decided by three goals or more. Their 22 wins in such games were the most in the league; their seven losses were the fewest.

Los Angeles Kings

56.4 per cent – The Kings’ Corsi percentage at 5-on-5 last year, the best mark in the league by far. After losing Milan Lucic to free agency and Marian Gaborik to injury, there’s been some talk that the Kings could be poised for a rough season, so it’s worth remembering that they’re still dominating when it comes to one of the best predictive stats we have.

Minnesota Wild

107:20 – The Wild’s positive difference between time spent on the power play and time spent shorthanded last year, the best gap in the league by a ton. The worst difference in the league? New coach Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks, who were -101:26.

Montreal Canadiens

1st – Montreal’s overall rank in CHIP, or “Cap Hit of Injured Players”, a number that captures how a team was impacted by injuries to key talent. That ranking likely won’t come as any surprise to Montreal fans, but it’s a good reminder that last year’s Habs weren’t just missing Carey Price.

It’s hard to lose that much value to injury and still succeed; last year, the top six CHIP teams all missed the playoffs, while the bottom nine teams all made it.

Nashville Predators

9.3 per cent – Defensive-zone faceoff percentage for Mike Ribiero, which is to say he almost never started shifts in his own zone. It was the lowest number in the league; the second lowest was Craig Smith, while fourth lowest was Filip Forsberg. Conversely, that line ranked as the league’s top three for offensive-zone faceoffs (while three other Predators ranked at the bottom). In other words, Peter Laviolette was aggressively protecting certain players, which is great as long as you can get away with it.

The Ribiero/Forsberg/Smith line was broken up in the playoffs and looks like it will stay that way, so it will be interesting to see who Laviolette is willing to trust with tougher assignments. Hint: Probably whoever is playing with Ryan Johansen.

New Jersey Devils

0 – Games in which the Devils had at least 40 shots on goal last seasons, making them the only team not to manage the feat even once. (Their high was 38, against Detroit on December 11.) Everyone else did it at least twice, while the Penguins led the league with 13.

New York Islanders

11 – Times that a player other than John Tavares has scored more than 50 points in a season for the Islanders in the seven years since Tavares arrived in 2009. Of those 11 seasons, six came from Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, both of whom left as free agents this year. None were from players who are on the roster heading into this season. The Islanders’ forwards are one of the season’s underrated changing-of-the-guard stories.

New York Rangers

151st – Dan Girardi’s rank among the 152 NHL defensemen who appeared in at least 60 games last year in even-strength relative Corsi percentage (a measure of a player’s possession relative to the rest of his teammates). Girardi’s been hammered for his awful season so much that it almost feels like we’re all picking on him at this point, but yeah… that’s not good.

Ottawa Senators

32 – Games with more than 30:00 of ice time logged by Erik Karlsson last year. Ryan Suter was next with 22, Drew Doughty had 18, and nobody else was even in double digits.

That’s not bad for a guy we’re always being told can’t be trusted in all situations, but it will be interesting to see if new coach Guy Boucher will look to ease up on Karlsson’s workload.

Philadelphia Flyers

3-8 – The Flyers record in the shootout last year, giving them the most losses in the league. They ranked third worst in shooting percentage and fourth worst in save percentage. Remember, while there is individual skill in the shootout, overall results are largely luck and teams that struggle one year are just as likely to do well the next. (Then again, we could have said the same last year after the Flyers went 3-11.)

Pittsburgh Penguins

6 – The number of times since 1998 that the Stanley Cup champions have made it back to at least the conference finals. That 1998 season, of course, was the second of back-to-back Cups for the Red Wings, which marked the last time that the NHL had a repeat winner.

That makes it 15 seasons and counting, which has led to some “it’s just too hard to repeat in today’s NHL” narratives. But teams have come closer than you might think, including three champs that made it back to the final and three more that were eliminated at the final four. Fatigue will be an issue, and the odds will always be against a repeat winner, but don’t assume the Penguins can’t at least make a deep run of it.

San Jose Sharks

16 – Games in which Brent Burns had seven or more shots on goal last year. That was just one behind the league-leader, Alexander Ovechkin, and miles ahead of the field at this position (no other defenseman had more than five). In fact, you’d have to go back to Ray Bourque two decades ago to find another blue-liner who had more.

St. Louis Blues

0.58 – Career goals-per-game by Vladimir Tarasenko in the playoffs, ranking him first in the NHL among active players with at least 10 games played. That hasn’t kept him from taking some heat for his playoff performance, but maybe that’s to be expected – fellow “can’t come through when it matters” guys like Phil Kessel and Alexander Ovechkin also show up in the top five.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2.81 – Shots-per-game for Steven Stamkos last year, the first time since his rookie year that it dipped below 3.00. It was the second straight year that the number dropped, and he’s now almost a full shot-per-game lower than his career peak of 3.70 in his 60-goal season back in 2011-12.

The drop was the main reason he posted a relatively modest (by his standards) 36-goal season, since his 16.7 shooting percentage wasn’t far off his career average of 17.2. Percentages fluctuate, but a drop in shot volume is at least a bit of a concern, especially with a new long-term contract kicking in.

Toronto Maple Leafs

.000% – The Maple Leafs’ win percentage last year when trailing after two periods. It happened 37 times, and they lost all 37 – the only team in the league that couldn’t manage even one comeback win. They did manage three wins when trailing after one period, although their .100 per cent win percentage in that category was also the league’s worst.

Vancouver Canucks

Minus-52 – The Canucks’ league-worst goals differential last year. Sure, it’s a simple stat, but sometimes the simple ones tell the story. The 2015-16 Canucks were a very bad team, and they made moves to get better over the summer. Those moves may work, in the sense that the team could be improved, but there’s a very long way to go.

Washington Capitals

43 – Primary assists by Evgeni Kuznetsov last year, which ranks him first in the league. Primary assists (which count only the first assist awarded on a goal, ignoring the second) can often give a better measure of playmaking ability than the traditional version, which is more open to the influence of luck and goals that a player had little influence over.

Winnipeg Jets

30th – Rank of Ondrej Pavelec in save percentage among the 30 active goalies with at least 200 games played since 2009, the year he became a full-time starter.

In other words, dead last. The Jets’ insistence on anointing him full-time start year after year was perplexing, and their decision to waive him this week, while no doubt painful for some long-time fans, is going to make them a better team.

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