With a good chunk of the 2019-20 NHL season already in the books, Sportsnet has given me the daunting task of deciding which Canadian teams have shown the most promise through the first month or so of the season.
There are a few caveats before we get into this, though. Firstly, I’m not going to factor in special teams. In small sample sizes I just don’t trust special teams data to give us true measures of performance, so I’m not confident in factoring it into analysis in any meaningful way until more games are played.
Because of that, we’re going to be looking at which Canadian teams are best at even strength, so results may differ wildly from what you expect.
Secondly, we’re not really looking at strength of roster here, or what the potential of a roster is, provided they play their best — we’re only evaluating who has played the best overall. We’ll break things up by offence, defence, and goaltending, and rank each team in each category before coming up with a final ranking.
It’s a lot to take in, but it’s a lot to cover to attempt to give a wide view of offensive performance in one graph. The Montreal Canadiens get the most shots on net from the inner slot, and they have the most puck movement involved in their scoring chances as well.
The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers like to move the puck east-west more than anyone else, while the Canadiens lead the field once again in rush chances and cycle chances. The Toronto Maple Leafs lead everyone in successful dekes in the offensive zone, but they’re just not creating anywhere close to the offence they created last year.
The Ottawa Senators get the puck to the net decently well on the strength of players like Brady Tkachuk, but they can’t move the puck at anywhere near a league average level. Meanwhile the Calgary Flames have gone from dominant in all areas last year to decidedly middling this year.
3. Maple Leafs
While bigger numbers were better in the last chart, the bigger the number here, the worse the team performance. Much like last season, the Canadiens are a high-event scoring chance team, getting a lot of chances of their own while leaving their goalies out to dry. Canada isn’t filled with particularly excellent defensive teams, so this one is a bit tighter in the middle of the pack, and somehow the two Ontario teams are leading the way.
The Maple Leafs have committed to playing a much stricter defensive style, and the results are strong defensively even if they’ve come at an offensive cost.
The Senators meanwhile have really focused on playing tight and giving themselves a chance to win despite minimal talent by not giving much up at all. Pretty impressive work so far on that side of the puck, and pretty much the only way to play with that roster and eek out wins.
2. Maple Leafs
Weighting each goaltending duo’s save percentage by each area of the ice against the expected save percentage from there, we can see which teams are getting good performances from their netminders and which ones aren’t.
The struggles for the Canadiens this year come in the same place as last season: the high slot. Meanwhile, Toronto has seen a strength from last year turn into a big weakness.
Canucks goaltenders have been brilliant on high- and mid-danger shots and slightly weak on perimeter attempts, while the Flames have been the complete opposite.
The Oilers goaltenders have been untouchable from the high danger area, but average elsewhere, raises some questions about sustainability.
In order to grade the goalies, we can measure their impact relative to league average on each area against how often their teams are giving up shots from each area, and come up with a rough goals saved above average metric; with the result being Canucks in a landslide.
7. Maple Leafs
I’m as surprised as you are. No one really seems to want to believe this hot start by the Canucks is real, but sustainable or not, they’re Canada’s best team so far.
After them comes the Oilers, not necessarily by being great in any specific area, but by being good across the board. I also think they’re hindered visually a little bit by these kinds of visualizations because they play a lower-event style.
The Canadiens and Maple Leafs are up next, each undone by one area of the game despite strong overall numbers. You wouldn’t know it from listening to Canadiens fans at this point in time, but Carey Price is somehow still saving nearly a half-goal per game above expectations at 5-vs-5 alone this season. He’s not perfect, but the body of work remains excellent.
4. Maple Leafs