NHL Roundtable: Good and bad surprises; new stat NHL needs most

Wednesday November 5th, 2014

Every Wednesday, a trio of SI.com staffers sits down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot button issues. This week, Brian Cazeneuve, Sam Page and I talk about early-season surprises and disappointments, the Avalanche's race to the basement and the next big fancystat. First up:

Now that we're through the first 10 game segment of the season, what player or team rates as your biggest surprise and your biggest disappointment?

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Speaking of MacKinnon, Colorado is just six points out of first place in the Central, but it's also two points out of the Western Conference cellar. So what is this team? A title contender off to a bad start? Or a bottom-tier club weighed down by bad defense and a worse system?

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CAZENEUVE: Colorado was not as good as it appeared to be last season. The Avalanche gave up way too many shots on goal and threw the puck away too often to sustain a long playoff run. But they also are not as bad this year as their record indicates. They have too much talent for them not to go on a roll or two as the season moves along. They started horribly. Before Colorado broke out for seven goals against the Canucks on Oct. 24, the Avs had managed to score just 12 goals in their first seven games. Then things picked up. MacKinnon didn’t score in his first 10 games, but he now has four in his last three. Colorado this season’s Devils, having dropped all five shootouts and overtime games they played in the first month of the season. The Avalanche have an Eastern-Conference swing starting next week that should either straighten them out or cause them to worry.
 
MUIR: I can't begin to count how many times I've heard people say that Colorado wasn't as good as it appeared last season, and it still makes me crazy. I get that there were areas of the Avs' game where they needed to tighten up, but come on! They won the Central Division and posted the third-best record in the NHL. That's real success where it matters, on the scoreboard. That said, there's something different about the team this season. Some nights Colorado looks like the team spent the pregame warmup reading last season's press clippings. The intensity, the attention to detail, the battle ... it's just not there. Maybe that's part of the learning curve—this is still a young team, after all—but it's also a team that's not very strong on the back end. The Avalanche still have time to get their groove back, but they look very vulnerable right now.
 

You've been put in charge of gathering stats by the league and given free reign to add one new measurement to this season's package. What's it going to be?

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PAGE:

MUIR: That's not entirely true. The league tracked zone time for a couple of years, but since the system wasn't set up to capture which team was in control of the puck the data wasn't all that revealing. But you're right about the desire for the stat. That's the one number that would be the most compelling to the largest audience. Me, though, I'd like to see pass completions tracked. The ability to move the puck effectively is not only the key to possession, but also to generating scoring chances. A pass completions number would be a great tool for evaluating the effectiveness of defensemen as the spearheads of the transition game, and also for the forwards who excel at creating opportunities in the offensive zone.

CAZENEUVE: Another stat? The NHL is trending towards having too many stats as it is. Having said that, as long as we’re overdosing on numbers, I’d be curious about all comparisons between what a player does during the regular season and what he does in the playoffs. Compare his point totals, his plus-minus, his Corsi numbers and so on from the games that really count to the ones that fill out the schedule. Playoff hockey is such a different animal than some pass through Winnipeg in January. I'd be curious to see how those numbers would evaluate a guy like Justin Williams.

MUIR: Too many stats? Get ready for a barrage of hate mail from the numbers nerds, old timer. But honestly, you raise a fair question there: How deep does the average fan care to dive statistically, and how far should the NHL go to appease the vocal but (statistically) tiny minority that wants every element of the game quantified and fed to them in graph form? We'll have to save that one for another day ...

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