MAILBAG: Topics Include Playoff Projections, The Penalty Kill, & Forward Depth

@CaptainBadical asks: “How do you expect the inevitable playoff series between Chicago and St Louis to go? P.s. Blues fan that loves your work.”

I don’t know how it will go, but I know it would most likely be another 7-game series decided by the final goal. Both teams are projected to battle between third place in the division or a wild card spot in the playoffs.

In the chart below, we see the playoff expectancy of each central division team. Looks like there could be a battle between the Wild, Blackhawks, Blues, and Jets for the final playoff spots.

As for the Blues, I liked how they did somewhat of a rebuild on the fly. They had this core of Backes, Oshie, Perron, Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson. Barret Jackman, and Andy McDonald to name a few. That core wasn’t going to cut it. Instead of giving up and tanking, the Blues have slowly moved subpar pieces out year-by-year, but still committing to being competitive. Last season, we saw the death of the old era, as David Backes played his final season as a Blue. Now the new core is in place with very skilled, young players like Tarasenko, Schwartz, Pietrangelo. Shattenkirk, Parayko, Fabbri taking control of the team. The physical, hard hitting Blues can now transition to the skilled, scoring Blues. I really like Parayko by the way. That kid is going to be a star. Hell, he already is a star.

The obvious elephant in the room is Ken Hitchcock. I believe Hitch is one of the better coaches in the league, and current coaching metrics back that up. I’ve read many great quotes from him lately about the best defense is to keep the puck, and that puck possession is the key to success in the NHL. He always had more of a heavy team, and thus had to play a heavy game. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a very skilled team this season.

I’m not a big fan of Mike Yeo, and believe he is a currently a below league average coach. He’s only 43 though, so he is young and can grow/improve.

Overall, there are many reasons to be excited in St Louis. The team is set up to contend for the cup for many years to come. The inevitable playoff matchup between St Louis and Chicago should again be one of the better series of the playoffs.
@LiarOfOrpheus asks: “Why was the PK so bad last year and will it be any better this season?”

Great question. Also, tough question. Injuries to key players like Duncan Keith, Marcus Kruger, & Marian Hossa didn’t help. However, it’s not like they put up that good of numbers when they were healthy. In fact, most Blackhawk players performed poorly on the Penalty Kill.

I will post 6 charts to illustrate Penalty Kill stats. Three for the forwards and the same three for the defensemen. All stats will be on a rate basis, so each player is on the same playing field no matter how much PK time they had. The charts will show:

Average number of shot attempts against per 60 minutes of icetime

Average numbers of unblocked shot attempts against per 60

Average number of goals against per 60

For all these charts, the lower number is better as Chicago wants to give up less shots and less goals against. I also provide two reference lines. These will be the NHL league average and the Chicago team average for each stat. This way you will see which players are below league average and which players are really dragging the Blackhawks down.

Let’s start with the forwards.

Shot attempts against/60 (shot attempts include shots on goal, shots that go wide of the net, and shots that are blocked by any Chicago player)

Unblocked shot attempts against/60 (Unblocked shot attempts include shots on goal and shots that go wide of the net only)

Goals against/60

And now the defensemen.

Shot attempts against/60 (shot attempts include shots on goal, shots that go wide of the net, and shots that are blocked by any Chicago player)

Unblocked shot attempts against/60 (Unblocked shot attempts include shots on goal and shots that go wide of the net only)

Goals against/60

The shot based stats are the more important as they provide a larger sample size and have far less variance due to puck luck. I included the goal based charts just to show the end result. What do we see from the shot based stats? Only Phillip Danault and Viktor Svedberg were above league average. This is where the numbers tell me that the Blackhawks Penalty Kill system is flawed. Here, the numbers can only tell one so much and video analysis is needed. Sometime this season, I plan on breaking down the Blackhawks power play and penalty kill systems. In that post, I will use video analysis to further delve into this question.

For now, the answer is simply the Blackhawks aren’t properly executing their PK coaching system or formation as every player put up subpar PK numbers last season. 

As for if it will get better? Yes, yes it will. The Blackhawks were the worst PK team in the NHL in shot based stats. They can only go up from here as they are at rock bottom. 
An emailer asks: “What realistic moves do you think the Blackhawks org can make before start of next season to cure the forward depth issues and make cup winning a strong possibility again in 2018? (I assume a Panarin deal is unlikely to get done.)

Yeah, the Panarin deal probably won’t get done. There’s always a possibility and lots of things can change in one years time, but yeah it’s going to be a struggle to get him under contract because of cap constraints. The Blackhawks would likely have to move Marcus Kruger, as every other player making good money has a no movement clause.

The good thing about Panarin is that he will be a Restricted Free Agent like Brandon Saad was last season. More good news, Panarin has just as much value as Saad did. Saad landed Chicago Artem Anisimov and prospect Marko Dano (who later helped Chicago get Andrew Ladd). So although losing a player like Artemi Panarin will hurt, Chicago should be able trade him for some quality forwards that will boost depth. 

Let’s take a look at the players on this seasons opening day roster that are under contract for the 2018-19 season. Players with expiring contracts include Artemi Panarin. Richard Panik, Dennis Rasmussen, & Jordan TooToo. Panarin, Panik, and Rasmussen will all be restricted free agents as well. Trading Panarin for a couple forwards like Chicago did with Saad should help improve the Blackhawks depth. Of course, how Schmaltz, Hinostroza, & Motte perform this season could make this chart look much better or much worse. 

I just went back and added Alex DeBrincat to the chart. He had the numbers of a top-10 draft pick, but he’s the size of Johnny Gadreau, so teams passed on him.

If Chicago brings back Panik, trades Panarin for a couple forwards, and inserts DeBrincat into the lineup, then the forward depth doesn’t look bad at all.

Of course half those guys will probably be traded before the deadline this season making all of this mute.