Welcome to the third edition of the 2022-23 NHL Analytics Report, a weekly roundup of the latest analytical trends and a collection of statistical observations from around the league. To better understand the terms being used and the underlying reasons behind their inclusion, read THW’s primer on advanced analytics which explores the landscape of modern hockey analysis. Now, here are five observations after another busy week of NHL hockey.
Stars’ Robertson the NHL’s Most Underrated Superstar
Few would lump a 40-goal scorer into a discussion for the most underrated player in the NHL, but Jason Robertson has yet to win the plaudits usually reserved for the game’s biggest stars. The 23-year-old winger tallied 17 goals and 46 points through his first 54 NHL games but since the start of the 2021-22 season, he has erupted onto the scene as one of the league’s premier talents.
The fourth-year forward currently sits tied for fourth in NHL scoring this season with 27 points in 18 games, and his 12 goals rank third among all skaters. Tacking those totals onto his breakout performance last year, he ranks seventh in goals (53) and 14th in points per game (P/GP). What sets him apart – and makes him more deserving of leaguewide recognition – is his efficiency in carving up opposing defences. Of the 32 skaters to score at least 40 goals over the past two seasons, only Andrei Svechnikov, Roope Hintz, and Brock Nelson have played fewer than Robertson’s 17:53 per game over that span. If that’s not impressive enough, consider his even-strength production:
Beyond the goal-scoring, Robertson has been a dominant two-way presence for the suddenly high-flying Stars, clearly thriving under the tutelage of new coach Pete DeBoer. Along with the aforementioned Hintz and ageless wonder Joe Pavelski, they boast arguably the best line in the NHL over the past two seasons. Of forward trios to have played at least 100 minutes together this year, the Stars’ top-line ranks fifth in expected goals share (xGF%), third in shot share (SF%), and third in goal share (GF%). That latter mark is powered by a prolific scoring rate, leading all forward lines in scoring with 6.58 goals per 60 minutes, nearly a whole goal more per 60 than the second-place trio in that regard.
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Whether it’s establishing territorial dominance or putting the puck in the net, the Stars are blessed with one of the most promising stars in the NHL. If you haven’t hitched your wagon to the Robertson bandwagon yet, there’s still time before he mounts a dark horse candidacy for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP.
Lightning’s Stamkos Drinking from the Fountain of Youth
Transitioning from a blossoming NHL superstar to a member of the established old guard, what Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos has accomplished in his age-32 season is extraordinary. Only two and half years removed from missing essentially the entirety of the 2020 Postseason due to injury, he once again sits atop the NHL’s scoring leaderboards. For someone supposedly written off because of diminishing explosiveness and many hard miles on the odometer, that’s no mean feat.
Coming off of a 42-goal, 106-point campaign, Stamkos would be hard-pressed to reproduce his surprising offensive exploits during the highest NHL scoring season in over two decades. Although he’s slightly adrift of last year’s scoring rate with only 20 points in 18 games, it’s not for the lack of trying. According to Evolving Hockey, he ranks ninth among all skaters in all-situations individual expected goals (ixG) despite only firing the 14th-most shot attempts on net. He’s set up camp in the most dangerous areas and picked his spots wisely, especially with the man advantage where he’s tallied six goals on the season (tied for second in the NHL).
Even after an offseason in which the Lightning lost several key contributors including Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat, Stamkos and company have the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup champions humming, ranking third in the Eastern Conference by points percentage (PTS%). If his offensive output is anything to go by, the hunger for winning a title remains and with his sharpshooting in tow, the Lightning should be right in the thick of it come the spring.
Sabres’ Thompson Making Good on Contract Extension
For some reason, this week’s report is full of premier goal-scorers. The Buffalo Sabres saw a previously downtrodden asset in Tage Thompson – acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade – begin to produce at the level suggested by his high draft stock in 2021-22. After only posting 15 goals and 26 points in his first 104 games as a member of the Sabres, the 6-foot-6 forward erupted for 38 goals in 78 games in 2021-22, earning a seven-year, $50 million deal in the process.
Given that Thompson just turned 25 in October, it’s likely that the team would receive the prime years of his career. Still, his unexpected goal tally and above-average 15% shooting percentage (SH%) raised concerns that expecting such production to continue would be a risky gamble. As longtime fans can attest, the organization has made multiple misguided bets in the past decade, namely in regard to Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo.
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Fortunately for both Thompson and general manager Kevyn Adams, their lengthy agreement, which runs to the end of the 2029-30 season, looks to be a fruitful one for both team and player. Not only has Thompson continued to find the net with regularity (he’s tied for third in the league with 12 goals), but his underlying numbers suggest that his finishing rate shouldn’t drop off anytime soon. He ranks among the top 20 NHL forwards in a number of shooting metrics.
|Individual Expected Goals||8.56||17th|
Beyond his borderline elite production, Thompson has been a net-positive in terms of how well the Sabres drive play with him on the ice. At 5v5, the team controls 51.8% of unblocked shot attempts, owns a 53.8% share of scoring chances, and is just about even in the expected goals department (49.5%). If he can preserve an even balance of on-ice results throughout the rest of the season, his finishing ability can tip the scales when it comes to winning the battle of scoring actual goals.
Although Thompson’s new contract doesn’t kick in until after the 2022-23 season, the Sabres have to be overjoyed with how he’s reacted to being handed a hefty extension. He’s maintained his finishing rate while generating a high number of shots and scoring chances which suggests his boosted scoring numbers should be considered the new normal. The Sabres look poised to take the league by storm in the next few seasons with a supercharged youth movement and at age 25, He is poised to be a leading figure in Buffalo’s long-awaited return to competitive relevance.
Flyers’ Tippett Finally Enjoying Breakout Season
Considering the Philadelphia Flyers were pegged as frontrunners in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes before the start of the season, everything they’ve accomplished so far this season is a welcome surprise. Well, it’s not welcome if you subscribe to the idea that a superstar center is needed to win a Stanley Cup, but you get the idea. The Flyers currently own a respectable record of 7-7-4, good for 12th in the Eastern Conference by PTS%. Please, pay no mind to their abhorrent 5v5 numbers (they rank bottom-five in xGF%, SCF%, and HDCF%) or their 2-5-3 record in their last 10.
The bottom might fall out under the Flyers at any moment (and arguably already has), but several players have enjoyed positive starts to the campaign including 23-year-old Owen Tippett, acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Claude Giroux trade at the deadline last season. With the Flyers already decimated by injuries, the 10th-overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft is playing higher up in the lineup and looks to be on the verge of a breakout season in his first season in Pennsylvania.
After producing six goals and 10 points in 13 games this season, Tippett is two goals and nine points away from setting career highs in each respective category. Regardless of the Flyers’ talent disparity compared to the rest of the NHL, promotions to the first line and top powerplay unit have him playing with the team’s best (remaining) players. Further, his underlying numbers are those of a player finally delivering on his draft pedigree and strong American Hockey League (AHL) production as an under-23 forward (26 goals and 60 points in 63 games).
Among forwards to have played in at least 100 minutes at 5v5 this season, Tippett ranks within the top 85 by goals, assists, and shots per-60-minutes, and within the top 60 by points per 60. Those rates have him producing at a first-line clip and represent career-high rates (except for shots), and adding responsibilities with the man advantage gives him the chance to pad his overall totals. His three powerplay tallies are also the most he’s scored in a single season and he’s only 11 minutes away from eclipsing his previous high in total powerplay usage.
The numbers under the hood don’t bode well for the Flyers’ future fortunes and Carter Hart can’t play like Dominik Hasek forever, but stories such as Tippett approaching his once-vaunted potential are a shining light in what could be a dreary campaign.
Veteran Jones Stealing Kraken Starting Job
The story of the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural season – beyond the impotent offence – was the abysmal goaltending provided by the triumvirate of Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger, and Joey Daccord. The three netminders combined to post a .880 save percentage (SV%), ranking dead-last in the NHL last season.
To make matters worse, most of the blame falls on the shoulders of Grubauer, the Kraken’s marquee free-agent signing during the 2021 offseason. Since he’s owed $5.9 million per year until after the 2026-27 campaign, the organization must have hoped for better than a .888 SV% (72nd out of 78 goalies to have played 10 games over the past two seasons) and the most goals allowed above expected (GSAx) since the start of last season.
It’s not as though the Kraken are weak defensively, either. Since joining the league as an expansion team last season, they rank fourth in shots (SA/60) and expected goals (xGA/60), fifth in scoring chances allowed per 60 (SCA/60), and sixth in high-danger chances conceded (HDCA/60) per-60-minutes at 5v5. By both quality and quantity, they’ve been one of the stingiest even-strength outfits in the NHL. Poor goaltending doesn’t make a team bad defensively, so don’t confuse the two as being one and the same.
After making four appearances to start the season, Grubauer was sidelined due to injury. Due to Driedger being out for the entire 2022-23 season, the crease opened up for 32-year-old veteran Martin Jones, who was signed as the backup this past offseason. He boasts over 400 games of NHL experience and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final as the starting goalie for the San Jose Sharks in 2016 but he’s been below average since that postseason run. His SV% reached .900 once in the four subsequent campaigns, but he’s been a revelation this season.
Jones’ .913 SV% in 15 games and plus-5.26 GSAx (ninth in the NHL) are a breath of fresh air for a team starving for NHL-caliber goaltending. The increased stability in the crease combined with a revamped forward group is a significant reason why the Kraken find themselves in a playoff position (second in the Pacific Division by PTS%) near the end of November. Grubauer’s return to the lineup puts head coach Dave Hakstol in a pickle – does he stick with the steady option or turn back to the expensive, but underwhelming figure on the books for the foreseeable future? It’s a difficult decision to be sure, but making the wrong choice could wipe out the rallying effect Jones’ resurgence has had on the team.
Analytical Notes & Observations From Around the NHL
- According to MoneyPuck, Sam Bennett (Florida Panthers) and Zach Parise (New York Islanders) are tied for the league lead in 5v5 points per-60-minutes (1.49)
- Erik Haula (New Jersey Devils) is the most snakebitten player in the league this season, scoring 5.1 goals fewer than expected in all situations, according to MoneyPuck
- Of defensive pairings to have played at least 75 minutes together this season, the Devils’ duo of Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton rank second in SF% and xGF% and has outscored their opposition 17-6 at 5v5, according to Evolving Hockey
- The Vancouver Canucks’ forward line of Andrei Kuzmenko, Elias Pettersson, and Ilya Mikheyev has scored the most goals per 60 this season (minimum 75 minutes played), according to Evolving Hockey
- Pierre-Luc Dubois (Winnipeg Jets) has drawn the most penalties in all situations this season (14)
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.