Welcome to the second installment of the analytics report that I will do throughout the season. It will be a comprehensive stat check around the league where I will dive into the analytics and will cover the biggest storylines throughout the league. In case you missed it, the first edition covered Auston Matthews’s hot star, McDavid’s improvement defensively, Vasilevskiy’s rise, and much more.
This second edition will cover Binnington’s extension, the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, midseason awards, and much more including potential long-term contracts, waiver claims, and much more.
15 Stats: Binnington, Jones, Ekholm, Keller & More
1. The St. Louis Blues locked up goaltender Jordan Binnington to a six-year, $36 million contract extension roughly two weeks ago. I would like to preface by saying that signing goalies to long-term, lucrative extensions is never a good idea. The Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky contracts are just two examples of this. Goalies are a fluke and never consistently play at an elite caliber level throughout their contracts. This is exactly why the top goalies league-wide change year by year when examining the analytics.
With this being said, it isn’t a terrible contract due to the fact he is a Stanley Cup-winning goalie. It surprises me he didn’t get more even when taking into account the financial landscape. It is definitely an overpay in terms of value (not market value), but most goalies are overpaid. He just makes the cut for top ten goalies which makes this contract acceptable given he’s still only 27 years old.
His best season was in 2018-19 when the Blues won the Stanley Cup. He saved 8.85 goals above expected when taking into account the quality of the shots which ranked 11th league-wide. In that same season, he saved 11.52 goals above average when ranked 13th. He followed this up with a respectable 19-20 campaign. He’s off to a slow start this season and has struggled, but it is still only the halfway mark of the season. He has allowed 3.70 goals above expected so far this season.
2. The Los Angeles Kings signed defenseman Matt Roy to a three-year contract extension that will pay him $3.150 million annually. This was a very good move by the organization. There are many who think this was a steep price to pay for a defenseman who tallied a career-high 18 points in the 2019-20 campaign. However, the analytically-inclined were celebrating the extension as his underlying numbers are favorable. It was definitely fair for both sides.
The 26-year-old right-shot defenseman had a strong season and got rewarded for it. While he hasn’t been nearly as effective through the midway mark of the season, he has displayed that last season was not an outlier. He’s a strong two-way defenseman and is an effective contributor on both ends of the ice.
His 2.2 wins above replacement – a comprehensive metric that takes into account all a player’s contributions – ranked 13th among all defensemen league-wide. There is no doubt he provides a ton of value on both ends of the ice and will be a strong top-four option for the Kings going forward.
3. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract Seth Jones gets when his deal is up. It would be an understatement to say he has struggled so far this season. While he has produced in terms of point production, his underlying numbers have been worse this season than even years prior where he was getting a lot of criticism from the analytically-inclined.
He is the center of the analytics vs eye-test debate as many think he’s an elite defenseman, while the analytics display he’s nowhere close to the reputation he has. I think the discrepancy is due to the fact that he’s an elite player in transition which will cloud the judgment of evaluators who use purely the eye-test. Without getting too much into the numbers, Jones hasn’t been in the top 50 among defensemen in Evolving Hockey’s wins above replacement over the past four seasons.
4. The Vancouver Canucks claimed Travis Boyd off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was actually a very good pickup as he can be a very strong bottom-six forward. The 27-year-old was a strong two-way forward with the Washington Capitals in 2019-20, albeit it was a very small sample size of just 24 games. If he actually is given ice time, this could result in a good claim.
5. The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens made the first deal heading into the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. The Sabres traded veteran center Eric Staal in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and 2021 fifth-round pick. It seems like a bit of an overpay on the Canadiens side of things when taking into account that the returns may not be as favorable in this financial climate and quarantine implications. While Staal’s underlying numbers have taken a hit and his production has drastically reduced, he can still be a serviceable 3rd line center for a Stanley Cup contending team. He has struggled on both ends of the ice, but he was also playing for the worst team in hockey, so this will be interesting to see if he can get his game back or whether he has regressed this season considering he’s now 36-years-old.
6. A very concerning development in San Jose is defenseman Erik Karlsson. It didn’t appear his contract could look any worse but it has become one of the worst contracts in the NHL. His play is beyond problematic, however, his injuries over the past several seasons could be a contributor to his poor play.
Not only has Karlsson been average offensively this season, but he’s also been a defensive liability. His 2.77 expected goals against per hour is the 9th worst rate at 5-on-5 among all defensemen with at least 20 games played. There are six seasons remaining on Karlsson’s contract at $11.5 million which will be a massive barrier in the Sharks’ future plans.
7. If you missed my midseason awards article, make sure to check it out. There were a lot of questions regarding why Hedman was not a frontrunner for the Norris Trophy. He has still been one of the best defensemen in the NHL this season, but he just missed the honorable mentions list, albeit there’s a real argument he should have been on there. I would not be surprised if he was a frontrunner by the end of the season. His even-strength play hasn’t been nearly as effective and he’s collected most of his points on the power play which was enough to leave him off.
8. With the recent success of the Nashville Predators, it will be interesting to see if they trade Mattias Ekholm. He’s a top-pairing defenseman who provides value on both ends of the ice. He is 23rd among all defensemen in xGF/60 this season signaling his ability to generate offense. Given his affordability, there’s no doubt there will be teams calling for the 30-year-old defenseman, but the price will be high.
9. The Minnesota Wild has an interesting situation regarding polarizing defenseman Matt Dumba. Due to Suter, Spurgeon, and Brodin all having no-move clauses, the Wild would have to go the route of eight skaters and a goaltender in order to protect Dumba. However, that would result in forwards Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, and most importantly, Jordan Greenway being exposed. His 10-team no-trade clause kicks in this offseason which makes things even more interesting. Players can easily manipulate these lists which means if the Wild don’t move him before the deadline, they could be forced to protect him in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft if they can’t find a trade partner that isn’t on his list.
I just don’t think the Wild would protect Dumba over a youngster like Greenway when Calen Addison will likely make the team next season which means that a trade before the deadline can’t be ruled out. The two obvious cons with this are losing a huge piece if the Wild make the playoffs and disrupting the chemistry on the team.
While Dumba hasn’t necessarily padded his stats – 11 points in 27 games – so far, his underlying numbers display he is playing some of the best hockey of his career which is a positive sign for a player who is just two years removed from a season-ending pectoral injury that derailed his breakout season. His underlying numbers paint a different picture.
He’s near the top of the league in generating offense and has increased the Wild’s rate of scoring at a considerable rate. It is important to note that he has been average defensively which is uncharacteristically positive as his defensive play has always been suspect. He’s been a strong possession player for the WIld too and has been a driving force behind their success early on.
10. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the best teams in the NHL, yet they find themselves with a 21-10-2 record which sits them seventh in the league. While this isn’t bad by any means, the Leafs are one of the best-structured teams in the league and should be further up in the standings. A huge reason why they haven’t been as dominant as expected is due to poor goaltending by Frederick Andersen.
He has allowed 10.91 goals more than expected based on the quality of shots he has faced which is the sixth-worst mark in the league. Likewise, his -8.73 goals saved above average is the fifth-worst mark among goalies who have played more than 10 games. This is a real concern and they should give more starts to Jack Campbell who has been fantastic so far this season.
11. One of the biggest surprises this season has been the New York Islanders. They are a legitimate team, but the loss of Anders Lee is definitely painful. At 5-on-5, they rank sixth in goals per game, fifth in goals against per game, eighth in expected goals per game, and fourth in expected goals against per game. This is a legitimate team and it will be interesting to see what kind of move they make at the deadline to replace the loss of Lee.
12. Carter Hart was one of the best goaltenders in the league last season, but his third season in the NHL has been a barrier for the young netminder. His -23.00 goals saved above average and -26.02 goals saved above expected are both the worst mark in the league. He is a huge reason why the Flyers are struggling this season and could ultimately hold them back if he can’t recover his game.
13. I don’t know how to describe how poor the Sabres have been this season. With that being said, it is quite funny to see how effective the trio of Eichel-Reinhart-Skinner has been defensively. All three forwards rank in the top 25 in defensive goals above replacement according to Evolving-Hockey, the latter two ranking third and sixth respectively. Likewise, all three forwards rank in the top 50 in expected goals against per hour too. The trio has been dominant defensively which is just shocking, especially with the current state of the Sabres season.
14. The Arizona Coyotes are finally witnessing Clayton Keller breakout this season. It has come out of nowhere and he’s proving his value. If he is able to continue this, his contract will look a lot better. He has 10 goals, 14 assists, and 24 points in 33 games this season. The 22-year-old forward has been one of the best forwards in the league so far this season and he will be a player to watch down the stretch.
He has been one of the best forwards in the league offensively. He generates a ton of offense and increases the Coyotes’ rate of scoring at a considerable rate. If this holds, it will be his best defensive season so far in his career too. He’s been a strong possession player which is a very valuable asset. He’s finally displaying his ability to be a top-line forward and should be a fixture in Arizona for years to come.
15. For some reason, the Sharks decided to trade for Devan Dubnyk who has consistently been one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL over the past three seasons, this season being the fourth if his trajectory continues. He has allowed 8.61 more goals than expected based on the quality of the shots which is the ninth-worst mark league-wide among goalies who have played more than 15 games.
To make matters worse, Martin Jones’ play has deteriorated since the 2018-19 season when he was one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL. He has allowed 7.18 more goals than expected based on the quality of the shots he faced. This isn’t nearly as bad as the 18-19 season, but his downhill trajectory isn’t showing any signs of halting anytime soon. The Sharks have two of the worst goalies in the league and it’s a huge reason behind their struggles.
There have been many shocking and surprising storylines so far this season. It will be very interesting to see how some of the biggest storylines including the struggles for Hart, the rise of Keller, and the goaltending issue in San Jose shift as the season progresses.
Another element to monitor is how much impact the Staal trade has on the upcoming 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. The first trade can have substantial impact just like how contract extensions do. It could potentially be a market-setting trade as there could be a lot more depth trades to come.
(All Data as of March 27; Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.