Predicting the Unpredictable, Expected PDO: Central Division

With the rise of the influence of the analytics community over the landscape of hockey, many new statistics have come to the forefront of forward-thinking analysis. One of those stats, known as PDO, was created with the primary goal of quantifying how lucky or unlucky a given team or player has been.

The statistic is largely used only with 5-on-5 play. It is comprised of on-ice save percentage and on-ice shooting percentage. When the two are added together, the prevailing thought is that over time, most teams will trend toward the mean value of 100. However, it is rather rare that teams find themselves with flat 100 PDOs.

Intuitively, it makes sense that using the same number and applying it to all 30 teams as a sort of “expected” value may not hold up very well. It isn’t luck that Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot provided the Rangers with a better on-ice save percentage than the one earned for San Jose last year by Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock, for example. Lundqvist and Talbot are just better goalies. Therefore, it is to be expected that teams with demonstrably better goalies than average would have a leg up in what their PDO number would look like in a given year.

The same principle applies for shooters. While it’s a known fact that much of what goes into shooting percentage over shorter sample sizes is heavily based on random variance and puck luck, it’s also true that there is some level of correlation between shooting percentage and player quality. Steven Stamkos doesn’t have a career shooting percentage of 17.2% (compared to league average at ~8.5%) by accident; he’s just an excellent shooter. Take a look at New Jersey’s forward group heading into next year, then have a gander at Tampa Bay’s. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to hold them as teams to the same standard in scoring efficiency that would define them as “lucky” or “unlucky.”

Because of this, I’ve decided to make an attempt at my version of an Expected PDO. Using a three-year sample, I’ve compiled even strength data on the 20 skaters for each team most likely to play significant minutes over the course of the season, as well as each team’s starting and backup goaltenders.

Be sure not to take what I’m doing out of proportion. I’m not trying to predict PDO because that has proven to be practically impossible. I’m fully expecting pretty much all of these numbers to end up being wrong by the end of next season, just as most teams check in above or below the current baseline PDO of 100. I’m just curious to see if some minor alterations to account for player movement combined with past team performance over a sizable sample can do a better job of predicting a team’s PDO than assuming at the beginning of the year that each team will be at about 100, and anything considerably above or below that is almost entirely luck.

Pension Plan Puppets did something similar (just with the Maple Leafs only) in the middle of the 2013-2014 season that is fantastic and entirely worth a read.

With that being said, doing all 30 teams in one post would be a behemoth task and impossible for you all to read, so I’ve decided to split it up by divisions. I’ve already posted the Metropolitan Division’s breakdown on the 23rd. I moved on to the Atlantic Division on the 24th. Today will be the Central Division, and I’ll wrap it up on the 28th with the Pacific Division. By the end of it all, we should have some pretty interesting numbers crunched out to critique and speculate about heading into next season.

So without further ado, here’s the data for the Central Division:

1. Chicago Blackhawks: 101.19

It should come as no surprise that the defending Stanley Cup champions sit atop the list of Expected PDO for the Central Division. While they’re dealing with a large amount of roster turnover from last season, there’s still just so much to like about the way this roster is constructed.

Corey Crawford and Scott Darling were both excellent between the pipes last season, and they return as the goaltending duo that will defend Lord Stanley’s Cup. There is room for regression between the pipes from last season’s performance, as reflected by their expected save percentage of 92.8%, but that really isn’t all that much. This will still be an above average goaltending team, at worst.

Up front, there will be a lot of new faces but having a top three of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa is never a bad place to start. It’s hard to project the performance of some players, both new and young, such as Teuvo Teravainen, Artemi Panarin, and Marko Dano, but Chicago’s expected shooting percentage of 8.39% sounds about right as a starting point. It could certainly come in above or below that depending upon the performance of some of those previously mentioned X-factors, to be sure.

2. Colorado Avalanche: 100.93

The Avalanche were eaten alive by regression last season and missed the playoffs as a result, but there’s some reason to believe that this could be a bounce-back team for next year. Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra offer up a solid goaltending duo that (as Varlamov proved clearly in 2013-2014) is capable of dragging a team into the playoffs if at its peak.

As far as skaters go, I think the Avalanche made some solid moves in the offseason that could serve to improve this team from a possession standpoint. That clearly needed to be the focus, as cumulatively over the past two seasons, only Buffalo, Edmonton, and Toronto are worse possession teams than the Burgundy and Blue.

Shooting percentage should be no worry for this team with Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jarome Iginla up front. That group leads the Avalanche to an expected shooting percentage of 8.73%, the second highest mark in the entire NHL. If that holds true and the possession game improves drastically, be on the lookout for the Avalanche as a surprise contender in 2015-2016.

3. Minnesota Wild: 100.59

The Wild rewarded goaltender Devan Dubnyk for his late season heroics that dragged them into the playoffs last season with a huge contract extension. While it’s unreasonable to expect Dubnyk to replicate what he did a year ago, look for another decent season from him. Dubnyk and backup Darcy Kuemper provide the Wild with an expected save percentage of 92.2% for next season.

While the Wild are great defensively and capable of slamming the door shut with their goaltending, this is a deceptively strong offensive team. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Zucker are all shooting above 10% over the last three years, and they certainly help drive up Minnesota’s expected shooting percentage of 8.39%. They also have high-volume shooters like Zach Parise who serve well to drive play in the right direction for them.

This is a solid all-around team in the Wild, and I fully expect them to compete for a playoff spot. If they miss out on one, it certainly will not be by a lot. There’s plenty to like about this group.

T-4. St. Louis Blues: 100.48

In St. Louis last season, it was all about the emergence of star winger Vladimir Tarasenko as one of the league’s elite players. The young Russian has all the tools to be a superstar in this league for a very long time, and his 43 goals on 364 even-strength shots over the past three years suggest that he has some serious percentage-driving ability. Led by Tarasenko, my model projects an 8.28% even-strength shooting percentage out of the Blues next season

While goaltending is a bit of a question mark for this team heading into the season, it’s important to keep in mind that head coach Ken Hitchcock’s system is one that has long helped his goaltenders to better save percentages than one might expect. With Jake Allen and Brian Elliot expected to be the team’s two goalies, my model projects a respectable save percentage of 92.2% out of the Blues’ duo.

T-4. Nashville Predators: 100.48

The Predators are a strong team all-around, and that was plainly obvious to anyone who followed them last season. Starting goalie Pekka Rinne is bordering on elite, but backup Carter Hutton has had his struggles at the NHL level. Because of this, it makes sense that the Predators’ expected save percentage comes in at a pretty good number of 92.3%. That number could rise or fall easily depending upon Rinne’s health, which is always a question mark.

Up front, the emergence of Filip Forsberg turned the Predators’ offensive attack into a considerable force. After many years of Nashville teams that struggled mightily to produce offense, the tide finally turned last season. Based upon that, Nashville’s expected shooting percentage is 8.18%. Like every other team in this division, you’ll note that number does come in above 8%. This division is a very strong one.

6. Dallas Stars: 100.34

The Stars went ahead in the offseason and made a big move to grab goalie Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks. The goaltending position was a huge question mark heading in for Dallas, and having a solid option other than Kari Lehtonen will only do good things for the Stars’ goals-against numbers. The expected save percentage from this solid duo is a respectable 92.2%.

While goaltending may be considered a weakness in Dallas by many, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who feels the same way about their offense. Led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp, there is just so much to like about the way this roster shakes out up front. It should come as no surprise that the Stars have a solid expected shooting percentage of 8.14%.

7. Winnipeg Jets: 100.31

Winnipeg’s efficient offense is their saving grace in this projection. If Ondrej Pavelec manages to hold on to the reins as the team’s starting goalie, it seems likely that the Jets will be one of the worst teams in the league between the pipes. This is reflected in their expected save percentage of 91.9%.

As I mentioned briefly, the Jets have a very efficient offense. Andrew Ladd, Mathieu Perreault, and Bryan Little are all shooting at a rate higher than 10% over the past three seasons. Those three combined with a strong offensive defense unit result in an impressive expected shooting percentage of 8.41% from Paul Maurice’s club.

The Jets are a strong possession team, and if this number holds true they will probably use that to find themselves in the postseason for a second consecutive season.

* * * * * *

While each of the team’s in the Central Division wound up with Expected PDOs above 100, that will not be the case for the Pacific Division at all. I won’t go into the details, but you’ll see tomorrow why that division is the worst in the league judging strictly upon Expected PDO. Stay tuned.