Predicting the Unpredictable: Expected PDO, Metropolitan 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 own 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’m starting off with the Metropolitan Division on July 23rd, then I’ll move on to the Atlantic Division on the 24th, followed by the Central Division on the 25th, and concluding with the Pacific Division on the 26th. 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 Metropolitan Division:

1. New Jersey Devils: 101.07

This has to be a shocker, right? The Devils are widely considered a candidate to be the Eastern Conference’s worst team next year. Their offense looks anemic on paper, and their expected shooting percentage for this season of a solidly below average 7.97% confirms that. It would not shock me for that number to be skewed a little too high, as regression to the shooting percentages of their young offensive defensemen kick in a little bit, but it really shouldn’t be that much lower than that.

The reason their overall team number came out so high is none other than Cory Schneider. Schneider can drive up a team’s PDO like the Chicago Blackhawks can drive up NBC’s NHL TV ratings. The expected even strength save percentage for New Jersey from Schneider and backup Keith Kinkaid is tops in the division at 93.1%.

If you find yourself scoffing at this number, it may surprise you to learn that the Devils had a PDO of 100.7 just last season. That’s not too far off from from 101.07 at all, and the addition of Kyle Palmieri and the subtraction of some older defensive defensemen from their blue line could easily take that shooting percentage up a few notches. This isn’t at all to say that the Devils will win the division or even be good, as the mountain they’d face in improving their possession game to reach that level is way too high. I fully expect them to struggle offensively and miss the playoffs, but this goes to show just how great Schneider can be.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 100.99

The thing about PDO is that it can be driven up or down by either goaltending or shooting. While New Jersey is an example of a team whose goaltending could inflate their PDO, Pittsburgh is on the other end where their star forwards should push their shooting percentage to elite heights.

It’s no hot take to say that a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel in its top six is probably going to shoot the puck pretty well, and the Penguins’ expected shooting percentage of 8.79 at even strength is tops in the division.

Sprinkle in some average-to-above-average goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff (expected SV% of 92.2) and the recipe is there for a team who should find themselves with a PDO squarely above 100.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 100.95

Coming in just barely behind the Penguins are their rivals from the neighboring state of Ohio. The Blue Jackets are a team that figures to be slightly above average in both expected save percentage (92.7%) and expected shooting percentage (8.25%).

Their PDO clocked in at just 99.7 last year, but much of that was due to the fact that Sergei Bobrovsky both missed a good chunk of time with injuries and had a down year compared to the rest of his tenure as the starter in Columbus. If he’s healthier and better this season, Columbus should find themselves firmly entrenched on the right side of 100.

The acquisition of Brandon Saad and his 10.5% even strength shooting percentage over the relevant sample should help pull their team mark slightly in the right direction as well.

4. New York Rangers: 100.44

The Rangers were the NHL’s PDO kings last season with an astonishingly high mark of 101.9, so perhaps this number does suggest that they were indeed a little bit lucky, though not as lucky as you’d think they were if you held them to an expected value of 100.

The downgrade from Talbot to Antti Raanta behind Lundqvist should pull the team’s save percentage down considerably, especially considering just how good Talbot was in Lundqvist’s absence last season, but as a team their goaltending should still be terrific with Lundqvist manning the net for most of the season.

The puzzling thing to me about the Rangers’ number was that their expected shooting percentage came in at just 7.64%, which is well below the league average and far inferior to what they produced just last season. It’s possible that my model puts too much emphasis on the influence their defense, which is miserable with regards to shooting efficiency, has on their overall team number. The Hagelin-for-Etem swap also bumped it down a little bit. We’ll find out soon if the Rangers are actually due for a bit of a correction in shooting percentage, but it’s very likely that they’re still an above-1oo PDO team next year.

My model absolutely loves the acquisition of Michal Neuvirth for the Flyers as their backup goaltender behind starter Steve Mason. Both Mason and Neuvirth consistently put up sterling even strength save percentages over the course of the sample. This also means a lot for the Flyers as they now get to have a highly capable goalie out there when Mason takes a night off as opposed to Ray Emery and/or Rob Zepp who have been, to put it kindly, not ideal in Mason’s absence over the years. Philadelphia’s expected save percentage for next season is 92.8%.

Philadelphia’s expected shooting percentage is a very pedestrian 7.61%, but perhaps having the personnel for a more offensively minded defense unit will help bump that up a bit. There’s also the consideration that new coach Dave Hakstol could instill a system that makes it easier for his forwards to score. This is certainly a distinct possibility in contrast to the lackluster offense from Craig Berube’s disappointing stint as coach.

6. New York Islanders: 100.34

If you thought that the Islanders had found their long-term goaltending solution in Jaroslav Halak, you may want to think again. While the skaters on the team were excellent and propelled the Islanders into the playoffs, Halak quietly was not very good at all last year, finishing 23rd in the league in raw save percentage.

The Islanders should still make the playoffs due to their outstanding possession game. I’d be highly surprised if they’re on the outside looking in come April, and my model still expects them to be a plus-PDO team (even though they weren’t last year because of Halak’s struggles). Halak should rebound a bit, and the continued improvement from their enviable set of young, skilled forwards, should drive their shooting percentage up even further.

Overall, everything is still looking up for Brooklyn’s newest pro sports team. This ranking is no cause for panic, it’s just a sign that they play in a really difficult division.

7. Washington Capitals: 99.75

This is by far the biggest surprise to me on this list, and it’s one area where I and the model I came up with would probably tend to disagree. Braden Holtby has taken the next step in his development, and I fully expect him to lead the Capitals to a better on-ice save percentage mark than their expected 92.4% suggests.

However, what surprised me even more was that the Capitals are only expected to have a shooting percentage of 7.35 by my estimations. Heading into this project, I had just assumed that Alex Ovechkin’s exertion would drive that up big time, but it turns out that Ovechkin has not been a 10+% shooter at even strength the past three years. Rick Nash, John Tavares, and Ryan Johansen are. That may be where the edge for the Capitals’ division rivals comes from in this regard.

This is no knock on Ovechkin at all, by the way. I love the guy and think he’s the second best player in the world hands down. His shot-volume ability at even strength is mind boggling, and that results in his percentage-driving abilities suffering a little bit. It happens. The Capitals are still easily a playoff team in my mind, especially with the acquisitions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. In fact, I think they win this division next season, and it would appear that they won’t need a PDO of over 101 or something to do it (their powerplay is one of the best of all time is what I am saying).

8. Carolina Hurricanes: 98.45

Ouch. The Hurricanes have managed to pull off having one of the lowest of both save percentage and shooting percentage in the entire league in my model. This is a team that is thoroughly devoid of any offensive prowess, and their expected shooting percentage of 6.65% reflects that. Hey, maybe hoping for a bounce back season from Alexander Semin wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.

If Cam Ward holds on to his starting job over Eddie Lack, their expected save percentage would 91.8%. Their only hope appears to be that Lack both maintains his numbers from Vancouver and steals the starting job away from Ward. If that happens, this team’s goaltending could be much better.

Under Bill Peters, Carolina’s possession game is very strong. They were one of the best in the league last year, but a couple new snipers will need to emerge to enhance this team’s scoring ability and push them into any sort of possible playoff contention. If not, their strength in out-possessing pretty much any team they face will be a completely wasted one.

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So there you have it, those numbers are what I came up with for each team’s Expected PDO for 2015-2016. Again, it is crucial to keep in mind that these are not standings predictions or guarantees. They’re just estimations tabulated out of curiosity. I expect the Devils to finish dead last in this division and the Capitals to win it. Good PDO does nothing for a team that can’t control possession as the Devils couldn’t last season. Just don’t be shocked if the Devils have a good PDO next season, because Schneider is a very good goalie and can do that sort of thing like he did last year.

Be sure to stay tuned for the three remaining posts for each of the other divisions. They’ll follow the same format and should be out in successive days from Friday to Sunday. A lot of work went into these posts, so if you enjoyed it I hope you’ll share it with your friends, followers, etc. I’d really appreciate that. Thanks for reading.