With the trade of Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon and the Rangers’ 2013 first-rounder for Nash, Delisle and a conditional Columbus Blue Jackets 2013 third-rounder, I’m going to guess that we’re looking at a slow season, personnel-wise, going into training camp. It’s possible that the Blue Jackets might grab a free agent off the list or make a surprise move to fill a roster hole (a la signing Vinny Prospal to replace an injured Kristian Huselius), but history has shown that the Blue Jackets – like most NHL teams – make most of their moves in July and then cruise through August into a September training camp. There also is the occasional high-value free agent that stretches their choice of new team deep into the off-season (This season’s exhibit: Shane Doan), but that’s a rarity.
So what to do with ourselves between now and the opening of training camp?
1. Carve out time as needed for any of those surprise moves, should they occur.
2. Talk CannonFest – no better way for Columbus Blue Jackets fans to get excited for the upcoming NHL season!
3. Revisit “The Offseason Agenda” and review what has happened through that lens. I figure that will happen later to buy the team some time to make last-minute moves.
4. Write those pieces that you never have time to do when everything else is happening.
Today is most definitely a “Number 4″ blog post.
If you haven’t noticed (and I’ve been bringing this up a lot, so shame on you if you haven’t), I have a hypothesis that the Blue Jackets 30th place season in 2011-12 can be explained in two simple statistics: Goals For and Goals Against. While I respect those who dive deep into advanced statistics, sometimes it pays to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and avoid over-analyzing. And simplicity makes sense in this case: If you score more goals than the other guys, and let fewer in, it stands to reason that you probably will win more games than you lose. Which brings us to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who struggled to score goals and stop goals from being scored for most of last season. Again, there are plenty of other statistics that add to the nuance of team and player evaluation, but the easiest stats to start with are Goals For and Goals Against. K.I.S.S.
Thus, I dredged up these gems from the NHL.com “Stats” page to test my hypothesis (and see what else could be learned) and compiled them for your enjoyment. What we have to examine are the Goals For and Goals Against team statistics for the 82-game regular season – which gives us an idea of what it takes to be a Stanley Cup Playoff team.
To better understand the relationship between team success and success in these statistical areas, I color-coded the teams as follows:
- Red = Lost in the first round of the playoffs
- Purple = Lost in the second round of the playoffs
- Blue = Lost in the conference finals
- Gold (yellow?) = Played in the Stanley Cup Finals
I kept the two rankings separate so we could investigate any correlations between scoring and making the playoffs – or defending. I also tried constructing a simple composite score, adding together half the value of the Goals For ranking with half the value of the Goals Against ranking. Here’s what I came up with:
1. If you’re a high-scoring team, odds are you’re going to make the playoffs. 12 of the top 15 scoring teams qualified.
2. Don’t mistake high scoring in the regular season with postseason success, however. Only two of those 12 made it to their conference finals.
3. If you’re a stout defending team (low goals against), odds are that you’re going to the playoffs as well. Again, 12 of the top 15 teams made it to The Dance.
4. Unlike the Goals For Tab, the Goals Against tab is striking in that all four teams that made their respective conference finals were in the top half of the league in this statistic. The Stanley Cup winner, Los Angeles, was second in the league in Goals Against. Maybe defense does win championships.
5. The composite ranking is best at showing how being reasonably strong but not overpowering in both categories can be useful in qualifying for the playoffs. 14 of the top 15 composite-ranked teams (Sorry, Habs) qualified for the playoffs.
6. The composite ranking also backs up my assertion that the 2011-12 Florida Panthers, while a terrific NHL turnaround story, had no business being in the playoffs and benefited from playing in a colossally weak division. I’m still amazed that they lasted as long as they did in the first round before getting bounced.
7. It’s appears that the playoffs are a unique animal, one that the regular season statistics cannot easily explain. For example, the top Goals For team didn’t win the Stanley Cup. The top Goals Against team didn’t, either. But they both qualified for the playoffs. Yet two “middle of the pack” teams from a composite perspective made it to the Finals.
8. From a Blue Jackets hypothesis perspective, 26th in Goals For plus 28th in Goals Against equals 29th overall…which helps explain a 30th place finish. The Kings, on the other hand, were worse (29th) than the CBJ in Goals For yet considerably stronger (2nd) in Goals Against. Their defense got them into the playoffs, and their offense found its voice once in the dance. Moral of the story: You probably need to have something to hang your hat on if you want to play hockey into May and June.
One last thought: Note that the difference between 26th in Goals For in the NHL and 15th (putting them in the top half of the league) is 22 goals. Add an extra goal every four games or so, and you’ve got yourself a respectable offense.
On Goals Against, the difference between 28th and 15th is 39 goals – or roughly an extra goal stopped every other game. How’s the CBJ goaltending situation looking?
In light of what I’m picking up from the stats, the Blue Jackets’ assertion that their defense is their new cornerstone offers fans a degree of optimism for a quick departure from the NHL basement. One can only hope that their goaltending, flush with additional defensive assistance, can pull their weight…and that the forwards can do their part in a post-Nash offensive scheme.