Friday, May 22, 2015

Best Practices In Predicting The WHL Playoffs

I did some work earlier this year that investigated differing strategies regarding WHL playoff predictions.

Those articles used regular season goal differential, regular season estimated Fenwick close and “higher seed” to make predictions each round, weighing those results against my own predictions. 

The final results for the 2015 WHL Playoffs were as follows, with the team with the higher regular season goal differential winning more often than when compared to the other strategies:

What about a bigger sample size through analyzing year’s past? Let’s take a look after combing through the information from 2013-14, 2012-13 and 2011-12 as well, giving us four full WHL postseasons to work with:

When I did my first piece on this topic during the winter, I only analyzed the 2013-14 playoff information and that obviously left me thinking that the estimated Fenwick close data was the most effective (as it won 12 series compared to 11 for both goal differential and seed).

That obviously isn’t the case when you amp up the sample size. While the team with the higher regular season estimated Fenwick close has still won 75% of all playoff series the past four years, it doesn’t come close to the other two strategies.

In fact, it doesn’t even out-predict simply taking the higher seed when picking a winner in a playoff series as that higher seed has won 49 of the past 60 WHL playoff series’.

Then we look at the big winner, regular season goal differential. The team with the better regular season goal differential has won an impressive 52 of the past 60 WHL playoff matchups - an 86.6% clip - including going a perfect 15-0 in the 2015 WHL playoffs.

Ultimately, I still think the best way to make a prediction is to weigh all the factors you can, gathering as much information as possible. My personal predictions this year went 14-1 in the WHL playoffs, with my only incorrect pick being Brandon over Kelowna in the final series.

Before making my predictions throughout the postseason I looked at all the data. Which team was favoured based on the above-mentioned categories, plus things like overall health of the their lineup, goaltending, special teams and anything else I could think of.  I’m not saying that I would have the ability to pick at a 93% clip every year but analyzing as much data as possible needs to be your strategy if you expect to predict things accurately.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

WHL Final Series Predictions

Well, the third round of the WHL playoffs are in the books and that means it’s time to tee up the finals.

But, before we do that, let’s take a look at the predictions from last round.

For those who are unfamiliar, I began a bit of a project at the start of the playoffs that put a spin on predictions. I made my own personal predictions for the results, but also predictions based on a few metrics including comparing each team’s goal differential from the regular season, their Estimated Fenwick Close from the regular season and also their “seed” in the standings.

Before we get to a new set of predictions let’s take a peak at the third round to see which metric is doing the best when compared to my record, which remains perfect at 14-0.

By Estimated Fenwick Close (regular season)

This method predicted Calgary and Kelowna to win last round. Obviously the Hitmen lost, meaning this method went 1-1 in the Conference Finals.

Therefore, through three rounds this method has predicted 71.4% of the series correctly, going 10-4 overall. Regardless of what happens in the final series, this method will end up with the least predictive success in this year’s playoffs. Yes, I’m aware of the rather small sample size.

By Seed

This strategy predicted Kelowna and Brandon to advance, meaning it was 2-0 in round three.

Therefore, through three rounds this method has predicted 92.8% of the series correctly, going 13-1 overall. It has remained a “favourites advance” type of postseason so far.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Round Three Playoff Predictions For 2014-15

The second round of the WHL playoffs is in the books.

Once again, it’s time to look back at my previous predictions while also outlining some expectations for round three.

For those who are unfamiliar, I began a bit of a project at the start of the playoffs that put a new spin on predictions. I made my own personal predictions for the results, but also predictions based on a few metrics including comparing each team’s goal differential from the regular season, their Estimated Fenwick Close from the regular season and also their “seed” in the standings. You can find the first round predictions here and the second round predictions here.

I am happy to report I have gone a perfect 12-0 so far in my own personal predictions. We’ll be putting that record on the line for round three.

But, before we get to those new predictions let’s take a peak at the second round to see which metric is doing the best when compared to my record.

By Estimated Fenwick Close (regular season)

This method predicted Kelowna, Everett, Brandon and Medicine Hat to win in round two after going 7-1 in round one. Obviously two of those predictions for round two came up short as both Everett and Medicine Hat were ousted.

Therefore, through two rounds this method has predicted 75% of the series correctly, going 9-3 overall.

Monday, April 20, 2015

2015 Mock Draft 1.0

Now that the order for the top 14 picks in the draft are set in stone, it's time to throw some darts at the dart board.

I will preface this whole post by saying that this is a total crapshoot. Anyone who takes the time out of their day to actually compile a mock draft knows this.

It’s for fun and not much else.

I’ve done them in the past with varying degrees of success and with the 2015 NHL Draft expected to be one of the best in the past decade, it’s time to do it all again. I will probably do at least one more before the actual draft, but here’s my first stab at things.

I will get to my picks in a second, but I do have to say that this is extremely tough this year. While the top two selections are already a lock, things really get challenging at that 3rd pick. The Arizona Coyotes will be setting the tone for not only the top 5, but essentially the entire first round with what they decide to do with that 3rd selection.

If they do what I expect them to do, things don’t get much easier for Toronto at 4th. It should be fun to see it all come to fruition in late June.

But for now, here’s my take on things…
1. Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid – A total no-brainer pick for Edmonton. The next “great one” stays in a Canadian market and will be a huge shot in the arm for a stagnating franchise. The next job for Edmonton is now doing a better job insulating their core, starting by attempting to acquire a decent goaltender and at least one strong defender. I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t think they need to trade players like Eberle, Draisaitl or Yakupov (at least not yet) to improve those positions, but there subsequent picks in this draft need to all be in play.

If not McDavid? No one. It’s a slam dunk.

2. Buffalo Sabres – Jack Eichel – The Buffalo Sabres should be absolutely thrilled to get the next great American talent. Eichel is a combination of raw power, smarts and skill. I’ve compared him to a smarter version of Nathan MacKinnon, only with better hands. He’s a future 100 point player at the NHL level and a perfect fit for the hard-working city of Buffalo.

If not Eichel? No one. This pick is also a slam dunk.

3. Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome – This is where the draft really begins as the Coyotes are faced with a tough decision. Ultimately, at this time, I think it makes the most sense to take a big, future #1 centre. A player like Noah Hanifin is surely tempting, but with a guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson already locked in on that left side of their blueline, they instead opt for a cornerstone piece down the middle.

If not Strome? Noah Hanifin.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs – Noah Hanifin – The Leafs are pissed to see Strome off the board at this point, because I would assume he would be their ideal target at this spot considering overall organizational needs. You can’t win without a #1 centre. Instead the Leafs are forced to decide between a big potential top pairing defender and the super skilled Mitch Marner. Despite their familiarity with Marner, they instead opt for the big two-way blueliner at this spot.

If not Hanifin? Mitch Marner.

5. Carolina Hurricanes – Mitch Marner – The skilled London Knights scorer is too good to pass on here for the Hurricanes. When it comes to Carolina, they simply need too many different things in their system to worry about much else. Marner is simply the best player on the board and the Hurricanes see that and take him at 5.

If not Marner? Lawson Crouse.

6. New Jersey Devils – Mathew Barzal – It’s no secret that the Devils lack a certain amount of skill throughout their entire organization. They acknowledge that by taking the dynamic playmaker Barzal at 6th. He’s shifty, he has speed, he works away from the puck and can dish the puck as good as almost anyone in this draft. I think he ultimately ends up with either the Devils or Sharks at 9th come draft day.

If not Barzal? Pavel Zacha.

7. Philadelphia Flyers – Lawson Crouse – Crouse seems like a perfect fit for the Flyers. He’s big, he’s a great skater, has a rugged edge to his game, defensive smarts and some always-improving offensive tools. His overall offensive upside has been questioned but him coming off the board at 7 is a lot easier to swallow than potentially going in the top 5.

If not Crouse? Mikko Rantanen.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets – Ivan Provorov – The Blue Jackets add to the left side of their future blueline by grabbing the talented two-way Russian in Provorov. He does everything well, has very few weaknesses and is fairly close to NHL-ready. He’s probably a legit top 5 pick in your average draft year.

If not Provorov? Zachary Werenski.

9. San Jose Sharks – Kyle Connor – The Sharks surprise some people by taking the hard-working and skilled Connor 9th overall. It’s no secret that the Sharks forward core is going to need some new pieces with both Thornton and Marleau not getting any younger (or happier, in Joe’s case), and Connor is just the kind of player they could use going forward. I’ve compared him to a better skating version of Ryan O’Reilly, for what it’s worth. Does all the little things well.

If not Connor? Pavel Zacha.

10. Colorado Avalanche – Mikko Rantanen – Patrick Roy has preached getting bigger while also a need to address the group of forward prospects within the organization now that guys like Chris Bigras and Mason Geertsen are closer to being NHL ready on defence. With that in mind, the Avalanche take the big and super skilled Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen at 10th overall. The left-shooting right-winger used a strong World Junior performance to really jumpstart his second half. I would probably prefer a blueliner in Zach Werenski at this spot from a fan’s perspective, but there’s no doubt Rantanen is both a good prospect and good fit.

If not Rantanen? Zachary Werenski.

11. Florida Panthers – Timo Meier – The Florida Panthers have some very solid prospect depth at both forward and defence and answer that by taking skilled and heavy winger Timo Meier here. He’s a pure volume shooter and should be a good accent to their already solid talent down the middle of the ice.

If not Meier? Zachary Werenski.

12. Dallas Stars – Zachary Werenski – After several teams think about taking Werenski, the Stars finally do at 12th overall. It’s no secret that the Stars have a bevy of young skilled forwards and accent that with a nicely-sized puck-moving blueliner in Werenski here.

If not Werenski? Thomas Chabot.

13. Los Angeles Kings – Oliver Kylington – The Los Angeles Kings are in a unique spot for their franchise as the perennial contenders missed the playoffs this year. With many considering them to still be in the role of contenders, that gives them the ability to roll the dice a bit more at the draft by taking this talented Swede. Reports have been very mixed on his game, especially in the second half, but there is no doubt there is a very talented player in there somewhere. Los Angeles recognize that and will let their player development crew do the rest. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him fall outside the top 20. He’s a real wildcard for the draft.

If not Kylington? Thomas Chabot.

14. Boston Bruins – Pavel Zacha – Like the Kings, the Bruins aren’t exactly used to being in this position of picking in the top 15 of the draft. They go for pure upside in this spot, taking the talented and large Pavel Zacha here. The forward has been considered a top 5 guy on pure potential for much of the year, but has also battled injury issues for much of the season. The Bruins look to hit a homerun here.

If not Zacha? Travis Konecny.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tracking Point Production Fluctuation

While drafting a player who is “trending upwards” offensively doesn’t always guarantee you a legitimate NHL prospect, it definitely seems to be something that teams latch onto each year.

A player like Travis Sanheim is a great example from the 2014 NHL Draft.

Sanheim burst onto the scene in 2013-14 as an undrafted prospect of the Calgary Hitmen, but only had 7 points in 29 games by the time Christmas rolled around. He came back from the holiday break and promptly had a few strong games, finding his name on the scoresheet more often than not. He closed out the year with 22 points in his final 38 regular season games, put up a pair of points in one round of playoff action and then had a strong showing at the World Under-18 Hockey Championships as a member of Team Canada.

A couple of months later he was taken 17th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Fast forward to this season and Sanheim put up 65 points in 67 regular season games, leading all WHL defencemen in points in 2014-15.

Team’s are constantly on the lookout for players with steep development curves, guys who are growing by leaps and bounds as they get more experience and confidence throughout the season. Aside from watching them constantly, tracking their offensive production is one way to find players who may just be trending in the right direction.

With that in mind I have gone ahead and sorted through a bunch of data from 70 WHL players who are in their first year of being eligible for the NHL Draft in 2015. The players include those listed by Central Scouting, plus a bunch of others that I feel are worth investigating more for the 2015 NHL Draft and well beyond.

The below information sorts the players into two categories, forwards and defencemen. I then broke down their offensive numbers from the regular season, chopping the year in half. The first half includes all games played between September and December 31st. The second half includes all games from January 1st through to the end of the regular season.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Round Two Playoff Predictions For 2014-15

Now that the first round is in the books, it’s time to look ahead to second round predictions in the WHL while also recapping how the opening round went.

In case you missed it, I began a bit of a project at the start of the playoffs that put a new spin on predictions. I set aside not only my own personal predictions for the first round, but also predictions based on a few metrics including comparing each team’s goal differential from the regular season, their Estimated Fenwick Close from the regular season and also just their “seed”. 

So before we get to round two predictions, let’s look back at round one. Which of the four above-outlined methods did the best job through the first 8 matchups of the WHL playoffs?

By Estimated Fenwick Close (regular season)

This method predicted Kelowna, Victoria, Everett and Seattle to win in the Western Conference. It then predicted Brandon, Regina, Calgary and Medicine Hat to win in the Eastern Conference.

In the end, this method went 7-1 in round one.

It correctly predicted Brandon, Regina, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Kelowna, Victoria and Everett. The only series it didn’t correctly predict was Seattle over Portland, with the Thunderbirds having the better Estimated Fenwick during the regular season when comparing the two teams.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Notes On Central Scouting's Final Rankings

NHL Central Scouting recently released their final rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft.

This list is always great to review as it has been months since their last publication. That obviously allows fans and team management to see who Central Scouting perceive as rising or falling, relative to the middle of the year projections.

I browsed this final list – from a WHL perspective – and have made some notes and observations. Here’s how their final list looks (while keeping in mind that the order is for WHL players only, with Provorov being #1 among WHL skaters). Note that it also includes where the player was ranked by CS at the midterm and how much the player’s spot has changed since that time:


- Before we start, note that I plan on unveiling my final rankings some time near the end of May. I will reference them briefly throughout these notes, but be aware that they are not at all a finished product. My final rankings this year are going to be absolutely massive and extremely detailed and I am very much looking forward to unveiling them for you all.

- The top 3 for NHL CS is actually identical to mine, Provorov, Barzal and then Harkins. Will that change for me before the actual draft? Possibly, but not likely.

- Noah Juulsen moving up 6 spots from midterm to #5 overall is very interesting, but not terribly shocking. He’s had a very good season, played very tough minutes and has an extremely projectable skillset, even if I don’t have him quite as high as they do right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Who is the WHL's top playmaker for 2015?

While the WHL features some solid goal-scoring forwards for the 2015 NHL Draft, I think it’s pretty clear to me that playmakers are the strength.

In fact, the top three WHL forwards on my current draft ranking all have a heavy play-making, pass-first lean to their game.

But looking at the entire draft class from the WHL, which players are the best playmakers? Let’s try and find out.

I started by assembling the below chart. It takes the top 30 draft-eligible assist guys among WHL forwards from the 2014-15 regular season. Each of them had at least 15 assists and each are in their first year being eligible for the NHL Draft. No overagers were included here.

The chart identifies their number of primary assists, secondary assists, total assists, percentage of primary assists relative to overall assists, assists per game, even-strength assists and even-strength assists per game. As you can see, it’s sorted by assists per game.

I felt it was very necessary to factor games played into the chart. A guy like Mathew Barzal is a great example why. He missed nearly half the season yet still finished 3rd overall in total assists among first-year WHL draft-eligible forwards. He’s not the only player on the list to be hurt by a similar situation, either.

So how do we go about trying to determine a ranking of who is the best playmaker, considering the amount of data on the above chart?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ranking WHL Team's By Import Production

I always enjoy looking at the different ways good (or great) teams are built.

Regardless of what level of the game you are looking at, there are always different strategies and ways to ice the best team you can. While the NHL has to deal with a salary cap, teams at the CHL level have plenty of other restrictions including overage and underage player limitations plus the fact that each team is only allowed to carry a pair of import players during the regular season and playoffs.

Now that the WHL’s regular season is complete I am going back and analyzing all the teams in various ways, with the above-mentioned Europeans under the microscope in this piece.

Which teams got the best production from their import slots?

Let’s start with the overall points-per-game average from each team’s imports:

Before we highlight a few things about the teams, it’s worth noting that this type of import situation can fluctuate greatly from year to year for a variety of reasons. First of all, some of these teams have young imports who are new to North America. There is obviously an adjustment period for many players in that situation. The other thing to remember is that not every team has two forwards, who usually generate more points than defencemen. So with that in mind, a team ranked low on this list isn’t necessarily a bad team or did a bad job in building their team. Context always needs to be considered.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Round One Playoff Predictions For 2014-15

Over my time following the WHL, I’ve come to understand that attempting to make predictions is essentially a fool’s game.

Even if you manage to be correct with your predictions, you still manage to piss off a group of fans or team employees for betting against their team. People are passionate about their team (or career) and I can understand that completely.

Despite what I have just stated, I have decided to once again post a prediction piece ahead of the 2015 WHL Playoffs. I guess I am a fool. But, along with providing my own predictions and reasoning for round one results, I have also taken a more advanced approach.

I will also include predictions for the first round of the postseason based on which team in the matchup had the better estimated regular season shot differential (Fenwick), the better overall goal differential for the regular season and simply, which team is the higher seed.

The Fenwick number was grabbed from the fantastic and the goal differential was calculated manually using the WHL’s standings page. Seed is rather straight forward, simply choosing the higher-seeded team to advance to the next round. My personal predictions are based on my own knowledge of each team’s roster, playing style, strengths, weaknesses, injuries, etc.

It is my intent to do this process for all four rounds of the WHL postseason in 2015, and in the end, see which of the prediction method ends up with the best results.  

In case you missed it, I did a piece last week that outlined how well regular season estimated Fenwick (shot differentials) can predict WHL playoff success. You can read it here as it turned out that over the past three WHL postseason’s, the team with the better regular season shot differential won 77.7% of all series. We’ll see how this year’s numbers stack up to that once it’s all said and done.