Hi everybody, and welcome to the inaugural edition of Numbers on Ice. In this column, I will make it my mission to enlighten you (and myself) as to the true strength and contribution of hockey teams and players. There is only one rule in this column: everything must be based on objective criteria. I will never simply give my opinion, and whenever I state something I will back it up with numerical data. Also, whenever I will be referring to players' and teams' performances for the current season, I will only be using the current season's data to perform my analysis. The Red Wings are the defending champs? Good for them. Martin Brodeur has won 3 Stanley Cups? Fantastic. When we'll do a career retrospective, that will certainly come into play, but when it comes to assigning this year's most valuable players or best teams, that has as little bearing as the opinion of the “experts”. A single fact can spoil a good argument, and often does.
This week, we will be running the inaugural version of the Bayesian Power Rankings. These rankings give each team's offensive and defensive strength, and allow us to extrapolate what the year's final standings are most likely to look like. We can even estimate a team's odds of making the playoffs and even of winning the Stanley Cup, assuming of course that they continue playing the way they have so far. A single trade or injury could turn these assumptions upside down, but unless we have a crystal ball this is the best we'll be able to do.
Here are the power rankings, up to and including games on Tuesday February 23rd:
Orat: Offensive rating. The typical number of goals you would score against an average team. Higher is better.
Drat: Defensive rating. The typical number of goals an average team would score on you. Lower is better.
Trat: Total rating. O rat – D rat. Your typical margin of victory against an average team. Higher is better.
Schd: Schedule difficulty (the average T rat of your opponents). Higher means harder.
SPT: Predicted number of points at the end of the season. The standard deviation is about 14 at this point in the schedule.
PO%: Odds of making the playoffs, in percentage.
C%: Odds of winning the Stanley Cup, in percentage.
Team Orat Drat Trat Schd SPt PO% C% Comment
1 Red Wings 3.73 2.95 0.78 0.02 115 100 16 Strongest team except in goaltending.
If Osgood finds his form or they land a
better goaltender, they'll be favorites
to repeat. Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Lidstrom
may be best three position players on
any team. Scary good power play.
2 Bruins 3.16 2.41 0.75 -.06 119 100 24 One of league's most balanced teams;
Tim Thomas has been incredible. A lock
for top seed in East with highest odds
of winning the Cup.
3 Sharks 3.25 2.59 0.66 0.01 122 100 16 Will likely finish first overall
in the standings.
4 Blackhawks 3.21 2.57 0.64 0.10 106 100 12 Enjoying an incredible resurgence this
year despite facing NHL's toughest
schedule to date
5 Capitals 3.21 2.90 0.32 -.08 107 100 6 One of league's most exciting teams to
watch, three of best position players
in Ovechkin/Semin/Green. Only average
defense and goaltending puts them at
disadvantage against powerhouse teams.
6 Flames 3.16 2.86 0.30 0.00 103 98 4 Incredible production from Rene Bourque
and Michael Cammalleri.
7 Devils 2.93 2.66 0.27 -.09 105 100 6 Expected to be even better when Brodeur
returns, but he'll be hard pressed to
play better than Clemensen has.
8 Flyers 3.16 2.91 0.26 -.08 101 97 5 Only Washington and Detroit can match
top forwards Richards/Gagne/Carter.
Special teams have been excellent.
Among league's most penalized teams.
9 Wild 2.67 2.48 0.18 0.00 90 62 2 May be strongest team to fall out of
playoff picture. Some of league's best
goaltending (Niklas Backstrom) and good
overall team defense; anemic offense
may cost them a place in post-season.
10 Canucks 3.01 2.90 0.11 0.05 93 75 1 Average across board, should be enough
to sneak into playoffs. Without Sedins
and Luongo, would be a very bad team.
11 Stars 2.94 2.84 0.11 0.05 90 64 1 After early breakdown, hanging on to
playoff spot by fingernails despite
being different team since Avery left.
12 Sabres 2.92 2.83 0.09 -.05 92 75 2 If they make playoffs it'll be thanks
to play of Ryan Miller before injury.
13 Panthers 2.80 2.79 0.02 -.08 93 81 2 Out of playoffs for eight years, this
season it appears they'll make it back
on shoulders of Tomas Vokoun. Why is
Vokoun never mentioned as one of elite
goalies in league?
14 Ducks 2.86 2.88 -.02 0.06 86 36 0 Seems Bob Murray knows what he's doing
when he says he'll be a seller at trade
deadline; Anaheim will likely miss
playoffs—if they make it, they'd meet
San Jose or Detroit. Still too many
penalties for their own good.
15 Blue Jackets 2.77 2.80 -.03 0.05 88 46 1 Finally respectable after years with
league's most anemic offense. In
Western Conference, they may still not
be good enough to make the postseason.
Badly need to improve power-play.
16 Blues 2.80 2.84 -.04 0.06 82 18 0 Not a bad team; not a very good one.
Won't qualify for the playoffs, but
they have a gem in Patrik Berglund.
17 Canadiens 2.99 3.09 -.10 0.00 94 85 1 Sexy pick as team of the year (their
centennial) and after strong play last
season, but they recently fell off the
face of the Earth. They may make it
into the playoffs anyway.
18 Oilers 2.89 3.03 -.14 0.07 88 50 0 Where they always are at this point in
the season: battling for the eighth
playoff spot. Roloson has been good.
19 Kings 2.77 2.92 -.15 0.02 83 21 0 Good defense and a lot of young talent;
they'll be dangerous a few of years
down the road.
20 Hurricanes 2.72 2.88 -.16 -.07 88 53 0 A bubble team. If they improved their
special teams they'd end on the right
side of the bubble.
21 Senators 2.67 2.88 -.21 0.01 79 12 0 Strange to think: only two years ago
they were best team in NHL. Implosion
has been phenomenal. Their offense
needs to somehow get back on track. Ray
Emery can only be blamed for so much.
22 Predators 2.49 2.75 -.26 0.07 82 16 0 Worst offense in the NHL; no truly
dangerous offensive players on roster.
Shea Weber on defense, Pekka Rinne in
goal have been bright spots.
23 Penguins 2.88 3.14 -.26 -.02 83 26 0 Weak defense and goaltending; defending
Stanley Cup finalists may miss the ball.
Have top two scorers in the league ever
both played for the same team and
missed the playoffs?
24 Avalanche 2.81 3.09 -.28 0.05 77 6 0 Goaltending tandem of Peter Budaj and
Andrew Raycroft has been horrible;
injuries to Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny
have been nails in the coffin, both are
shootout experts and should serve them
well in future. Team will miss Sakic
if he retires.
25 Coyotes 2.72 3.05 -.33 0.05 79 9 0 Offense is weak, defense is weak. What
else is there? Bryzgalov has been OK.
26 Rangers 2.49 2.84 -.35 -.04 89 61 0 They're a fraud. One of NHL's worst
offenses and its worst power-play, they
should by all rights be out of playoffs
but luck, Lundqvist winning some close
shootouts, and playing in East means
they may make it after all. Bright spot:
their penalty-killing is outstanding.
27 Thrashers 2.93 3.34 -.42 -.05 70 1 0 How long before they understand you
can't win without defense? Terrible
shots-against; whenever anyone but
Lehtonen steps between the pipes the
result is disastrous.
28 Lightning 2.69 3.19 -.51 -.03 72 0 0 Useless offense and defense unlikely to
be a winner. On positive side, may have
found goalie of future in Mike Smith,
provided he works on his shootout.
29 Maple Leafs 2.97 3.53 -.56 -.02 76 9 0 With a good goaltender, this would be a
playoff team. Unlike teams that have to
rebuild from the ground up, the Leafs
are one good player from contention.
30 Islanders 2.54 3.19 -.65 -.04 62 0 0 Another painful year coming ending in
Long Island. Little to work with on
this roster; next year will likely be
more of the same. Mark Streit, who has
been excellent, is one bright spot.
The top four teams (Red Wings, Bruins, Sharks and Blackhawks) are far ahead of the rest. If they continue playing this way, there is a 70% chance that one of them will be left holding the Stanley Cup in June. The Bruins benefit from playing in the league's weaker conference, which means that their path through the playoffs should be easier.
As a general rule, the Western Conference is much stronger than the Eastern this year, and it shows both in the rankings and in the team schedules: the teams with the toughest schedules are the Blackhawks, Oilers and Predators, while the ones with the easiest schedules are the Capitals, Devils, Flyers and Panthers.
I hope you've enjoyed the inaugural edition of Numbers on Ice. Feedback is always appreciated. Join me next week when we analyze the individual performances that have been responsible for the success (or lack of it) of their teams this year and we dole out the awards at the three-quarters mark of the season!
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.