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October 4, 2011
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NHL's Top 10 Regression Candidates

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider


Nobody likes to hear that players on their favorite teams are going to regress, which is perhaps why Detroit Red Wings fans really gave it to us during the Summer Skate series when we dared to suggest that a certain 41-year-old Norris Trophy winner might not improve this season. But the harsh reality is that the projection was made by the cold, dispassionate calculations of VUKOTA -- as was this year's list of the 10 most likely players to regress in terms of our player value stat, goals versus threshold (GVT)

Before you blow up the comments section, keep in mind that players who performed exceptionally well last season are more likely to regress because of how much they surpassed their particular average seasons the year before. Players usually play to their average stats, so when they outperform them, most projections expect them to fall, and when they underperform, they're expected to rise.

To be clear, the players on this list aren't "bad" -- far from it -- but rather just unlikely to sustain the success they enjoyed a season ago. Now, take a look at who VUKOTA thinks will take a step back this season.

Tim Thomas, G, Boston Bruins
Last season: 40.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 13.3 GVT

The higher one climbs, the farther one has to fall, which may prove especially true for last season's Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Thomas, who posted an absolutely absurd .938 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average in the regular season and then actually improved on that in the postseason. VUKOTA projects Thomas, 37, will lose some playing time to Tuukka Rask and slide to being merely the sixth-best goalie in the league.

Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators
Last season: 36.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 13.5 GVT

The giant Finn's save percentage jumped from .917 and .911 in previous seasons to .930 last year, which isn't projected to continue, especially playing behind a blue line that looks awfully inexperienced after the top unit of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The fact that Rinne, who turns 29 this November, is still projected to be the fourth-best goalie in the league shows how much confidence even the cynical mind of VUKOTA has in Nashville's ace goalie.

Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks
Last season: 27.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 9.1 GVT

Luongo, easily the best modern-day goalie to never win the Vezina Trophy, enjoyed his second-highest save percentage ever. His .928 score finished far above his mark of .913 the season prior, or .914 in the postseason. Having turned 32 in April and being pushed for ice time by Cory Schneider, VUKOTA projects that it may finally be time for Luongo to drift out of the NHL's top 10.

Alex Tanguay, LW, Calgary Flames
Last season: 20.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 7.6 GVT

Enough of the goalies -- let's focus on skaters, starting with Tanguay, who jumped from 37 points in Tampa Bay to 69 last year alongside Jarome Iginla, who is also projected to regress. It was his first 22-goal season since 2006-07, leaving VUKOTA with less confidence in the talented playmaker than the Flames, whose five-year contract suggests they think he'll still be worth $3.5 million when he's 36.

Daniel Sedin, LW, Vancouver Canucks
Last season: 28.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 16.8 GVT

Sedin typified the great season the entire Canucks team enjoyed, winning the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies, finishing top-five in goals, assists, points and plus-minus. In the likely event that coach Alain Vigneault can no longer start him in the offensive zone a league-high 74.5 percent of the time, or that Vancouver goalies can no longer manage a .927 save percentage with him on the ice, or his linemates a 11.0 percent shooting percentage, or that the 31-year-old himself can't maintain a career-high shooting percentage of his own, VUKOTA's projected regression will almost certainly come to pass, both for Daniel, and possibly brother Henrik, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler.

Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Anaheim Ducks
Last season: 22.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 11.5 GVT

Despite being 34 years of age, Visnovsky set a host of career highs with 68 points, a plus-18, an 11.8 percent shooting percentage and 13 even strength goals. Anaheim may be thin up front after its top line, but the accomplished Czech will be competing with a deep and talented blue line for ice-time. How good was it for the Ducks last season? With Visnovsky on the ice, Anaheim scored on 11.2 percent of its shots last season. VUKOTA's conclusion? Back down to his usual low-40 point scoring range.

Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Last season: 24.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 14.6 GVT

VUKOTA is surely guilty of the worst kind of heresy for suggesting that one of the greatest young players in the league, who finished second in Selke voting, is going anywhere but up. Normally, we'd distance ourselves from the wacky system, but the truth is that there won't be the same opportunity for Toews to carry the team on his back if Marian Hossa is healthy, and Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith both return closer to their potential. In fairness, VUKOTA's projection still leaves Jonathan Toews in the top 10 among forwards, just not in the top three like last season.

David Backes, C, St. Louis Blues
Last season: 21.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 11.2 GVT

Backes deserves all the credit in the world for improving his discipline, setting career highs of 31 goals and 62 points, and finishing with the second-best plus-minus in the league at plus-32, earning him seventh place in Selke voting. Unfortunately, his linemates helped him along with a fantastic 11.3 percent shooting percentage to complete his own sparking 14.7 percent, and Blues goalies had a superb .920 save percentage behind him. Things really came together for Backes in 2010-11, but unfortunately VUKOTA projects he's hit his high water mark, and in 2011-12, the tide will start rolling out.

Toni Lydman, D, Anaheim Ducks
Last season: 16.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 6.6 GVT

Lydman earned a fantastic plus-32 with Anaheim last season, far better than his previous career high of plus-10, but that was largely due to his linemates shooting at an 11.7 percent clip while Duck goalies stopped 92.7 percent of the shots behind him. At age 34, and, like Visnovsky, being pushed for ice time on the impressive Anaheim blue line, VUKOTA isn't very optimistic about Lydman's chances to repeat.

Teemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim Ducks
Last season: 19.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 9.3 GVT

It certainly seems that the VUKOTA system is picking on Anaheim, but we can confirm that they enjoyed the lion's share of the breaks last season. Selanne, who turned 41 this summer, scored 31 goals and 80 points last year, topping 55 for the first time since 2006-07. Even if he managed to stay healthy, VUKOTA projects it to be unlikely that either the Finnish Flash or the Ducks as a whole can reach the same heights in 2011-12.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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