Last season was a celebration of NHL hockey in California, from an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium to the three teams staging an impromptu state championship in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings became state champs and then League champs. The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks pushed the Kings to seven games, and both spent the offseason trying to process a missed opportunity.
All three teams remain among the League's elite in the early part of the 2014-15 season, but an intriguing aspect of the Ducks and Sharks is both teams are going to give a lot of starts to goaltenders who are inexperienced at this level.
Anaheim has uber-prospect John Gibson, but it has been Frederik Andersen's net to this point. San Jose has a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Antti Niemi, but he's expected to platoon with Alex Stalock until someone emerges as the starter.
Andersen and Stalock put up great numbers in small first tastes of NHL hockey. Both were not like Gibson as a teenager, who was a prodigy and had a high-profile amateur career.
Last week this space featured one aspect of goalie analytics, but a discussion about Andersen and Stalock can incorporate a few other concepts. One is goaltenders need to see a lot of shots at the NHL level before anyone can predict with any level of confidence where his "true talent" lies.
Gabe Desjardins and Eric Tulsky have written how it takes several thousand shots-against to determine a goaltender's quality at the NHL level.
|M. Fernandez, '99-00
|M. Turco, '00-01
|V. Toskala, '03-04
|J. Hiller, '07-08
|A. Montoya, '10-11
|C. Schneider, '10-11
|F. Andersen, '13-14
|C. Talbot, '13-14
|M. Jones, '13-14
|A. Stalock, '13-14
|Key: Age as of Feb. 1 of that season; GP= games played; SA= shots-against; SV PCT= save percentage that season
Here is a table of comparable goaltenders for Andersen and Stalock. This group played less than 30 games in their first NHL season but saw at least 500 shots and had a save percentage of .920 or better.
There have been too many goalies who have started fast and flamed out quickly to be able to trust goalies early in their careers. That's not to say that Andersen and Stalock (and Martin Jones of the Kings) can't be great, but at this point in their careers we just don't know.
A staple of analytics is trying to use past results to predict future performances. Trying to use statistics in other leagues to project NHL production is incredibly tricky for obvious reasons. Desjardins wrote about this, as did Rob Vollman in his first edition of Hockey Abstract.
|* Andersen was drafted by Carolina at No. 187 in 2010 and didn’t sign. He re-entered the draft in 2012 and Anaheim chose him at No. 87.
|Key: Draft= selection number; GP= career NHL games played; SV PCT= career NHL save percentage
Let's try to find some comparables for Andersen and Stalock. For Andersen, the table includes late-round Scandinavia-trained goaltenders who have debuted in the League since 2005-06.
NHL teams continue to mine Finland and Sweden for goaltending talent, and it is possible Andersen's success will lead to more scouts showing up in rinks in Denmark as well. It was small samples, but Andersen had a great season in Sweden and a great season in the American Hockey League before his strong NHL debut.
Stalock had to wait for his opportunity as well. He spent three full seasons in the AHL and missed nearly all of 2011-12 because of a serious leg injury.
Andersen never was considered an elite prospect in part because of being from Denmark, previously uncharted territory for goaltending prospects. Stalock never was considered a top prospect in part because his numbers in the AHL were just so-so.
|Key: AHL SA= AHL career shots-against; SV PCT= AHL career save percentage
The talent in front of a goaltender in the AHL can fluctuate even more than the NHL, and some good NHL goaltenders did not post elite numbers in the AHL. Here is a table of current NHL goalies who faced at least 4,000 shots in the AHL.
The Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford is the only League-average or better goalie who saw 4,000 shots in the AHL and stopped 91.0 percent or less of them, though it should be pointed out that Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators just missed being on this table and he had a .909 save percentage in the AHL.
The simple conclusion is we just don't know yet on Andersen or Stalock, though Andersen has a better track record outside the NHL. Two elite teams are banking on them though, so there will be plenty of discussion about them as the season progresses.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (4-0-1)
More evidence that Brandon Saad is a star: Chicago's third line scuffled through the first four games of the season as Brad Richards, Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin combined for one point (though Morin was one of the team's best possession players). Insert Saad on that line and they strike for two goals in the first period.
MUST READ: Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com writes about spending his summer learning how the Blackhawks are trying to help diversity flourish in the expanding youth hockey scene in the region.
2. Anaheim Ducks (6-1-0)
It's not too early to see a usage pattern forming for the Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and friend (for the first three games Patrick Maroon, for instance) lead Anaheim in quality of competition and quality of teammates. That's no surprise, as coach Bruce Boudreau rarely has shied away from a big guns vs. big guns matchup. The next player on both lists is Ryan Kesler, slightly ahead of his linemates on the second line. Kesler is going to absorb tough assignments, particularly defensive-zone faceoffs while protecting a lead, and probably will see some shifts away from his normal linemates. His defensive ability is an asset the Ducks haven't had since Saku Koivu's game declined.
MUST READ: There are some misconceptions about PDO, one of the major statistics in hockey analytics. Clare Austin of Puckology clears up some of those misconceptions.
3. San Jose Sharks (4-2-1)
The fourth line scored a few goals early in the playoff series against the Kings and earned a lot of plaudits despite the obvious indicators. Regression came swiftly, and the line was picked apart by Los Angeles in the final games of the series. San Jose wants to go with rookies Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow (when healthy) on the third line, but the fourth line remains an anchor this season.
Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish are checking in at below 30 percent in Corsi-for percentage, and whoever the third player on their line is hasn't been a whole lot better. Yes, John Scott scored a pretty goal. Hopefully more healthy bodies up front will help.
MUST READ: They've been a little short because of injuries, but soon the Sharks are going to be flush with options for the bottom two forward lines, writes Andrew Wilson of The Hockey Writers.
4. Minnesota Wild (2-2-0)
How does a team lose twice and move up two spots? By going to the NHL's "death valley" and outplaying the Ducks and the Kings in Southern California. Not only are the Wild just behind the Blackhawks in team Corsi-for percentage, they're among the League leaders in shot attempts for. In the previous two seasons combined they were 28th, but also among the best at limiting shot attempts. This often is referred to as "low event" hockey (also gets called "boring" hockey by a lot of people), and it looks like the Wild might be getting away from that.
MUST READ: Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes about how general manager Chuck Fletcher has and will approach contract negotiations with some of the Wild's top young talents.
5. Los Angeles Kings (4-1-1)
The Kings have scored 14 non-shootout goals in six games; Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have combined for 11 of them. Jonathan Quick has been great and the Kings' depth might afford that line a chance to feast all season, but someone else is going to have to score.
MUST READ: Sunil Agnihotri of Hockey In Society talks to Victor Carneiro of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League about scouting hockey players in a modern age.
6. St. Louis Blues (2-1-1)
Adding Paul Stastny was a boon, but losing Vladimir Sobotka to the Kontinental Hockey League was no small thing. His loss could be magnified with Stastny out of the lineup. Sobotka's Corsi-for percentage had been above 55 percent the past two seasons and one of the best on the Blues relative to the team average. The Blues are going to need Jori Lehtera or Patrik Berglund to fill some tough minutes and to excel.
MUST READ: Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes about how the Blues will try to move forward without Stastny.
7. Dallas Stars (3-1-2)
Tyler Seguin has 10 points in the past four games, and putting Jason Spezza with him and Jamie Benn could produce a scoring champion* in 2014-15. The only way that line can stick together though is if the second and third lines don't get blitzed. It would be fun to see those three together for a full season though.
*This statement only is valid if Sidney Crosby misses significant time because of an injury.
MUST READ: Minus Patrik Nemeth, the Stars will have to rely on other young defensemen, writes Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2-0)
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Rob Rossi and Pierre Lebrun of ESPN.com that he will be pursuing a contract extension with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at some point. There is plenty of data to suggest Fleury is about a League-average goalie who has had some serious issues in the playoffs (but returned to average again in 2014). How much is League-average really worth? And is that enough for a team with Pittsburgh's expectations? Those are the debatable issues here. Rutherford was loyal to a Stanley Cup-winning goalie with a performance decline in Carolina (Cam Ward), and he may pursue the same path in Pittsburgh.
MUST READ: Sidney Crosby and his new pal Patric Hornqvist are producing some serious magic, writes Thomas Drance for The Score.
9. Boston Bruins (4-4-0)
It didn't take long for David Krejci to restore some order for the Bruins lineup. He's tied for the Bruins scoring lead despite playing in five of Boston's eight games. It also looks like the backup goaltender assembly line still is humming in Boston. Niklas Svedberg has stopped 62 of 64 shots to start the season as he tries to follow Chad Johnson, Anton Khudobin and Tuukka Rask.
MUST READ: Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com writes that Milan Lucic needs to control his emotions better.
10. Nashville Predators (4-0-2)
The Predators have a pretty good goaltender this season who wasn't available for most of last season. They also have some extra depth they didn't have last season. This team probably was going to be better coaching change or not, and teams don't often replace a really good coach with another really good coach. But that happened in Nashville. If they stay healthy the Predators aren't going away.
MUST READ: Nashville's improved depth at forward already is paying dividends, writes Greg Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee.
11. Montreal Canadiens (6-1-0)
The Canadiens made a couple of obvious upgrades in the offseason, adding Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau for Daniel Briere and signing defenseman Tom Gilbert as a free agent. The biggest addition might end up being a simple case of maturation. Alex Galchenyuk, third-year pro, looks like he is going to provide a greater impact than the second-year model in 2013-14, and it might be enough to make the Canadiens the top team in the East by April.
MUST READ: P.K. Subban is living up to his $72 million contract in its early days, writes Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette.
12. Detroit Red Wings (3-1-2)
Gustav Nyquist has played 82 NHL games since the end of the 2012-13 regular season, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has 34 goals in those 82 games. If the playoff games are taken out he's scoring goals at a 42 per 82-game clip in the past two seasons.
MUST READ: NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen writes about Mike Babcock's growing coaching tree in the first Sunday Long Read of the season.
13. Washington Capitals (3-1-2)
Even in their first non-shootout loss of the season the Capitals played well and controlled the play at the Edmonton Oilers. The top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom is controlling the possession game again at even strength despite new coach Barry Trotz letting them face tough competition (and even seeking it out at times). So much is written about Ovechkin's relationship with his coach, but if he and Backstrom are rolling like this none of that other stuff really matters.
|Key: Draft= selection number; GP= games played; G= goals; PTS= points; G/60= goals per 60 minutes played; PTS/60= points per 60 minutes played; CF%= Corsi for percentage at even strength; CF%rel = Corsi for percentage at even strength relative to team’s average
Trotz has been very vocal about how underrated he thinks Backstrom is, but that isn't likely to be the case for much longer if they are able to thrive like this at 5-on-5 and still dominate on the power play.
MUST READ: The Capitals have a legitimate contender for the Calder Trophy and it isn't Evgeny Kuznetsov. Adam Stringham of Japers' Rink writes about the promising start to Andre Burakovsky's NHL career.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-2-1)
The Lightning proved they were able to keep the proverbial boat from taking on water without Steven Stamkos last season. They actually got better at possessing the puck when he was sidelined, and that helped mitigate the lack of a game-breaking talent like Stamkos. Will they be able to do the same without defenseman Victor Hedman, who was off to a fantastic start and is clearly the Lightning's second-best player?
MUST READ: The Lightning's pro scouting staff deserves some accolades for recent additions, writes Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune.
15. New York Islanders (4-2-0)
Much like the Canadiens, the Islanders could get a big boost from a young player taking a big step forward this season. Ryan Strome is starting a greater percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than anyone else on the team at even strength, but he's second among Islanders forwards in Corsi-for percentage. He also leads the NHL with five primary assists at even strength.
MUST READ: Brock Nelson scored on four of his first five shots this season, but garik16 of Islander Analytics writes that beyond the goals it has been a disappointing start.
16. New Jersey Devils (3-2-1)
Teemu Selanne redefined what is possible for forwards after their 40th birthday in the modern era, but what Jaromir Jagr is doing is almost silly. Selanne had 80 points in his age-40 season (he turned 40 on July 3, 2010) and 66 as a 41-year-old the following season. He also had 28 power-play goals in those seasons combined. Jagr was dominant at even strength last season and has been so far as well in 2014-15.
MUST READ: While Jagr and company have been great at even strength, John Fischer of In Lou We Trust writes about discipline problems holding the Devils back.