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Analytics reflect well on the Sens

by Chris Lund / Ottawa Senators

A common sentiment at the conclusion of 2013’s sprint to the NHL finish line was “How good could the Sens have been if they (you know) played a full season together?”

The roster got five games from Jason Spezza before he was lost for the season, 14 from Erik Karlsson before he was lost until the final weekend of the season, 24 total games from Craig Anderson in what could have been a Vezina Trophy winning season and 23 games from a less than 100 per cent Milan Michalek. In sum, arguably the four best players on the 2013 Ottawa Senators roster played a whopping five games together before the team was bit hard by the injury bug.

The injured list wasn’t the only instance where the shortened season affected the Sens negatively. I previously explored the Sens goal-scoring woes and, in no shock to many, much of their problems were attributed to bad luck and not — like many suggested — poor shot quality.

From much of this we can surmise that the Sens had — for the lack of a better term — atrocious luck in 2013. That’s not to make excuses, that’s just an appraisal of the situation. Losing a half dozen marquee players and shooting well below the league average isn’t something that happens every year, let alone to a team that still manages a top half finish in their respective league despite playing roughly 50 per cent of a regular schedule.

So, how good could the 2013-14 Sens be with a full lineup and 82 games to get those bounces back? According to one model, very good.

Rob Vollman, a hockey analytics expert who is very well known for his work online, has put together “Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract” to break down statistical concepts in addition to the NHL, its teams and players under the scope of hockey analytics. In his work, he not only looks back to try and determine the teams were so-called “best” and “worst” in the NHL under these models — bear in mind this type of analysis focuses on best practices rather than the end results; you can play well and lose, after all — but, he also peeks ahead to 2013-14 using these models, while factoring in the ages of players, acquisitions, etc.

In the case of the Sens, Vollman notes the team’s awful injury luck and suggests that their shooting performance should come around next season. Under Vollman’s model the Sens were one of the top three luck-independent teams in the NHL in 2013 — alongside Detroit and Chicago — and, based on their projections going forward, could find themselves standing alone as the top team in the NHL next season.

From Vollman...

The most likely President’s Trophy winner according to this system is the Ottawa Senators. Despite finishing 12th overall last season, the Ottawa Senators could have finished first in 2012–13, too, had their luck come out a little differently, especially as it related to the health of Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza.

In what should be an unnecessary preface, this is obviously a prediction and nothing more, but it’s certainly a sign of encouraging things to come when a reloaded Sens lineup can have an argument made for it as the President’s Trophy winner. While departures like Alfredsson, Gonchar and Silfverberg stand to give the team a different feel than 2013, the additions of Corvo, MacArthur and Ryan, as well as an elevated role for a player like Wiercioch could very well yield a stronger lineup.

There will certainly be plenty of people who will dispute this and rally under the cry of “numbers aren’t everything” and that is entirely true. They are not. With that in mind, however, nobody is suggesting they are. This is simply an extrapolation of many factors that should lead us to believe that this team could be very good in 2013-14. As we saw last season, many things can happen over the course of an NHL schedule, the games ultimately need to be played. Consequently, Sens fans can look forward to those games with a little more confidence than most.

Those of you who would like to see what else Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract has to offer can get more information on how to pick up a copy here. Cap tip to David Staples of the Edmonton Journal who brought the Sens-related prediction to my attention in his piece here.

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