Photo: Drew Hallowell
Editor’s note: Ned Belliveau, who made this awesome “Too Many Caps” video and this absurd season preview video, was wondering if he could try his hand at statistical analysis. While he’s no Pat Holden, he had some interesting thoughts on the Capitals’ forward depth for the upcoming season. After pulling dozens of numbers and wrestling with spreadsheet formulas Ned came to us with a complete piece that sheds some light on the contributions that the new forward acquisitions might bring to the team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup Championship, painful as it was, may have been the best possible thing for the Washington Capitals. The old saying is that the NHL is a copycat league and Pittsburgh’s win showed that having three deep and skilled scoring lines and forward depth in general is an important factor to a successful Cup run. The Capitals were not good enough in that six-game series, and they need to address their forward depth issues to make a deep playoff run in 2016-17.
The Penguins, as it turns out, were not trailblazers. Going back to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, I analyzed the top 9 forwards on each of the past Stanley Cup winners. To avoid the headache of trying to determine a team’s true line combinations I chose them solely by ice time. The stats I looked at varied from traditional to advanced. Even if a team’s underlying numbers weren’t strong, on-ice production is still a vital part of success. I also included penalty minutes as a proxy for a team’s “toughness.”
|Top 3 Average||23.0||33.1||56.1||56.1||2.8||64.3||50.1||38.6|
|Middle 3 Average||15.3||21.1||36.3||53.9||0.4||60.2||51.4||36.7|
|Bottom 3 Average||10.9||14.2||25.1||52.8||-0.8||57.7||52.1||36.8|
I noticed a few trends; the most glaring of which was that only one team (Boston) in the past 6 seasons has won a Stanley Cup with a third line coming in below 50 percent in shot-attempt percentage (and not-so-incidentally, the Bruins have the lowest CF% on any of the teams I analyzed, leading me to believe they were a bit of a fluke…and heywouldjalookatthat Tim Thomas led the NHL in save percentage, goals against average, goals saved above average, and goals allowed adjusted while also finishing second in shutouts and goalie point shares).
For a team to be successful in the modern NHL they need to be able to roll three lines, even if they are not point-producing lines. The worst line I analyzed was the 2010-11 Bruins’ third line who finished the season with a shot-attempt percentage of 48.5. The team finished with a CF60 in the middle of the pack, but were constantly getting shelled at even strength.
Last year’s Washington Capitals’ third line was only 0.3 percent higher than the aforementioned Bruins third line and was well below the total third average of 52.70 percent. Simply put, the team was not deep enough. Giving significant ice time to Jason Chimera (48.0 CF%) and Tom Wilson (46.6 percent) harmed the team more than it helped it.
The Capitals addressed their depth issues admirably in the offseason, dropping an aging Jason Chimera for Brett Connolly and acquiring a true third-line center in Lars Eller, demoting Jay Beagle back to his rightful place on the fourth line (sorry Beags). A new third line of Andre Burakovsky or Justin Williams, Eller, and Connolly would take the Capitals’ third line from significantly below average in terms of possession to above 50 percent and higher than half of the Cup champions’ third lines. Not to mention, Eller and Connolly both have strong relative possession numbers, which, when coupled with a better team, could signal a higher CF percentage than both posted last season.
There are more factors to winning a Stanley Cup than forward depth, but no team in the modern era has won without it. It would be foolish of the Capitals not to follow suit, and Brian Maclellan’s apparent commitment to icing the best forwards possible is positive.
The addition of Eller and Connolly gives the Capitals twelve legitimate NHL forwards on the roster and will allow Trotz to mix and match the lines until he finds the ideal combination. The Capitals are Stanley Cup or bust this season, and their forward additions, while not as flashy as Steven Stamkos or Kyle Okposo, will be a crucial part of the Capitals’ coming success.