In the second and final part of the series of projecting the potential standings of each NHL division using Goals Above Replacement (GAR), I next take a look at the Western Conference. (Part 1 – Eastern Conference) The primary goal of this analysis is to ultimately assess the overall accuracy of the GAR metric for use in these types of projections.
GAR is a metric that encapsulates player value for every game situation and compares that performance to a replacement level player. The advantage of GAR as a means for measuring overall player value is that it gives us real insight into the holistic performance of a player, unlike that of typical box score statistics such as goals, assists, points, and plus-minus.
In this post, I’ll project what the overall Western Conference standings will look like using GAR. I’ll talk a bit about the methodology used for calculating the teams’ overall GAR projections, as well as compare some of the projections we made last season to see just how accurate the model is.
The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey. If you’d like to learn more about GAR or some of the other statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL analytics glossary.
For each team’s GAR projection, I used the NHL roster listed for each team on CapFriendly’s team page. Players who have a chance of returning from the long-term injury list were also included, like Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Carl Hagelin. Other players like Carey Price and Brent Seabrook, who are expected to miss the entire season, were omitted.
Also, for players who either did not play in the NHL last season or did not have a projection in Evolving Hockey’s data set were given a replacement level score of zero so they wouldn’t overly affect a team’s projections. Players like 2022 first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky were not given a projection, so he was one of the few given a GAR projection of zero. That’s not saying that’s his expected level of performance, but it’s a standardized route for a league wide projection.
For goaltenders, we had previously used their GAR performance from the prior season to project out their upcoming season. This time, we took the average of the past two season’s performances to help even out one-hit-wonder seasons and in attempt to make some of the projections a little more accurate.
How accurate were last season’s projections?
In the Pacific Division standings projections from last season, here’s how the projected division standings looked:
- Vegas Golden Knights (114.7 GAR)
- Seattle Kraken (106.2 GAR)
- Vancouver Canucks (89.8 GAR)
- Edmonton Oilers (86.4 GAR)
- Los Angeles Kings (77.6 GAR)
- San Jose Sharks (67.9 GAR)
- Calgary Flames (67.8 GAR)
- Anaheim Ducks (49.5 GAR)
And here’s what the actual division standings panned out to be:
- Calgary Flames (111 points)
- Edmonton Oilers (104 points)
- Los Angeles Kings (99 points)
- Vegas Golden Knights (94 points)
- Vancouver Canucks (92 points)
- San Jose Sharks (77 points)
- Anaheim Ducks (76 points)
- Seattle Kraken (60 points)
Overall, there were some pretty big misses in the Pacific Division projections from last year. The Kraken were analytical darlings entering the season, but a lot of that player value was buoyed by the fact that the better players they acquired were in better situations on the teams they played for previously. The Kraken never seemed to click offensively, and former Cap Philipp Grubauer struggled immensely in net.
The Flames were a huge miss by the projections, mainly because they didn’t account for the huge seasons from Johnny Gaudreau (31.3 GAR vs 10.5 projected), Matthew Tkachuk (24 GAR vs 10.5 projected), Elias Lindholm (22.1 GAR vs 7 projected), and Oliver Kylington (22.1 GAR vs no projection). The Flames were one of the best teams in the NHL last season, and that was a large miss by the projections last season.
Additionally, the Golden Knights were really highly touted entering last season with a bevy of star power. Unfortunately for them, a lot of that star power was injured for most of the season, and it seemed like they really missed Marc-Andre Fleury in net. The Golden Knights ended up missing the playoffs entirely and certainly didn’t live up to the expectations most had set for them last season.
Here’s the Central Division standings projections from last season compared to actual results:
- Colorado Avalanche (93.9 GAR)
- Winnipeg Jets (92 GAR)
- Chicago Blackhawks (84.4 GAR)
- Nashville Predators (74.6 GAR)
- Minnesota Wild (70.1 GAR)
- St Louis Blues (65.8 GAR)
- Dallas Stars (60.6 GAR)
- Arizona Coyotes (33.8 GAR)
And the actual division standings from last season:
- Colorado Avalanche (119 points)
- Minnesota Wild (113 points)
- St Louis Blues (109 points)
- Dallas Stars (98 points)
- Nashville Predators (97 points)
- Winnipeg Jets (89 points)
- Chicago Blackhawks (68 points)
- Arizona Coyotes (57 points)
This one got the team at the top of the standings correct, with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. After that is quite a mess. The Blackhawks were projected much too highly, and a large chunk of that was Marc-Andre Fleury’s huge 27.8 GAR projection based on his performance in Vegas the season prior. The Jets were highly touted, mainly driven by Connor Hellebuyck’s 26.9 GAR projection. Overall, I’m hoping to see some cleaner projections with the adjusted methodology for projecting out goaltender GAR.
2022-23 GAR Standings Projections
Below are the GAR standings projections for both the Pacific and Central Divisions for the 2022-23 season:
To likely no one’s surprise, the Colorado Avalanche were projected to be the top team in their division and the entire Western Conference. Although they lost some star power in Andre Burakovsky, Darcy Kuemper, and Nazem Kadri, departing through unrestricted free agency, the Avalanche still retain one of the best core groups in hockey.
With Cale Makar (16.6 GAR), Mikko Rantanen (13.5 GAR), Nathan MacKinnon (13 GAR), and Devon Toews (12.3 GAR), the Avalanche continue to have a really solid roster. The biggest question mark for them is in net with a goaltending tandem of Pavel Francouz and former Ranger Alexandar Georgiev. They’ve certainly downgraded in net after Kuemper decided to sign with the Capitals.
The St Louis Blues are valued rather low in the projections, in my opinion. They are banking on Jordan Binnington returning to prior form but losing Ville Husso to trade defintiely affected their projections. On top of that, core players like Ryan O’Reilly (12.4 GAR last season vs 6.4 projected) and Vladimir Tarasenko (8.4 GAR last season vs 3.4 projected) are projected to regress a bit (likely due to age).
The projections also don’t love their defensive group too much with Justin Faulk (4.1 GAR projected vs 16.6 GAR last season), Colton Parayko (3.6 GAR vs 15.3 GAR last season), Torey Krug (2.4 GAR vs 11.1 GAR last season), Niko Mikkola (1.7 GAR vs 1.3 GAR last season), Scandella (-0.5 GAR vs 0.2 GAR last season), Nick Leddy (-.7 GAR vs -5.1 GAR last season), and Robert Bortuzzo (-1 GAR vs -9.4 GAR last season).
We may see the Pacific Division standings projections pan out similarly to last season. Vancouver is an interesting team to see leading the division in the projections. Vancouver’s projection was thrusted upwards considerably with Thatcher Demko’s projection of 27.2 GAR, which is very good, considering it’s the average of his last two seasons’ performances in GAR.
Edmonton is valued a bit lower in these projections, mainly because Evolving Hockey’s projection have Evander Kane with a lowly .2 GAR after posting 22 goals and 17 assists in 43 games with the Oilers last season. Kane’s actual GAR last season was 2, but you could likely expect some more value if he picks up where he left off last season.
The interesting piece in the Pacific is Vegas missing the playoffs once again. It’s certainly conceivable that they could miss the playoffs again with a relatively unproven trio of goalies in Adin Hill, Laurent Brossoit, and Logan Thompson in net. The injury to Robin Lehner will cost him the 2022-23 season, and as a result, definitely affected Vegas’ overall projections for the season. On top of that, they parted ways with Max Pacioretty for practically nothing in return. Vegas will have to bank on star power to get them back to the playoffs.
Potential Playoff Bracket
If these projections were to hold up, here’s what the Western Conference playoff bracket would look like:
With these matchups, it almost feels like a certainty that the Avalanche make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals if they can get solid goaltending. It’s pretty clear that they currently have the best roster in the West, perhaps even the entire league.
Overall, GAR projections are just predictions based on prior performances and age regression. There is room for variance just because no one model can predict immense breakout seasons, as well as in-season trades and other means of acquiring or adding players to the NHL roster. Rookies are also a huge wild card that are hard to predict.
These predictions do set a baseline for which teams we can expect to be in a position to battle for the playoffs.
By Justin Trudel