Raining on the Heats Parade

Kent Wilson
November 08 2012 04:38PM

The Abbotsford Heat had a really good October. They lost only once in regulation, boasted the league's best PK and have a couple players at the top of the scoring race. All that added up to the best WIN% and goal differential in the AHL through nine games.

Of course, it needs to be noted that 9 games is a very small sample. Almost any team can go on a nine game run in any given season - even the really lousy ones (remember when the Wild were leading the Western Conference after 8 weeks last year?). The question is, are the Heat legitimately good or are they pulling a Minnesota Wild and riding the percentages?

The Bad News

We can't parse out AHL data quite like we can the NHL stuff, so it's impossible to know just how the club is doing at even strength. That said, we do have overall shot volumes and shooting percentages thanks to the AHL daily report, which is basically a big data dump containing all sorts of goodies.

Here's what is worrying...

The Heat are currently 28th overall in terms of shots on net per game (26.33). The median shot per game rate in the league is just over 30. Despite that, Abby has scored the 4th most goals per game (3.56). Now, initially some might think "heck that just means they're totally efficient snipers."

As comforting as that thought is, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to pro hockey, few shots + lots of goals almost always means the team in question is getting lucky. The Heat have a team wide shooting percentage of 13.5% through nine games so far (!), which is ridiculously high even if they were playing the entire game on the powerplay. According to Marlies fan So Truculent, the AHL's league-wide SH% currently is 9.48%, which puts the Heat well outside the norm. In fact, I ran the numbers and Abbotsford has the second highest shooting percentage in the AHL next to Portland, who top out at 14.23%. Only two other clubs (Rochester and Connecticut) are above 12% so far.

RK TEAM GP SF GF SH%
1 Portland 8 239 34 14.23%
2 Abbotsford 9 237 32 13.50%
3 Rochester 10 319 39 12.23%
4 Connecticut 9 256 31 12.11%
5 Syracuse 9 272 32 11.76%
6 Charlotte 11 351 41 11.68%
7 Springfield 9 284 33 11.62%
8 Norfolk 9 276 32 11.59%
9 Lake Erie 11 312 36 11.54%
10 Grand Rapids 11 312 36 11.54%
11 Hershey 9 227 26 11.45%
12 Houston 10 307 35 11.40%
13 Oklahoma City 10 275 31 11.27%
14 Bridgeport 9 295 29 9.83%
15 Manchester 9 276 27 9.78%
16 Chicago 11 320 30 9.38%
17 Rockford 10 322 30 9.32%
18 San Antonio 9 211 19 9.00%
19 Worcester 10 301 26 8.64%
20 W-B/Scranton 10 301 26 8.64%
21 Adirondack 9 284 23 8.10%
22 Toronto 8 236 19 8.05%
23 Milwaukee 10 288 23 7.99%
24 Hamilton 9 292 21 7.19%
25 Providence 8 253 18 7.11%
26 St. John's 12 356 25 7.02%
27 Texas 8 243 16 6.58%
28 Binghamton 10 338 22 6.51%
29 Albany 8 245 15 6.12%
30 Peoria 9 249 13 5.22%

Unless Baertschi and Horak are the next Crosby and Ovechkin, it's exceedingly unlikely the Heat will continue to shoot lights out in the long run. In which case, the club needs to increase it's shot on net per game by a non-trivial margin. It's possible their low shot total is partially due to the fact they've been leading so often (although they do tend to get drastically outshot in just about every first period they place for some reason). The lone bright spot is the only legitimately good underlying number the team has so far is shots against, which sits at 27.44/game (8th best).

Also floating the Heat's fortunes is their uncanny PK, which is running at a league best 97.5%, and a potent PP, which at 32.0% is second best in the AHL. In fact, when we consider their 3 short-handed goals, the Heat have a special teams goal differential of +10 (8 PPG - 1 PKG + 3 SHG).

Even if Abby's special teams are legitimately good, there are still in line for a major correction. For example, the best PP in the NHL last season was the Predators at 21.6%. The best PK was New Jersey at 89.6%. That's usually where top-end teams fall give or take a percentage or two.

What it Means

Abbotsford is running hot right now (pun intended) and they've managed to collect a lot of points through the early going. That's always good. Unfortunately, their record has been inflated by a lot of abnormally good fortune thus far and their underlyling numbers suggest they aren't nearly as good as their record makes them seem.

It's impossible to know how long the good luck will last (The Wild's fairy tale ended in December last year, for instance) but be prepared for an ugly correction down the road at some point.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 bookofloob
November 08 2012, 10:20PM
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I'm really not worried because Barry Brust.

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#2 SmellOfVictory
November 08 2012, 05:44PM
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Pfft. Next you're going to be telling us that teams aren't supposed to have positive goal differentials on the penalty kill.

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#3 bookofloob
November 08 2012, 07:09PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

That's a good point - Two top 9 guys are out. That said, if the NHL comes back any time soon, Brodie, Baertschi and maybe Horak will be leaving.

Yeah but when that happens we're all going to stop caring about the Heat anyway

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#6 Dr. Philosophy
November 08 2012, 09:02PM
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lol @funkyjaman.

@ KW

Sophistry! A serious charge.

I wasn't at all trying to sidestep your analysis. I was pointing out problems with it.

To try again, here is one problem with your analysis. When the statistics don't line up with the team's results you just throw up your hands and say "well, it must be luck! But that luck will run out eventually!" This insulates the purely or almost-purely statistical analysis from criticism, and blinds you to other contributing factors to success such as (to name a few) good coaching, good schedule, and--imagine this--being a team with good players on it. If you go back and read your analysis again, as I just did, you will find all kinds of statistical explanations for your claims. And where you run out of those, or they don't agree with one another, you just cite luck! Manna from heaven!

I originally granted that the team's and player's percentages will regress to the mean, whatever the means are for the A. I will do so again, just so you don't make the mistake of thinking I'm challenging you on that fact. I allow it. What I'm denying is that that will result in the team regressing hard to the mean in the standings, i.e. losing drastically more often than they are now. Again, I expect them to come back down to earth in the Win/Loss column as well, and I'll hold on to my house for now. What I don't see any reason to believe, however, is that there will be an "ugly correction." And I think you think there will be an ugly correction because you incorrectly attribute the present results to luck more than is justified.

@Kevin R and KW

I guess I might be overestimating how many bona fide NHLers are in the AHL. It's easy to point to the Barons, but I think they're the exception rather than the rule with the studs they have right now. Some of the teams are not even affiliated with NHL clubs, no? I don't know.

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#7 Tfo
November 08 2012, 04:54PM
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How often have the Heat been shorthanded during these games? I recall that they have run into penalty troubles through many of these games, which may explain in part their lower shot totals...

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#9 SeanCharles
November 08 2012, 05:20PM
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@Kent Wilson

Does 177 penalty mins against include offsetting penalty mins?

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#10 bookofloob
November 08 2012, 05:28PM
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Not a whole lot of offensively minded players on the Heat. This Horak hot streak surely is not sustainable over a whole season, but I'd be interested to see if the shot totals go up when Nemisz and Byron get back into the swing of things

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#13 Ryan Pinder
November 08 2012, 06:18PM
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Heat have outscored enemy power plays with their penalty kill by a 3-1 margin. 39/40 on the PK. 39 minors, 1 major. Heady stuff.

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#14 Dr. Philosophy
November 08 2012, 06:26PM
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Three points in response:

1. An "ugly correction" implies that the Heat will fall a considerable amount in the standings. Perhaps their shooting percentage and other so-called underlying numbers will decrease. But ... It does not follow that they will start to lose. Whether they do or not depends, of course, on goal differentials in specific games and, indirectly, on what the other teams in the league are doing. 2. I find arguments of the following form weak in the context of these analyses. Team X is statistically abnormal over a small sample...therefore Team X is getting (un)lucky right now. It just doesn't follow. Moreover, it puts all the praise or blame on pure chance. Yet hockey teams are not purely statistical entities, and hockey matches are not purely statistical enterprises. It is time to start recognizing that in your explanations of team success or failure.

3. The direct comparisons with NHL players and teams are out of place. The reason we have NHL equivalencies for AHL players is that you don't need to be Ovechkin or Crosby to have success in the AHL. Nor do you need to have PP and PK numbers that resemble NHL numbers.

In closing, for my part, I am less eager to put the team's recent success on luck and more eager to put it on NHL-caliber players playing against AHL-caliber players, even knowing that the "advanced" stats are incongruent with the team's record. The Heat have 3-4 NHL players on their roster, whereas, to my knowledge, many other teams in the A do not.

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#15 funkyjaman
November 08 2012, 06:47PM
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@ Dr

I agree with most of your points... but really " Hockey Matches" ? Come on man!

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#16 Kevin R
November 08 2012, 07:20PM
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@Dr. Philosophy

I was kind of following you until your last statement. I think there are a lot more NHL players in the AHL than you think. The Barons are pretty well the Oilers, Schenn & Courtier & Read are top 9 players for the Flyers playing on the Phantoms.

Kent, I think I would rather have the Heats record at 6-1-2 than 1-6-2. We are already depressed about no NHL, that would be brutal. In the spirit of the good Dr., if the Heat were 1-6-2, would you say they arent that bad or that we have serious problems in Flame land?

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#17 Baalzamon
November 08 2012, 08:07PM
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@Kevin R

YES!!! ... except Read is playing in the Allsvenskan right now.

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#18 Jai Kiran
November 08 2012, 08:32PM
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The Heat are due for a "correction" because of this stat: they've played 5 games at home and 3 on the road.

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#19 Jai Kiran
November 08 2012, 08:35PM
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I mean, 6 at home, 3 on the road.

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#20 Baalzamon
November 08 2012, 11:30PM
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@Dr. Philosophy

ALL AHL teams are affiliated with NHL teams. It's been that way for quite a few years now.

The Barons are the exception rather than the rule, sure, but the Heat are pretty much completely average in terms of maybe NHLers on their squad. Perhaps a tick above average if you count Lance Bouma. But one has to consider the sheer volume of wingers the Flames have. Most of the youngsters only played last season because of injuries. Will Horak start next(this) season in the NHL? I doubt it, since the number of wingers basically gives the Flames 5 NHL centers (Cammalleri, Backlund, Stajan, Jones, Cervenka).

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#21 Kevin R
November 09 2012, 11:06AM
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Baalzamon wrote:

YES!!! ... except Read is playing in the Allsvenskan right now.

Yeah, then there is someone else that is down there with them, I just cant remember who, maybe its that Rinaldo character.

Thing is, I think most of the AHL teams are bolstered with young players that would be on most the NHL team big clubs if we had hockey. Henrique,Teddenby, Kassian, Hodgson.... we can go on. The ECHL is bolstered with players that would have for sure been playing in the AHL. Its all relative, & if there was hockey, the Flames could easily have a 6-1-2 record out of the gate with all the new players & new coach. Is it sustainable? Probably not. I think there are only 5-8 NHL teams that have the talent to be consistently good & another handfull that are capable of being consistently bad. The Flames, sadly, are somewhere in the middle. God I'm starting to hate the adjectives that describe the Flames; middle, middling, mediocre, meh. :(

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#22 RKD
November 09 2012, 12:04PM
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Tonight will be Battle of Alberta stars:

Abbotsford vs. Oklahoma

Baertschi, Horak, vs. Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Schultz.

Hope the Heat win!

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#23 Baalzamon
November 09 2012, 12:43PM
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@Kevin R

"Yeah, then there is someone else that is down there with them, I just cant remember who, maybe its that Rinaldo character."

Yeah, probably Rindaldo. Maybe Wellwood too.

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#24 Heatfan63
November 15 2012, 03:16AM
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Heat are now #1 in the AHL

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