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Statistically Speaking: L.A. Is a Jungle

A quantitative approach to performance analysis, with a focus on the Colorado Avalanche.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Mile High Hockey's newest weekly feature, Statistically Speaking. Statistically Speaking will provide insights and performance analyses that are quantitatively focused. If, like me, you’ve been following the recent hockey analytics boom with interest, then this sort of approach will be familiar to you. Unfortunately, many proponents of advanced statistics aren’t enthusiastic writers, and often have a difficult time sharing their valuable insights with readers who lack a background in data science. I’m hoping to bridge this divide, and communicate my ideas in a manner that hockey fans of all creeds can appreciate.

That being said, this column will likely be less quantitatively-focused than my personal site, given that I'm writing for a broader, more varied audience. If you're interested in that sort of thing, be sure to check out Objective Avalanche, a platform I've recently used to share pieces like this review of Matt Duchene. Additionally, feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be regularly posting articles, and commenting on the hockey world at large.

The Week As It Were

Let's start this off with a look back on the Avalanche's week as it were. The visualizations used here are courtesy of the talented Micah McCurdy; you can check out the rest of his work here. All shots are 5v5, and score-adjusted.

A decidedly mixed bag. The Avalanche and Ducks shared the puck in a manner any kindergarten teacher would be proud of, and individual performances were all over the map. Nick Holden was abysmal, which surprised no one. Blake Comeau was also abysmal, which surprised me. In my mind, Blake Comeau is the perfect utility man. As we saw last year in Pittsburgh, he can slot in anywhere in the line-up and look good doing so. That being said, preseason results should always be taken with a serious grain of salt. On a more positive note, Jack Skille debut in a manner that suggests he would very much like a spot on this roster, and if he continues to perform like he did against the Ducks, I'd be inclined to give one to him. Conner Bleackley also impressed; he's a sure bet to return to Red Deer, given that they're hosting the Memorial Cup this year and he's their captain, but don't be surprised to see him on the team next season.

A strong game from Mikhail Grigorenko, who enjoyed a 5v5 CF% of 88%, and allowed only two Corsi events against. There's been some noise made about his comparatively weak skating, and lack of defensive acumen, but results like this show how effective he can be at his best. You know how the old saying goes; you can't teach talent, and Grigorenko has talent to spare. The Street-Agozzino-Rendulic line also put in some solid work. I'd be surprised to see any of these three make the opening night roster, but I'd like to see Agozzino get a shot in the top-9 if the injury bug hits. He scored in the OHL, he's scoring in the AHL, and I believe he deserves a dress rehearsal at the very least.

As a whole, the Avalanche boasted a CF% of 62.2% at 5v5 against the Flames, and 58.0% in all situations. This was an extremely positive result for the team; despite the loss, the Avs had the bulk of possession, and improving by metrics such as these will be one of the key stories this coming season. Conversely, the Flames seem well positioned to become this year's Avalanche. Obviously the addition of Dougie Hamilton is a crucial one, but I'm pretty skeptical about their forward depth, and losing T.J. Brodie for the start of the season has to hurt. However, my roommate is a diehard Flames fan, so for the sake of household happiness I'm hoping that this won't be the case.

Ho boy. Tough night for the Avalanche, who generated only 29 5v5 shot attempts in comparison to the Kings' 60. I'm honestly glad that no live stream was available, as I suspect PTSD might've reared its ugly head had I attempted to watch. Shades of 2014-2015 in this match-up.

I wasn't able to catch the game on the radio either, but many observers indicated that Mikko Rantanen was one of the most impactful players for the Avalanche, and this visualization lends much credence to that. I must admit, I was initially quite skeptical about Rantanen's shot at making this club. I tend to prefer what's known as to "the Detroit Red Wings approach" to developing prospects; unless you're a sure thing, a la Nathan MacKinnon, a year spent in the AHL won't hurt you. However, Rantanen led HC TPS in scoring last season as a draft-eligible player, and by all accounts is quite physically mature. Given recent events involving Jesse Winchester and Jack Skille, I wholeheartedly support the inclusion of his 6'4, 210 pound frame on the roster.

It should also be noted that Nathan Guenin's net impact on shot differential has been above average for the Avalanche in both of his games this preseason. I'm not supporting his inclusion on the squad, that would be ludicrous. However, he hasn't done anything worth getting worked up about yet.

On the Avalanche

The majority of fans were happy to hear that Erik Johnson had agreed to an 8 year, 48 million dollar contract with the Avalanche last Tuesday. My full thoughts on the contract can be found here. In short, I would consider myself cautiously optimistic about this signing, and I gave it a B.

In my opinion, Johnson is a dependent variable of sorts. He makes the best players on the team better, but struggles to mesh with lesser talents like Cody McLeod. He’s a participant in wildly successful synergistic interactions, but he won’t drive them. From an analytics standpoint, EJ is largely difficult to get a read on. Last season’s 10.39 shooting percentage seems to be an extreme outlier, and it would be surprising to see him surpass 12-15 goals this coming season. Additionally, not once during his time on Colorado’s top pairing has Johnson had a 5v5 CF% above 50%. This is troubling.

I have personally seen Johnson play spectacularly, and would not be surprised to see him become a dominant force on the Avalanche blueline over the first 3-5 years of this contract. However, I think his ceiling is likely a strong, dependable 2D.

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Patrick Roy has a very real opportunity to make a statement about what he values in a player this week. If Cliche and Bordeleau make this team, Roy doesn't want to give his team the best chance to win possible. It's that simple. I can partially understand keeping McLeod; It must be difficult to cut your assistant captain who's signed for another three years, very tough on the locker room. But objectively speaking? There's no real basis for keeping any of these guys. There are simply other, better hockey players available for selection.

Roy has come out and said that there are young players who are making picking the team very difficult, but until I see guys like Bordeleau, Cliche and Guenin firmly entrenched in the AHL, his words might as well be wind.

Around the NHL

Brad Boyes signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is an absolute steal for them. I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see him outproduce guys like Matt Beleskey, the supposed cream of this year's free agent crop. Boyes' 2014-2015 GAR was 4.16, which would've been 5th highest on last year's iteration of the Leafs. Toronto is looking like they'll have a very strong bottom 6 group, which is funny, because I don't think anybody is creating too much of a fuss about their top 6. Well, maybe Viktor Lööv, but I don't think the fuss is hockey-related.

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Brent Seabrook signed a really long, really bad contract with the Hawks. Seabrook is about to be on the wrong side of 30, and investing in him for another 8 years at a 6.85 million AAV in madness. The latter half of this contract is going to be Ryan Kesler levels of ugly, but I doubt Stan Bowman is losing too much sleep over it because a) the Hawks are knee deep in their Stanley Cup window and b) he probably feels the need to reward a guy who was a key part of their last three cups. I don't really agree with that sort of reasoning, but I understand that decisions based on loyalty are omnipresent in the NHL, and this will certainly be slow to change. Still, I'd rather have Saad. Or even Nick Leddy, though obviously circumstances were different last year.

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Slightly older news, but apparently Steve Yzerman and Tim Murray discussed a potential Stamkos for Eichel deal. Who knows how far talks got, but man, that is something else. The Cap world is crazy.

Thanks for reading! See you next week; same time, same station.