Now that the New York Rangers have clinched a spot in this season’s NHL playoffs, I decided to take a good look at the team that has sacrificed so much of their future for this season.
When I sat down and started researching the Rangers’ statistics, I expected to find confirmation that New York is the Eastern Conference’s leading contender, so you can imagine my shock when I discovered something completely different: far from those of a Stanley Cup Favorite, the New York Rangers’ statistics could generously be called middle-of-the-road. This startling fact makes them seem like they have been one of the luckiest teams in the NHL.
Starting with Even Strength, the Rangers have the league’s highest ES PDO (team Save% plus team Shooting%). For those unfamiliar with PDO, it is used as a general estimator of “luck”, since Shooting% for whole teams, no matter how high or low, has been found to almost always return to around 9% in today’s NHL (indeed, since league-wide Shooting% dipped to its current level in 2009, no franchise has deviated more than 0.8% away from 9%). Of course, it is just a rough estimator, and relative skill does play a role, but the fact that this year’s Rangers (who are not profoundly different from last year’s) have seen a Shooting % increase of a whole 1.8% from last season is very concerning.
But surely, an unusually high Shooting% isn’t enough to label a team one of the most fortunate in the league?
Yes, there is more evidence needed to draw that conclusion, but, unfortunately for New York, that evidence is present in spades. This season, the supposed title-contenders are just 19th in the league in ES Corsi For%, ES Fenwick For%, and ES Scoring Chances For%, as well as being tied for 18th in ZSO% (the percentage of Offensive Zone Starts vs. Defensive Zone Starts, which is different from Offensive Zone Start% because it does not take into account Starts in the Neutral Zone). Altogether, this collection of mediocre statistics all but eliminates the possibility that the Rangers have actually been dominant rather than fortunate, since not only have they not had that many more (if any more) attempts at scoring goals (CF% and FF%) and shifts spent on offense (ZSO%), than their opponents, but also they haven’t been creating enough good opportunities (SCF%) to justify their contender status.
Maybe Special Teams can explain New York’s success?
Not really. While their penalty kill is the only area where the Rangers have definitely been unlucky (as they’re only 20th in PK Sv%) and has otherwise been arguably the best in the league (2nd lowest PK Corsi Against/60, lowest PK Fenwick Against/60, and lowest PK Scoring Chances Against/60 in the NHL), their power play has actually been pretty poor. Although they are in thirteenth in PP Corsi For/60 and PP Fenwick For/60, the fact that they are 25th in PP Scoring Chances For/60 and 29th in Power Play Shooting% leads me to believe that, rather than only “bad luck” leading to their poor Power Play Shooting%, they have been having a little too much fun with the “shoot first” mentality and taking shots that they really shouldn’t be. Even if you interpret their Special Teams statistics to be positive on the whole, there is no ignoring that they have had more Penalty Kills than Power Plays, and have had the 3rd lowest amount of Power Plays in the league (dead-last among teams currently in the playoffs).
But that’s not everything that has to do with “luck” or circumstance; what do you have to say about those statistics that don’t have to do with their play?
The next biggest determinant of circumstance that can be at least somewhat measured is probably injuries, but that can be hard to quantify. While the NHL tracks Man Games Lost, which is just the total amount of games missed for players of a given team, the impact of injuries is tricky to measure; however, what statistics there are that attempt to do so don’t indicate that the Rangers have been hit hard by the injury bug. These statistics are CHIP (Cap Hit of Injured Players), which combines Man Games Lost with players’ Salary Cap hits as a substitute of their perceived value, and Skater TMITT (Time Missed Impact on Team of Skaters), which pairs Man Games Lost with average time on ice. As of 3/7/15, the Rangers had the league’s 26th highest CHIP, and, as of 3/28/15, have had the league’s 19th highest Skater TMITT. As you may notice, neither of these include the majority of Henrik Lundqvist’s injury; however, seeing as the Rangers’ team Sv% was actually a full 0.9% higher in Lundqvist’s absence than it was before he went down (largely due to the supreme clutchness of Cam Talbot, who, as a backup goalie, won’t factor into the playoffs), it doesn’t seem like that particular injury ended up having a large negative impact, and may have even given Lundqvist the benefit of some rest that he would not have gotten otherwise.
At hockeyabstract.com, they actually have a “Luck Chart” that takes into account PDO and CHIP, as well as record in regulation one-goal games, record in overtime/shootout games, and how successful a team has been on Special Teams. However, it doesn’t take into account indicators of how well a team has actually played (like Scoring Chances), and some of the statistics listed on the graph are oddly different than those I’ve seen on most other sites. I was originally inclined to take their statistics at face value, but have since encountered discrepancies elsewhere in the site. However, the Rangers are still in the top five in “Luck Score” almost any way you weight the data (feel free to play with it at http://www.hockeyabstract.com/luck).
But they’re getting hot at the right time; surely their statistics have been better over their hot streak?
Indeed, since the start of the new calendar year, the Rangers have been scorching, winning 70.3% of their games, but, given their lack of significant improvement suggests that their recent success, as well, is at least partially circumstantial. Not had a single one of the ES statistics that I listed earlier (CF%, FF%, SCF%, and ZSO%) have been more than two spots better since 1/1/15 than they’ve been over the year as a whole, their ES SCF% has actually been one spot lower, and they still had the NHL’s highest ES PDO. Meanwhile, their Penalty Kill seems to have marginally regressed, and their Power Play seems to have marginally improved in that time.
But those stats aren’t Score Adjusted; they’re probably just not shooting as much since they have the lead so often.
In case you weren’t acquainted with Score Adjustment, it has been found by the advanced analytics community that teams shoot more (i.e. generate more Corsi and Fenwick) and are in general more aggressive while trailing, and that the opposite is true for teams in the lead. To factor this in, Score Adjusted statistics were developed. Using Score Adjusted statistics did indeed confirm that the Rangers have been better since the start of the new year, but they still didn’t portray the Rangers as the elite team that I thought they would. Since 1/1/15, have been 12th in ES CF% and 10th in ES FF% when adjusted for score, which shows significant improvement from their whole year marks of 16th (for both). However, their ES SCF% is still poor, at 18th since the start of the new year. This is especially concerning, since SCF% has been found to be more predictive of goals than all the other statistics that I listed.
What about the roster itself? They’re still great on paper, right?
Yes, they’re great on paper; with superstar forward Rick Nash continuing to drive play, generate offense, and provide solid defense, the deep and talented blue line that the Rangers have, and a good group of forwards, the Rangers have a chance to win any game, despite the revelations that they might not be elite.
The keen observer might notice that I did not include former Vezina Trophy (goalie of the year) winner and Hart Trophy (M.V.P) nominee Henrik Lundqvist in my list of the Rangers’ roster strengths. This isn’t because I don’t consider “the King” capable of carrying the team (as he did in last year’s playoffs, to the tune of an Adjusted Sv% of 93.31%), but because I don’t think that he can be counted on anymore. The now 33-year-old Swedish net minder has seen his Adjusted Sv% dip every regular season since 2012-13, and is 18th among goalies this season with at least 35 games played; given that he has the second most minutes played among all active goalies, I don’t think this is all coincidence. Given the wear on Lundqvist’s tires, the freak injury that kept him out for almost two months may have not have just been a blessing in disguise, but may have (assuming Lundqvist can shake off the rust before the playoffs start) saved the Rangers’ Stanley Cup hopes. I say this not only because when he was taken out of the lineup, Lundqvist was on pace to play roughly 67 regular season games, but also because the 10-year veteran played in 25 games in the playoffs last year, and, counting the playoffs, has played in a total of 265 games since the start of the 2011-12 season, facing the most shots of any goalie in that time frame. Even with the unwanted rest, I don’t think that Lundqvist, while still a good goalie and always a playoff performer, can be as good as he’d need to be for the Rangers to go deep into the tournament.
What does all this mean for the playoffs?
Despite being great on paper, the Rangers’ statistics don’t paint a picture of the team that everybody (including me before I started writing this) thought that they were. Given their playoff experience and the fact that there aren’t any other teams in the Metropolitan division with top records, I could definitely see them going to the Eastern Conference Finals, but I would be very surprised if they defeated whichever team comes out of the Atlantic division portion of the bracket. I guess you’d rather be lucky than good, and it’s not as if they’re bad, but things aren’t looking great for the New York Rangers.
*All statistics are current as of 3/29/15, except where listed, and were gathered from waronice.com, mangameslost.com, and springingmalik.blogspot.com