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Expansion Misses Might Hurt

The name William Karlsson and the word “regression” have been joined at the hip this offseason. Following his breakout season scoring 43 goals, posting a +49 rating, winning the Lady Byng, and finishing top 10 in both Selke and Hart, it seems like everyone assumes a decline in 2018-19.

Personally, I’m not a fan of assumptions, I prefer facts, or at least stats I can package as something resembling facts. So, I set out to first see if regression for William Karlsson is indeed inevitable as everyone says, and second if it is to see how much we should expect him to regress.

The normal way to project a player’s statistics in the NHL (or any sport for that matter) is to look at that player’s career history. However, with Karlsson that doesn’t really work. To begin his career he was seeing minimal ice time, playing on the fourth line, and had defensive responsibilities similar to those of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s on the Golden Knights. In Vegas, he’s the top line center, is used in all situations including the top power play and penalty kill units, and plays on a line with two high-level offensive players. His stats in Columbus are essentially hogwash because his role has changed so much, but at the same time, simply using his one mega season in Vegas feels like a bit too small of a sample size to project his future.

So, I had to find another way. The way I chose to go about it was to look at players who have had seasons in which they put up similar numbers in individual categories as Karlsson. In other words, players who have scored 40+ goals, or 30+ even strength goals, or had a 20+% shooting percentage. I even looked a bit into awards like the Hart, Selke, and Lady Byng.

What I found, in short, is that there’s basically no chance William Karlsson repeats his incredible 17-18 season. Literally, every player (except one) who scored 40 goals, every player who shot better than 20%, every player with a massive +/- rating, every player with a high shooting percentage, every player with impressive defensive numbers, and even every Lady Byng winner sees their stats decline that particular category following year.

I’ll prove it in a second, but before you go jumping off the cliff, while the numbers suggest a drop-off, they do not suggest Karlsson’s going to become an average player. Instead, they show just the opposite. I’ll show my work in a moment but using this method of comparing players with similar statistical seasons to Karlsson, he should be projected to score 35 goals, shoot at around 16%, and stay a legitimate Selke award candidate.

Here’s how I conducted the study. First, I found every season in which a player matched (or led the league) in the best statistical categories for William Karlsson. Those are Goals (Karlsson had 43), Shooting Percentage (Karlsson shot 23.4%), Plus/Minus (Karlsson was +49), Even Strength Goals (Karlsson had 31), and Defensive Point Shares (Karlsson had 3.5). Karlsson either led the league or came very close to doing so in all five categories.

After finding all players who had qualifying seasons, I found out what they did in that same category the following year. I added up all of the follow up season numbers and divided it by the Karlsson-esque season numbers to show the percentage of regression to be expected in each category. Here are the numbers.

Goals

Year Goals Following Season
Auston Matthews 16-17

40

34

Nikita Kucherov 16-17

40

39

Sidney Crosby 16-17

44

29

Vladimir Tarasenko 15-16

40

39

Jamie Benn 15-16

41

26

Patrick Kane 15-16

46

34

Alex Ovechkin 15-16

50

33

Rick Nash 14-15

42

15

Steven Stamkos 14-15

43

36

Alex Ovechkin 14-15

53

50

Joe Pavelski 13-14

41

37

Corey Perry 13-14

43

33

Alex Ovechkin 13-14

51

53

574

458

Regression = 20.2%

Shooting Percentage

Year Percentage Following Season
T.J Oshie 16-17

23.1

14.2

Paul Byron 16-17

22.9

17.4

Arten Anisimov 16-17

21.0

15.4

Mark Scheifele 16-17

20.0

18.4

Zach Smith 15-17

20.7

11.7

Adam Henrique 15-16

20.1

14.1

Alex Tanguey 14-15

21.2

11.3

Tyler Bozak 13-14

21.1

14.9

Steven Stamkos 13-14

20.2

16.0

190.3

133.4

Regression = 29.9%

Plus/Minus

Year Percentage Following Season
Ryan Suter 16-17

34

-1

Jason Zucker 16-17

34

8

Tyler Toffoli 15-16

35

6

Nikita Kucherov 14-15

38

9

Max Pacioretty 14-15

39

-10

David Krejci 13-14

39

7

Patrice Bergeron 13-14

38

2

Brad Marchand 13-14

36

5

293

26

Regression = 91.1%

Defensive Point Shares

Year Percentage Following Season
Connor McDavid 16-17

3.0

2.6

Brad Marchand 16-17

2.8

2.5

Henrik Zetterberg 16-17

2.7

2.0

Jason Zucker 16-17

2.5

1.7

Anze Kopitar 15-16

3.3

1.9

Joe Pavelski 15-16

3.0

2.4

Tyler Toffoli 15-16

3.0

1.8

Mac Pacioretty 14-15

3.4

1.3

Jonathan Toews 14-15

3.2

2.4

Blake Wheeler 14-15

2.7

2.1

29.6

20.7

Regression = 30.1%

Even Strength Goals

Year Percentage Following Season
Auston Matthews 16-17

32

29

Sidney Crosby 16-17

30

20

Jeff Skinner 16-17

30

20

Vladimir Tarasenko 16-17

30

27

Alex Ovechkin 15-16

31

16

Rick Nash 14-15

32

11

Steven Stamkos 14-15

30

21

Corey Perry 13-14

35

29

250

173

Regression = 30.8%

As you can see in the tables, regression is essentially inevitable. Aside from Alex Ovechkin’s 2013-14 to 2014-15 season every single player declined every single season following their massive breakout in that category. It’s pretty astounding actually that only one of the 48 players listed outdid their previous year.

That to me is conclusive evidence to say that Karlsson would have to be super-human to repeat his numbers in just one of the five categories, let alone all five.

However, when we use the regression percentages based on averages, here’s how Karlsson’s numbers come out.

Last Season Projected
Goals

43

34.3

Shooting Percentage

23.4

16.4

Plus/Minus

49

4.3

D Point Shares

3.5

2.4

Even Strength Goals

31

21.5

Add it all up, and that’s a heck of a year. When you throw in the 2.4 defensive point shares, Karlsson should be a Selke candidate once again.

This is obviously a very inexact science and was only projected using the past five years, but just take a look at the names on each of the lists. Even though there were drop-offs across the board, almost every guy, with the exception of Rick Nash, put in a pretty darn good season following up the massive one.

It’s ludicrous to say that William Karlsson isn’t going to experience a level of regression in 2018-19. In fact, it’s reasonable to even say that regression is going to be drastic. However, it’s just as ludicrous, if not more, to suggest Karlsson will be anything but a high-end center and a defensive stalwart next year.

***

Any time you look back at a draft there will always be a few head shakers. Of course there will be busts at the top of the draft, but it’s the missed opportunities that tend to haunt GM’s and fans alike.

Like Patrick Roy being selected 51st in 1984, Luce Robitaille 171st that same year, or Jamie Benn going 129th in 2007. The what could have Benn’s (nailed it) are never ending.

The problem is this isn’t only an Entry Draft problem. Take it first hand from a former Expansion Draft GM.

Buffalo had protected Grant Fuhr and left exposed a goalie they’d picked up in a trade with Chicago—this guy that nobody had seen much or liked. That was Dominik Hasek. So, I like to think that we did a good job with Guy (Hebert) and other things that we did. Did we miss one? Sure. But you can’t look back and say, ‘What if?’ -Jack Ferreira, Inaugural GM for both the Sharks and Ducks

Ouch.

Odds are heavily against George McPhee making a mistake at least somewhat similar to that one by Ferreira. The fact of the matter is there will be over 1,000 players available to McPhee, and he only gets to select 30, and probably keep only 20-25 of them.

And to think, three days later McPhee has to participate in the ultimate crap shoot, the Entry Draft.

One time when I was playing poker at the Venetian. An older gentleman sat down next to me and put a wooden box on the table in front of him. Me being an idiot, I said, “Hey buddy, what’s that box?” He said, “It’s a magical luck box, I got it when I was a kid, and it’s brought me good luck ever since.” Needless to say, that dude took all the money I had in my pocket that day. The moral of the story though, in order to avoid these draft debacles, George McPhee needs to find that guy, and steal the lucky box.

It’s really the only guaranteed way to be safe.

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1 Comment

  1. cody

    In addition to being passed over in expansion, Dominik was drafted in a late round. Any team could’ve had him then. If anybody had their eyes open they would have noticed his many player and goalie of the year awards, winning percentage etc. It all comes down to scouting. And not analytics either.

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