2010-2011 Philadelphia Flyers VUKOTA Projections

This year, for the first time, Hockey Prospectus published an annual preview of the upcoming season.  I'm sure many of you have either purchased or read Baseball Prospectus' yearly previews and this aims to be on the same level.  You may recall that we ran VUKOTA's projections for last year's team and commented on the limitations inherent on such a young system.  Well, it turns out VUKOTA wasn't far off at all.  In fact, the system over estimated what the team would actually do.

For those of you who are still skeptical about advanced statistics for hockey, that's perfectly fine.  These projections aren't the same as looking at Corsi or QualComp or GVT.  While VUKOTA does include GVT, we're not going to look at that here.  Instead, we're going to focus simply on the Flyers' projected games played, goals, assists, and point values for the upcoming season.  So, even those against advanced stats should continue reading as we can all agree that those are not "advanced" metrics by which to judge players.

Now, before getting into the numbers, let me first admit that I was given a free copy of the annual.  This wasn't so that I'd shill their book - though I will - but rather because I was already going to shill their work.  Plus, Timo Seppa asked me about my visual - yes, visual - opinions on individual Flyers, to help him write the Flyers preview.  So please, go buy the book.  It's available in a .pdf file for only $9.99 here, or in paper back on Amazon.com for around $20.

So with that, jump with us to see how the projections work and what they are.

Naturally, the first step in giving these projections is to explain what they are.  For this, I'll quote the introduction written by Tom Awad:

For example, in order to project a player like Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis, VUKOTA will utilize a large pool of historically comparable players - say, all defensemen who played the entire season between ages 27 and 28 - and see how they fared the next season, and then adjust Hamhuis' numbers depending on where he fits on that curve.  Mathematically, it's a combination of comparable player selection and multi-variable linear regression.

The introduction this paragraph was pulled from is really fantastic, for both believers and non-believers.  Nobody claims the methods are perfect, and Mr. Awad goes through both the successes and failures of the first set of projections, as well as the limitations not yet overcome and the improvements already made.  It's an honest look at a system that is good but not great.

Forwards

Alright, now to the numbers.  As a team, VUKOTA sees the Flyers changing very little.  They project to score one fewer goal while giving up three more than last year.  Despite this, they project to finish with 93 points, up five from the previous year.  This puts the Flyers in the top-ten of the league in all three categories.

All tables are sortable by column.

Name GP G A Pts Pts/82
Blair Betts 62.1 6.3 7.6 13.9 18.35
Danny Briere 65.2 22.5 30.6 53.0 66.66
Dan Carcillo 63.7 9.1 11.5 20.6 26.52
Jeff Carter 77.4 35.8 34.1 69.9 74.05
Claude Giroux 69.8 19.6 31.7 51.3 60.27
Scott Hartnell 71.7 20.2 28.8 48.9 55.92
David Laliberte 30.0 5.1 5.7 10.8 29.52
Ian Laperriere 63.9 3.8 10.9 14.7 18.86
Ville Leino 53.9 10.1 14.8 25.0 38.03
Darroll Powe 60.4 8.7 8.0 16.7 22.67
Mike Richards 77.3 30.1 41.4 71.6 75.95
Jody Shelley 50.3 2.5 4.9 7.4 12.06
James van Riemsdyk 72.8 18.7 22.2 40.9 46.07

You'll notice that there are only 13 forwards included here and Nik Zherdev is not one of them.  Just like last year, VUKOTA cannot predict what a player will do after missing a year in the NHL.  Andreas Nodl is also missing. 

Next, you'll see that the last column is points per 82 games.  This is not in the VUKOTA projections, but rather something I added to give people context.  Since the Flyers only had three forwards play all 82 games last year (but seven play at least 75), it's unreasonable to expect a full season out of everybody.  However, just in case Ville Leino plays 75 games, you have an idea of what VUKOTAs projections equal over a full season.

Some interesting things to note here:

  • Not a single Flyer is expected to breach the point-per-game ratio this year.
  • Only Carter and Richards are expected to hit 25 goals, though Briere would hit 28 over a full season.
  • Only three players (Betts, Laperriere, and Shelley) are expected to see their points per game ratio decrease from last year.
  • Claude Giroux is expected to have a pretty big breakout year, going to 0.735 points per game, up from 0.573.

The big thing to note, however, is the games played and goal totals. WARNING: If lots of numbers make your head spin, jump to the next paragraph where I'll summarize for you.  For these 13 players, VUKOTA only sees them playing in 818.5 games.  Assuming the Flyers don't fall into Devils territory, they will end the year with 984 games played by forwards (12 forwards playing in 82 games).  This is a 165.5 game hole, which will have to be filled by - not only Zherdev and Nodl, but - replacement level players; think Jon Kalinski, Ben Holmstrom, and Mike Testwuide.  Since both David Laliberte and Ian Laperriere are included in that, the Flyers are looking at having marginal NHL/AHL players dress for 259.4 games, or an entire fourth-line of replacement level players participating in an 82-game schedule.

More simply:  basically, adding up all the games played for those 13 players falls short of the number of games Flyer forwards will play this year.  So if you wanted to calculate how many goals Flyers forwards will score, this will come up short.  This is because every NHL team will dress players who weren't on the opening night roster, meaning they will need to rely on AHL callups.  The gap for the Flyers would require a complete season from a fourth-line of AHL players.  In other words, these individual projections aren't meant to be totaled and translated to the team-wide numbers, since there will be additions to the team that aren't as good as those listed above.  More on that later.

Now, before you flash back to the Laliberte - Ross - Nodl line from last year, know that Nikolay Zherdev has some numbers on which we can judge.  Because of Gabriel Desjardins' NHL equivalencies, Robert Vollman was able to adjust for age, player type, and era to come up with an 82-game projection for Zherdev.  While not quite VUKOTA, this is a good starting point.  NHLE sees Zherdev as scoring 16 goals and 39 assists in 82 games.  Since Zherdev has played 82 games in back-to-back NHL seasons prior to leaving for the KHL (and four straight 71 games or more), I feel safe saying VUKOTA would project Zherdev to play roughly 75 games.  That equals 14 goals and 36 assists for 50 points.

If you include Zherdev playing 75 games, the Flyers will then have a 184.4 game hole to fill.  This is not insignificant, since that's over two 82-game seasons of replacement-level players, but much more manageable.  Or, you know, the Flyers could get lucky and have their regulars play between 10 and 20 extra games each (Betts, Briere, Giroux, Hartnell, Leino, and Powe, specifically) making up a big chunk of it. 

Either way, this group - including Zherdev - is expected to score 207.1 goals.  That's pretty good, but what about defense?

Defense

Name GP G A Pts Pts/82
Oskars Bartulis 51.8 1.6 7.4 9.0 14.2
Matt Carle 72.3 6.6 25.7 32.3 36.6
Braydon Coburn 72.9 5.5 18.3 23.8 26.8
Andrej Meszaros 68.3 5.9 15.4 21.3 25.6
Sean O`Donnell 62.1 1.4 9.4 10.8 14.3
Chris Pronger 72.0 9.8 35.8 45.6 51.9
Kimmo Timonen 68.5 5.8 26.6 32.4 38.8
Matt Walker 57.3 2.1 6.8 8.9 12.7

Breaking news: the Flyers have a LOT of defensemen.  You'll notice that only Pronger is expected to score 33 points this year, and he's at 45.  Also, Carle is right in line with Timonen points wise.  Even though I've compared the two before, I'm not sure if I'm ready to see them as equals just yet.

Outside of that, Coburn is expected to almost return to his 2008-09 production, scoring at a 0.33 rate per game this year.  Meszaros is right behind him at 0.31 per game.  Then the trio of Bartulis, O`Donnell, and Walker make up... very, very little offense.

The more astute of you are probably wondering how 8 guys with over 51 expected games affects the projections.  Well, the total here is for 525.2 games played among the defensemen, 33.2 games more than the team will end with (6 defensemen by 82 games).  This won't make much of a difference in the scoring projections however, since those likely to see less games (Bartulis and Walker) aren't expected to score anyway.

As a group, the Flyers can expect their defensemen to chip in 38.7 goals.  Now here's where it gets tricky.

Individual to Team - Why You Can't Do It

In preparing to write this, I realized the games played numbers didn't match up.  So I asked Tom Awad of Hockey Prospectus how the numbers are translated to the team scores.  Long story: In order to predict that the Flyers will score 235 goals (one fewer than last year), VUKOTA uses player GVT scores instead of their individual goals projections.  Since we aren't discussing GVT, we're just going to move right along.

Doing a rough projection off the 21 skaters above and filling out the necessary games played gets an expected goals total of 254.  Obviously, this doesn't take into account the difference between forwards and defensemen, nor skill level between 30 additional games of David Laliberte or Jody Shelley.

The long story here is: GVT sees the Flyers scoring the same amount of goals as last year, while VUKOTA sees the Flyers scoring more.  But normalizing for the league numbers, VUKOTA agrees with GVT, prediting 237 goals (one more than GVT, two more than last year).

If you didn't understand this, feel free to ask.  Just know that team totals are different from individual totals for a variety of reasons, most notably the Adirondack Phantoms.

Fun With Alternatives

Because I'm evil, I decided to look at expected numbers from those players the organization either parted with or did not sign.

Name GP G A Pts Pts/82
Arron Asham 61.7 8.9 12.0 21.0 27.91
Simon Gagne 64.7 23.0 27.1 50.1 63.50
Bill Guerin 66.2 16.6 22.6 39.2 48.56
Kurtis Foster 64.0 9.1 29.7 38.8 49.71
Jay McKee 58.1 1.4 7.8 9.2 12.98
Danny Syvret 34.7 2.2 6.1 8.2 19.38

Here's where it gets fun. 

  • Asham - He's projected to produce almost exactly the same as Dan Carcillo (two fewer games, 0.2 fewer goals, and 0.5 assists more), for $400,000 less.
  • Gagne - His point total is projected to be between Hartnell (48.9 pts) and Giroux (51.3 points), which is right where Nik Zherdev's NHLEquivalencies are at.  Overpaid at $5 million? Certainly.  Still a solid top-6 player? Certainly.
  • Guerin - Here's where we really get upset.  Guerin, released from a tryout, is projected to score nearly double what Dan Carcillo will this year.  Instead, the Flyers passed on having someone who can be expected to produce as much as JVR this year (72.8 GP, 18.7 goals, 22.2 assists).  Frustrating.
  • Foster - Ah, a favorite of ours. He is expected to score as many points as Bill Guerin this year.  That should say all you need to know.  But just in case, if he were on the Flyers, he'd be the second highest scoring defensemen on the team behind Chris Pronger.  For $1.8 million.  Tambellini with a good signing?  Shocking.
  • McKee and Syvret - The epitome of "just for fun".  Neither one of these guys are any more than a #6 defenseman, but VUKOTA sees them as a better option than Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis, respectively.  We'll miss you, Offensive Dynamo.

Conclusion

Hockey Prospectus sees the Flyers performing just as they did last year.  Scoring the same amount of goals, while giving up the same amount.  But individually, the Flyers are expected to perform at fairly conservative points-per-game ratios:

Name 07-08 08-09 09-10 VUKOTA
Betts 0.09 0.12 0.29 0.22
Briere 0.91 0.86 0.71 0.81
Carcillo 0.42 0.19 0.29 0.32
Carter 0.65 1.02 0.82 0.90
Giroux -- 0.64 0.57 0.73
Hartnell 0.54 0.73 0.54 0.68
Laliberte -- -- 0.13 0.36
Laperriere 0.27 0.26 0.24 0.23
Leino -- 0.69 0.20 0.46
Powe -- 0.18 0.24 0.28
Richards 1.03 1.01 0.76 0.93
Shelley 0.11 0.06 0.16 0.15
van Riemsdyk -- -- 0.45 0.56

You'll notice that the one that really stands out is Claude Giroux, who is expected to set a career high in points-per-game.  Besides that, both Powe and van Riemsdyk are expected to see moderate jumps.  Everyone else is about as you would expect.

For those that want to know about the goaltending projections, I suggest you buy the book.

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