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Breaking Down the Flyers VUKOTA Projection

Ed. Note:  Much thanks to Tom Awad and Timo Seppa over at Puck Prospectus.  They answered all of my questions and provided me with a lot of numbers that they didn't include in their original post.  Without that, I wouldn't have been able to write this.

As posted earlier, Puck Prospectus published it's VUKOTA Projection for the Flyers yesterday, ranking them 9th in the NHL.  After finishing 5th in the East last year, that might be a compliment, except that this isn't last year's team.  The Flyers brought in Chris Pronger to bolster their defense, and Ray Emery to man the pipes.  Improvement, right? Not so in the eyes of VUKOTA.

As mentioned in the fanshot, the Flyers are projected to get worse defensively this year despite the additions.  You might ask how, and it has a lot to do with the limitations of VUKOTA.

Rather than explain each again, here's parts one, two, and three explaining GVT.  In short, "it is the value of a player, in goals, above what a replacement player would have contributed."  This is very similar to VORP in baseball.

One would notice that there are only three Flyers projected to get 25 goals, down from 6 last year.  However, Scott Hartnell is projected to get 24.  Where are Claude Giroux and Danny Briere? Well, they are victims of their shortened 08-09 campaigns.  Giroux falls victim to only playing in 42 games last year, and therefore is projected to get 38 points in 52 games played this season.  As Tom Awad - creator of the VUKOTA projections - explained, "Players who played about 42 games in the previous season (like Giroux) and who had his level of production would average 52 games the next year."  If Giroux plays in all 82 games this season - as is expected, barring injury - the projection would then shift to a 60 point campaign.  That would put him between 23 and 24 goals on the year. Then, his GVT shifts from 7.7 to 12.0.

As for Briere, the projections see him playing in 49 games, largely due to his injuries from last year.  In those 49 games, he's projected to get 40 points.  But if you project Briere over an 82 game season - which is less likely than Giroux's playing all 82 - he projects to get 68 points.  His GVT would then shift from 6.9 to 11.6.  For obvious reasons, VUKOTA can't project a full season out of Briere after being hurt for most of last year.  So how many games is Briere likely to play in this year?  Even eliminating Briere's rookie campaign of 5 games played in 97-98, he has averaged only 53 games played per year.  He's averaged 64 GP the past 5 years, but only 56 games over the past 6 years.  VUKOTA projecting 49 games this season seems completely reasonable.  Until you look at what Briere has done in the year after he's been hurt.  In 00-01, Briere played in 30 games.  In 01-02, he played in 78.  Being limited to 14 games in 02-03, Briere came back and played in all 82 the following year.  In 05-06, Briere played in 48 games, but followed it up with an 81 game campaign the next year.  After only playing in 29 games this past season, Briere's recent history suggests he'll come back strong this year.  A 49 game projection completely understandable, but looking to the year after Briere's injuries show a guy who plays in at least 78 games.

Also of note, VUKOTA includes the trio of Lukas Kaspar, Krys Kolanos, and Jason Ward, none of which are likely to make the team.  However, since Mika Pyorala and James van Riemsdyk have not played in the NHL before, there is no basis for a projection of their stats and they are therefore not included.  After talking to Timo Seppa and Tom Awad, I was able to get numbers for Blair Betts.  You might be surprised, but adding him to the projections and removing any of Kaspar, Kolanos, and Ward actually hurts the team's GVT.  The trio is projected to play 38 games or fewer each, while Betts would project for 64 GP.  In those games, Betts is projected to have 9 points, while each of the trio would get 13, 13, and 11 points respectively.  Betts is seen by the projections as a replacement level player, whether we agree with that or not. More on this later.

Moving to the defense, VUKOTA is unable to project the improvement expected out of Matt Carle and Ryan Parent.  Because of this, Parent projects to be the worst defender of the 8 currently trying to make the team.  But his low GVT comes mostly from his poor offensive ability.  He is seen as an offensive liability, but defensively he is good for a 1.4 GVT in 42 games played.  Over an 82 game season, he's good for a 2.8 defensive GVT.  Danny Syvret would have the worst defensive GVT at 0.9.  But VUKOTA sees Syvret as playing in 28 games, registering 7 points, with a GVT of 1.3.  Prorate that out to an 82 game season, and Syvret comes in at 3.9, with a defensive GVT of 2.7.  For roster significance, VUKOTA still sees Randy Jones as a serviceable #5 defenseman.  Over the course of an 82 game season, Jones projects to have a GVT of 6.1, with 4.2 coming on the defensive side.  If Syvret and Tollefsen do in fact take Jones' job, we can easily figure out how this would effect the team.  VUKOTA has Jones playing in 55 games this year, while it has OKT at 40.  Neither Syvret nor OKT alone would equal Randy Jones' GVT, but having Syvret play in 82 games would see a drop off of only 2.2 GVT.  When factoring in salary cap implications, and the likely addition of James van Riemsdyk with Jones' salary off the books, having a drop off of only 2.2 GVT (only 1.5 defensive GVT) seems acceptable.  Making up that GVT in the VUKOTA projections, JVR would merely have to represent a 0 GVT (replacement level player) if he were to replace Riley Cote and his -2.5 GVT.  I think a Syvret and JVR for Jones and Cote tradeoff would almost certainly improve this team, what about you?

Next, the goalie situation is one that needs explaining.  In case you didn't see in the article, Ray Emery's GVT numbers were taken from his 2007-2008 campaign.  Those numbers were atrocious.  To put in perspective, Emery's -10.4 GVT for that year was similar to Marty Turco's -10.6 GVT from last year. How bad was Turco last year?  He had a .898 S% and a 2.81 GAA.  Emery, meanwhile, has a career .907 S% and a 2.71 GAA, which factors in his horrible 07-08 campaign.  So, even if Emery maintains his career numbers this year, his GVT would be around 5.  Since Emery had no stats from last year, Tim and Timo did not include his stats in the projection.  So, the team's VUKOTA projection went on the assumption that the Flyers' goalies were Brian Boucher (4.1 GVT) and a replacement level goaltender in the NHL - with a GVT of 0.  If Emery maintains his career numbers, the team's projection moves from a +9 GVT to a +14.  Still a drop off from last year, but not nearly as bad as originally shown.  From Tim Awad:

"Emery has no projection since he wasn't in the NHL last year, and projections based on 2007-08 would be atrocious. If Emery really has cleaned up his act, he could return to being the dominant goalie we saw in 2006-07 who helped the Senators to the Cup Final. A realistic projection under this scenario would be a GVT of +8 to +10."

So, using Tim's projection of a +9 GVT for Emery, the team's goals against average suddenly drops by 0.11.  That translated to a new team GVT of +18, much closer to last year's +23.  As if we needed any more proof that this team's chances depend on the goaltending of Ray Emery.

In conclusion, VUKOTA does a good job as a starting point for what this team can be expected to do.  But since so much of the Flyers' success depends on Ray Emery, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, and the rookies (JVR, Pyorala, and Syvret), VUKOTA simply cannot accurately predict what this team will do.  If Giroux plays all 82 games, Briere continues his trend of playing 78 or more games after an injury plagued year, and Ray Emery plays at least to his career numbers, this team is already at a team GVT of +23, only three worse than last year.  Replace Riley Cote's -2.5 with Blair Betts' 0.2, and that difference is all but gone.  Then, the only problem is replacing Kolanos (1.8), Kaspar (1.6), and Ward (0.9) in the calculations.  Combined, those three are expected to play 108 games.  Any combination of those three, Mika Pyorala, JVR, Jon Kalinski, etc. playing in 108 games equaling 4.3 GVT and this team is as good as last years.  And I think JVR alone could equal that.  So, this team could easily be better than the VUKOTA projections.