Quick Hits: Early season NHL takeaways

By: Stephan Teodosescu

The Hurricanes, Panthers and Ducks 🤯 look like the cream of the crop of the NHL. Connor McDavid is good at hockey (look away Rangers fans). And the Coyotes need to get relegated to the AHL.

Those are my deeply analytical, early season takeaways.

While we’re only a month into the season the NHL standings are somewhat starting to take shape. As of Monday night Florida and Carolina lead the way with 25 and 24 points, respectively, followed by Edmonton and Washington; and the Anaheim Ducks have had a surprisingly hot start to the 2021-22 campaign with 23 points in their first 17 games. In fact, only Carolina has boasted a more surprising start if measured by the difference in true win percentage vs. expectations at the outset of the season (see plot below).

The preseason favorites Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and defending Stanley Cup champs Tampa Bay Lightning have all started a little slow compared to what bookmakers believe are these teams’ true talent, but most public models still have each of these teams as heavy Cup contenders.

On the other end of the spectrum are the disappointing starts featured by the Coyotes, Kraken, Canadiens and Blackhawks. Arizona has only managed to win two games a month into the season, and despite expecting to finish last according to Vegas oddsmakers, are outperforming even that expectation with a win percentage more than 25 points lower than expected. The Kraken, meanwhile, had high expectations headed into the season but have largely disappointed. Similarly, Montreal has come back to earth after its surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals last season; and Chicago has had a dismal start to the campaign both on and off the ice.

The biggest news of the season thus far was the drama surrounding the Jack Eichel trade from the Buffalo Sabres to the Golden Knights. Eichel was the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, and in any other year, would have gone first. But McDavid happened to be in his draft class so he will forever be known as the guy taken after McDavid. Nevertheless Eichel is a superstar in his own right, and the recent trade will stoke fire on the talks of which of the two young players will win a Stanley Cup first.

But while Vegas has been in win now mode ever since its inception in 2017, they have been plagued by the injury bug this season. Most of the Golden Knights’ brand name talent — Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Mark Stone — as well as Eichel are out, and they lost yet another player last week when Alec Martinez took a skate blade to the face.

While injury data can be hard to come by, especially in the NHL where the only info we get is “Upper Body Injury” or “Lower Body Injury”, we fortunately have spotrac.com to thank as they have been tracking how often every NHL player has been out on injured reserve. Additionally, the website details how much money those players have earned while sitting out their team’s games. In the table below you can see which teams have been most affected by injuries using these data — those suffered by players drawing larger salaries will have an outsized effect of course.

Vegas’ depth is being tested early in the season, which may turn out to be a good thing for a franchise who has come really close to the ultimate glory in hockey but still hasn’t lifted Lord Stanley quite yet. While injuries have been an unfortunate reality of the Golden Knights’ season, there is hope for optimism once all of their top players return. If nothing else, the fact they haven’t played any of their divisional games against the Coyotes yet should give Vegas fans plenty to smile about.

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