Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Bad decisions, PDO and the best place for Karlsson

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The <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/car/" data-ylk="slk:Carolina Hurricanes">Carolina Hurricanes</a>, forever doomed by a low PDO. (Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Carolina Hurricanes, forever doomed by a low PDO. (Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Does it strike anyone else as weird that so many teams in the league seem to be winning like five of their last seven games, or six straight, and things like that? Seems to be a lot of that going around this year for no readily apparent reason, and a lot of the time, it’s teams where you look at their underlying numbers and you say, “Well, they’re not this good.”

On some level it’s the same Flames/Avs/Panthers/Blue Jackets disease that makes itself all too pervasive at this time of year; teams get to the 30-game mark and start to ignore the PDO. I’ve had a bunch of Golden Knights fans say to me, “Well clearly we’re one of the best teams in the league. Look at the record against other current playoff teams.” That whole thing. Kings fans are saying the same stuff. Very familiar to those of us who’ve been around the block with a high PDO and middling-or-worse underlyings.

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Anyway, because I’ve been thinking about that kinda stuff lately, I chose a lot of questions this week about percentages, classic hockey wisdom, making bad decisions, and the like. It’s been on my mind, folks!

Here we go:

Dixon asks: “Why do the Flyers insist on playing old bad vets over young talent?”

The Flyers are in a weird spot, as I’ve said over the past few weeks. Their roster has very few good players in their mid-20s, and most of the talent is either entering or departing those players’ respective primes. Tough way to win.

But what you have to understand about coaching in this sport — and someone sent in a question about why some coaches insist on playing defense-first hockey, but this was in the same vein — is that they are risk-averse. That’s why when you talk about guys like Subban or Karlsson, you often hear that they take “too many” risks, when in fact there’s basically no such thing.

Those old, bad veterans on the Flyers roster, particularly on the blue line, get a pass because they don’t visibly screw up constantly, but are just low-level players who present as “steady.” But if Shayne Gostisbehere, with his high skill level, tries to make something happen and it doesn’t work, well, that’s a bad turnover that probably leads to a high-quality scoring chance, and high-quality scoring chances have a really high conversion rate. Then you get to say, “Well, this is why he needs to be demoted to the third pairing/benched for a period/healthy-scratched” while Andrew MacDonald has a 28 percent CF% in a game but blocks a few of those shot attempts against and gets kudos.

Basically, the answer to your question is, “This is a dumb sport for idiots.” It’s not a Dave Hakstol thing. It’s an everybody thing.

Mike asks: “When is Dustin Byfuglien going to get around to scoring a goal?”

Well, now that’s he’s out until after Christmas, it’s probably going to be a while, but the larger point is that he has no goals on 69 shots in 28 games. And while the obvious answer to your question is that a guy with a seven percent career shooting percentage is going to score a goal eventually — he’s scored at least 12 in every full season of his career — you also have to be concerned with the declining shot rate.

But this is kind of a thing with elite defensemen this year, isn’t it? Brent Burns went a good long while with only one goal despite the fact that he still shoots the puck a ton (he’s up to four now, but that’s still only four on 122 shots), and Erik Karlsson only has one on 66 shots.

So hey, it happens, especially when you shoot from as far as out as defensemen typically do.

Sasha asks: “Where should Karlsson go?”

It won’t happen for fairly obvious reasons, but I would freaking cry with joy if he got traded to Toronto for a raft of futures. The Leafs probably couldn’t keep him long-term, but they’re a good defenseman away from being legitimately dangerous. If they get, say, the best defenseman alive to address that problem, well, they’re gonna start scoring a lot of goals all of a sudden, and their problems with allowing a million shots a night won’t matter as much.

Cameron asks: “Are the Red Wings bad enough to get a top draft pick? What do you expect from this organization?”

Sure they are. They’re not 31st-in-the-league bad, but they’re absolutely capable of being 26th-in-the-league bad, and that’s pretty much all you need to assure yourself a pretty good crack at a top-three pick these days.

There’s a lot of struggle ahead for the Red Wings. They’re gonna try to rebuild on the fly, but the cap- and talent-based realities dictate that they will not be able to. The Wings love to sell themselves as drafting geniuses, but the recent history tells a very different story.

Of course, it’s pretty hard to screw up a top-three pick these days, and most end up working out just fine. But the Wings’ overall strategy should be a lot less focused on nailing a top-three pick, and compiling enough first-round picks to have more than one or two difference-makers.

Danny asks: “What in the world is going on with James Reimer? Is it a product of bad defense/bad moves that include getting rid of Demers for no reason?”

When I saw this question it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen James Reimer’s save percentage in a while, but I knew it wasn’t good or anything. Then I checked and, well, it was about what I thought: .894.

Certainly the quality of the team in front of him having been eroded so badly over the summer isn’t going to help his numbers at all, but then how do you explain Roberto Luongo having a bounce-back year and posting a .928 in 15 appearances? (The fact that Luongo has more losses than wins despite a .928 save percentage is, of course, indicative of Florida’s problem.)

Honestly, I’m willing to chalk a lot of this up to, “It’s just one of those things.” Goalies, shooters, they all go through fallow periods where they’re off their game, or they can’t catch a break. Reimer was a career .915 goalie coming into the season, and he’s only 29, so he didn’t turn into an awful goalie all of a sudden. Maybe he’s not 100 percent, and again the fact that the defense is giving up 10 high-quality shots per appearance (on average) isn’t helping.

I say give him a minute. Let’s not freak out about 18 games.

Andy asks: “At what point do certain stats like PDO stop becoming indicative of luck and start becoming indicative of an underlying trend? I’m a ‘Canes fan and at this point I think it’s safe to say our consistently low PDO isn’t an accident.”

On a team level, it’s very rare anyone can sustain a PDO of more than 101 for more than a season. If you have high-end talent, especially in net, that’s different. The Bruins and Rangers had PDOs north of 100 forever, because Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist are always going to have high save percentages, and that’s a big part of the battle.

But teams that shoot 9.5 or 10 percent for any decent stretch? That’s unsustainable. Even if you have elite talent like Stamkos, Ovechkin, Crosby, Getzlaf, etc., it’s hard to score goals, team-wide, at that kind of rate.

As far as the Hurricanes go, their low PDO was, for a long time, weighed down by both horrible goaltending and low shooting percentages. Scott Darling was supposed to be the fix to the former issue, and an influx of highly regarded talent the fix for the latter. Neither have been to this point (currently .899 from Darling, and the team is still shooting less than eight percent).

Everything else has improved in Raleigh, but the percentages are still quite bad. I’m with you in that I’m not sure this is a luck thing anymore, but I don’t know how to explain it either.

Zack asks: “What is a big enough sample size that you’re comfortable with to judge shooting percentage? Thinking of Brayden Point and his 98-game career.”

Point has a career shooting percentage of 16.1, but he’s only on 192 shots in 98 games. That’s fewer than two shots per game, which isn’t a lot at all.

For that reason, it’s not a “games” thing, it’s a “shots on goal” thing. Much like we probably don’t know a goalie’s “true talent” level until he’s faced a few thousand shots at the NHL level, I wouldn’t be comfortable saying this is Point’s reliable shooting level for until he hit maybe 600, 700 shots.

The other thing to consider, though, is that Point’s shot total might be so low because he’s in the Alex Tanguay mold: Tanguay is a guy who didn’t shoot much either — 1.4 per game, which is fewer than Point, actually — but has one of the highest career shooting percentages in NHL history despite playing through two Dead Puck Eras.

Why? Because Tanguay pretty much only shot the puck when he had a really good chance of putting it into the net. If that’s Point’s “thing” too, we’ll probably find out in a year or three.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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