Everyone lately seems to be freaking out. All the talk has been the O’Reilly trade. We keep reading things like:
- It’s a good trade.
- It’s a bad trade.
- We’re going to be better.
- We’re going to be worse.
- You’re stupid.
- Noooo… You’re stupid.
Maybe it’s time to take a step back and breathe. We’re all on the same side. We’re Sabres fans. You know what would help us relax? A little fun. Let’s play a game. Call it a logic puzzle. We’ll use rational assumptions to consider if a similar 2018-19 Sabres team will be better than the 2017-18 team.
Mandatory Disclaimer: Before I get started, I really don’t know where this fanpost is going to go. I don’t have a bias at this point. I’d be cool being last again because I know we’d draft someone really good. I’d also be cool if we make the playoffs, because, well that’s the whole point of watching sports. Hoping your team wins it all. I’m not out here to prove any point other than to see where the analysis goes. Hopefully it’ll be enlightening!
Part 1: Team Statistics!
Note: All stats are courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com Thaaaanks!
Last year, the Sabres were bad. Like really bad. This isn’t anything you didn’t already know. They scored 46 goals less than the league average and gave up 34 goals more than the league average. That’s a whopping minus 80 goal differential against middle of the pack.
The Sabres started the season on a five game losing streak. Over the year we had 7 losing streaks equal to-or-greater than 4 games. That included a 7 game losing streak in November (2 in OT). That’s amazingly bad, given the typical parity seen in sports. To make matters worse, this wasn’t a year where the team was supposed to be tanking! If it had been, it would have made it somewhat more understandable.
Outside of the 12 OT losses, which were two above league average, the Sabres lost 11 games by 1 goal which is approximately 25% of our total non-OT losses (this number could’ve been higher had it not been for empty nets).
Our longest winning streak? 3 games. And that only happened one time. Unreal. If we assume that teams are roughly equal to each other (yes I know this isn’t true but let’s play the game), probability would assume that in 82 flips of a coin you’d have 3 heads come up in a row more than one time. For fun, you can test this at https://www.random.org/coins/?num=82&cur=60-usd.0025c-pa
Of the teams wins, 6 came in overtime/shootout, about 25%. Of those wins not in OT/SO, 4 were by only one goal.
Now some actual analysis.
The Sabres Strength of Schedule (SOS) was basically the league avg. We can’t really make any basis for them being terrible based on playing an overly difficult schedule. As a result, we can’t expect any turn around in performance based on this metric.
The Sabres scored 49 powerplay goals on 257 opportunities. This is near the league average of 50/250. Shorthanded the Sabres gave up 52 goals vs the league average of 50. They did this on 15 fewer penalty kills than the league average. Referees must have pitied us and given us more opportunities on the PP and given us less PKs.
In terms of goals for and goal against, last year the Sabres PP and PK numbers were in line with league average at only -3. Any reversion to the mean in opportunities for or against, or in conversion rate, indicates that these categories would likely not have any impact on our total net goals in 2018-19.
Shooting and save percentage tells a slightly different story. I find goaltending to be very fluky. Bad Sabres teams have been propped up by enhanced save percentages while good teams have been impacted by terrible goaltending (looking at you Carolina).
Buffalo was -63 on shots taken vs the league average last season. They also converted at 1.5% lower rate than the league average. Shots for is likely an indicator of low possession and the lower shooting percentage a reflection of the inability to generate high quality scoring opportunities. But puck luck does account for some of the average.
Let’s totally ignore shots taken as it reflects a poor possession team, if we assume that the Sabres are slightly luckier in conversion next year with a SP% of 8.5% vs 7.7%, the team will score 19 more goals lowering our net goal differential to -61. This roughly a goal every 5 games.
If they pushed all the way to the league average SP% of 9.2% then the team would score 37 more goals and would lower our net goal differential to -43. This is a goal every 3 games.
We probably could do some conditional probability here to figure out how this would translate into points but there is only so much time and coffee in a morning. Quickly though, the Sabres had 12 OT losses (14.6% of games). The extra 19 goals could fall in up to 19 games if they were evenly split to 1 goal a game (duh – 23% of total games). Meaning that the Sabres might get 2-3 extra points from elevated shooting percentage by pushing us from OTL to regulation win.
At the same time, we lost 11 games by 1 goal in regulation, which if we extrapolated those 19 goals over the season we would possibly get 2-3 more points from moving to loss to OTL/SO. We might actually win those games in a shootout, but let’s keep the win total the same and say we lose. Overall, that’s roughly 5 more points from a bit of a reversion to mean in puck luck. Not great, but it’s something.
The team save percentage was 80 basis points below the league average (0.8%) last year. That doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but when extrapolated over 2,659 shots, that’s 21 goals. Roughly an extra goal every 4 games. If we get average goaltending in 2018-19 we could see our point total rise an additional 5 points!
Did you know that the Sabres had 13 players patrol the blue line last year? In order of games played:
- Marco Scandella – 82 games played
- Rasmus Ristolainen – 73
- Nathan Beaulieu – 59
- Jake McCabe – 53
- Victor Antipin – 47
- Justin Falk – 46
- Casey Nelson – 37
- Josh Gorges – 34
- Zach Bogosian – 18
- Brendan Guhle – 18
- Matt Tennyson – 15
- Taylor Fedun – 7
- Zach Redmond – 3
Look at that top 6. Yikes! Beau, McCabe, Antipin and Falk are 3rd pairing or rotational defenseman (I still have hopes for McCabe to be a 2nd pairing player). Even Casey Nelson who was our 7th most utilized defenseman and most of us hope will be in our top 6 this year was -15 last year. I’ll get more into player stats in part 2 but I just wanted to highlight that we’re likely to see slightly better defensive play in 2018-19 with the addition of Dahlin, Guhle, Nelson, Pilut and Hickey. I mean it really can’t get much worse. Hopefully this translates to fewer shots against.
If we assume that shots against were to decline by 25 to 2624, and the teams SV% increased to league average, we’d give up 23 goals less. Not a huge difference from just the improved SV% (duh, it’s only 25 shots). For the sake of this post though, we'll ignore this aspect since we're assuming a similar team.
Conclusion: Based on some general improvement in puck luck, save percentage and overall defensive play we should expect slightly better results (notice how I didn’t say performance) in the coming season. Mean reversion should help the first two aspects. Probability and league parity also says that we should expect a winning streak longer than 3 games next year and we should expect more than one winning streak of that length. We could expect a similar Sabres team from 2017-2018 to improve by 10ish points (upwards of 20 points if shot percentage and save percentage both improved to league average) in the 2018-2019 season. Somewhere in the area of 72-82 points.
I think that’s enough for one fanpost. Please leave your comments below but before you go and say: Well Sane, your assumptions are based on the same team being iced next year but this team is waaaaaay worse than last year’s team since we got rid of our best two players! This fan post wasn’t attempting to address that question and made the assumption of a similar team. Also, we’ll take a look at that question in Part 2: Player Stats. How the additions and subtractions to the bench this offseason might impact goals for and goals against next year.