Some people may have forgotten this, but in December of 2010, the Thrashers were primed for a playoff berth. Mainstream journalists sat up and took notice. After their game against the Maple Leafs on December 20th, the Thrashers were 19-11-5, with a point percentage of .614. This was finally the year for them - they'd gotten rid of Ilya Kovalchuk, acquired Dustin Byfuglien, and the team was better off. We know what happened next; they went 13-25-7 over their remaining 45 games and finished with the 6th worst overall record in hockey. Then they moved to Winnipeg.
But something strange happened along the way - by 'advanced metrics', the team got better, even as it did worse. Here's a look at Atlanta/Winnipeg's first half and second half even-strength Fenwick with the score tied by player, with a minimum of 10 total games. Fenwick % is shots on goal + missed shots on goal by Team X (here, Atlanta) divided by the total number of shots and missed shots taken. A player's Fenwick % is shots on goal + missed shots FOR while he is on the ice divided by total shots on goal + missed shots by both teams. We're only looking at the results while the score is tied because teams change their strategies when ahead or behind, which fouls up the numbers. (All numbers here courtesy of timeonice.com)
|Player||GP||1st Half Fenwick||GP||2nd Half Fenwick||Difference|
We see that in the first half, Atlanta was well into the negative - only two players managed to hit 50%. Their goal differential, however, was +3 despite a 46.3% Fenwick percentage. In the second half, the story was reversed - few players were in the red. Yet their goal differential with the score tied was -2 in spite of a .529 Fenwick %. We know that Fenwick % with the score tied is a better predictor of future results than Goal %, so by these measures, Atlanta/Winnipeg could be looking at a resurgence next year.
A nice chart contributed by JaredL shows the relationship between Fenwick % and Goal % as the season progressed:
We see the Fenwick % rising as the Goal % drops. What could cause the Fenwick to jump? I can think of three things that would cause the improvement:
A: Personnel Changes - The Thrashers made a few moves towards the end of the year, they brought in Radek Dvorak, Mark Stuart, and Blake Wheeler while they shipped out Brent Sopel , Niclas Bergfors, and Rich Peverley. Wheeler and Dvorak's 2nd half Fenwick while tied definitely beats Bergfors's and Peverley's.
B: Coaching Adjustments - It was Craig Ramsay's first year coaching the Thrashers, and perhaps the players had not figured out his system until the second half.
C: Player Improvement - Dustin Byfuglien played some defense for the Blackhawks last year, but this was his first year playing defense full-time. Promising youngsters Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane, and Alex Burmistrov had not played very much in the NHL. Burmistrov's jump was especially impressive.
But what of the drop in goals? I can think of two reasons for that:
A: Blind Luck - The Thrashers simply didn't get the bounces. Over such a small sample, chance will always be a factor. No one said that hockey was fair.
B: Changing Strategy - What if the Thrashers were responding to their difficulty in scoring goals by simply firing more pucks at the net? It's possible, but I doubt very much that it would result in such a wild change in Fenwick.
Still, this change in goal differential involving score tied Fenwick is one thing, but you don't get to a 14-19-6 second half record without other things going wrong, and it seems like just about everything else did. Here's a look at their Special Teams split into first and second halves:
|Special Teams||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
And here's a graph showing Fenwick shooting percentage, both for and against, for the season:
We can see, again, that the opponent's shooting percentage improves while Atlanta's gets worse.
So who are the Winnipeg Jets going to be next season? It's difficult to say. They moved to a different city and switched coaches, but the personnel are going to remain pretty much intact. The team is still in the Eastern Conference despite moving to Winnipeg, which will lead to increased travel. They've yet to sign Zach Bogosian. Frankly, I don't know. For our upcoming series on Driving Play predicting the 2011-12 season, I inexplicably ranked them as #15 in the Conference - last overall. I doubt they'll make it there, but in spite of their second half Fenwick, I still think it will be a long winter in Winterpeg.