I started but unfortunately did not finish another stats-oriented article that has a bit more depth to it. That article will have to wait until I find time to finish writing it.
Instead, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick tour of some simpler statistics.
The Sebastian Aho effect
Sebastian Aho, who has 73 points in 65 games, is on pace for 92 points. That is a HUGE number in Hurricanes history. Eric Staal hit 100 in the magical 2005-06 season, but his run of good seasons in his prime were tightly in a 70 to 82-point range.
The Sebastian Aho effect also has powerful reach to the players on the ice with him. Nino Niederreiter who has played almost exclusively with Aho has 18 points in 19 games for a 78-point pace. His career high is 57 points, but he has scored at a mid-40s pace otherwise throughout his career.
Micheal Ferland had 11 goals in the first 24 games of the season playing primarily with Aho. After returning from a layoff due to a concussion, he has scored only 6 goals in 32 games. The first stretch represents a 38-goal pace over 82 games, whereas the second stretch is only a 15-goal pace.
Justin Williams scoring change is not as pronounced, but I think many would agree that he too is thriving playing with Aho.
The commonality between Niederreiter and Ferland is that both are power forwards who can skate and finish around the net. Both are exactly the type of player who most benefits from Aho’s ability to carry and distribute the puck in the offensive zone.
After years of trying mostly unsuccessfully to patch together enough scoring from lower lines and not really have a true first line scoring-wise, the Hurricanes finally have one. More significantly, as an offensive catalyst Sebastian Aho has the ability to boost the play and scoring of whoever plays on his line.
I know we are not supposed to talk about plus/minus. And I fully realize that the stat has flaws especially for small sample sizes. But at the end of the day, games are decided by goal differential or less fancily plus/minus. And though causation is up for debate, I think it is interesting to take a simple look at who is on the ice when the team is winning and who is on the ice when the team is not winning.
In that respect, the disparity in plus/minus for the Hurricanes is fascinating
Sebastian Aho +28, Brett Pesce +26, Teuvo Teravainen +25
More than any other player, I think Aho’s +28 is significant. After laboring for years with a player who could score in bunches but never really boost his team ahead when he was on the ice, Aho is not just scoring but winning when he is on the ice. Pesce’s number is also interesting. He has played with a variety of partners, so one would figure that his plus/minus would be similar to the rest of the blue line. But it is not. The next best is Faulk at +10. The average for the 6 regulars on the blue line is only +2. In that context, Pesce’s +26 is a massive outlier in a good way, and I do not think it is mathematical randomness.
The second tier
Micheal Ferland +15, Justin Faulk +10, Nino Niederreiter +10, Brock McGinn +9
Ferland has generally been positive throughout the year, but interestingly surged +9 in February. In my book, Faulk is a secondary candidate for most-improved. McGinn is maybe a bit of a surprising entry in this second tier as a depth forward whose goal scoring is down a bit in 2018-19. Niederreiter is impressive in that his +10 is in only 19 games.
Calvin de Haan +5, Jordan Martinook +3, Greg McKegg +3, Dougie Hamilton +1, Saku Maenalanen +1, Jaccob Slavin 0
This group holds three of the four remaining defensemen and also a couple of the team’s strong depth forwards.
Andrei Svechnikov -3, Trevor van Riemsdyk -4, Lucas Wallmark, -5, Justin Williams -5, Jordan Staal -7, Warren Foegele -14
A couple things jump out from the bottom group. First is that Williams, Staal and Foegele who are the bottom three on the team spent a huge chunk of the beginning of the season together. The trio played like it was shot out of a cannon for a handful of games and mostly labored after that. This might sound odd, but Jordan Staal’s injury played a significant role in the Hurricanes rebound. It is not that Jordan Staal is a bad player. I am on record as thinking that his return significantly improves the team. But for whatever reason, Brind’Amour seemed to cling too tightly to the logic of a Foegele/Staal/Williams checking line even after the eye test and the underlying statistics suggested it just was not working. Williams is excelling on a different line. Foegele is now in a lesser role. And early returns on Staal with new line mates are promising. Interestingly, Wallmark who admirably stepped into Staal’s role as a checking line center is also near the bottom. Both Staal and Wallmark have performed reasonably well defensively, but I think their simple plus/minus highlights the impossibility of winning against the NHL’s best by defending them. The path to winning requires being able to score too. With a playmaker on his wing in Teravainen, Staal has been productive since returning from injury. In four games, he has a goal and 5 assists, and maybe not surprisingly is +4 in those games.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who else wants to rave about Sebastian Aho and his emergence as a true catalyst who scores in bunches but equally importantly boosts his line mats significantly too?
2) What, if anything, do you see in the plus/minus disparity on the team?