The Bruins fired Claude Julien this week, and all the rage right now is to harangue the front office for scapegoating a legend after building a piss poor roster. It’s true that Claude Julien was and is a top tier coach who is better at his craft than anybody Boston could replace him with. It’s also true that collective performance of current GM Cam Neely and his predecessor (Peter Chiarelli) has been an abomination since the 2011 title. However, as counterintuitive as it may seem, several metrics indicate that this coaching move could actually be just what the Bruins need to kickstart a resurgence.
Right now, Boston leads the NHL by a healthy margin in two popular stats amongst hockey sabermetricians: PDO and FenClose. Allow me to briefly explain both for those of you who don’t speak hockey nerd…
PDO – is simply shooting percentage + save percentage during 5v5 situations. This stat usually regresses to 1.00 over long periods of time, and the theory behind it is that players who shoot with a high percentage are often taking risks that result in defensive liabilities. If you have a low PDO, it can indicate that you’ve been suffered bad ‘puck luck’ more often than not. At .967, Boston has the lowest PDO in the league and most other teams are not even close.
Obviously, as is the clear case with Colorado at #2, there are instances where PDO is less an indicator of luck and more an indication of that you just plain suck at both offense and defense. To determine which of those two buckets a team falls into, hockey nerds like to pair this stat with a shot volume metric, with my favorite being FenClose…
FenClose – is a derivative of Fenwick, which in itself is a derivative of Corsi. Corsi is a shot differential metric calculated as a percent of shots on goal + shots missed + shots blocked + goals vs those same shots that you concede during 5v5 situations (so a Corsi of 50% means that you’ve shot a puck towards the goal the exact same number of times that your opponent has). Fenwick is the same as Corsi, except it excludes the ‘shots blocked’ tally because a blocked shot is generally a result of good defense. Finally, FenClose is the same as Fenwick, but only counting shot totals in situations where the score is within one goal. The idea is to control for factors where teams are more or less aggressive on offense in blowout situations. Again, Boston is the league leader in FenClose, and this time it’s by a wide margin.
As you can see, Boston finds themselves in much better company this time around, and now you can make a clear case that the Bruins record might not be a true reflection of the talent on the ice. It could be bad luck, but it could also be a case where Julien’s long tenure has run its course and a fresh voice could get Boston’s mojo running again.
A great individual example on the roster is David Backes, the former five year captain for a very good St. Louis team who is now serving the first year of a heavily criticized five year $30M contract. Throughout this decade, he’s consistently produced about 20+ goals and 50+ points per year, but is projected to fall short of 20 in both goals and assists this year. Might part of his problems be due to a peculiar and temporary shooting % drop? (see 2012 Ryan Getzlaf)
These stats could all be bullshit, but if you’re a believer then the Bruins might not be a bad buy at 40:1 future odds right now. It’s also worth noting that Boston has the #2 penalty kill right now, huuuggee for the playoffs. They’d only have to win one round before you could lock in a profit with hedges. If they get in as the wild card, they draw the choke artist Caps. Otherwise, they’d get division rivals Toronto, Ottawa, or Florida. Seems pretty doable to me.
P.S. these same stats say to watch out for the Kings, especially when they get Quick back. 25:1 to win the cup and 11:1 to win the West, not bad…