In 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings snuck into the playoffs as the final seed in the Western Conference with 95 points, a 40-27-15 record, and a +15 goal differential. They then proceeded to dominate, taking out that year’s President’s Trophy winner in the first round, and eventually earn the Stanley Cup.
The Kings took the NHL by surprise, only losing four games in total after four playoff series.
Could the Winnipeg Jets do the same?
The answer in hockey is always yes. Hockey is one of the more luck ladened sports and because of this everything is always possible, just not always probable.
We will take a more in-depth look after the jump.
The Jets are noted to be very similar to the 2011-12 Kings stylistically.
They both are a big, fast, and physical teams that like to activate their defensemen often, in both the rush and the cycle. The Jets produce much of their offense under sustained pressure situations much like the Kings do as well.
Both teams even carry starting goaltenders infamous for highly variable performances.
There are however some differences.
While both teams are voracious on the forecheck, the Kings used their forecheck far more often. This is due to Daryl Sutter being the greater proponent for the “Dump and Chase” strategy, while Paul Maurice advocates for his skaters to be free in their creativity, as long as they keep their responsibilities when without the puck.
From an overall results standpoint, the Jets are not all that different from the Los Angeles Kings that season.
The Jets enter the playoffs in the lowest seed as the second wild card, crossing over to the Pacific Division. They accumulated 99 points with a 43-26-13 record and +20 goal differential.
This perspective has the Jets in a bit better position than the Kings in 2011-12. They actually carry a better record than the Calgary Flames, but are placed in the final spot due to wild card crossover as opposed to being the eighth overall.
The Underlying Numbers
The Los Angeles Kings playoff success was one of the pivotal moments in underlying metrics –often labelled as advance statistics– history.
Despite underlying metrics being about probability, not destiny, the public tends to be swayed most by the extreme moments when something does work out. The Kings were a well respected team by shot metrics advocates and the team’s success in the playoffs propelled these numbers into the public eye.
Are the Jets an analytical darling like the Kings?
In terms of shot attempts, there are a lot of similarities, although the Kings are the stronger team overall.
Both teams excel in opponent shot suppression, although the Kings generate a lot more shot volume. Similar shot suppression and goaltender performance led to identical goal against per minute numbers.
The Jets however were the more efficient team in goal scoring.
Now there is some cause and effect, with there being a relationship in teams that generate more shots and have a lower shooting percentage. Teams that generate more shots sustain more offensive zone pressure, so a larger proportion of their shots are from sustained zone time as opposed to those generated on the rush.
Although, it should be noted that the Kings did shoot a full 1.7 percentage points higher in the playoffs and have shot better every subsequent season despite still being an elite possession team.
The Jets have often been excused from their league worst penalty differential due to the team’s play-style. Many have stated the Jets poor penalty differential is simply a byproduct of being a big, fast, and physical team that forechecks hard and aggressively. Still, the 2011-12 Kings had a similar reputation about them, but were not as deep in the red.
On the power play, the Jets produce far more shot attempts, although both teams generate similar amount of unblocked shot attempts and goals. On the other situation for special teams, the Kings actually suppress more shot attempts and goals, although the two teams perform similar in unblocked shot attempts.
The Final 25 Games
The predictive value for underlying metrics tends to peak in the 20 to 30 games played range. This is due to the fluid nature of NHL rosters.
Players may get injured, causing them to play less efficiently or take them out of the roster all together. Teams may make trades, or send players up and down from their farm team. Also, coaches may lag in promoting superior players playing lower in their depth charts.
On February 23rd, the Los Angeles Kings picked up Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick, in a move that would shape the franchise. The Kings became the league’s most dominant team in shot attempts differentials.
Their success was in combination from picking up an top-line performer for their second line and the loss of a defender who was well respected by the eye-test, but drowned according to shot metrics.
The Jets did not come out of the deadline as the NHL’s top shot metric performing team, although trade acquisitions were crucial.
The Jets suffered a late injury bug. Evander Kane had his season shutdown due to surgery. Mathieu Perreault and Ben Chiarot looked to be out for the remainder of the regular season, and the status of both Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little had become questionable.
While the Jets did not come out of their trades as the NHL’s best shot-metric team, the added depth of Drew Stafford, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak allowed the Jets to continue at a similar pace, awaiting for the return of some of their heavy hitters. The tradeoff of Tyler Myers for Zach Bogosian however was an upgrade in both on-ice and financial aspects.
(Adjusted shot attempt differential as function of season with name at final 25 games played, courtesy of Micah McCurdy)
The Winnipeg Jets and the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings have a lot of similarities in situation, play-style, and results.
While the Jets are not the analytical darlings that the Kings were coming out of the trade deadline, the Jets were still a top five team in the underlying numbers and a debate could be made that the Jets could have been with a healthy Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault.
The Jets may not be quite the surprise dark horse that the Kings were in 2012, but they are close.
All numbers are from War-on-Ice and are score-adjusted unless otherwise noted.