By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
Now that we have some clarity on the NHL season we can start making predictions, bold or otherwise, about the season. In hockey, you need to score more goals than the other team to win so that seems like a good starting point for analysis and prognostication. Goal scoring has also been one of the leading anxieties for Bruins’ fans this off-season with repeated calls from the Bruinsverse to upgrade the forward group. While General Manager Don Sweeney may have felt he did so in acquiring Craig Smith, followers of the team clamored for the addition of a player like Mike Hoffman. It appears to still be a concern for many fans.
Now that the Hoffman sweepstakes are finally over, what do we feel is the #nhlbruins biggest weakness?— Michael DiGiorgio (@BostonDiGiorgio) December 28, 2020
The Bruins stout defense has driven their success in the past few years. Their offense has been a mixed bag. In 2019-20, the Bruins finished 18th in the league at five-on-five, registering 141 goals. On the powerplay, they finished second in the league with 57 markers. Throw in five more goals while shorthanded and the Bruins finished seventh in the league with 227 goals in all situations. Bruins’ fans’ angst is both supported and refuted with this data as the Bs were a top-ten team in overall offense but struggled mightily at even strength. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we can expect to see in regards to goal scoring this upcoming season.
Despite the Toronto Maple Leafs serving as one of the current villains in the Bruins’ movie franchise, they do have some great writers. Jonas Siegel and James Mirtle of The Athletic spent time this off-season predicting the goal output of each expected member of the Leafs, an exercise they apparently borrowed from former coach Mike Babcock. I chose to use their model, especially the math driven theorizing of Mirtle, to create my Bruins’ predictions.
For each player, I went through the following process informed by their performance over the past few years. I estimated how many games each would play this season and their average ice time. I then added in how many shots per 60 minutes I expect from each player. All of those numbers were used to estimate total shots for the season. Utilizing shooting percentage versus the total shots, I came to a final goal output for the season for each player. For younger players or ones who will have an adjusted role this season, I took some creative license in assigning them values. As we go through the tables I’ll share my thought process and explain where the math intersected with the art (and maybe even a little bit of fan bias).
|Player||GP||TOI/G||Total TOI||SOG/60||Total shots||Sh%||Goals|
The biggest challenge in assembling this table was determining how Coach Bruce Cassidy will deploy his bottom of the line-up forwards. This is true when facing injuries or when fully healthy. This is where the biggest arguments can be made with my predictions, for example, I predicted Karson Kuhlman will get into 17 games this season when he could easily be waived and picked up by another team before training camp breaks. I also had trouble determining what kind of opportunities rookies Zach Senyshyn and Trent Frederic might receive. For those two, there is also no NHL data to work off of so I had to guess their shots per 60 and shooting percentage in the big league. While I agonized over those decisions, none really have a big impact on the team totals.
The health of the top line will be the biggest factor in the Bruins’ offensive output as I estimate they will be responsible for close to 60% of the squad’s goals. David Pastrnak will miss the early part of the season, and putting on my expert medical hat I predict that he will miss the first 15 games. What shape Brad Marchand will be in to begin the season is unknown and he could be in line for a slow start. Patrice Bergeron has not come to close to a full slate of games since 2016-17. Any absence or drop off in play from the top line could be catastrophic to the Bruins’ goal totals. For this exercise, I estimate each will perform to their norms despite missing some action.
Other players provide additional unknowns but there is room for optimism. A player like Ondrej Kase regressing to career averages in shots and shooting percentage could go a long way in providing secondary scoring. Likewise, the addition of Craig Smith, and some consistency and maybe growth from Jake Debrusk will help a lot as well. For all three, I estimated they play to their career averages.
Two players who will be especially worth watching are Nick Ritchie and Anders Bjork. Both have shown flashes of ability in their careers albeit in very different ways. While both players need to perform, the biggest variable for each will be where they are deployed in the lineup. That is if they get into the lineup regularly. If either gets extended opportunities with any of the top-three centers they should be able to produce. However, when the team is fully healthy I anticipate both being pushed down the lineup and occasionally into the press box.
|Player||GP||TOI/G||Total TOI||SOG/60||Total shots||Sh%||Goals|
I know, I’ve included Zdeno Chara. Until the big man is officially not a Boston Bruin I’m including him in all projections. His presence obviously impacts a lot of other players so my projections could be blown up by this one personnel decision alone. Having said that, I’ve penciled Chara in on the third pairing and am assuming he does not play in any back-to-backs. I’ve also made the assumption that Jakub Zboril not only makes the team but finds his way into regular duty. Jeremy Lauzon is the seventh defenseman playing on Chara’s maintenance days and John Moore gets some run during injuries. During this condensed and brutal season, Kevan Miller manages to get a few games of action when the depth is tested. Urho Vaakanainen stays in the minors to round out his game while playing big minutes.
Like the forwards, the top of the lineup will have a larger impact on this discussion than the depth players. In particular, the play of Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will have the largest impact on the final tally. I’ve made the optimistic assumption that both will see an increase in shots per 60 and shooting percentage given increased powerplay time. Hopefully, one, or both, can find chemistry with PP1. If they can do so, the loss of Torey Krug will be much less pronounced.
If my projections are correct, the Bruins will score 189 goals this upcoming season, a 277 goal pace over an 82-game season. This amounts to a 3.35 goal per game pace compared to 3.2 last season, perhaps a bit optimistic. The difference between a 3.35 and 3.2 pace in 2019-20 would have been second in the league versus ninth. That is how narrow the margins for good versus great are in the NHL. On an individual player level, the predictions should give us a good barometer for what to expect if a player stays healthy, is deployed as expected by the coaching staff, and performs to expectation. Having said that, players are human and their performances vary. Coaches tinkering and looking for chemistry will also impact the final numbers. Both are aspects that make sports so unpredictable and exciting.
S/T to NaturalStatTrick.com and Hockey-Reference.com for giving me a baseline to create my data.