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An Updated Set of Goal Projections for the New Jersey Devils Skaters

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Back in November, CJ Turtoro used the expected goals model at Corsica to come up with goal projections for the New Jersey Devils skaters. With the final quarter of the season coming up, I show off an updated set of goal projections for the Devils players.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes
Raise your arms like you’re still projected to score at least 30 goals this season.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in November, the New Jersey Devils were scoring in bunches and the goal scoring leader was Brian Gibbons. Yes, the Brian Gibbons. He had nine goals as of November 22. This was astounding. It also begged the question: how many goals should we expect Gibbons to score? For the matter, how many should each of the Devils players score based on how they started the season?

CJ utilized the expected goals model at Corsica to figure out an answer back on November 22. You can read a fuller explanation of what the model is here, but the long and short of it is that the model determines how many goals a player should have based on where and how often they’re shooting the puck. CJ took each Devils’ individual expected goals for (ixGF) value for all situations (all, not just 5-on-5), calculated a per-game rate for it, and performed a projection with lower and upper bounds to account for error margin. CJ’s post had the breakdown of how the projections worked out. Now that it is almost three months and 38 games later, let’s see how it did:

NJ Devils Goal Projections from 11-22-2017
NJ Devils Goal Projections from 11-22-2017
Stats from Corsica.hockey, projection by CJ Turtoro

Several Devils have already scored enough goals to be within the bounds of what CJ projected. They are at the lower end of the list, including all of the defensemen (technically Mirco Mueller counts as he was expected to score zero on the lower end and he has zero now). Since they scored so few goals by November 22, the projection based on ixGF set a fairly low lower bound for them to meet. The majority of the players have not hit their total projection. Only Jesper Bratt, Travis Zajac, and Damon Severson have done it after Saturday’s win in Tampa Bay. A few others are very close, though. There are 23 games left to play (not including Sunday’s game in Carolina) so the projections are very much in play.

I included a quick thought on whether each player will meet that projection along with how many goals they would need to meet the lower bound value. As you can see, only Drew Stafford, Jimmy Hayes, and Blake Coleman have to score more than five goals to do it and I think they’re unlikely to do so. Seeing as those three are bottom-six players, they may not get the minutes needed to have the opportunities. Only Stafford among those three receives regular power play time - and that’s moot given how impotent the power play has become. I have more confidence that Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and (now that he’s shooting a bit more) Nico Hischier will be able to score as much as needed to meet the lower bound. They play more minutes, they get more opportunities, and they all can fire the puck well and often.

I also put asterisks alongside Gibbons and Johansson. Brian Gibbons is currently out with a broken finger. Marcus Johansson is suffering from a concussion. They need three and one goal, respectively, to meet the lower bound. If and when they return will be crucial as to whether they’ll have enough time and opportunity to do so. If it’s soon, then I think it’ll happen. If not, then it likely won’t.

A Newer Projection

Now that we’re well into the season and a lot has changed with the team’s performance since November 22, I asked CJ to run the model again with the current numbers. I thank CJ for doing so. As of February 17 (including the Tampa Bay game), here is an updated set of projections from CJ for all game situations. To show how the projections have changed, I’ve included the difference - the delta - between the updated projection from CJ’s original projection from November. Green is a higher projection, red is not. (Note: Sami Vatanen and Nick Lappin are highlighted as they weren’t in New Jersey for the initial projection on November 22.)

NJ Devils Goal Projections after 2/17/2018 Games
NJ Devils Goal Projections after 2/17/2018 Games
Stats from Corsica.hockey, projection by CJ Turtoro

The model assumes that the lower bound for most of the team will be just if most players do not score any goals. That will likely not happen. It can’t happen for Zacha given yesterday’s game (he now has 6 goals).

Most of the players saw a negative correction in their projection. This should not be a total surprise. Some players just had a hot start that has now came back down to reality. The team was projected to have six 20+ goal scorers, it’s now projecting four - maybe five. For example, the two biggest decreases were for Drew Stafford, who has only scored three goals since November 22, and Jimmy Hayes, who has not scored at all since November 22.

Other notable decreases involve Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons. The current injury (now four weeks old) and eventual cooling off of Brian Gibbons also led to a big hit to his projection too. I think we can agree that getting 15 goals out of Brian Gibbons is a lot for a fourth liner who gets some penalty killing time. It’s still quite a bit. As for Coleman, he’s been below the expected goals model all season. For all of his charging to the net, keeping plays going, and driving offense on the PK, he could have had double of the goals that he has now. Should he retain the same role for next season, don’t be too terribly surprised if he gets some luck going his way. Or if he gets it down the stretch of this season.

There were some increases. Travis Zajac is now back in action and has contributed enough to see his projection shoot up by nine goals. I don’t know if Zajac will get nine more goals himself, but he has been able to contribute more in both ends of the rink in recent weeks. Since Damon Severson and Jesper Bratt already met projection, the model thinks they can do a bit more - which would be great. Stefan Noesen has chipped in two goals before this very post to get up to seven, which was a bit less than a goal below his initial projection. The models have recognized that Noesen has been more than just a guy in the lineup and therefore expects a few more tallies from him.

The most surprising difference is towards the top. While the projections were lessened for Kyle Palmieri, who missed quite a few games, and Miles Wood; at least 20 goals for them seems to be possible. If the power play can get sorted out and if Palmieri stays with Hall, I can see it. As for Wood, he’s been playing better hockey and only needs four more goals in his next 21 games to do it. I can see it. While the projection went down, Hischier could still crack 20 if he keeps on firing away and stays hot on his goal streak.

But the biggest person to highlight here is Taylor Hall. He was projected to break 30 goals way back in November. Now that Hall is riding a 18-game point streak where he’s picked up 11 goals in that time frame, he’s projected to score even more. Just one or two more, but that speaks to the level of play Hall has provided all season. Remember: the expected goal model takes into account where and how often shots are taken. Hall has been getting it done all season long. What’s more is that the models are suggesting Hall will do something he’s never done. 30 is a big number for goals in that he’s never cracked it; Hall has never scored more than 27 goals in a season in his career. That he’s been consistently seen as someone producing shots and firing them in such that it could lead to 30 or more goals scored speaks volumes about the kind of season he’s having. I’ve noted that he’s got a chance of having one of the best seasons for a forward in Devils history. The numbers CJ provided justifies that. It’s another reason to think this could be a season with some Hart for Hall.

Conclusions

First and foremost, I want to thank CJ for running the model again. I think these projections are generally attainable for most of the Devils players. While I wouldn’t expect everyone to do so (e.g. Coleman and Stafford need to get hot soon), I do think some players will definitely get more than the few needed to get within striking distance. (And maybe Mirco Mueller gets lucky on a shot.) I do hope Palmieri, Wood, and hopefully Hischier get past 20 goals. I especially hope Hall sets a career high in goals as he keeps on the scoring times rolling.

At the minimum, this update to the projections show that hot sticks do not last forever, but it doesn’t mean everyone gets to crash to a total lack of scoring. There will be goals (Zacha, Hischier, and Hall just added one more yesterday) and hopefully even more as the Devils play out the final 23 games of their season.

What do you make of these updated projections? Do you think they make sense? Who do you think will exceed the projections? Who will not meet them in this final quarter of the season? Please leave your thoughts about the Devils’ scoring and their projections in the comments. Thank you for reading.