NHL market review: Which teams are benefiting, suffering from luck?
We're approximately a third of the way through the 2021-22 NHL season, and while that's enough time to get real indications of teams' positions in the league hierarchy, the sample size is still small enough that luck plays a factor in a club's standing.
Let's take a look at which teams have benefited - or been hurt - most by luck thus far.
The Capitals are a very good team. They consistently outperform expected numbers - elite shooting talent allows for that - and they've found ways to pile up wins despite dealing with as many injuries and COVID-19-related absences as almost anyone. They deserve credit.
That said, their results to date are a little extreme. At five-on-five, Washington's high-danger chance differential through 31 games is plus-7. The team has controlled 50.64% of the high-danger chances and 52.94% of the expected goals. Good numbers, but nothing to write home about.
Yet the Capitals lead the league in five-on-five goals, having scored 78 on 64 expected goals. They've also conceded 51 despite giving up nearly 57 expected goals. Those numbers suggest they should be roughly seven goals up. Instead, they rank first in the NHL with a plus-27 differential (78 for, 51 against). Normally, that would be attributed to the shooting ability of Alex Ovechkin and his fellow stars. But Washington has dealt with absences of many of its top guns - and journeymen and unproven prospects have helped maintain top-tier results. I'm skeptical that can continue at this pace.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues have been one of the league's biggest surprises thus far. They own a strong 17-9-5 record and rank just outside the top 10 in points percentage. It's hard to argue they're deserving of such a record.
Even after accounting for special teams, the Blues sit below a 50% share in almost every key metric. They've gotten by on high shooting and save percentages.
I don't expect the wheels to fall off. But I'd be surprised if St. Louis is still in the mix for first in the Central Division by the end of the year.
You can't spell unlucky without the Kraken ... or something like that. Seattle has enjoyed the success - or lack thereof - you'd generally expect from an expansion franchise. The team has won just 10 of 30 games thus far, and on many occasions, its chances of winning disappeared by the end of the opening frame.
Part of that is because the Kraken lack high-end talent, especially up front. But extremely poor luck has played a major role as well.
Philipp Grubauer's contract was always a bit of a gamble; future performance is hardest to predict in goaltenders. Betting big on someone who will be on the wrong side of 30 for the entirety of a deal is risky, to say the least. But nobody could have foreseen Grubauer's struggles thus far.
Before this season, he had logged at least 17 appearances in seven NHL seasons. His save percentages in those years: .925, .918, .926, .923, .917, .916, .922. Those are sparkling numbers.
Even after accounting for a move from a juggernaut Avalanche squad to an expansion franchise, nobody could have envisioned an .882 save percentage through 23 games. Those are numbers you'd expect from a mediocre AHLer called up due to injuries.
Is poor performance really luck? In this case, I'll say it is, at least for Seattle. The team had every reason to expect - at the very least - average goaltending. Grubauer has never provided less. And yet he's cost the Kraken game after game, even contests they've played well in.
Seattle might not be a good team, but it's unlucky to be this bad.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have plenty of problems. Their power play is the worst thing I've ever seen, and they lack true finishers. Those two problems were always going to limit what this team could accomplish.
But a quick glance at some key numbers suggests New Jersey is better than 10 wins in 30 games. The Devils are above 50% in expected goals share at five-on-five and look very good in terms of high-danger chances. They've generated 290 high-danger opportunities, tying them with the Panthers for sixth in the NHL. That has amounted to no success.
New Jersey sits fifth in high-danger chance share (54%) at five-on-five. Actual goal share? The club is at 44.35%, good for 27th.
Again, a lack of true finishers hurts. Losing Jonathan Bernier - whom the team added to split starts with Mackenzie Blackwood - hurts. Having both Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier healthy for just eight of 30 games hurts.
Even after accounting for those issues, the Devils' underlying performance is closer to that of a fringe playoff team than one expected to contend for a top pick.
Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.