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Staturday Weekly Column #5: Projecting the North Division Standings in 2021

As we enter the last knockings of the preseason, it’s an apt time to check out what some analytical models are predicting will happen this season. This post will take a look at two different statistical models to see what they say about the all-new all-Canadian “North” division for the 2021 NHL season.

The first model comes from Moneypuck.com, a site geared toward season predictions and game odds. For instance, to open the season, the site projects the Leafs have a 53.7% chance of beating the Habs “at home”. Moneypuck claims to develop its model in the following way:

By running a simulation of the rest of the NHL season 100,000 times we can create precise probabilities of the outcome of the season for each team. Each game is simulated using the probabilities from the pre-game prediction model discussed below. For games further into the future, the model scores are regressed to the mean to account for uncertainty.

They run one model that includes various statistics that evaluate the strength of each team, and then a second model that looks at the outputs of the first model to determine how likely the Home team is to win. Statistics included Expected Goals For at even strength and on the powerplay (how likely your shot attempts were to being goals), Corsi % (how much you control the shot attempts), team save %, team shooting %, and the ratio the team gets powerplays. The second model also looks at how much rest each team has had and which team is at home to determine the likelihood they’ll win.

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The second comes from a former The Leafs Nation contributor Dom Luszczyszyn, who now writes beautiful and fun pieces for The Athletic. He wrote a season projection article for each and every team, and we will happily pluck the predictions for the North division.

Alphabetically, this is how it all shakes out.

Calgary Flames

The Flames have made a number of key changes, including bringing in Jacob Markstrom in goal.

Moneypuck projects that the Flames have a 64% chance of making the playoffs, and will expect something in the neighbourhood of 64.3 points this season. Expanding that further, they have a 4.1% chance of winning it all and taking the Stanley Cup home.

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Similarly, Dom’s model has them at a 70% chance to make the playoffs, 65.1 points, and a 3 percent chance at the Cup.

Edmonton Oilers

Onto their Alberta rivals in the Edmonton Oilers, the models are less kind. According to Moneypuck, Edmonton have a 61.1% chance of making the playoffs and will get around 63.5 points. Dom, again similarly, has them around 64.1 points with a 65% chance of making the playoffs.

They have the Oilers at 3.8% and 2% respectively at winning the Cup.

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Montreal Canadiens

Now we’ll look at our own rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, who have made a lot retooling changes this offseason in bringing in Josh Anderson, Michael Frolik and Tyler Toffoli to help on the wings, and adding Jake Allen (quite expensively, I might add) to shore up the backup goaltending position.

This adds up to a 65.7% chance to make the playoffs, and an expected standings points total of 64.8, with a 4.3% chance of winning the Cup, from Moneypuck. In Dom’s model, they have a 76 percent chance to make the playoffs, and will get around 66.4 points in the standings. They’ll have a 3 percent chance of winning the Cup.

Ottawa Senators

Ottawa is up next as our more kid-brother-like rival, who, while making a lot of moves, ultimately don’t appear to be much of a challenge. Their backend especially is in shambles, expect for Thomas Chabot, relying in former Leaf Nikita Zaitsev to play a major role, among other concerning challenges.

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Moneypuck’s model has Ottawa with a bottom-5, 40.4% chance of making the playoffs, 58.3 standings points, and a 2% chance of winning the Cup. Dom’s model is far more harsh, having them with just a 5% chance of making the playoffs, a ~0% chance of winning the Cup, and expecting 49.1 standings points.

This is the first major deviance between the two models, obviously with Moneypuck taking things a lot more carefully in giving Ottawa a 40.4% chance of making the playoffs, while Dom, characteristic to his personality I might add, has taken a hard line in developing a model that punishes Ottawa’s playoff chances so harshly. No team in Moneypuck’s model have a lower than 20% chance of making the playoffs. The models are largely looking at the same datasets, and are obviously aiming for the same results; yet, there are deviances due to biases and choices made by the developers that can only be seen when stacking two different models up side-by-side. To me, that’s neat.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Presumably the reason you’re all here, we finally get to see our Leafs’ chances now.

Moneypuck has Toronto with a second-highest 69.8% chance of making the playoffs. They should expect to get 65.9 points in the standings, and have a 4.7% chance to win the Cup.

Dom, clearly a Leafs homer (I jest), project to get 72.6 standings points, and have a 94 percent chance to make the playoffs and an 11 percent chance to win the Cup. That’s a staggering difference between the two models again, this time at the other end of the spectrum. Dom’s model is showing a lot more certainty in the points projections side and that those 72.6 points will be enough to get them into the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks

The British Columbian squad are going to be expecting big things after assembling a good, young core of players and assembling some hard-working depth around them. They appear to be in a similar spot to the Leafs about 2 years ago, when Kyle Dubas took over and the team really started to take shape.

Vancouver is still those two years behind, or just not quite as skilled in their young core as Toronto are, as they don’t project nearly as well this season. According to Moneypuck, Vancouver have just a 47.1% chance of making the playoffs, and will expect to get around 59.9 points in the standings, with a 2.4% chance of winning the Cup.

From Dom, the Canucks are very similarly projected, having a 47% chance of making the playoffs, expecting 61 points in the standings, and a 1 percent chance at the Cup.

Winnipeg Jets

Lastly, the Jets should be a few steps ahead of Toronto, having already established Mark Scheifele as an elite scorer before the Leafs had assembled their young core. However, lacking the strength in depth, and Patrick Laine not working out as the potential-50-goal scorer Auston Matthews has, they also lag behind Toronto in the projections.

Moneypuck has them at a 51.9% chance to make the playoffs, 61.1 points, and a 2.8% chance to win the Cup.

Dom, similarly, has them at 47% chance at making the playoffs, 61 points, and a 1% chance at the Cup.

Final Thoughts

Let’s put all that into a table for easy digestion:

Team Money Puck
Points Projection
Dom Luszczyszyn
Points Projection
Toronto Maple Leafs 65.9 72.6
Montreal Canadiens 64.8 66.4
Calgary Flames 64.3 65.1
Edmonton Oilers 63.5 64.1
Winnipeg Jets 61.1 61.0
Vancouver Canucks 59.9 61.0
Ottawa Senators 58.3 49.1

It’s interesting that each model has the same standings set, but a much wider spread in Dom’s model than Moneypuck’s. Moneypuck appears to be more conservative in its projection than Dom, but ultimately arrives at a similar conclusion.

Obviously it’s a great feeling to be (projected to be) on top. The Leafs will hope that this works out even better than the paper calculations say it should.

That’s it for this one, so happy Staturday everyone!