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Nashville Predators Analysis: Pekka Rinne and Nashville's Cult of Puck Luck

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It's good to see Pekka Rinne back on the ice, albeit only in practice or in Milwaukee for a conditioning stint thus far. But here's a question we've been pondering: if the Nashville Predators miss the playoffs this year, can they blame coming up short on their star keeper's unforeseen absence? Or are there other factors?

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Nashville's stud Finnish netminder hasn't played an NHL game since October 2013.
Nashville's stud Finnish netminder hasn't played an NHL game since October 2013.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Buried in a David Climer story a few weeks ago, on Pekka Rinne's hopeful return, is a refrain we hear all too often in Nashville:

It was a weird game. The Preds out-shot the Ducks 38-24 and Trotz spoke repeatedly about the number of quality scoring chances they had against the league’s best team.

"I’d bottle that game and most nights we’d win," he said.

Indeed, you sometimes wonder if the Preds are snake-bit. Going back to the day Rinne’s condition was diagnosed, they’ve been skating in bad luck.

"It’s like the puck has not been bouncing our way," said Viktor Stalberg, who scored his seventh goal of the season on Saturday night. "I don’t know how many posts and crossbars I’ve hit this year.... Hopefully pucks start bouncing our way when we come back from the break."

Sounds like a plan.

Emphasis added. Sorry, Mr. Climer: continuing forward with the same, tired defense-first personnel philosophy, and leaving the rest of the outcome to chance, isn't a plan in which I want to participate.

Barry Trotz has hinted at liking fancy stats, and he's right to say that a 38-24 shot counter should have amounted to a win, given the teams' respective shooting percentages (Nashville should've defeated the Ducks 3-2 in a mathematically sound world). But advanced analytics, prospective analysis, and playing the odds are no substitute for the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds, and if Nashville can't find a way to overcome even the most favorable of odds against them, they'll continue to be a perennial also-ran.

What role does luck actually play in hockey? Well, it probably plays more of a role than any of us clamoring for turning the Titanic around would care to admit. With apologies to Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec, and Devan Dubnyk, Springing Malik has calculated in essence that losing Pekka Rinne to injury has been tantamount to icing a 19-player roster every night since he went down with a bacterial infection in his hip last October. The AMIP figure of 60:16 for Nashville in the analysis basically means that Nashville has been playing like they are without someone who plays ~60 minutes per night -- for example, a goaltender. That doesn't necessarily mean that they'd produce the same record without anybody in net, mind you, but it supports the intuitive notion that Peks really is one of the central linchpins of Barry Trotz's coaching strategy.

You can assign different weights to a few more variables to tweak this visualization, but injuries (as measured by the cap hit of injured players, or CHIP), have impacted what Rob Vollman calls Nashville's "Luck Score" pretty tremendously (follow that link and spend a couple minutes, I'll wait).


Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators

6-5

204

Nov 03, 1982



GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2013 - Pekka Rinne 9 493 4 4 1 19 2.31 229 210 .917 0

Of course, there will always be other factors driving the outcome of a game. But it's relatively safe to say that, with Pekka Rinne between the pipes, Nashville almost certainly wins a game in which Eric Nystrom scores four goals.

Every team faces adversity, and nothing is guaranteed -- but it's a GM's job and a coach's job to ensure that proper contingency plans are in place in case a star goes down, so they don't have to rely so much on luck to get the job done. Did the Predators do that in acquiring Viktor Stalberg? Well, yes and no. They went with the best information they had at the time, and it's just a shame that he hasn't contributed more offensively this year.

Given how the coaches and management built the team in recent years and in the off-season last year, acquiring Carter Hutton to back up Pekka Rinne was arguably one of the worst budget decisions David Poile made last summer, next to signing Matt Hendricks, because it stacked one risk (a totally unproven goalie) upon another (Rinne's ability to have a healthy, productive season after having hip surgery). Poile probably took a little pressure off himself by shipping Hendy to Edmonton for Devan Dubnyk who, unfortunately, has also been a bit of a flop, but at least he's a half-priced flop. Of course, there's a certain amount of luck required in the NHL's fluid labor market, too, including free agency; so there's that.

Bottom line: Nashville plays a reckless game in allowing luck to determine so much of the outcome. They've been resource-constrained before, and still finished the season a few wins short of a President's Trophy. The new #PredatorHard "Predator Way" isn't a throwback to that era by any stretch of the imagination, and this organization needs a fundamental philosophical retooling before management and coaches can think coherently about a roster retooling.