The Milwaukee Admirals finished the 2017-18 season with a 38-32-6 record. On paper, that isn’t horrible. But, this is an Admirals squad that has now missed the playoffs two of the past four seasons and was swept out of the first round in the other two seasons. There is often talk of how the Predators’ organization excels at drafting and developing players through the AHL, but as a team, the Admirals have had little success in their AHL tenure. Is it true that much of the Admirals’ recent talent has graduated to Nashville? Yes. Is this a very young, inexperienced team? Certainly. But, it’s important to understand the context of the struggles and who will be relied on to turn things around.
With the AHL regular season now finished, now seems as good a time as ever to try and ascertain what contributed to the Admirals’ struggles this season, what players stood out positively or negatively, and if things will be different next season.
To frame this discussion I will be using the work of Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin), prospect-stats.com, and Bill Comeau (@Billius27). There are countless hours of work that’s been put into compiling the charts and comparisons shown below. So, give them a follow on Twitter and please support their work!
Via Colin’s player charts, I’ll be using three comparison tools below: goals for per sixty minutes vs. goals allowed per sixty minutes (GF/60 vs GA/60), time on ice per game vs. primary points per sixty minutes (TOI/GP vs P1/60), and quality of teammate vs. quality of competition (QoT vs QoC TOI and GF%).
Goals For/60 vs. Goals Against/60
As you’ve probably noticed by now, these charts provide an excellent visual to explain goal-based success on the ice. Only four regular Milwaukee forwards had a positive goals per sixty differential: Frederick Gaudreau, Yakov Trenin, Tyler Gaudet, and Bobby Butler. Gaudreau has become a dominant AHL player with 54.7 goals for percentage on a team that was frequently outscored. It seems Trenin’s differential benefitted from Gaudet arriving and centering him on the third line. Players of concern include Justin Kirkland and Tyler Moy who were outscored nearly 2:1 when on the ice.
These numbers highlight even more issues for the Admirals. Their young defense seemed consistently outmatched and it showed on the scoresheet. It is, however, encouraging to see Frederic Allard succeed with increased ice time as the season went on.
TOI/GP vs. P1/60
This can be a telling statistic for a few reasons. Primary points help us not focus on players whose numbers are conflated by secondary assists that may suggest a player had more impact on offensive production throughout the season than context would provide. Compared to ice time, it can help pace players production given their opportunities. For defensemen who may start an offensive rush this can be a detriment so take those numbers with a grain of salt.
This analysis will be better for forwards who are more frequent earners of primary points than defensemen. With that said, there are a few notable performers. Bobby Butler scored nearly two points per sixty minutes this season. While that’s great, it means largely nothing for the future of the Predators. Gaudreau scored nearly 1.5 points per sixty minutes this season and Anthony Richard was right behind him - an encouraging sign for a player I think will take a big step next season. Both Yakov Trenin and Emil Pettersson produced well with less ice time while Tyler Moy and Justin Kirkland struggled at times and saw their ice time decrease as a result. The more I look at these numbers, the more I like the Gaudet re-signing. He posted almost 1.3 points per sixty minutes in a third-line role.
Allard posted the best production with the most-limited ice time on the back-end. I really like how he’s coming together as a player. Alexandre Carrier and Jack Dougherty struggled heavily with offensive production despite being deployed more frequently. The posted 0.32 and 0.25 primary points per sixty minutes, respectively.
QoT vs. QoC (TOI) GF%
A quick note on time-on-ice in this situation: the AHL does not release ice time data, so these numbers are all estimated (to a fairly accurate degree). Quality-of-teammate ice time versus quality-of-competition ice time largely doesn’t matter at 5v5 (what these numbers are measured at) because over the course of a season most players’ ice time evens out against their most frequent competition. I also have a theory that teams in the AHL generally shorten their bench less than the NHL but that’s for another day. Regardless, per Cudmore’s charts, no forward one on the Admirals this year had horribly mismatched ice time, so we’ll shift our focus to goals-for percentage.
Additionally, QoT vs. QoC is a constantly-changing tool. It can be a lot to digest. Here is an excellent beginner post on the subject. Feel free to dive even further. The simple version, however, is it’s a measure of a player and his most frequent linemates’ production against their most frequent competition (i.e. shot quality, points, expected-goals/ points, Corsi, etc.). For now, back to the charts.
Well...this is something, huh? Milwaukee’s forward group as a whole was disastrous for much of the season. Tyler Gaudet, not in the above chart, was the only regular forward with a positive differential. Is it too soon to get a Gaudet jersey? For players like Gaudreau, much of this can be attributed to frequently facing high-end performers. But some players down the lineup (where things should be, in theory, more even) like Kirkland and Moy were just shelled.
Yeah... not many positives here either. Milwaukee’s defensive inexperience could not be overstated this season. It was full of young players still finding their footing and veterans who are average to below-average AHL performers. It seems that Dean Evason and his staff never quite found a top unit to ride in tough situations. As a result, nearly every player saw large minutes against better competition as they tried to weather the storm - a problem contending teams did not deal with.
So what kept the Admirals in the hunt so late?
It’s a valid question with two main answers. For one, the Admirals benefited from significant stretches of hot play and winning streaks and an over-reliance on winning games with skill in overtime or shootouts.
More importantly, though, was goaltending.
Although Anders Lindback’s standard numbers this season appear rather pedestrian (2.82 GAA and a .908 SV%), he posted a good 1.93 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). This stat is a measure of the average league save percentage compared to the number of shots Lindback faced and a determination of how many fewer goals Lindback gave up compared to the league average in the same scenario. It’s not eye-popping, but it was good enough to prevent the fort from completely falling apart at times.
A Note on Next Season
Bill Comeau (@Billius27) has also put together some great charts. You can see those here. Unfortunately, the Admirals have not given us anything else very interesting to analyze in Bill’s work. I do want to share one thing, however.
I’ve talked a lot about my expectations for Anthony Richard next season and just wanted to share to visuals to support that. It’s encouraging seeing him shoot so much. With more ice time and potentially more productive linemates, Richard, who’s not yet 21, could turn into a force next season.
A Few Comparisons
To wrap this analysis up, I want to give visuals on four players and see how they’re performing relative to their peers: Frederic Allard, Emil Pettersson, Alexandre Carrier, and Tyler Moy. I picked these four due to their pedigree and their need to improve or stay the course.
I tried to find the closest comparable to each player taking into account draft year, size, age, etc. But, to make it interesting, I chose a player picked much higher than Allard to use as a measuring stick.
Aside from Richard, I’m excited to watch Allard next season. He’s been everything I expected and more for the Admirals this season. He’s produced like a top-pair defenseman in second-pair minutes and has been a small defensive bright spot on the Admirals’ defense this season. He looks to be on another level than first-round pick Lucas Johansen. Caveat: defensemen take time to develop. This isn’t to suggest that Allard will automatically be the better player but to see if he is behind or ahead of the curve.
Since he’s a bit older, I chose to compare Pettersson to someone with NHL experience. I don’t anticipate Pettersson being much of a goal scorer but his playmaking and shooting stats being relative to a second-line player is good. Expect more ice time and hopefully even better results next year.
Carrier is somewhat all over the place. Some of these numbers are better than expected, but it is concerning - not shown here - that he was often a defensive liability this season. At age 20, I’m not overly concerned, especially about his offensive game, but next season will be an important test to see if he can become a clear top-pairing player for Milwaukee.
For Moy, I chose a player drafted in a similar position to illustrate how he’s being left behind. You certainly have to account for a playing curve coming out of college and this being his first pro season, but I’m not too hopeful. Side note: the 6th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is fascinating.
These comparisons aren’t any sort of exact science. They’re simply a thought exercise to suggest where potential could or could not be.
Prediction for Next Season
There were moments down the stretch where the Admirals’ forward group looked much more balanced and productive than before. More ice time for over-achievers and better role players like Tyler Gaudet should help that unit be better.
The defense needs a lot of work much of which will come with experience. I would anticipate another inconsistent but, overall, better performance from the defense corps.