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What Went Wrong for the Admirals?

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This season ended a tad better than last.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the end of last season, I wrote an autopsy of the Milwaukee Admirals and their curious season. It broke down what propelled the Admirals to missing the playoffs for the second time in four years despite a 38-win season. The short answer is that they’d had excellent play in net that masked forwards who were largely incapable of controlling possession and a defense that was disappointingly porous.

This season, with Milwaukee making a trip to the Calder Cup playoffs, the assumption would be that the Admirals turned in a much better season record-wise. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Admirals finished with two fewer regulation wins, and their playoff appearance was aided by a league-best 16 overtime or shootout losses.

Despite taking the Iowa Wild to Game 5 in their best-of-five series, Milwaukee headed home after the first round yet another year. But, overall, it was an even more curious season than last. After a hot start, this team was largely written off during the slog of the middle of the season, before their elite play in March and April saved everything.

Below I take a look at which Admirals team was the real deal, and which players over/under-performed and which were over/underrated. Last year I made use of a variety of statistics to break down the general troubles that Milwaukee team had. But I think some of them didn’t paint the most accurate picture of the team’s play, and I wanted to zero in more on individual performances that drove the team this year. So, naturally, I built my own metric.

Without getting into the merits of catch-all numbers, I want to give a brief introduction of what I have valued below. The AHL doesn’t come with many publicly-tracked numbers so some of this was based off of what we know, and what I was able to track throughout the season. For forwards and defenders, the base drivers of their scores are the same, but I spent about a week tinkering with how to rate certain things, so I’ll present that below for both positions.

Finally, before we get into the thick of things, I want to extend a sincere thank you to Bryan Bastin (@projpatsummitt). He turned my disorganized numbers into a really excellent data visualization over the course of the weekend. He’s an invaluable resource to any Predators fan, so please give him a follow and support his work.

The Offense

I did my best to make sure the factors I built into my metric didn’t just confirm what I watched this season. For a handful of forwards, they provided an output I expected, but there were some surprises as you will see below. The five main factors considered with varying weights are: shooting percentage, primary points per games played, a special teams factor (penalties minus power play + shorthanded goals), relative goals-for percentage, and an ice time factor to balance help further even the field.

Feel free to poke around the chart above; it should provide a fairly complete picture of what I was considering. At the end of last season, I mentioned four forwards who maintained positive possession and production trends throughout the year. One of them was Anthony Richard—who I anticipated would have an explosive season—and he led the team in goals this year while throwing an absurd number of pucks on net.

His company at the top shouldn’t be much of a surprise: Helewka and Schneider were first and third in team scoring, respectively. It’s hard to argue against trading Emil Pettersson; Helewka was the Admirals’ best player in the second half despite not providing airtight defense when on the ice.

A full season of Colin Blackwell certainly could have provided a boost for this Admirals team, but he was an excellent first-line player when dressed. Phillip Di Giuseppe suffered from cold production once re-assigned, and I doubt he comes back next season, but he provided a little offensive boost when needed. Garret Ross was quietly a decent offensive player in limited showings but was caved in defensively, Tommy Novak and Matt Lane suffered from sample-size disease, and Emerson Clark and Mathieu Olivier were predictably forgettable.

As I said, there were some surprises. I thought Laurent Dauphin would rank higher due to a decent offensive season and good defensive metrics, but his large share of ice time is mostly what knocked him down. Tyler Gaudet had a quiet offensive season, it seemed, but he only scored four fewer primary points than last year, and, for the most part, filled out well as a two-way, penalty-killing center. Zach Magwood and Tanner Jeannot were ranked higher than I anticipated. Jeannot scored well given his limited ice time but also benefited from an above-average shooting percentage. Magwood was useful at keeping the puck in the offensive zone more often and was one of the least-penalized forwards.

The three forwards who stood out most to me were Joe Pendenza, Yakov Trenin and Eeli Tolvanen. Tolvanen, I thought, had a decent season. He shot the puck more than anyone and had one of the lowest shooting percentages relative to his top-six peers, but he wasn’t far behind players like Richard in primary points per games played.

I think, more than anything, Trenin and Pendenza exceeded expectations. Trenin was hounded a lot this season, but he was sixth among forwards in scoring despite very limited ice time, 85% of his points were goals or primary assists, and he was Milwaukee’s best possession player by a mile. It certainly helped that he was centered by Pendenza who was invaluable to the third line, shooting 14%, scoring a primary point every three games, and almost never taking a seat in the box. I don’t think his performance was incredibly sustainable, but, all of a sudden, the Admirals’ center depth looks quite good.

My final note on the forwards comes on Justin Kirkland. I noted at the end of last season how shelled he was defensively at even strength, and I wasn’t kidding—it got worse. Not only was he awful defensively, he scored even less this season and took an absurd amount of penalties. I wouldn’t be upset if a qualifying offer is not extended his way this summer.

The Defense

I mixed things up a tad for the defenders, but most of the categories remained the same with small adjustments to the weights with which each were considered. There was also a “b” factor added to each player to make the outputs positive to help with visualizing things. The five main factors considered with varying weights are: shooting percentage, primary points per games played, a special teams factor (penalties minus power play + shorthanded goals), goals-against per 60, and an ice time factor to balance help further even the field.

This one is probably a tad more unexpected, so let’s walk through it. With the defense, there was a wider range of games played among the regulars than with the forwards. Both Vince Pedrie and Adam Plant came partway through the season but played significant minutes.

From the bottom up, Duncan Siemens was easily the worst option on the back-end. He rarely provided offense, took the third-most penalties on the team, and had a disproportionately high goals-against rating for his ice time. Jarred Tinordi was actually fairly valuable offensively, but he took the second-most penalties on the team and gave up the second-most goals-against (behind Filip Pyrochta) while playing top-pair minutes. Pyrochta was rough defensively but didn’t get much ice time and didn’t take a single penalty, so his marks were boosted there.

Plant and Scott Savage were good defensively, but didn’t score enough or play enough to increase their value. After digging into these numbers, I like the Savage re-signing to another AHL deal for next season.

Matt Donovan and Alexandre Carrier almost had inverse seasons. Donovan started on an offensive tear and continued to shoot the puck while he and Allard remained the best defensively of the top-four. But his value was inflated a lot by his power play production. Carrier started slowly offensively but took off to finish second among defenders in primary points while committing very few infractions. He still wasn’t great offensively but playing with Donovan after January helped.

Vince Pedrie was a fascinating player. He didn’t score a ton, but he also didn’t play a ton and recorded a primary point nearly every three games. He also took next to no penalties while playing up and down the lineup.

Finally, I want to get to Frédéric Allard. He was Milwaukee’s best defender last year in an impressive season and was in the driver’s seat to take the next step this year before a shoulder injury slowed things down. Despite a dip in his counting stats, he shot the puck more than everyone except Jarred Tinordi, took a respectable number of penalties, and was, once again, the best pure defender of the top-four.

Bryan was kind enough to through in a bonus viz that may better categorize everyone.

The Goaltending

I didn’t include the goalies in my metric, seeing as there were just two of them with stark differences in their seasons—see below.

Milwaukee’s 2018-19 Goalie Stats
Giants in the Crease

Milwaukee was much better defensively this season, so Troy Grosenick’s performance didn’t necessarily save their season like Anders Lindback’s did last year. But he was arguably the best goalie in the AHL this season, with over 70% quality starts and stopping nearly 21 goals above average (based on simple number of shots faced). McCollum was okay for an AHL backup, but I can’t surmise he will be back in Milwaukee next season, pending a surprise.

Overtime

I wanted to add a quick note about Milwaukee’s penchant to lose games in overtime or a shootout this season. Of the 16 loser points they collected, they were leading after two periods in seven of those games. Almost all of those seven were in the first half of the season.

Next Season

Lastly, I wanted to throw a quick note in about some players I will be watching next season. I’ll have a more formal season preview down the line, but based on what we analyzed above, I like Frédéric Allard to recover back to old form, and I’m curious to see what Scott Savage can do for the third pair. Up front, a full season of Colin Blackwell with Anthony Richard could be spectacular, and Tanner Jeannot has piqued my interest as well as the debuts of the likes of Josh Wilkins and Lukas Craggs.


Thanks again to Bryan for all of his hard work. All statistics are courtesy of theAHL.com and prospect-stats.com.