There is no greater use in studying the past than for predicting the future. Despite the small sample size and the bias caused by playing the same teams repeatedly, we have learned that playoff performances can help us predict both breakthroughs and disappointments in the following regular season. Which players over-produced in the 2009 NHL playoffs and are candidates for great 2009-10 seasons? Likewise, which players failed to meet expectations and should be scratched off GM's shopping lists this offseason?
GP: Games Played in the 2009 NHL playoffs
EXP: Expected number of points, based on regular season PPG, adjusted for the lower playoff scoring, and games played
DIFF: The number of points the player scored relative to expectations
Player Team GP PTS EXP DIFF
Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh 24 36 27.6 +8.4
Brent Seabrook Chicago 17 12 4.5 +7.5
Maxime Talbot Pittsburgh 24 13 5.9 +7.1
Johan Franzen Detroit 23 23 15.9 +7.1
Michael Ryder Boston 11 13 6.6 +6.4
Valtteri Filppula Detroit 23 16 9.6 +6.4
Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim 13 18 12.2 +5.8
Henrik Zetterberg Detroit 23 24 18.2 +5.8
Jussi Jokinen Carolina 18 11 5.7 +5.3
Chad Larose Carolina 18 11 5.7 +5.3
According to the numbers, Evgeni Malkin's Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP is well-deserved. While he was expected to score a lofty 27.6 points, he wound up scoring far more. Scoring 8.4 more points than was expected is the 4th best result in the post-lockout NHL. Tops on the list is still Johan Franzen's 2007-08 performance of +11.0, which he has followed up with +7.1 this year. Another true playoff warrior is Ryan Getzlaf, who scored 18 points in only 13 games, +5.8 more than expected, similar to his great performance in the 2006-07 championship season.
What does this mean for next season? We have learned that those that exceed expectations by at least 2 points are 4 times more likely to improve the following season than those who fail to meet expectations by 2 points or more. They are also several times more likely to have breakthrough seasons and improve their scoring by at least 20 points. Chances are that next season's breakthrough players can be found on the list of players who exceeded scoring expecations by at least two points. That means that you should keep your eyes on the likes of Brent Seabrook, Maxime Talbot, Chad Larose and company, because history suggests that one or more of them is bound to be unexpectedly explosive in 2009-10.
We can also learn a lot about what to expect next season by studying those who failed to meet scoring expectations during the 2009 playoffs.
Player Team GP PTS EXP DIFF
Pavel Datsyuk Detroit 16 9 16.0 -7.0
Tomas Holmstrom Detroit 23 7 13.4 -6.4
Rod Brind'Amour Carolina 18 4 9.6 -5.6
Pascal Dupuis Pittsburgh 16 0 5.3 -5.3
Tuomo Ruutu Carolina 16 4 9.1 -5.1
Andrew Ladd Chicago 17 4 8.5 -4.5
Anton Babchuk Carolina 13 1 5.3 -4.3
Andrew Ebbett Anaheim 13 3 7.2 -4.2
Nikolai Zherdev New York R 7 0 4.1 -4.1
Jeff Carter Philadelphia 6 1 5.1 -4.1
Tops on the list are linemates Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. Their reduced scoring may be a result of either injury, or somehow learning that I had picked Datsyuk first overall in my playoff draft and becoming completely unmotivated. Whatever the cause, only Daniel Cleary in 2007-08 had a more disappointing postseason since the lockout. Nikolai Zherdev and Jeff Carter were kept surprisingly quiet in their only round of play, and more scoring from Rod Brind'Amour, Tuomo Ruutu and Anton Babchuk might have given Carolina that little extra edge.
What does the future hold for Pascal Dupuis, Andrew Ladd and the others on this list? First of all, we have learned that it's virtually unheard of for a player to miss playoff scoring expectations so significantly and yet manage dramatic improvements the following season. Tomas Vanek accomplished this rare feat in 2006-07, but otherwise it's unheard of. History also suggests that the odds of these players improving their regular season scoring in 2009-10 is only about 14%. That means that probably only 1 or 2 of these players will have higher points-per-game totals next season than last, so it might be wise to adjust your expecations of Andrew Ebbett prior to the home opener next season.
Playoffs bring out the best in some players, like Johan Franzen and Ryan Getzlaf, and the worst in others. Even though the statistics we study are based on a small number of games and skewed by the same players competing against each other every night, history still points to the value in these numbers. Based on what we saw in May and June, we could be treated to an exceptionally high scoring season for some (or all) of Brent Seabrook, Maxime Talbot, Michael Ryder and Chad Larose, and perhaps a precipitous decline from some (or all) of Tuomo Ruutu, Andrew Ladd, Andrew Ebbett, Nikolai Zherdev or Jeff Carter.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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