The Staples Center, home of the 2017 All-Star Game. Image by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images
From worst to first, here’s how good the four all-star teams should be this weekend.
The All-Star Game is this weekend, and I’m sure everyone is dying to know which team has the best roster and the highest chance to win the whole thing. Using analytics, of course, since the topic is such a crowd pleaser.
Okay, that’s probably a stretch – this is a game geared toward a younger crowd more interested in seeing their favourite players – but it’s still an interesting exercise anyways. Just by looking at the rosters, you’ve probably already formed an opinion on which team is the strongest or the weakest at the event, but do the numbers agree?
Once again, we’re using Game Score, a stat that combines a bunch of box-score stats into one number, to project all of this as it’s a pretty decent measure of how good a player has played. It’ll also be a nice chance to check in with (most of) the league’s best players to see how they’re doing by this particular metric.
This is just a projection, and like any projection, there’s a chance everything doesn’t add up. That’s especially true for an All-Star Game where player effort likely won’t be at its usually high level. Still, it’s fun to see which team has the best collection of talent and which team will be the underdogs on Sunday night.
Starting from the bottom, and working our way up, here’s how good the four all-star teams should be this weekend.
Strengths: Five words: Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau. There aren’t many players the format works better for than it does for these two players and even if they’re doing a typical ASG glide rather than a full on sprint as usual, they’ll have a lot of space to work their magic. Brent Burns has the fourth best Game Score in the entire league and is first among D-men. The Pacific has the strongest D-group here, mostly thanks to him.
Weaknesses: There are eight goalies here and the Pacific has the seventh and eighth best ones. If goaltending matters, which it usually doesn’t, this team will need a lot more from their offensive guys than the other teams do. Bo Horvat is arguably the weakest skater here. They have the weakest forward group here overall, although it’s close.
Analytics All-Star Who Should’ve Made It Instead: Leon Draisaitl is having a terrific year with 46 points in 51 games and a positive Corsi. At a Game Score of 0.89, he would’ve been better than three forwards here.
Verdict: If the goalies can hold their own, the skaters are pretty decent. They’ll have home-ice advantage thanks to Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty too, but it’s hard to see them going deep.
Strengths: Victor Hedman? Erik Karlsson? Shea Weber? Pick any one and the Atlantic is set on the back-end. Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov are a terror at 5-on-5 and are even scarier 3-on-3. The name value isn’t there (yet), but there’s some very good talent up front. Brad Marchand is having a career year, too. On paper, the goalie duo of Carey Price and Tuukka Rask should be among the strongest here, but they’re merely average at this event based on their save percentage this season.
Weaknesses: Every team has a Guy Who Made It Because Someone Had To From That Team player, but unfortunately for the Atlantic, they have two. From the NHL’s weakest division that shouldn’t be a surprise. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are nice players, but no one’s calling them all-stars, really.
Analytics All-Star Who Should’ve Made It Instead: Players with an average Game Score higher than David Pastrnak from the Atlantic: Steven Stamkos, and he’s sort of injured. Pastrnak has been unreal this season and it’s a shame they had to have someone from every team. The Atlantic is a contender with him on board.
Verdict: With the way no one really wants to win in this division, you’d expect this team to be the weakest, but they just barely scraped by into third here by being not the worst at anything. They could surprise some people as they’re much better than they look, but they’re more likely to end the night early, rather than go all the way.
Strengths: Will Devan Dubnyk let in a goal at all here? I doubt it. He’s unbeatable. That’s a 10 minute cushion this team gets where they can pad the lead before the next guy comes in. Oh, it’s Corey Crawford? Welp, that won’t help the other team much. Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane lead the charge here and they’ll be amazing in the format as will the speed of Nathan MacKinnon and of course there’s captain PK Subban who was pretty much made for this event. Some might call his year disappointing, but there are only three other D-men with a higher Game Score here. This is a pretty deep team up front now that Jonathan Toews realized he’s good again.
Weaknesses: This team has very few weaknesses and that could make them a real threat. You could make a case Ryan Suter is a bit overrated, and same with Toews this season, but neither look especially out of place compared to some players in the other divisions. It’s hard to find a fatal flaw for this team.
Analytics All-Star Who Should’ve Made It Instead: Artemi Panarin, but we all knew this. He has the highest Game Score on Chicago thanks to a sterling plus-201 Corsi that ranks near the top of the league. There’s already four Blackhawks on this team and somehow they missed the best one.
Verdict: This will be one of the most exciting teams here thanks to Tarasenko, Kane, and Subban, and they’ve got the goaltending to go deep. They brought in veteran leadership with Toews (that’s why he’s here right?) that should push them over the edge, and they’ll be the top competitor to the Metro.
Strengths: As expected by the fact this division is head and shoulders above everyone in the standings, they’re also head and shoulders above every division at the All-Star Game. This team lost Evgeni Malkin, but like all good teams, they had to deal with adversity and luckily had some plucky young stud in the waiting in Cam Atkinson. Most teams don’t have that kind of depth, but this team does. Their worst forwards (based on this year’s stats) are Taylor Hall and Wayne Simmonds. How is that fair for anyone? And they also have Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on the same team? Oh, and if that’s not enough, they also have the second and third best goalies by save percentage manning the cage. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
Weaknesses: If there’s a weakness with the squad it’s defense. There’s no real threat from the back-end like the other teams have. They’re all having nice seasons, sure, but if you had to rank all 12 defensemen here, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone putting anyone from this group in the top half. This is where the team is vulnerable to an upset.
Analytics All-Star Who Should’ve Made It Instead: There’s probably a few Metro forwards who could make it over Simmonds, that’s how strong the division is. But if you need someone from the Flyers, Jakub Voracek was arguably the better choice as he’s got more points and has better underlying numbers.
Verdict: The Metro’s dominance isn’t ending anytime soon. Just give them the million dollars right now.