New post from my blog: http://whl-from-above.blogspot.ca/2014/12/the-curious-case-of-spokane-chiefs.html ---------- Not many people expected a lot from the Spokane Chiefs this year. That group of people included myself as I even used the dreaded “rebuild” term regarding Spokane in my WHL Season Preview. Looking back at early September I don’t think I was wrong to expect this team to struggle a bit this season. They lost two high-end scorers in Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani. They saw their starting goaltender and 33-game winner Eric Williams graduate from the league. They also continue to have one of the youngest and most inexperienced defensive groups in the WHL. But, those things haven’t held them back. The Chiefs currently sit tied for 2nd in the WHL’s US Division with the Portland Winterhawks. Their 31 points are good enough for 4th overall in their conference. The team in 3rd place, Victoria, has played 30 games compared to the Chiefs 25. To take it a step further, their winning percentage of .620 is the 5th best in the entire WHL, trailing only Brandon and Medicine Hat out East, Kelowna and Everett out West. While I expected their offence to be better than it has – they’re tied for last in their conference with only 70 goals – their defence has been nothing short of special. They’ve allowed the 3rd fewest goals against in their conference at 69. Only Kelowna (68) and Everett (66) have allowed fewer. But what about the deeper numbers around this team? Their advanced stats, if you will. According to Josh Weissbock’s fantastic CHL stats site, the Chiefs have the 2nd best Estimated Fenwick Close of any WHL team at 54.509%. That essentially means that during close situations, the Chiefs generate over 54.5 per cent of the shots on net. While their 823 shots during those situations isn’t amazing – only 14th best in the WHL – their 723 shots against is T-1st in the WHL with Everett. That also means that during their first 25 games, they’re averaging 4 more shots on goal during those situations than their opponents are. But, things get even more interesting. The Chiefs actually have the worst shooting percentage in the entire WHL. They score on only 8.28% of their shots, according to the information provided on Weissbock’s site. While three other teams in the league also fall under the 9% mark, it’s worth noting that teams like Red Deer, Kelowna and Brandon all sit at over 12%, with the Rockets leading the way at an astonishing 14.862%. Is it their goaltending that’s carrying them? It doesn’t appear to be the case, despite their low goals-against totals. The Chiefs save percentage as a team so far this year is 90.456%. Not amazing, only good enough to barely crack the top half of the league. Combining those two numbers – their save percentage and shooting percentage – gives you the Chiefs PDO. A PDO deals with regression. At its most pure level, it’s assumed that when a puck is shot it either goes in or gets stopped. The sum of that shooting percentage plus save percentage should come to 1.000 over the course of a large sample size, theoretically speaking. While it’s not always perfect (see the Edmonton Oilers), it usually gives you a good idea which teams are due to for an uptick in production and which might be ready to “fall back to earth”, based on how “lucky” they’ve been getting. The Chiefs PDO is currently 98.739. Only 7 teams in the WHL have a mark lower than that. While combing through PDO information over the last two seasons, it becomes clear that this number varies more at the junior level than at the NHL level (Kelowna finished north of 103 last year PDO-wise). I would imagine it’s due to the greater spread of talent at the junior level than at the NHL level, but that’s a point for another day. While the value of PDO can be debated, I think it provides an interesting way to look at things. As an example, you can look back at last year’s WHL standings while also comparing it to team’s PDO and Estimated Fenwick Close numbers. Of the seven worst WHL teams in PDO last year, there were two that made the playoffs. They were Everett and Vancouver. What did those two teams have in common last year? Well, they were the only two of the seven to have an Estimated Fenwick Close of over 50% (Vancouver at 53.6% and Everett at 56.6%). Flash forward to this year and it looks fairly similar. While the Chiefs have the 8th-lowest PDO in the WHL, they have the highest Estimated Fenwick Close of any of those teams. To me, that means they’re a team that is controlling the play but continue to not get a large amount of bounces either offensively or defensively. While the Spokane Chiefs haven’t been scoring much or getting particularly great goaltending, they’re controlling play, outshooting their opponents during key times of the game and most importantly, winning games. And that’s been without getting much “puck luck”. Talk about a nice way to kickoff a rebuild.