Analytics Corner

Analytics Corner: Projecting the 2020’s All-Decade Team

After having fallen in love with hockey approximately a decade ago, I have been able to reflect on some of the greatest elements of the NHL in the 2010s. Highlighted by dynasties, as well as failed attempts at a dynasty, the 2010s consisted of some of the greatest players ever to play in the NHL. Although veterans such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos may not continue to perform at an elite level for the entirety of the next decade, the young talent in and out of the NHL is more promising than ever. Recently, I have read numerous distinct perspectives regarding the All-Decade Team of the 2010s, but instead of looking too much into the past, I will be looking ahead into the next decade of hockey- specifically, the players who will perform at the highest level in the 2020s, and could likely make the 2020’s All-Decade Team.

With immeasurable uncertainty surrounding the future of every NHL player, coach, and organization, these predictions serve merely as an attempt at forecasting the next decade of hockey. However, to accomplish this rather unpredictable challenge, I believe it would be wise to reflect on the last decade of hockey to formulate a foundation with which to predict the top players of the 2020s. Thus, listed below are the twelve best forwards from the 2010-11 season to the 2019-20 season in terms of total Expected Goals Above Replacement (xGAR). Additionally, it is important to note the respective age of each player at the beginning of 2010, as listed below, to understand the ideal age of current NHL superstars for the upcoming decade.

Sidney Crosby – 22

Steven Stamkos – 19

Brad Marchand – 21

Claude Giroux – 21

Alex Ovechkin – 24

Anze Kopitar – 22

Joe Pavelski – 25

Nikita Kucherov – 16

Patrice Bergeron – 24

Ryan O’Reilly – 18

Jonathan Toews – 21

John Tavares – 19

Average Age – 21

 

It is clear that the ideal age for forwards to be a member of the 2020s All-Decade Team is 21, with an approximate range of nine years among the players. Additionally, one of the most notable features of this list of twelve players is the position distribution- specifically, the number of centers. Of the twelve forwards, nine of them are centers; all except for Marchand, Ovechkin, and Kucherov predominantly played center for their teams in the 2010s. Furthermore, it is evident that, although the reasoning behind this phenomenon may be unclear, centers are more likely to be consistently elite throughout the entire decade. Additionally, in terms of the impact each of these players had on their team, every player was above replacement-level offensively in each season of at least 41 games, according to Expected Offensive Goals Above Replacement (xOff). Contrarily, approximately half of the individual seasons among these players in the 2010s were composed of below-replacement-level defensive impact, according to Expected Defensive Goals Above Replacement (xDef). Moreover, the xDef of each player shows that the majority of the twelve players were below replacement-level defensively in the past decade. Thus, the biggest priority in constructing the forward unit of this roster is offensive production. With all of these ideas in mind, I selected the twelve forwards who, in my opinion, will have the greatest impact on their teams this decade. Additionally, each player is listed beside his age at the beginning of 2020.

Connor McDavid – 22

Auston Matthews – 22

Nathan MacKinnon – 24

Elias Pettersson – 21

David Pastrnak – 23

Brayden Point – 23

Jack Eichel – 23

Andrei Svechnikov – 19

Alexis Lafrenière – 18

Jack Hughes – 18

Shane Wright – 15

Mathew Barzal – 22

Average Age – 20.83

It is very clear to me that current superstars such as McDavid, Matthews, MacKinnon, Pastrnak, Pettersson, Eichel, and Point are at an encouraging age to perform at a high level for the majority, if not all, of the decade, and are more than capable of making the All-Decade Team. Although the respective defensive impacts of McDavid, Matthews, MacKinnon, Pastrnak, and Eichel have been below replacement-level thus far, each one of these five players has the potential to pace the league in any offensive metric at any point in the decade. Svechnikov has emerged as a very strong two-way winger this year, and Barzal’s ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, which is far more effective than the ability to dump the puck in, will allow any offensive line he is on to flourish for years. Perhaps the three boldest selections of the forward unit are three players, Hughes, Lafrenière, and Wright, who have yet to exhibit their full potential. Hughes has had a rough rookie year; nevertheless, the Devils have been more successful with him on the ice, and his impact, although rather disappointing this year, should lead to stardom in the near future. Lafrèniere and Wright, the latter of whom will not enter the NHL until 2022, pose as two of the top prospects of the 21st century, and they make this list because they both should have an immediate, elite impact on their respective teams, especially on the offensive end. Among the players who barely missed the team, Leon Draisaitl is already 24 and negatively impacts the defensive side of the ice even more than most of the aforementioned lackluster defensive forwards, Kaapo Kakko may be an elite scorer eventually, but it may take him a few more years to develop, and Nico Hischier, although already a solid forward, may not excel at his peak as much as these twelve forwards. Ultimately, with an average age of 20.83, a predominantly offensive skill set, and a position distribution of 75% centers, this forward unit serves as a representation of arguably the twelve most valuable hockey players for the 2020s.

On the defensive end, the task seems a bit tougher, as I must select six defensemen out of a pool of more than 25 young, talented defensemen. However below are the top six defensemen of the 2010s according to xGAR, which leads me to a very revealing conclusion. Additionally, each defenseman is listed beside his age at the beginning of 2010.

Erik Karlsson – 19

Jared Spurgeon – 20

Shea Weber – 24

Alex Pietrangelo – 19

Kris Letang – 22

Brent Burns – 24

Average Age – 21.33

The ideal age for a defenseman on the All-Decade Team is similar to that of a forward, so it seems most logical to search for defensemen around the age of 21. The biggest take away for me is that, despite a few exceptions, these defensemen are predominantly well-rounded. Except for Burns, each of them was above replacement-level both offensively and defensively, according to xGAR. Thus, a defenseman dominant only in the offensive or defensive zone would likely not make the 2020s All-Decade Team. Whereas for the forward unit, I looked primarily for offensive production, for the defensive core, I sought elite two-way defensemen. The ideal age and skill set of a defenseman allowed me to select six defensemen for the upcoming decade with much more age; they are listed below with their respective ages at the beginning of 2020.

Cale Makar – 21

Quinn Hughes – 20

Rasmus Dahlin – 19

Charlie McAvoy – 22

Shea Theodore – 24

Miro Heiskanen – 20

Average Age – 21

This defensive core stood out to me because all six defensemen have already been above replacement-level in xOff and xDef in their respective careers, which is rare for young defensemen. Makar, Hughes, McAvoy, Theodore, and Heiskanen have all exhibited superstar potential in their young careers, and Dahlin, although he is still adjusting to the NHL, was regarded as one of the most exceptional defensive prospects in recent history. Entering 2020 at a mere nineteen years of age, Dahlin has already become a valuable power-play contributor, and he should reach his even-strength potential within the next few years. Among the defensemen who gained consideration for the team but ultimately fell short, Bowen Byram, at only eighteen years of age, has performed inconsistently on the offensive end as he strives to join the Avalanche in the near future, and Thomas Chabot and Zach Werenski have both been below replacement-level on the defensive end, which, given the two-way excellence of the defensemen above, is a sufficient reason to eliminate them from contention. Ultimately, this defensive core averages to the ideal age for a defenseman for the 2020s, and it is composed of six elite two-way defensemen who should be elite for the entirety of the next decade.

It was most difficult to select two goaltenders to the All-Decade Team because goaltenders in the past have been wildly inconsistent. However, one goaltender, in particular, exhibited astonishing consistency in the 2010s at an otherwise fluctuating position. In each of his first five seasons of the decade, excluding his injury-plagued 2014-15 season, Henrik Lundqvist finished top three in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). Lundqvist, who, in my opinion, was undoubtedly the best goaltender of the 2010s, saw his production fall off drastically towards the end of the decade, which shows the unlikelihood that a goaltender maintains his elite play for an entire decade. Thus, to play it safe, I selected two goaltenders who are currently performing at an elite level, just as Lundqvist was at the beginning of the decade. John Gibson and Jordan Binnington, coincidentally born only three days apart, are two goaltenders who appear to be at an ideal age, 26 years, to maintain elite for several years; Lundqvist was 27 years of age at the beginning of 2010, so they are at a similar point in their respective careers as Lundqvist was entering the previous decade. Although this year has been rough for him, Gibson has excelled for the majority of his career, including a three-year stretch before this year in which he performed as undoubtedly the best goaltender in the NHL. Binnington entered the NHL much later than Gibson, but his excellence has come in the form of his consistency. Although he has played in only 82 career regular-season games, along with an outstanding two-month postseason run, Binnington has never shown any signs of regression from his elite start. Altogether, Gibson and Binnington are among the elite goaltenders nowadays, and, in my opinion, they are most likely to maintain their elite production for several years.

To summarize, this is my prediction for the NHL All-Decade Team for the 2020s:

Nathan MacKinnon – Connor McDavid – Auston Matthews

Brayden Point – Elias Pettersson – David Pastrnak

Alexis Lafrenière – Jack Eichel – Andrei Svechnikov

Shane Wright – Mathew Barzal – Jack Hughes

Cale Makar – Quinn Hughes

Charlie McAvoy – Rasmus Dahlin

Shea Theodore – Miro Heiskanen

John Gibson

Jordan Binnington

In terms of the Islanders and their outlook for the future, their optimism should come in the form of Barzal and a coach who excels not through individual superstar performances, but through teamwork. The Islanders’ pessimism for the future should stem from the lack of superstars on the market in the future. Of the ten forwards who are currently in the NHL on this team, no one has given any indication that they have any reason to leave their respective current teams in the near future. Additionally, Lafrenière will likely be selected with the first pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, a draft in which the Islanders do not have the first-round pick, and their odds of landing Shane Wright in 2002 seem slim, as does every team’s odds. Furthermore, it seems as if the Islanders will not have the opportunity to sign a player of the caliber of Tavares or Artemi Panarin. Regardless, it is important to appreciate the talent pool in the NHL today. Hopefully, these players offer some interesting, but not too difficult, competition for the Islanders in the future!

All stats are from Evolving Hockey

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