## A look at Hockey Prospectus' projections for the Islanders in 2011-2012 - Part 1: Forwards

Hockey Prospectus released recently their annual for the upcoming NHL season. It's \$9.99 for the PDF version, and I recommend you all get it. Hockey Prospectus provides some of the best statistical analyses of the game of hockey and the NHL and their work is extremely informative. If you were just interested in hockey in general, I'd recommend you buy the annual.

One thing contained in this annual is their projections for the current season, using their projection system VUKOTA.  VUKOTA is a system which is used to try and project how well each player in the NHL will play in the upcoming season based upon their past results. VUKOTA does this by taking note of each player's age and their career statistics and comparing them to players in the past who have had similar results.

It then attempts to use the best comparable players it finds to make projections of what current players will do for the upcoming season.

The system is far from perfect, but it's a pretty decent projection system and is currently the only real computer projection system (objective, not subjective in any way) out there for the public to purview.  The system's projections include the goals, assists, and GVT (an overall all-in-one statistic summing up the total value of each player) of each player with prior NHL experience - including nearly all of the players likely to play for the Islanders this season.

So in this post, I'm going to highlight a few of the projections from VUKOTA of Isles' players in the coming year.

John Tavares:

Year Games Played
Goals Assists
Points Offensive GVT
Defensive GVT Overall GVT (Excluding Shootout GVT)
2010-2011 79 29 38 67 11.9 0.4 12.3
2011-2012 (Projected) 75.6* 32.8 41.6 74.4 11.9 1.6 13.5

Table 1:  John Tavares' Projected Statistics for 2011-2012

*You'll notice that these projections involve decimal places - resulting in odd results such as a player scoring .8 goals or .6 assists.  This is because this is a computer projection, not a human one, and one that doesn't bother to round so as to ensure greater accuracy on average.

Tavares had a pretty excellent last year outside of the shootout (I've excluded shootout numbers from these numbers, but, but Tavares COST the team 1.1 goals with awful shootout results.  Hey, not everyone can be Frans).  His offensive numbers increased a bit from his rookie season and he even played 3 less games than in his rookie year.  30 Goals was certain possible had he played those 3 extra games.

VUKOTA expects further improvement from Tavares and for him to break easily the 30 goal barrier this year.  And if that 74.4 point projection looks low - look again; Hockey Prospectus is projecting Tavares to do that in even less games than last year!  This is because VUKOTA seems to hate to project any player as playing a full season (which is probably a good bet, since most players are at least going to suffer a minor injury).

But with Tavares being projected for nearly a point per game, if Tavares was to play every game next season, an 80 point season would be right in line with VUKOTA projections.  That's pretty damn awesome, I'd say.  And VUKOTA even expects a slight defensive improvement from Tavares to top it all off.  And this is if he falls in line with VUKOTA projections - last year he beat the VUKOTA projections by a little.  Still I think VUKOTA is right on here - last year they had less data to work with and thus made a less accurate projection - and any Islander fan should be thrilled if Tavares can actually pull this off.

Kyle Okposo:

Year Games Played
Goals Assists
Points Offensive GVT
Defensive GVT Overall GVT (Excluding Shootout GVT)
2010-2011 38 5 15 20 0.9 1.2 2.1
2011-2012 (Projected) 59 14.7 24 38.6* 4.1 1.7 5.8
2011-2012 (Projection Pro-Rated to 80 games Played) 80 19.9 32.5 52.4 5.6 2.3 7.9

Table 2:  Kyle Okposo's Projected Statistics for 2011-2012

*Note that there are some rounding shenanigans going on here, resulting in the odd math.

Kyle Okposo's projections at first glance appear very poor until you realize that, due to the injury last year affecting his comparables (in terms of games played), VUKOTA is only projecting him to play 59 games this year.  To compensate, I've added a third row in Table 2 to show the projected stats if he reached 80 games.

The end result is that Okposo's statistics look good, but not great - VUKOTA projects him to be a 20 goal scorer finally, but for him only to total 52 points overall.  In effect, VUKOTA is expecting a similar season to Okposo's 09-10 season.  It's hard to know whether or not VUKOTA is underselling Okposo due to his injury, or if we should really expect such a result after last season's set-back.

After all, Okposo has never been much of a real goal scorer (check his shooting percentages, they range from okay to ugly).  And when healthy last year, he did under-perform how you'd expect of him - though some of this was because he was playing slightly harder minutes than previously and some perhaps was due to him not having a proper camp.

I'd suspect Okposo beats these projections - in fact last year Kyle Okposo was projected (prior to the injury) to perform better than he is projected to do so this year.  If Okposo gets back on track, I'd bet he beats these projections with say 60 points, but I'd be hesitant to bet on more.

Josh Bailey

Year Games Played
Goals Assists
Points Offensive GVT
Defensive GVT Overall GVT (Excluding Shootout GVT)
2010-2011 70 11 17 28 0.4 1.7 2.0
2011-2012 (Projected) 64.7 13.9 19.4 33.4 2.4 1.9 4.3
2011-2012 (Projection Pro-Rated to 80 games Played) 80 17.2 24 41.2 3.0 2.3 5.3

Table 2:  Josh Bailey's Projected Statistics for 2011-2012

VUKOTA was bullish on Josh Bailey last year, projecting roughly a GVT of 6 for the whole year, and the thoughts were that this might have been a low-estimate at the time, as Bailey had actually put up a 6.1 GVT season in 09-10.  Instead, Bailey seemed to heavily regress, with an AHL stint seemingly not helping at all - and possibly making things worse.

Like with Okposo, VUKOTA has revised its projection of Bailey downwards for this coming year, and even pro-rating its results 80 games doesn't give very pretty numbers:  Bailey's projected basically to be a 41 point player in his third season, hardly what you want for a top 10 pick in the draft.

On the other hand, 41 points is totally acceptable for a 3rd liner on most teams, believe it or not, and VUKOTA does expect for Bailey to really start scoring more goals (though not a large amount).  And Bailey IS just 22 still - he's years away from the point where most players peak.  It's more likely he overperforms this projection than underperforms, so it's certainly too early to give up on Bailey, no matter how frustrating he is.

Frans Nielsen:

Year Games Played
Goals Assists
Points Offensive GVT
Defensive GVT Overall GVT (Excluding Shootout GVT)
2010-2011 71 13 31 44 5.7 5.1 10.8
2011-2012 (Projected) 68.2 14.2 28 42.3 4.5 3.3 7.8
2011-2012 (Projection Pro-Rated to 80 games Played) 80 16.7 32.8 49.5 5.3 3.9 9.2

Table 2:  Frans Nielsen's Projected Statistics for 2011-2012

As Hockey Prospectus revealed on ESPN a couple of weeks ago, VUKOTA projects for Frans Nielsen to suffer a minor decline next year.  There are a few factors involved in this:
1.  VUKOTA basically expects every player to be average in the shootout - thus, VUKOTA overall projects for Nielsen to decline by 5 GVT this year, but if you remove the shootout data, the expected decline is only 3 GVT (40% less).
2.  Frans managed to score a lot of his goals in valuable situations - on the penalty kill - but this sort of thing is usually not a repeatable skill to the extremes that Frans and Grabner were able to do last year.
3.  Frans is turning 27 - he's in the peak of his hockey career.  Most likely, he will not get any better as a player - though his numbers may get better due to better teammates.
In addition, VUKOTA is skeptical that Frans can be healthy for a full season, and that's probably a good bet with Frans' past - in fact they project Frans will play 3 less games in 2011-2012 than last year.
Yet despite the projected decline, VUKOTA still expects for Frans Nielsen to be a pretty good player.  If we throw in the shootout numbers that we'd normally expect from Frans - who now is the active leader in shootout percentage among players with 10+ attempts -, then Frans Nielsen is basically expected to be a 10 GVT player; or the type of player who is worth 3 points in the standings by HIMSELF.  This would put him in roughly the top 100 most valuable forwards in the league if not better (I have the actual number on my computer, but it's down right now so I'm on a temporary computer).
Long story short, VUKOTA expects Frans to not do better than last year, and in fact to do slightly worse.  But he'll still be a pretty darn good player, and a really good 2nd line center.

------------------- Conclusion: I'm going to stop here for now: if you want to see other projections, go buy the Hockey Prospectus Annual - you won't be disappointed, as there's the projections and a lot more content (I may do an overall review of the book if I have time).  But these projections give us some idea of what to expect from some of our most important players:

• from Tavares, a step closer to superstardom;
• from Okposo, a step back on track after injury set him back last year, but perhaps not the step we'd like to see him take;
• from Bailey, a step into the role of a decent 3rd line center, if not the guy we'd like him to be; from Frans, more of the same, but to a slightly lesser extent due to his aging and some lucky results last year.

Overall, Hockey Prospectus ranked as the 21st best team in the NHL next year - a clear step up from last year.  And that's without taking into account the advancement of Nino Niederreiter or the possibility that the Isles will figure out their goalie situation.  Should they do so, these projections certainly suggest the Isles could crack the playoffs this season.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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