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2015-16 Arizona Coyotes season preview: advanced stats

What do the stats have to say about the Arizona Coyotes?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes have stood in defiance of traditional notions of what does and does not make a team successful for a long-time. Dave Tippett hockey was boring, low-scoring, not conducive to stats like goals for and against averages, and usually delivered results.

Last season was a very different story.

The Coyotes didn't just free-fall through the standings, they fell in practically every single major statistical category. Arizona was 28th, 29th or 30th in regulation/overtime wins, goals for, goals against, power play goals allowed, and penalty kill percentage.

Let us dive a bit deeper into some of the other statistical categories worth looking at and get a better perspective on how the Coyotes fared last year.

A Brief Overview

Most stats of interest to fans are not complicated to understand or explain. In fact, most are quite simple. But for starters, how does the Coyotes' roster, as currently composed, compare to the rest of the league in terms of basic construction - drafting, experience, and size?

This chart, courtesy of the folks over at Rukkus, gives us a nice color-coded answer:

As you can see, the Coyotes are in the middle to bottom of the pack in pretty much everything. They aren't the worst in any given category, and they certainly are not the best in any category.

What jumps out in particular are the team's relative number of homegrown players and average draft position compared to league powerhouses. The Detroit Red Wings continue to get absurdly good mileage out of their farm system, with almost two-thirds of their starting lineup drafted and homegrown by the Wings. Likewise, the Los Angeles Kings are making their top choices pay off.

The Coyotes also aren't last in terms of Cup experience on their team. While Antoine Vermette just returned from his victorious chase for the Cup in Chicago, how many Coyotes fans can name the other Cup winner on the roster?

Where to Start?

It doesn't take a college degree in mathematics to know that spending more time in the offensive zone is a good thing. It also makes sense intuitively that the more a team takes faceoffs in the offensive zone, the more time it's going to spend in the offensive zone. Additionally, every faceoff win in the offensive zone is one that the team doesn't have to go 200 feet up the ice after to score on.

Unfortunately last season, the Coyotes were doing a lot of wind-sprints. Arizona started 1273 5v5 shifts in the defensive zone last year, which is the most in any given season under Dave Tippett. Overall, only 31.4% of the team's shifts started in the offensive zone. Though they actually won 51.7% of their faceoffs - good enough for 11th in the league - they need to make those wins count. Last season, they didn't.

We Have to Go Deeper

Let's talk possession.

The Coyotes were not particularly good at it last season; in 2014-15 the Coyotes had a 5v5 Corsi For Percentage of 48.6%, 23rd in the league. Behind them were Edmonton, Columbus, New Jersey, Toronto, Calgary, Colorado, and Buffalo. As Calgary proved last year, possession is not necessarily everything. But that group of teams is not one Arizona generally wants to be associated with.

Being a playoff team requires being a positive possession team. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, only Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary had 5v5 Corsi For Percentages lower than 50%. And of every team to play for the Stanley Cup since 2010, only three (Philadelphia in 2010, Boston in 2011, and New Jersey in 2012) have been outside the top ten in possession.

So no, possession isn't everything. But teams that possess the puck tend to win more often, and that's not by accident.

Do You Feel Lucky?

There is one area of advanced stats that should give Coyotes fans a little bit of hope. Last season, the Coyotes were 29th in the league in PDO, which measures shooting percentage plus save percentage. In advanced stats circles, this stat is considered to be a proxy for "luck".

The reason that is true is because over larger sample sizes, PDO tends to even out at roughly 100.0. This occurs when a team's goaltender plays out of his mind one season (think Mike Smith 2011-12), or when the team as a whole scores more fluky or garbage goals that are less a product of skill and more a product of a bounce here or there.

Last year, Arizona's PDO was 97.1, which is also the worst it has ever been under Dave Tippett, and the third worst league wide during Tippet's tenure. The team's 5v5 goal differential of -68 is now the second worst recorded league wide since the 2008-09 season, and their 106 5v5 goals last year was the third worst in a full season since 2009-10. For comparison's sake, Chicago and Pittsburgh scored more 5v5 goals in the lockout shortened 2013 season than the Coyotes did in the 2014-15 season. To further emphasize just how poor the Coyotes were at 5v5 hockey last season, they were ranked 7th in the league for powerplay conversions (33 goals) and still finished 29th for goals overall (165 goals).

So Arizona's offensive ineptitude and miserable goaltending in 2014-15 were historically bad. And what makes historically bad historic is that it tends to be very hard to replicate. So will Arizona be bad? Probably. But not as bad as last year.

Final Thoughts

Even if the Coyotes improve in some areas, it may be hard to notice. Most of the Western Conference improved, at least on paper, this offseason. It's possible the Coyotes will play better than they did last year and have worse stats. It's also possible that the team has not done enough to pick up their performance in key areas.

But it's hard to get much worse. While that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, it does reflect that the Coyotes are in a full-blown rebuilding phase, and that if all goes roughly according to plan, the team should be a little bit better on the stat sheet.