By Mitchell Pleasure
This past Sunday, the NHL released the available players for the 2017 expansion draft for the newly minted Las Vegas Golden Knights. In honor of the first expansion draft since 2000, I decided to try to quantitatively determine the optimal expansion draft class for the new franchise. Before beginning on this endeavor, let us review what the relevant rules for the expansion draft are:
· Vegas must select 1 player from each of the 30 existing NHL franchises
· Vegas must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goalies
· Vegas must select at least 20 players who are under contract through 2018
· Vegas’ draft class must have an aggregate cap hit at between 60-100% of the 2017 salary cap ($73 Million).
Furthermore, there are complicated rules about protecting players that each franchise must follow, but those rules are irrelevant to this analysis. However, if you are curious, you can read more about them here
Now that the rules have been set, I will explain my methodology. The NHL has a number of stats that can be used to compare players like Corsi, Fenwick, and point shares. For this analysis I concluded that point shares weighted for salary cap hit would be the best way to compare players. Specifically, I took each available player’s 2016-17 point shares and divided it by their salary cap hit and then normalized it by a factor of 10^6 to get relatively good numbers to work with. Point shares are a good statistic to use to compare players because they can be used to compare forwards and defensemen against each other because the stat aggregates offensive point shares and defensive point shares. Weighting this stat by salary cap hit allows us to compare players’ “points per dollar” and thus compare their efficiency. Furthermore, since the Golden Knights need to be between $43.8 million and $73 million, cap hit is an important data point to consider when making draft decisions. Additionally, I kept track of an indicator variable that tells me whether the player is under contract through 2018 or not, since 2/3 of the draft picks must be under contract through 2018. For goaltenders, I simply used save percentage as my statistic to compare and I ended up selecting goaltenders that both had good save percentage and were on teams that did not have position players that fit well into the draft class.
To begin this analysis, I downloaded the most recent spreadsheet of NHL statistics from hockeyabstract.com and reduced the data to only the players available to be drafted and their point shares or save percentage and salary cap hit. I then sorted the list by in descending order by PS/Save%*10^6 and selected the best defender for each team:
I then did the same for forwards:
Now that the top forwards and top defensemen on each team had been given scores, I selected the 14 best forwards and the 9 best defensemen:
This runs into a few flaws, however. Among these 23 players, 14 players are not under contract in 2017-2018, their salaries are woefully below the $43.8 million basement at $18,834,167, and there are some teams represented twice. To address these problems, I first eliminated Patrick Eaves and Brett Connolly from the table because neither is not under contract for 2017-2018 and the other player represented by their team is a better pick. I removed the forwards Dominic Moore, Erik Haula, and Stefan Noesen and defenseman Xavier Ouellet and replaced them with Darren Helm, Lee Stempniak, William Carrier, and Mark Barberio, respectively. The net loss in weighted point shares is minimized as such at -4.10, I gain 4 new players under contract through 2018, and I add some larger contracts to start approaching the salary cap basement, so these moves are all necessary given the rules of the draft:
So now we have 21 players, 12 forwards, 9 defensemen, and only 8 players not under contract through 2018. With this set I will now add in the 3 requisite goalies, and fill out the rest of the table with one player from each of the 30 teams to fill out the rules and we get this set of players:
This is a potential draft class for the Las Vegas Golden Knights maximized on value as defined by point shares per millions of dollars. It has 3 goaltenders, 15 forwards and 12 defensemen. However, we are not finished because this draft class misses the salary cap floor of $43.8 million. To remediate this problem, I am going to consider the point shares of all of the available players and then substitute in players on the same team who have similar point shares at the same positions but have a heftier contract so that we can meet the salary cap floor:
Eric Staal was substituted for Erik Haula, Matt Moulson was substituted for William Carrier, and Andrei Markov was substituted in for Nikita Nesterov. This draft class has 21 players under contract through 2018 and has a total salary cap of $47,256,667. This newly minted set of selections is the most efficient draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
To conclude this post, I will discuss the benefits and the drawbacks to the approach I took to solving this problem. Although considering efficiency is important when drafting as an expansion franchise, it is not the be all end all. Other factors like age, team chemistry, coaching scheme, and injury history are important factors to consider. My approach merely takes into account point shares per million dollars in contract. My method also ran into the problem of undershooting the salary floor, and that resulted in my having to manually substitute in more expensive (and less efficient) players into the draft. In future iterations of such an endeavor I would likely consider only point shares because the salary cap seems sufficiently high that the expansion franchise would likely be able to draft the highest impact players without too much hesitation. Of course, I have no way of predicting any draft day deals the Golden Knights might make and I have no idea what sort of system they want to run out on the strip, but this analysis should be at least a little helpful in illuminating the best drafting strategy for the new franchise.
One final thing to note is that the Golden Knights have already publically decided that they are going to try to build their team as young as possible, and as a result have already lined up four trades with other teams in exchange for draft picks. As a result, this might mean that some of the players that were selected above will be ineligible to be selected due to the terms of those trades.
Editors Note: If you have have any questions about this article for Mitchell, please feel free to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org