Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey Prospectus’ VUKOTA projects Leafs to finish 10th in the league

Hockey Prospectus released its annual VUKOTA projections for all 30 teams in the league today, and according to VUKOTA, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be in the playoffs once again this season.

VUKOTA is a projection system that uses a player statistic called goals versus threshold and combines players’ scores to create a team score, and then uses the team score to project a win/loss record. Goals versus threshold (GVT) is similar to baseball’s wins above replacement (WAR) stat, in that it figures out how many goals a player is worth to a team compared to a replacement-level player. Here’s how Tom Awad, creator of both GVT and VUKOTA, explains it:

Since team GVT is simply the sum of player GVTs, the sum of the VUKOTA GVT values on a team becomes our projection for the team’s goal differential, and consequently, its win-loss record as well, since teams on average record one extra point in the standings for every three goals scored or prevented.

The actual post revealing all 30 teams’ VUKOTA projection is only available if you are signed up as an ESPN Insider, or you can just buy Hockey Prospectus 2013-14 or just the VUKOTA excel spreadsheet for $3.99. Anyway, I’ll share some pertinent info about this year’s ranking here:

  • According to VUKOTA, the Leafs will finish seventh in the Eastern Conference with 93 points, meaning they’ll grab the first wild-card spot and face the Boston Bruins again in the first round. Yayyyyyy.
  • The rankings are remarkably close, as 93 points is only two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for third in the Atlantic Division and two points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who finished just outside a playoff spot. The Tampa Bay Lightning squeaked in just ahead of the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets by one point.
  • The Bruins and Ottawa Senators took the top two spots in the Atlantic Division. If you can believe it, VUKOTA put the Detroit Red Wings all the way down to 23rd in the league. Other surprise rankings were those of the Los Angeles Kings (16th), San Jose Sharks (20th) and Vancouver Canucks (21st). The Kings and Sharks still sneak into the playoffs according to VUKOTA.
  • Hilariously, VUKOTA thinks the Edmonton Oilers will win the Pacific Division. Yeah, no.

I found the Leafs’ projection to be surprising as Rob Vollman (a Hockey Prospectus and ESPN writer) predicted in his new book that the Leafs will finish third-worst in the league this year. I couldn’t find full VUKOTA standings projections from 2012-13, but I remember when they came out there was similar outrage on how high they rated the Oilers. I’m not really familiar with VUKOTA, but I’m pretty skeptical of the usefulness of a “catch-all” stat like GVT working in hockey. Leafs fans will be hoping its correct for this season, but somehow I find it a little unrealistic to expect the Leafs to finish ahead of the Red Wings, let alone 13 spots higher.

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