Using expected goals to predict NHL players who will regress in 2023–24

As the 2023–24 NHL season approaches and training camps are under a week away from kicking off, we took a look at expected goals to identify players who you should be wary of drafting in fantasy this year.

Expected goals as a fantasy performance indicator

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at expected goal trends for 10 players who should improve in the 2023–24 season. People were upset that I identified clear-cut superstars like Auston Matthews and Kyle Connor on the list, which was fair enough, but let me explain the philosophy a bit better for this follow-up post.

Shooting percentage is a statistic that is known to be linked to a player’s “luck” in a given year. Want to see if a player can keep up his scoring streak? Take a look at his shooting percentage. Is someone you expected to score a lot struggling unexpectedly? Look at his shooting percentage. In either case, the shooting percentage invariably regresses back to average, especially for players who have been in the league for a few seasons and are in and around their prime.

Looking at goals above expected helps add additional context to the traditional shooting percentage argument, and hopefully gives a more accurate prediction for these regressions. The way to look at GAx is to take a player’s total goals scored and subtract their expected goals. We used Natural Stat Trick for this analysis, but there are many expected goals models out there that can work.

As long as you take an average over a sample size of several years, you should be able to see a trend that can inform your decision for the upcoming year.

In this article, we’ll look at five players who will likely underperform on their ADP and should not be reached for in fantasy drafts, according to their career trend with goals above expected.

Jared McCann

Jared McCann had a breakout season with 40 goals last year for the Seattle Kraken. He’s an awesome player and really fits in with the Kraken’s depth philosophy, but based on his career trajectory, he vastly overperformed when looking at goals above expected. Even a solid breakout season would have been somewhere around 12 goals above expected, not the 22 he had last year. Expect McCann to still be a solid player, but not a 40-goal guy again. I wouldn’t take him expecting another step forward.

Claude Giroux

The pinnacle of consistency, Claude Giroux has been scoring over expected for essentially his whole career. For the four seasons prior to last year, Giroux settled into a nice rhythm of around four goals above expected. In his first year with the Ottawa Senators, he exploded 13 goals above expected. His situation in Ottawa is definitely an improvement from Philly several years ago, but as Giroux continues to get older and the league continues to wise up to Ottawa’s firepower, I would expect Giroux to come back down to his average of around five goals above expected. He’s still a good fantasy player and should do well, but expecting him to score more than 35 goals might be a stretch.

Erik Karlsson

This is an easy one. Erik Karlsson is a generational talent, but he greatly overperformed last season and almost certainly won’t have 100-point potential this year. Sharing the power play and top blueline duties with Kris Letang, plus a natural regression from his insane 12 goals above expected last season… Karlsson probably sees a decent drop in production. 25 goals and 100 points are likely not on the table this year. Proceed with caution.

Alex Tuch

The Sabres are continually a team that people think will finally take off and while last season was a significant step in the right direction, things change when the pressure is on. Alex Tuch had a monster year scoring 10 goals above expected after averaging two goals below expected over the previous five seasons. Maybe he’s finally figured out how to shoot the puck, but I don’t trust it. My money is on a regressive season for Tuch, and for the Sabres as a group to have a few more growing pains than many think they will.

Jamie Benn

Prior to last season, it looked like the beginning of the end for Jamie Benn. He was on a slide with his scoring until magically, last year, he scored at almost eight over expected. Smart money is on Benn coming back down to Earth and likely settling in below expected once again. The Stars are legit, but I’d stay away from Benn unless he falls extremely low in drafts and you think he’s worth a flyer.

Brady Skjei

Brady Skjei had a breakout year with the Hurricanes scoring a whopping 18 goals from the blueline. It was good for over 8.5 above expected, and significantly higher than his previous five-season average of 0.5 goals below expected. With Tony DeAngelo, Brent Burns, and Dmitry Orlov on the Hurricanes back end this season, Skjei will have his work cut out for him on the power play and even strength offensive zone situations. He had four goals and seven points on the power play last season, for reference, about 20% of his total production.

Buyer beware

Some of these players are still going to be solid fantasy options, like Giroux and Karlsson, but perhaps not as high as they’re getting drafted in fantasy leagues. Consider the stats when drafting and you’ll be able to mitigate risk a bit better this season.

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