LA Kings: Looking at the Forwards Expected Versus Actual Goals

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

In terms of advanced analytics, the LA Kings roster generally scored fewer goals than expected. What does that mean for the upcoming season?

Long gone are the days of defining a player’s production only by the number of goals and assists posted in the box score each night. Sure, it’s ultimately what leads to the team earning a victory, but advanced analytics offer a deeper dive into which players live up to expectations or fall short. For the LA Kings, the 2019-2020 season saw a roster finish with elite puck possession but failed to finish.

One particularly useful or intriguing “fancy stat” is a player’s expected goal value.

"Expected goal models assign a value to shots based on their location and other factors such as whether the shot was a rebound, one-timer, etc. The concept of expected goals in hockey is based on the concept that some shots are more valuable than others based on how likely they are to result in goals. – Mike Murphy/Sporting News"

We can discern whether a player exceeded his expected goal contribution or perhaps was unlucky using all that information. Looking at the LA Kings forwards from last season, it’s not surprising to see Anze Kopitar atop the list in terms of outperforming his expected goal total (iXG) with a 5.59 GvsXG difference.

Screenshot 2020-11-28 at 9.22.56 PM
Screenshot 2020-11-28 at 9.22.56 PM /

Kopitar and Alex Iafallo are really the only two forwards – exceeding a 20-game sample size – who outperformed their expected goal contribution. The latter has been one of the best surprises, as an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Iafallo tallied career highs in several categories: points (43), power play goals (6), shot percentage (12.0), and average on-ice time (18:56).

And of the returning full-time players, only Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown met their expected goal contribution. Having an integral part in the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup teams, both players are in the twilight of their careers but are still contributing at a relatively high level. Beyond the four players noted above, that leaves much doubt about the LA Kings’ top nine’s productivity.

Adrian Kempe fell just shy of his expected goal total last season and has struggled to show consistency throughout his 3+ year career in the NHL. Of the bottom nine forwards returning, Kempe is projected to play on the team’s second line with Gabe Vilardi and Martin Frk. In a small 10-game sample size last season, Vilardi and Kempe contributed a 49.2 expected goals-for percentage.

There might be some benefit in Kempe playing on the third line in the 2021 season. With both Blake Lizotte and Carter penciled alongside him, Kempe and Lizotte combined for an outstanding 57.8 expected goals-for percentage. Both Michael Amadio and Austin Wagner had down years, compared to their expected goal contributions. Bounceback years with both players hovering around their projections will go a long way toward the LA Kings taking that next step.

Speaking of, the upcoming campaign will see a lot of new faces with limited sample sizes from the previous campaign. It’s difficult to draw conclusions from the 17 games Frk played last year, especially during the veteran transition at the trade deadline. Aside from Frk, guys like Carl Grundstrom, Matt Luff, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan could see big minutes next year.

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I don’t expect all players to exceed their expected goal contributions. But if Kopitar and Iafallo can continue to exceed their projections while players like Carter, Brown, Kempe, Vilardi, and Frk meet their expectations, the Kings should be in much better shape offensively in the 2021 season.