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World Cup preview: Advanced stats like Canada's chances, but not so bullish on Finland

If we dig a little deeper than just what a team looks like on paper and look into the numbers behind each team’s roster, we can figure out just how good each team is.

The World Cup of Hockey is almost here meaning the hockey season is officially on. Many were skeptical of the tournament and how seriously the players would take it, but if the pre-tournament games are any indication we’re in for a treat.

The hockey has been fast-paced, competitive and most importantly, good. And those were just the tune-up games. When the games actually begin to mean something the intensity will only amplify.

So which team is actually going to win this thing? The obvious answer is probably Canada, but it’s by no means a lock. The Canadians were the strongest team on paper and during the exhibition games, so it’s hard not to see them as the odds-on favourite. Team North America aka #TeamMillennial also dazzled with their speed and creativity on offense and they’ll surely be a threat, too.

But we can dig a little deeper than that and look into the numbers behind each team’s roster to figure out just how good each team is.

If you’ve been following along with our NHL season previews you may have noticed some team-based projections. These World Cup projections will be built using the same method, which is 10,000 simulations of the tournament based on each team’s strength and their opponent’s strength.

Each team’s strength is based on each individual player’s Game Score, which is a very simple total value stat that’s based on a combination of a variety of box score stats. It’s explained more in depth here. The projections use a three-year version of it with the most recent season weighted heavier. For non-NHL players, their value was derived from the NHL equivalent (or NHLe) of their point totals in their respective leagues. Ice-time was based on each player’s average from the pre-tournament games.

Here are the results of that showing the probability of each team making it to the semis, final and winning the whole thing according to Game Score.


1. Canada: This one was pretty obvious as Canada is the deepest team in the tournament, although they’ve taken the biggest hit of any country with injuries to Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Duncan Keith and Jeff Carter. Despite that, their fourth line would still probably be the first line on almost every other team in the tournament. They’ve got arguably the best goalie available in Carey Price and their defense is excellent (even with Jay Bouwmeester possibly in the top-four). The most surprising thing to most might be the team’s chances of winning, 38 percent. It’s actually more likely that Canada doesn’t win, so please think about that before starting a national panic if they don’t. (There’s also an 18 percent chance they don’t make it out of their group at all, for those hoping for maximum chaos). (Ed. Note: Projections were made with Claude Giroux, not Ryan O'Reilly, as part of the starting lineup.)

2. Sweden: Once again the experts and the model see eye-to-eye. No one’s defence is close to what Sweden’s got – even with one of their best D-men, Hampus Lindholm, likely being the seventh man – while Henrik Lundqvist in net gives them a very good chance at success. Where there’s reason for concern is up front as the team doesn’t have the talent that Canada, USA, Russia, and North America have. Although they’ve got some very good players, they’re just not at the level of those other teams. Sweden’s chances of winning the World Cup hinge on the back-end and the handsome dude behind them manning the cage.

3. USA: This team made some boneheaded decisions – and continue to with their lines and starting goalie choices – but there’s enough talent here that they still have a decent shot. The team’s forwards are actually quite deep, despite having Justin Abdelkader. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Kane are very talented forwards that’ll lead the way with Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler also falling in that group, though they seem to be struggling to get much ice-time from coach John Tortorella. The defense is just as interesting as their best guy, Dustin Byfuglien, is getting the fifth most minutes and has also been inexplicably used at forward. Then there’s Jack Johnson, a replacement level D-man who suited up for all three games, but also played the fewest minutes. These projections assumed he was out of the top six, but you never know with this team. Team USA is a mess in terms of optimizing its best lineup, but they might still have the talent to fall ass-backwards into the semis anyway.

4. North America: The most exciting team at the tournament and one with a very real chance at winning the whole thing, which would be very funny considering the whole they’re-not-even-a-real-national-entity thing. Connor McDavid is the top dog here and while he was quiet on the score-sheet during the exhibitions, his speed and tenacity so far suggest he’s ready to burst out at any time. Goaltending was the biggest concern when the team was first minted, but Matt Murray should hold the fort reasonably well. The defence, while inexperienced, is actually much stronger than it looks, although the team would be better served in finding more ice-time for Colton Parayko who is too good for a bottom pair role. This team is a definite dark horse candidate to win it all and are about on par talent-wise with the Americans, they just have a tougher division to get out of.

5. Russia: After the Young Guns team, there’s a bit of a drop-off talent wise to the Russians and then again to the bottom feeders. Russia has a lot of skill up-front obviously, but the defense is severely lacking. KHL import and Leafs rookie Nikita Zaitsev led the team in minutes if you were wondering how dire the situation was. The only defense that’s worse belongs to the Czechs, which is a train-wreck in its own right. Russia’s forward ice-time distribution was much more even than any of the other teams, which is strange considering the massive divide between the elite talent up-front and the weaker depth guys. The team needs to get their offensive superstars on the ice more and their Nikolay Kulemins and Ivan Telegins on less to have a shot.

6. Europe: They looked like the worst team here when they faced the kids, but then they stomped all over Sweden so perhaps we were all a bit too quick to judge. Team Anze Kopitar has some very good players on it that should give them a fighting chance to at least cause a scare in the group stage. They probably won’t make it, but stranger things have happened and this is a team with Jaroslav Halak, who’s known to steal games from those much more deserving. Putting Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the press-box would do a lot to help this team’s chances as would not playing Dennis Seidenberg for 20-plus minutes a night.

7. Czech Republic: The Czechs are not a good team, let’s not kid ourselves, but they have some very good players at forward that put them in Not Last. Game Score thinks Jakub Voracek and Ondrej Palat are better than anyone on Finland, and their forward depth is a lot stronger with guys like David Pastrnak, Martin Hanzal, Michael Frolik and Tomas Plekanec. Again with ice-time deployment, I’m not sure why Milan Michalek has been getting more minutes than Voracek, but that’s obviously something that needs to change. The goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth is very underrated and they’ll need to be stellar because they won’t have much help in front of them on D. The team’s defense is an unmitigated disaster that would put some of the worst NHL clubs to shame. If they make it out of the group stage with that D-core it’ll be a small miracle.

8. Finland: This might be surprising because of their reputation, but there’s a lot not a lot to like here. The defense isn’t great, but it’s at least not the worst at the World Cup. Rasmus Ristolainen is getting huge minutes and he’s not a player that Game Score likes due to his poor shot rates. Goaltending will either be very strong or very weak depending on who the team actually chooses. Pekka Rinne is the front-runner and that would be the wrong choice. Still the biggest issue is up front where there is just no depth or top flight talent. Aleskander Barkov is fantastic, as is his Florida teammate Jussi Jokinen, although neither are as good as any other team’s top forwards. It gets bleak after that and neither of them are even getting the most forward minutes on team. For some reason Valtteri Filppula is getting two-and-a-half minutes more per game over Barkov, which is sub-optimal. Their second best goal-scorer last year was Leo Komarov with 19 goals. The team had one 20-goal scorer. They’re also dressing Lauri Korpikoski who might be one of the worst players in the NHL let alone this tournament. The Finns are rarely good on paper – this team is no exception – but they usually manage to find a way somehow. Maybe they surprise as usual, but this roster looks ugly and it’d be pretty shocking if they advanced past the group stage.


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