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Hockey Analytics

Hockey Analytics: Replacement of the Mack

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: February 10, 2021, 4:11 pm ET

The devastating news that the Avalanche will be without Nathan Mackinnon week-to-week, a big hole emerges for another roster player to step up into the void. No one can adequately replace, Mackinnon, but a temp solution is listed on their roster right now.

I think it will be Nazem Kadri that eventually fills in, more so than any other player, but that is to be determined with time.

As the Colorado Avalanche found out against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, life without their star pivot is going to present challenges. Attempting to fill that gap fell to the likes of J.T. Compher and spotted with Tyson Jost, skating between Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

The Mackinnon trio had been scorching the NHL at 5v5 and by a wide margin, prior to the injury to Mackinnon, exemplified by the lone ranking at the far right of the distribution chart below.





8:30 PM

11:00 PM

Wild at Avalanche





5:30 PM

8:00 PM

Red Wings at Lightning





8:00 PM

11:00 PM

Bruins at Flyers





12:00 PM

3:00 PM

Flyers at Capitals





6:30 PM

10:30 PM

Sabres at Bruins




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The distribution chart below represents the Z-score, which is a measurement of the line’s output in relation to an average line’s output across the NHL. Data for this endeavor was sourced from MoneyPuck.com and is focused only at 5v5 play. Special teams are excluded.

Calculating and using the Z-score gives us the ability to analyze similar datasets with different circumstances, in this instance, uneven playing times and output. Sample size with only 10 games into the season should also be given precautionary consideration. Ten games is not a very substantial sample, despite the importance of 10 games in a condensed schedule. Mackinnon is considered week to week, which could cost five to seven games depending on whether he can be ready for a mid-month game against Vegas.

Using this measure illustrates how far above NHL average the Avs first line is when normalizing line output at 5v5. On display in this image, is the category of shot attempts for (SAF), the Avs line produced 138 to the average of 26. The blue highlighted band represents where the NHL average for the population resides, and the Mackinnon line is located all the way to the right – far away from the average.


Avalanche Lines Shot Attempts For Z-Score

Using the same Z-Score methodology on the category of Rebounds, produces similar results. To score a lot, rebounds, and high danger scoring area presence are keys. The Avs line appear among the most productive distribution band, furthest away from the NHL average in blue, with 32 teams hovering around the average, and 207 teams below, making up the majority of the NHL. When it came to creating rebounds, the Mackinnon line shared the spotlight with these other NHL lines. The Tkachuk, Norris and Batherson line for the Ottawa Senators fulfills the essence net-front presence.

NHL's Best Rebound Generating Lines 2020-21  











Mackinnon Line Rebounds Z-Score


The Avalanche trio have driven the offense at 5v5 and on the power play (5v4), but when plotting them against the distribution for expected goals percentage (xGF%) differential, a measure of the game flow of play, expected goals are being used as a proxy for indicating strength of a team’s possession game.

Yes, Colorado thrives with the trio on the ice, but when factoring in defensive elements, they land in the middle of the distribution closer to league averages. As potent as they are offensively, they are leaky defensively.

Instead of the offense being enough to carry the flow of play to the Avalanche favor, the trio is only average. This is commentary on the quality of shots given up while they’re on the ice. A high-octane offense, while allowing for a soft defensive game tilts the ice slightly back in favor to the opposition. If they can keep the Mackinnon line off the scoreboard and counter with effective transition, forcing them to play defensively – and negate their offensive skills – there’s a good chance to beat the Avs in a single game – and in a grander scope over a series.

Goaltending cost the Avalanche an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final over the summer of 2020.

Avalanche Lines Expected Goals Percentage Z-Score


Nazem Kadri

The Compher/Jost experiment began on Tuesday night, but one of the greatest characteristics of ex-Leaf Nazem Kadri is his ability to fill holes in the lineup even on a temporary basis. When the Avs needed a boost in the playoffs, they promoted Kadri to the wing. This versatility has been on display since his early days as a Maple Leaf. I had the opportunity to watch Kadri develop from his time with the London Knights, and there’s a chameleon-like ability to blend into situations, whether it’s playing with superstars, skilled and creative players, or grinding the game down in a lower roster role. The emotional attachment to his responsibilities have gotten him in trouble before with suspensions – noteworthy during the playoffs as a Leaf that may have been a factor in moving on and trading him away.

Kadri has played most of the season alongside ex-Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad, and lately they’ve been completed with Andre Burakovsky – who upon researching this article revealed that entering Tuesday night, had earned a point on every goal scored while he was on the ice this season in every situation, 5v5 and 5v4. (Screen print from Natural Stat Trick). Upon conclusion of the 2-1 win over the Wild, he maintained that 00% individual point percentage (IPP for short).

Avalanche Andre Burakovsky 100% IPP


Similarly, Kadri has a point on 80% of 5v5 on-ice goals – and only on 37.5% of 5v4 goals for an overall around 55% in all situations. Looking at some of his specific stats for 2020-21, Kadri is firing career low shooting percentage at 5v5, firing at career averages shots/60 and second best rate of assists/60 since the last lockout season in 2012-13 as a Leaf rookie.

Breaking up a productive trio in Kadri, Saad and Burakovsky, to move the pivot up the lineup may induce temporary chaos, but the talented Landeskog and Rantanen are worth the move. In a small one-game sample Landeskog and Rantanen didn’t have the same play driving quality that they did with their star pivot in the lineup. How long will coaching staff let the offense dry up before making some bold roster choices.

There may be more tinkering with the lineup as the situation stretches out and they look for different combinations and it’s quite possible the duo can play with virtually anyone in that center spot, but I’d posture, that Kadri becomes the best temporary fit on that line.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey