Monday, January 4, 2010
Celebrating the Unsung "Best's" and "Worst's" of the Half-Year
Ringing in a new year calls for something completely different, and it's only appropriate that we give credit to some unheralded stats and take away credit for some horrible performance. So, having reached the halfway point for the NHL season, let's lavish the NHL-equivalent of The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers. Though most of these guys have a "necessary means for an education:"
Face-off Win Percentage
As a former center who was pretty good at this himself, I appreciate the technique and value of a face-off win. The advantages are extensive: puck possession, control in the zone, shot opportunities, and clearing opportunities can all be gained from a decent center-man. In the past, players like Yanic Perreault and Tim Taylor were coveted for this skill as much as anything else, and the NHL continues to recognize good face-off guys with regular time.
Paul Gaustad, Buffalo Sabres - 61.6%
60%+ is an extremely high watermark, left to maybe one or two center-men a year (and sometimes not reached at all). It's undeniable that a key face-off win can create opportunities, and Gaustad's effectiveness has helped the Sabres become one of the better teams in the league.
Honorable Mention: Dave Steckel, Washington Capitals - 61.5%
Just a tick below Gaustad, Steckel was initially brought up for his face-off prowess last year, and did not disappoint (57.9%). It is worth noting that both of these guys are your basic 3rd liners, but their effectiveness in this skill make them as valuable as many 1st liners.
When debating what constitutes value in the course of a hockey game, the hit is very hard to quantify. My thinking is that hits, ideally, disrupt an opportunity for the opposing team. Now, a certain percentage are probably just finishing checks, after puck has been sent along, but even the threat of an oncoming hit can affect the play. And for these reasons, effective hitters deserve to be recognized, especially ones with low Minor PIM totals. So I developed a little metric, Hits/PIM (H/PIM), to laud those who can make the hit without hurting the team. To qualify players for this metric, I wanted to focus on hitters that clearly use it as a part of their game. To assess this, I used the league averages (teams average about 22 hits/game) and determined that an above-average hitter would have at least 2 hits per game. So, among players with at least 84 hits, the #1 guys are:
Darren Helm, Red Wings - 11.00 H/PIM
Boy, didn't see that coming, huh? But sure enough, Little Man Helm throws himself around like a wrecking ball (remember him in last year's playoffs?) but receives minuscule minutes in the box. With 88 hits but only 8 PIM, he is one of the more effective hitters in the game.
Tanner Glass, Vancouver Canucks - 11.00 H/PIM
If there could be an opposite of Helm, it'd be David Koci, but Glass is a close second. Known a bit more for throwing down his Winnwells than for throwing opponents into the glass, the Canucks left winger slides in by virtue of the fact that of his 58 PIM, fifty are from fighting majors.
Of all the unheralded stats, this one most clearly has value. Just base it off of what you know: shots on goal are the only way to score a goal. Therefore, blocking said shots would be eliminating that opportunity. Nevertheless, we rarely scour the stat sheets to appreciate the Craig Ludwigs and Jay McKees of the world. I'm here for you, Craig!
Without further ado...
Brett Clark, Colorado Avalanche - 123 blocked shots
Hmmm, maybe I figured out why we don't learn about these guys. Because I have nothing significant to say about Brett Clark. Oh, except that he blocks shots well. And he makes $3.5 million a year. Uh...great job, Brett!
Honorable Mention: Dennis Seidenberg, Florida Panthers - 122 blocked shots
He's German! Isn't that veird?
So let's kick it on our not-so-awesome side now, looking at some unsavory stats that could prove to be very interesting. The first category, missed shots, is aggravating to me. I did many push-ups for missing the net in practice, and I assume these guys did too, yet I still see it happen way too often. So let's look at some guys who owe me twenty!
Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers - 90 missed shots
Fresh off a 46-goal campaign, Carter's on pace for about 28 this year, and missing shots has as much to do with it as anything else. The loss of production has been a bitter pill for the Flyers to swallow, and it may be Carter's ticket out of town.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators - 74 missed shots
Like Carter, Weber had an excellent year last year only to follow it with mediocrity. At least Weber's excuse could be the fact that he shoots at about 2-3 times the distance from the net that Carter does.
There are many in the hockey world that view plus/minus as a bogus statistic, and to a degree it is. It is much more a signifier of the team's performance than the individual. Regardless, when your +/- varies significantly from your team's +/-, there may be more truth to the data than we'd like to believe.
Ales Kotalik, New York Rangers - +/- of -17
Yes, the Rangers are currently 24th in the league in team +/-, but there's a certain point where you move from "victim of circumstance" to "part of the problem," and Kotalik is there. Amazingly, he's played 1st or 2nd line a significant portion of the year, and put up 20 points, but his neglectful defense has gone off the deep end. The fact that he receives $3 million for this is a good reason why the Rangers tend to blow.
Ruslan Fedotenko, Pittsburgh Penguins - +/- of -7
On a team with the 8th best +/- in the league, Fedotenko is by far the worst on the team. I've actually been ranting about Fedostinko's inability to play hockey for quite some time, and his career statistics always seem to hint that he's more like the guy who knows who to hang around with rather than a true talent. Now, I've got you where I want you, Ruslan, and I just want to say that, after 42 games, 14 points, and a minus 7, isn't there a Czech league somewhere looking for a winger?
Say what you will about minors, but there are very few circumstances where a player "takes a good penalty." The point is, the damage of going shorthanded is, 99 times out of 100, worse than the direct result of making an illegal play. While taking a penalty was less harmful when power play conversions were in the doldrums (league averages around 16% in the mid-1990s to early 2000s), nowadays teams are converting at rates edging quite a bit closer to the early 1990s (18-19%). The fighting majors are hard to distinguish as either bad or good, but those minors get you every time.
Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers - 27 minor penalties
I am seeing an increasing number of reasons why the Flyers are having problems. Last year, Hartnell offset those minors with points on the board, but he has not been scoring like he did then. In fact, he hasn't been playing this poorly since his Nashville years.
Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lightning - 26 minor penalties
From current Flyer to former Flyer, I will say this: Downie has shown a surprising amount of offensive flair. On the flip side, it's those occasions where he drops back to the old Downie that hurt the 'Ning. The guy's only 22, so there's hope that he can figure it out.
Honorable Mention: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 25 minor penalties
A bit of a shocker, though Malkin's always been pretty chippy. He's been a bit off this year, and his current PIM pace (set for a career-high 116 PIM) may be partly to blame.
Like Vanessa Williams, I'm saving the best for last. Poor, poor Rowdy Roddy. Mr. Muscles has, in the last two years, gone from being a point-per-game, defensive stalwart to wearing the tiara for worst plus-minus in the league. A -23 this year, he logged an identical -23 last season as well, when the Hurricanes were faring significantly better. He is still one of the best face-off guys, but with only 8 points in 40 games, it may be time for Brind'Amour to find a new career. Like becoming Mr. Universe.
And there you go, the highs and the lows. Let's keep watching out for those unsung heroes, and boo when booing is appropriate for the chumps.