Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Minute-By-Minute Look At The Caps

Warning: This is a monster of a post. Grab a sandwich (you have time to run down to Breadline for a ham and cheese, and they have WiFi there anyway).

Two weeks ago, we took a look at the Caps' blueline in terms of certain stats, and on a "per shift" basis, in an effort to see who did what with the ice time they were given.

Today, we'll expand that type of evaluation to all skaters (actually, the 23 of them who played in the NHL last year and are most likely to play for the Caps this year - so no Nicklas Backstrom or Josef Boumedienne, but the young trio of Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis is included, as is John Erskine, who, like Flash and Klepis, has not yet signed for 2007-08). Also, Michael Nylander's, Viktor Kozlov's and Tom Poti's stats are obviously with their 2006-07 teams. Finally, it's worth noting that all of these stats merely tell you how effective the players are/were relative to their teammates - not the rest of the League (that's a project for another day) - so the utility is more in thinking about who deserves playing time than how good the team will be.

With those particulars out of the way, let's dive right in with minutes-per-point. There are no huge surprises at the top (or at the bottom), with Alex Ovechkin, Nylander, Alex Semin, Chris Clark and Kozlov lead the way, with blueliners (Steve Eminger, Mike Green, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz) bringing up the rear. The surprises are in between. For example, Matt Pettinger was 6th - if his shoulder is (and can stay) 100% healthy, that bodes incredibly well for the third line. Speaking of the third line, Boyd Gordon was 7th in minutes-per-point, despite getting only 3:50 of power play time all season - AO gets more than that on a 5-minute major powerplay. In fact, Gordon had fewer minutes in between points than Poti. Would you have guessed that? And of that trio of youngsters noted above, Klepis out-produced Flash and Fehr in this stat.

On the other hand, we all know that Brian Sutherby's production was disappointing last year, registering only 17 points after a 30-point 2005-06 campaign. But Brooks Laich produced just one more point in a handful more minutes, and both trailed Matt Bradley, Donald Brashear and Ben Clymer (and all five of those forwards scored better than number one defenseman Brian Pothier). Feeling crowded on that fourth line yet? And does it speak to how well Erskine played that he finished ahead of the likes of Eminger, Green and Jurcina, or is it an indictment of those three? A combination of the two, I'd say.

But enough about points. Lets get to hits. Here are your top five hitters-per-minute:
  1. Donald Brashear
  2. Alexander Ovechkin
  3. John Erskine
  4. Matt Bradley
  5. Milan Jurcina
And the fearful fivesome at the bottom:
  1. Tom Poti
  2. Boyd Gordon
  3. Alexander Semin
  4. Tomas Fleischmann
  5. Michael Nylander
Just how averse is Nylander to hitting? Try 669th in the League in hits. Sure, it's not his game, but you'd think you'd accidentally run into more than 12 guys over the course of a season. That's not to say Nyls is not tough - there aren't a ton of 34-year-olds who played 79 games last year - but when the Sedins are out-hitting you, it may be time to cowboy up and throw the body every now and again.

Taking a look at penalty minutes-per-minute of ice time, you can see why Jakub Klepis needs to learn some discipline before he can be an NHL regular:
  1. Donald Brashear
  2. John Erskine
  3. Brian Sutherby
  4. Matt Bradley
  5. Jakub Klepis
When you consider that under half of each of the top four's PIMs come from minor penalties (i.e. more often than not these players were not leaving the team shorthanded when they were sent to the sin bin or the shower), it tells you a lot about why Klepis found ice time hard to come by, despite decent production. In a similar vein, Alex Semin had 90 PIMs last year - the result of 45 minor penalties and "good" enough for 7th on this list (Morrisonn was sixth). Without question, Sasha needs to reduce the minor penalties going forward.

How about the guys who kept their noses clean? Take a look at this list and, again, think about how well it bodes for the third line:
  1. Tomas Fleischmann
  2. Jeff Schultz
  3. Viktor Kozlov
  4. Matt Pettinger
  5. Boyd Gordon
Boyd Gordon committed seven minor penalties all year. That's it. Fourteen PIMs. That's one minor for every 160 minutes or so of ice time, or a penalty every ten games. Awesome, and precisely what you'd hope for from him. After all, what good is one of your best penalty killers if he's spending time in the box?

If you haven't noticed the recurring theme of how underrated Boyd Gordon is, you will in a minute, because we're about to look at the guys who protect the puck. As I mentioned in the post on defensemen, puck-movers and playmakers are going to turn the puck over - Jaromir Jagr led the League in giveaways last year, for example. But your better-rounded players will also steal pucks, and a couple of guys rank high on both lists (Ovechkin and Martin St. Louis are two such skaters). But players need to know their roles, and that's where our next stat - takeaways-minus-giveaways-per-minute - comes in. Here are your top five Caps:
  1. Boyd Gordon
  2. Matt Bradley
  3. Brian Sutherby
  4. Viktor Kozlov
  5. Brooks Laich
And the players who were the most, um, generous with the puck:
  1. Jakub Klepis
  2. Brian Pothier
  3. Steve Eminger
  4. Mike Green
  5. Jeff Schultz
Guys like Ovechkin, Nylander and Semin are in the middle of the pack, which is perfectly acceptable from your skill guys. Poti is seventh - which is relatively meaningless in and of itself, but he did have an impressive ratio for an offensive defenseman (and better than a number of prominent rearguards) - and Kozlov at fourth is certainly worth noting, for a player of his skillset. Of course, both of those chaps played for a better team than the Caps last year, so take it for what it's worth. But damn... Boyd Gordon...

On the negative side, it's another strike against Jake Klepis and another reminder that Brian Pothier was a bit overmatched last year. Ben Clymer fared only slightly better than Klepis, which certainly doesn't help his cause, as he isn't the type of player that should have such a bad ratio (see where fellow checking-liners score, for example, though recall that Clymer did have a handful of games as a blueliner at the outset of last season).

So there you have it - a look at who did what with their ice time last year. It doesn't necessarily tell us too much that we didn't already know: Boyd Gordon is a stud, and, with Matt Pettinger and a rightwing to be determined, the Caps should have their best third line since the Steve Konowalchuk-Jeff Halpern-Mike Grier/Ulf Dahlen days; Jakub Klepis needs a lot of work; the defense needs to be better, and should be, with the addition of Tom Poti, the maturation of some of the younger kids and everyone in a role for which they're better-suited. Did anything else jump out at you? And how was that sandwich?

Want to check these stats out in a little more detail? Check out this Google Spreadsheet.


Murshawursha said...

Gordon will win a Selke someday.

And Ted likes it.

CapsChick said...

*Sigh* Just keep adding to my inferiority complex, JP...I'll just continue posting my snarky comments about Sid and things stolen from YouTube, you handle the actual analysis and hockey-related talk. ;)

Tyler said...

This is extraordinarily good.

I'd point out a few things, not criticisms, just things:

* I don't think Boyd Gordon is underrated in DC. At least among fans of this blog.

* I think that anyone named "Boyd Gordon" is going to fly under the radar bi-nationally, just because he's named "Boyd Gordon."

* It's OK with me if Nyls and Gordon aren't hitters. Gordon is positionally smart and I seem to recall Nyls being that way too. The Caps have a lot of fly-around-the-rink Suts-Bradley-Brashear types.

* Speaking of Suts, he gets even more invisible with every post.

Anonymous said...

Interest post, J.P. The one thing that jumped out at me watching the team last season was what appeared to be the absolute randomness of what was tallied as a hit, and what was not. I recall one shift in particular where Milan Jurcina clocked two opposing players against the boards in one shift, and wasn't credited with a hit in the game. Same game had Gordon hitting someone (!) with no credit. While the big hitters will certainly get their numbers, the inexactness of the science and the lack of consistency in what is scored as a 'hit' is a mystery I'm not sure I'll ever be able to figure.

Good stuff, man.

- Empty

JP said...

I couldn't agree more as to the arbitrary nature of "hits" and that not everyone on the team has to play the body.

I just found 12 hits to be a rather mock-worthy number. Of course, Teemu Selanne only had 10 in 82 games and his season turned out just fine.

FYI, Tyler Arnason is the big winner here, with 82 games played and... 2 hits!

The Peerless said...

I think it's a bit unfair to Nylander on the matter of hits. Centers aren't generally well-represented in that category, and scoring centers even less so. For example, of the top 50 in hits last year in the NHL, 30 were defensemen, 14 were wingers, and six were centers (none of whom could be considered scoring centers). Nylander plays in space in his own zone and doesn't strike me as the sort of player who is going to play in traffic in his own end. I don't see that changing on this team, especially if he is matched with Ovechkin (who assumes a hitting role with perhaps more enthusiasm than is prudent for a player with his offensive responsibilities).

Gordon could probably stand to be a little more physical, but his game is predicated more on position and technical skill than a physical approach, which seems to me to explain a good portion of his low PIM total.

All in all though, this is a really nice and concise confirmation of what a lot of folks might have concluded from their eyes last year. For example, several players were overmatched, either for lack of discipline (Klepis) or by being given too much responsibility relative to their talent (Pothier).

Oh, and I can't access the spreadsheet. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Man do you have some time on your hands....what line of work are you in? Government?

Very interesting!

JP said...

Ha. Actually, I'm a contractor for the Government. Truth be told, though, this post was all but published last night, so it didn't take more than hitting a button today.

nvasauxfan said...

Excellent stats, thanks. One thought as I was reading the points per minute stats for forwards, 1’st line forwards playing against top checking lines make their points per minute harder to attain relative to second and third line forwards. No? For that matter 3’rd line forwards are typically focused on defense not offense. It would be interesting to see our 1’st, 2’nd and 3’rd line offensive stats against other teams.

Really liked the post on blueliner stats also. Thanks again.

JP said...

Thanks, and yeah, there are plenty of things that make this all imperfect. As well as the matchups, there's the quality of minutes (i.e. guys who get powerplay time vs. guys who don't, etc.).

On the matchups, I wonder if the disadvantage of being matched against the other teams' best checkers is somewhat negated by the ability to pick and choose line matchups, to an extent, in home games. Probably not fully, but to a degree.

By the way, the matchup issue makes Boyd Gordon look even more impressive - so few PIMs while checking other teams' #1 centers.

As for comparisons to other teams, if I get a chance (or an intern), I'll throw something together.

Anonymous said...

Gordon played well last year when Hanlon went to the trap...that positional game is his style. Gordon is not very good at forechecking because he does not hit (or check) much. It will be interesting to see what happens this year assuming Hanlon no longer uses the trap.

Anonymous said...

Hey anonymous:
I was anonymous before it was COOL to be anonymous!!! ;)
Just the mention of the "trap" was enough to make my face twitch. Hopefully, Hanlon has filed that in the "Systems Employed Only When the Ebola Virus Strikes" file.

Nice work as always, JP.