Mar 062013
 

One of the surprise player performances so far this season is that of Jakub Voracek. Voracek currently sits tied for 7th in points with 10 goals and 27 points in 24 games.  That puts him on pace to score 54 points in this lock-out shortened 48 game season which is 4 points more than he has scored in any 82 game season (career best was  50 points in 2009-10 in 81 games).

Last season when Rick Nash was on the trade block I wrote an article about Nash and in it I had a few comments about Jakub Voracek as part of a WOWY analysis. Here is what I wrote:

Nash played best when he was paired up with Voracek and Brassard and only Voracek, Brassard and Huselius made Nash a better offensive player when playing with him.  Vermette, Umberger and Malhotra were drags on his offensive numbers.  When playing apart, Voracek’s numbers are better than Nash’s.  Same for Brassard’s (who is doing it again this year, 0.782 GF20 vs Nash’s 0.613 when apart).  As an aside, the numbers suggest that Voracek is a very good offensive player  and it was probably a big mistake to trade him.  It also suggest that the Flyers aren’t getting full value from him by playing him primarily with Maxime Talbot.  If someone acquired Voracek and put him in the right situations, he could be the next Joffrey Lupul.

Voracek wasn’t traded but the departure of James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr opened up some spots on the top two lines and Voracek got a promotion from playing mostly with Talbot to playing with Claude Giroux and getting lots of powerplay time.  The results of that move are, as I predicted, very Joffrey Lupul like. Lupul put up solid but unspectacular numbers while mostly been given second line minutes and secondary power play minutes for the majority of his career. Lupul’s numbers looked unspectacular but were actually quite good considering his usage as a secondary offensive player and the quality of line mates he played with. When Lupul came to Toronto and was put on a line with another elite offensive player, given first line minutes, and first power play unit minutes, he started putting up high end offensive numbers. It wasn’t so much that Lupul had a break out season or that he had a career year, its more than he was finally given an opportunity to play with top end talent and given first line minutes.  The exact same thing happened with Voracek.  He put up solid numbers while given secondary minutes in secondary offensive roles and just needed to be given a chance to prove his worth as a first line player with quality line mates. Now he has been given that chance and the results are clear. He is a high end offensive talent.

 

Feb 162013
 

Ok, let me justify that headline a little before people get all over me.  He isn’t completely terrible as in he shouldn’t be in the league terrible.  He’s just a terrible first line center, and probably not a very good second or third line center either (at least not until he improves defensively). He’d be an OK 4th liner and injury fill in depth player at close to minimum salary. Let me explain.

The last 2 seasons Bozak has mostly played with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul became his second winger when he joined the Leafs. Those are two pretty solid wingers to play with so lets look at Bozak’s production with those two solid players.

I want to compare Bozak to other top 9 players and conveniently if we look at all forwards with 1250 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 2 seasons we come up with 270 players which is precisely an average of 9 per team, or 3 lines per team. So, how does Bozak rank among these players?

So, despite playing predominately with first line players his individual offensive stats are at a 3rd line level.

So, what about PP situations?  There are 169 forwards with 250 5v4 PP minutes over the previous two seasons while Bozak has played 417:28 which puts him among the top 65 forwards in the league. How has Bozak fared?

Think about that for a minute.  Of 169 forwards with >250 5v4 PP minutes over the past 2 seasons he ranks 5th last in shots/60 and has the 30th worst first assists/60 rankings. That means he is playing on the PP but isn’t shooting much and isn’t a primary set up man for the shooters either.

The only redeeming factors for Bozak is that he seems to be developing into a really good face off guy and he seems to be able to play with an elevated shooting percentage. His 5v5 ZS adjusted shooting percentage ranks 30th of 270 over the past 2 seasons while his 5v4 PP shooting percentage ranks 14th of 169. If you look at Bozak’s shot locations for last season you will see that the majority of Bozak’s shots and goals come from close in and 5 of his 11 5v5 goals last season came on rebounds.

So, to summarize, Tyler Bozak doesn’t shoot much, isn’t a great playmaker, isn’t good defensively (explained elsewhere) and yet coaches seem to insist on using him as a first line center. His main contribution to a team is winning face offs and going to the opposing teams net waiting for the puck to come to him so he can pot an easy close in goal. It is not completely unreasonable to believe that a guy like David Steckel could give you as good or better performance on face offs and similar lackluster offensive results with better defensive play if given the same opportunities to play with top end players that Tyler Bozak has had. That isn’t to say I want Steckel to be the Leafs new first line center, I was just trying to put Bozak’s usefulness (or lack of) into perspective.

 

Feb 052013
 

Before Leaf fans get all over me, let me say that there is nothing wrong with being a complementary player. Every team has and needs them and they can be valuable pieces of the puzzle. When I say complementary player I mean he is a player that needs others to help him get the most out of his game rather than someone who can elevate his game and those around him on his own. The complementary player isn’t as valuable as the guy who can elevate his game and the game of his line mates on his own (I call this a core player) but every good team needs a good cast of complementary players. Let me explain further with this chart of 2007-12 (5yr) even strength 5v5 data.

Sh% TOI/G
with Savard 13.9% 39:40
without Savard 8.9% 61:08
with Lupul 12.8% 46:34
without Lupul 9.1% 58:46
with Savard or Lupul 13.3% 43:07
without Savard or Lupul 7.7% 68:44

In my opinion, the two best (offensive) players that Kessel has played with over his career are Marc Savard and Joffrey Lupul so I focused on Kessel’s play with and without them. In the chart above, you can clearly see that Kessel has been substantially better when he is on the ice with either Savard or Lupul and in reality somewhat ordinary otherwise. When those two guys are on the ice Kessel’s shooting percentage, and thus goal production, sky rockets. Whatever Savard and Lupul are doing, they make Phil Kessel better. Does that make Savard and Lupul core players and Kessel a complementary player?  Maybe.  Let’s take a closer look at Lupul and see if his boost in Kessel’s performance extends to some of the other line mates he has had over the years (again, using 5 year 5v5 shooting percentages).

Linemate with Lupul without Lupul
Phil Kessel 12.8% 9.1%
Tyler Bozak 12.9% 13.4%
Scott Hartnell 12.1% 9.3%
Jeff Carter 12.4% 9.2%
Mike Richards 14.3% 9.0%

Aside from Tyler Bozak (and Kessel may be a factor as he has only played with Bozak when Kessel is also on the ice), he has improved the shooting percentage of each of his line mates over the past 5 seasons. This is fairly significant evidence that Lupul is in fact a core player that improves the performance of his line mates.

Every team needs core players, but there aren’t enough core players in the NHL to fill out your roster so every team also needs quality complementary players. From my perspective, Kessel is a good complementary player that guys like Lupul and Savard can elevate into very good very productive players, but because Kessel is also dependent on Lupul to be highly productive, Kessel isn’t worth the money that you would pay a core player. For this reason, if I were the Leafs management, I’d be very cautious about paying Kessel big money (i.e. in excess of $7M) on his next contract since, if something happens to Lupul (as is the case right now) he quickly becomes ordinary.

Now with that in mind, and the fact he is currently on a significant goal drought (12 games dating back to last season, mostly without Lupul) I think it is up to the Leaf coaching staff to mix up the lines and see if you can find another core player that can maximize Kessel’s production. Bozak and van Riemsdyk don’t seem to be the guys. Personally, I’d put him with Grabovski but it might also be interesting to see him with young energy players like Kadri and Frattin. The coaching staff has to do something but the current line is not working at all.

Jan 242013
 

The other day I introduced a new way of visualizing player time on ice and usage and today I am taking that one step further by superimposing a players performance on those charts.

So, with the TOI usage charts I presented the other day you can see how frequently a player was on the ice in any particular situation relative to how frequently the team plays during that situation.  So, a player might be on the ice for 30% of the teams 5v5 game tied minutes.  The next logical step is to take a look at his production during those situations relative to his teams production. If a player is on the ice for 30% of his teams 5v5 game tied minutes but he was only on the ice for 25% of the teams 5v5 game tied goals, that isn’t a good thing.  The team under-produced during his ice time relative to when he was not on the ice. We can also do the same for goals against and the resulting chart might look like this one for Zdeno Chara over the past 5 seasons.

The blue is Chara’s TOI usage percentages, the green is his goals for percentages and the red is his goals against percentages. You will notice that I have removed special teams play. The reason for this is because GA is not significant on power plays and GF is not significant on penalty kill so the chart ends up looking odd but in theory you could include them.

In an ideal situation the red box is smaller than the blue box (give up fewer goals than expected) and the green box is bigger than the blue box (give up more goals than expected). For Chara his results are a little mixed. When trailing he is very good having more goals for than expected and fewer goals against than expected when he is on the ice. His goals against relative to his teammates rises significantly when leading. I am not certain why, but maybe it has to do with his defense pairings when protecting a lead or opposing teams pressure him more when they are trailing.

Let’s take a look at another player who has been in the news lately, for both a contract signing and an injury.  Joffrey Lupul.

Strangely, almost the opposite of Chara. Lupul’s ‘leading’ stats are better than Chara’s while Chara is better when trailing. I am thinking maybe matchups are a factor here. When leading coaches are more diligent in matching Chara up against the opposing teams top line and keeping Lupul away from the opposing teams top line. Something to investigate further.

That said though, for Leaf fans if the Leafs get a better team that spends more time leading than trailing, Lupul’s numbers should, at least according to the chart above, get better. Especially goals against numbers.

Let’s finish off with one more superstar player, Sidney Crosby.

That is the chart of an offensively dominant player. Crosby’s offense is through the roof. Like Chara though, he is much weaker protecting a lead than any other situation.

As I said in my previous post, I am not sure where I will go with these radar charts, but they seem to be a valuable way of visualizing data so when appropriate I will attempt to make use of them. For example, it might be interesting to take a look at how a players usage and performance changes from year to year. In particular it might be interesting to see how ice time and performance changes for young players as they slowly improve or older players who are on the downsides of their careers.

 

Jan 202013
 

The Leafs announced today that they have re-signed Joffrey Lupul to a 5 year contract extension at an average salary and cap hit of $5.25M/yr.  Some Leaf fans are a little dismayed at both the value and the term of the deal as many people seem to view Lupul as a second line winger with a defensive liability that should have been traded, not re-signed.  I won’t deny that Lupul is a defensive liability (though wingers generally have less impact on defense than centers or defensemen), but I will dispute the claim that he is a second line winger.

Last season I wrote an article pointing out that Lupul’s production was not an anomaly and that he has always been that good of a player. In it I showed that he made almost all of his line mates more productive offensively when they were skating with him than when they were not.  I also showed that Lupul’s even strength goal production had not increased dramatically last year.  I won’t reiterate that here as you can go read it if you want, but I just wanted to post one more chart.  This chart shows the top 20 players in terms of goal scoring rates (individual goals per 20 minutes of ice time) during 5v5 zone start adjusted play over the last 5 years (minimum 3000 minutes of ice time).

Rank Player G/20
1 SIDNEY CROSBY 0.272
2 ALEXANDER SEMIN 0.259
3 STEVEN STAMKOS 0.240
4 MARIAN GABORIK 0.234
5 ALEX OVECHKIN 0.234
6 BOBBY RYAN 0.210
7 RICK NASH 0.209
8 ILYA KOVALCHUK 0.207
9 JEFF CARTER 0.201
10 PATRICK SHARP 0.200
11 ALEX BURROWS 0.197
12 PHIL KESSEL 0.196
13 JOFFREY LUPUL 0.196
14 JONATHAN TOEWS 0.196
15 DANIEL SEDIN 0.196
16 JAROME IGINLA 0.195
17 JAMES NEAL 0.195
18 MATT MOULSON 0.195
19 MARIAN HOSSA 0.193
20 EVGENI MALKIN 0.191

Lupul sits right there in 13th spot right behind Kessel and just ahead of guys like Toews, D. Sedin, Neal, Hossa and Malkin. That’s not too shabby if you ask me and certainly worthy of a $5.25M/yr deal if you ask me. The reason for Lupul’s perceived performance increase last year is largely due to more ice time, and more PP ice time in particular, and not because of luck or a one year wonder type thing.

Update: Edited to indicate the chart uses 5 years of data, not just last season.

 

 

Mar 022012
 

A lot has been made about Joffrey Lupul’s “career year” this year and some Leaf fans are even suggesting that now is the time to trade him while his value is at an all-time high.  While it is true that he is on pace for career high in goals and points I would like to suggest that this is not because he is having a ‘career year’ but that he is being given greater opportunity.  He has always been this good and there is no reason to expect that he cannot repeat this years performance next season.

When I analyze a player I like to look at “on-ice” stats because I believe a player can contribute to a teams success without generating individual goals and assists.  But, since on-ice stats are teammate dependent I like to look at how his teammates do with and without the player on the ice with him.  So, let’s look at some of Lupul’s linemates 5v5 close faceoff adjusted goals for per 20 minutes with and without Lupul over the past 5 seasons.

Year Teammate Together TM w/o Lupul % Inc w/ Lupul
2011-12 Kessel 1.418 0.789 79.7%
2011-12 Bozak 1.068 1.268 -15.8%
2010-11 Bozak 0.979 0.718 36.4%
2010-11 Kessel 0.989 0.769 28.6%
2008-09 Hartnell 1.61 0.659 144.3%
2008-09 J. Carter 1.627 0.73 122.9%
2007-08 M. Richards 1.718 0.683 151.5%
2007-08 Umberger 1.915 0.631 203.5%
2007-08 Briere 1.061 0.536 97.9%

The above table includes all players Lupul has played 100 minutes of 5v5 close ice time with over the past 5 seasons including their GF20 together and Lupul’s teammates GF20 when not playing with Lupul.  The final column is how much better the teammates GF20 is playing with Lupul compared to without Lupul.  As you can see, in every single season Lupul has made his linemates significantly better offensively.  This is a good thing.

So, why are Lupul’s individual offensive numbers so much better this year?  A lot of it has to do with greater opportunity and the most important factor in opportunity is ice time.   Let’s take a look at Lupul’s even strength goal production over the past 5 seasons and compare it to his even strength ice time.

Year ES TOI ES G Min. bt goals
2011-12 984:59 17 57.9
2010-11 688:23 10 68.8
2009-10 299:05 10 29.9
2008-09 1039:42 19 54.7
2007-08 744:47 13 57.3

The “Min. bt goals” column is the average number of minutes that he spent on the ice at even strength between his even strength goals.  As you can see, this season is pretty much on par with what he has done in the past.

Another interesting thing to look at is his on-ice shooting percentage in 5v5 close zone start adjusted situations.  Over the past 5 seasons, starting with 2007-08, they are 14.04%, 12.05%, 9.09%, 11.64%, and 13.73%.  These are exceptional numbers, and among the best in the league.  I know not everyone believes in shooting percentages but I believe they are an integral component of producing offense.  As a result, a corsi-based analysis of Lupul will fail to show his true offensive value.

So, in conclusion, Lupul’s offensive production this season is not an anomaly, it is his ice time that is the anomaly.  He has almost as much even strength ice time this year than he has ever had and he has capitalized on it at more or less the same rate as he has in the past.  He is on pace for 32 goals this season and there is no reason to believe that he can’t be a 30 goal scorer next year as well.  The Leafs shouldn’t be considering trading Lupul this summer but rather they should be re-signing him to a long-term deal before his value really sky rockets in 2013 after putting up back to back 30+ goal, 70+ point seasons.