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.

Feb 182012
 

The other day at Pension Plan Puppets there was a discussion about the merit so Steve Downie and whether the Leafs should go after him if Tampa made him available.   In it I brought up the fact that when Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis or Vincent Lecavalier play with Downie their offensive numbers increase, sometimes dramatically.  The following table shows each players goals for per 20 minutes of ice time in 5v5 zone-start adjusted situations with and without Steve Downie on the ice with them.

Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Stamkos 1.481 1.19 24.5%
St. Louis 1.441 1.182 21.9%
Lecavalier 1.408 1.139 23.6%
2010-11 Stamkos 1.297 1.122 15.6%
St. Louis 1.246 1.06 17.5%
2009-10 Stamkos 1.284 0.903 42.2%
St. Louis 1.257 0.868 44.8%
Lecavalier 1.167 0.849 37.5%
2008-09 Stamkos 1.113 0.685 62.5%

This year Downie has improved their offensive production between 20 and 25% and it isn’t because Downie is an elite offensive player relative to those three guys.  He only has 12 goals and 28 points in 54 games this year and is Tampa’s 6th leading scorer behind the three listed above and Purcell and Malone.  In his best season, 2009-10, he only had 22 goals and 46 points so he is far from an elite offensive player at the individual level and yet he does something that makes his skilled linemates better.

I have always been interesting in exploring the optimal way to build a team and so this prompted me to look a little deeper to see if mixing in some toughness in the form of a winger with good size (not a ‘goon’) but not necessarily elite offensive skill with more pure skill players makes the skill players better.   So, here are a few more examples that I found interesting.

Alex Burrows

Burrows Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 D. Sedin 1.052 1.017 3.4%
H. Sedin 1.112 0.92 20.9%
2010-11 D. Sedin 1.365 1.06 28.8%
H. Sedin 1.277 0.982 30.0%
2009-10 D. Sedin 1.481 2.126 -30.3%
H. Sedin 1.321 1.994 -33.8%
2008-09 D. Sedin 1.534 0.851 80.3%
H. Sedin 1.434 0.94 52.6%

Milan Lucic

Lucic Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Krejci 1.182 0.607 94.7%
2010-11 Krejci 1.232 0.613 101.0%
2009-10 Savard 0.768 0.676 13.6%
2008-09 Savard 1.277 1.098 16.3%

Drew Stafford

Stafford Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Roy 0.939 0.585 60.5%
2010-11 Roy 1.137 0.926 22.8%
Connolly 1.407 0.765 83.9%
2009-10 Roy 0.913 0.876 4.2%
Connolly 1.318 1.01 30.5%
2008-09 Roy 0.965 0.809 19.3%
Connolly 1.384 1.195 15.8%
2007-08 Roy 1.415 1.235 14.6%

Ryan Clowe

Clowe Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Couture 0.984 0.722 36.3%
2010-11 Couture 0.933 0.733 27.3%
Pavelski 1.062 0.791 34.3%
2009-10 Pavelski 0.863 1.24 -30.4%
2008-09 Pavelski 0.922 0.557 65.5%

Scott Hartnell

Hartnell Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Giroux 1.286 0.812 58.4%
Jagr 1.309 0.683 91.7%
2010-11 Briere 1.169 1.064 9.9%
Leino 1.053 0.987 6.7%
Giroux 1.205 1.038 16.1%
2009-10 Briere 0.918 0.931 -1.4%
Carter 1.04 0.606 71.6%
M. Richards 0.719 0.707 1.7%
2008-09 Carter 1.299 0.699 85.8%
Lupul 1.272 0.327 289.0%
M. Richards 1.016 0.911 11.5%
2007-08 M. Richards 0.696 1.214 -42.7%
Briere 0.883 0.581 52.0%
Carter 0.936 0.754 24.1%
Lupul 1.305 0.923 41.4%

Dustin Penner

Penner Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Stoll 0.644 0.408 57.8%
M. Richards 0.577 0.494 16.8%
2910-11 Hemsky 1.004 0.714 40.6%
Cogliano 0.856 0.545 57.1%
2009-10 Gagner 1.063 0.653 62.8%
Brule 1.505 0.782 92.5%
Cogliano 1.171 0.669 75.0%
2008-09 Horcoff 1.123 0.724 55.1%
Hemsky 1.32 0.658 100.6%
Cogliano 1.09 0.671 62.4%
2007-08 Hemsky 0.974 0.741 31.4%
Horcoff 1.015 0.696 45.8%

Brenden Morrow

Morrow Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Ribeiro 0.887 0.642 38.2%
Eriksson 1.055 0.935 12.8%
Ott 1.069 0.880 21.5%
2010-11 Ribeiro 1.104 0.365 202.5%
Benn 1.040 0.900 15.6%
2009-10 Ribeiro 0.911 0.507 79.7%
Benn 0.923 0.692 33.4%
2007-08 Ribeiro 1.196 0.384 211.5%
Mietinen 1.087 0.808 34.5%

Nathan Horton

Horton Teammate With Without % Impr.
2011-12 Krejci 1.298 0.455 185.3%
2010-11 Krejci 1.276 0.632 101.9%
2009-10 Weiss 1.153 0.525 119.6%
2008-09 Weiss 1.141 1.094 4.3%
2007-08 Weiss 1.191 0.543 119.3%

Save for a small number of player combo seasons the big strong wingers made their smaller skilled linemates (particularly the centermen) better offensive performers and while most of the players I looked at above are quality players no one will really call them elite offensive stars that can carry an offense.  They are at best secondary top line players or second liners.  Now it could be that when some these guys are not on the top line they are replaced with a third line player who brings down the production of the top line but there does seem something happening here that makes me think if you have a small, skilled center you should really look to pair him up with a big, strong, winger even if that winger is less talented.