Daniel Sedin’s slow decline (or not)

For many Canucks fans it’s been difficult watching Daniel Sedin for the last few seasons. 47 points last year is nothing to sneeze at – second on the team – but it’s hard to watch him out on the ice without remembering his 104 point Art Ross season in 2010/2011. His offensive ability seems to have just dried up since then, and it’s hard to put a finger on why. The most popular theory seems to be that he hasn’t been the same since he was concussed by Duncan Keith near the end of the 2011/2012 season. There is, obviously, a natural decline as a player ages and I think it is pretty hard to say whether the Keith hit could be responsible. Below are his even strength goal and point scoring rates per 60 minutes since 2008/2009.

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Daniel has seen his even strength point and goal scoring rates drop rapidly since the 2009/2010 season. There’s nothing super unusual about this in itself: he is 33 years old and 13 years into his NHL career. There are a couple things that make Daniel’s decline unusual. He isn’t scoring less because he can’t drive play anymore, that’s for sure. When Daniel is on the ice the Canucks are still dominating possession play and scoring far more goals then their opponents – his career rates haven’t really changed.

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It isn’t just the percentages that have stayed the same: the number of shot attempts per 60 minutes the Canucks are generating with Daniel on the ice has been very consistent over the last 6 years. So if Daniel is still driving possession and producing as many shot attempts as ever when he’s on the ice, why doesn’t he get as many points anymore?

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dCorsi and the Canucks: defence

An addendum two weeks after writing: I have a couple thoughts to add on dCorsi and context-adjusted possession stats: Domenic Galamini has worked on a similar project, using Net FF20 to then calculate NetGoals. I definitely recommend reading his writeup and looking at the numbers here. Both of these statistics, while intensely interesting and valuable, need to be considered a bit before being taken to be definitive. Standardizing how contextual factors can be adjusted into possession stats is still in its early days, and will only continue to develop with time. So when we get a strange result (like Alex Edler’s) you have to look at his standalone stats and question at least a little bit whether it feels plausible. That isn’t to say it’s wrong: we have such a long way to go on judging defence people still think Jack Johnson and Andrew Macdonald are good defencemen worth millions upon millions of dollars. It’s just worth considering.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Canucks defence since I started to dive into the dCorsi data in earnest. What I find so interesting about the Canucks D last year is that even though the Canucks were a top-10 possession team, the “core” of the Canucks D last year fell off a cliff in terms of possession numbers. I think most people around the league have generally agreed that the Canucks have a really solid defence group in Hamhuis, Edler, Bieksa, Tanev, and until recently, Garrison. That group looked shakey in comparison to years past last season, and Garrison’s season was so brutal that they traded him in what mostly amounted to a salary dump. Their possession numbers really did collapse last year: below is a chart of that core group’s average CorsiRel from the previous three seasons compared to last year.

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Every single member of that group posted a worse CorsiRel last season under Tortorella than they had posted over the previous three seasons. This isn’t a fluke or some sort of crazy simultaneous decline of every Canucks defenceman either: Tortorella has had a similar effect on defencemen in the past.

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dCorsi and the Canucks: forwards

Note: for this post to be worth reading you need to have an understanding of what Corsi is. If you’re looking for a resource for learning about Corsi and possession statistics, try this one.

Stephen Burtch of Pension Plan Puppets has been working on a statistic for individual player possession that takes into account outside factors: zone starts, team effects, faceoff wins, and more. dCorsi, the statistic, measures the difference between a player’s Corsi and their ‘expected Corsi’ – the result if that player’s minutes had been played by “a perfectly average player in an average season if he was handed the same minutes with the same players against the same opposition”. Expected Corsi is calculated using a multivariate linear regression of the previously mentioned factors and others, including position, age, and TOI. Simply, a player is driving possession if their Corsi is higher than their Expected Corsi. dCorsi isn’t calculated as a singular piece: it’s split up into dCorsi For (offence) and dCorsi Against (defence). Generating shot attempts and preventing them are not highly correlated, so being able to identify contributions both defensively and offensively is really useful and interesting. Burtch explains the intuition and the mechanics of dCorsi in full here, and the data visualizations for each player in the league are available here.

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Alex Burrows and the second line

There seems to be a consensus among media and fans that the biggest concern for the Canucks next season is their second line. Fair enough: Kesler has been pretty much carrying that line on his own for the last two seasons, and getting Nick Bonino back in the trade for him doesn’t fill that slot in a way that’s going to fill anyone with confidence. Any time a player of Kesler’s stature leaves a club there’s going to be a lot of hemming and hawing about how to replace them. Instead of obsessing over who is going to take his place as the second line center, the Canucks need to be asking who will drive play on their second line – no matter what position it comes from.

Barring a trade or acquisition, the second line isn’t going to be relying on their center to carry play anymore. The best they can hope for at that position is a fill-in who can at least tread water territorially while contributing offensively. No, play-driving on the second line is going to have to come from the wingers. Signing Radim Vrbata was a terrific move by Benning for a lot of reasons (mostly because signing good hockey players to good contracts makes for good hockey teams) but not enough attention has been paid to the impact it will have by pushing Alex Burrows down the depth chart for the Canucks.

Burrows had a nightmare season last year. Injuries and a shooting percentage collapse made him totally forgettable for most of the season. But if you take even a glance at the career possession numbers for Burrows, he really starts to look like the kind of player who can carry a second line. Over the past three seasons Burrows has had an average CorsiRel of +7.1%. In the same 3 year timespan, he is 11th in the league for CF% among players with more than 2000 minutes played.

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That’s a pretty good group of players he’s with in that list. His possession numbers aren’t just a product of favourable usage and great linemates, either (although he has benefited from both). His WOWYs (With Or Without You) are unreal: every single player who has played more than 100 minutes with him over the past three years has posted a better CF% with him than they have without him.

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A Closer Look at Nick Bonino

Trading for players coming off of a season where they put up a 103.0 PDO is bad business. That kind of puck luck makes players look better than they are, and can lead teams to misjudging things like whether a player is going to be a legitimate second line center or not. It’s hard not to see the Kesler trade as a big win for the Ducks and Bob Murray. They sold high on a bit piece and got the only positive possession player in the trade – one who is an elite finisher and will fill a glaring hole in the Ducks roster, at that.

However, the reaction to the trade from the hockey media community (particularly the stats people) has been harsh on Bonino in a way that I’m not sure is entirely fair. The story going around seems to be more or less that Bonino had a 13.8% shooting percentage this year, he was given PP minutes with Getzlaf and Perry that boosted his point totals, and he still didn’t come out a positive possession player. All of that is true.  Still, I don’t think people are giving Bonino enough credit for the legitimate step forward he took last season.

It isn’t easy to compare Canucks and Ducks players using Corsi or Fenwick because unlike the conference winning Ducks, the Canucks were a good puck possession team. The Ducks had a team Fenwick % of 50.2%, and even an elite player like Ryan Getzlaf only had a 51.1% Corsi For percentage. That definitely puts some helpful perspective on Bonino’s 49.7 CF%, but I think the most useful way to judge his play-driving ability will be using CorsiRel (relative Corsi).  In Bonino’s last three NHL seasons his CorsiRel percentages have been -4.5%, -4.7%, and last year -0.4%.

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The Vancouver goaltending dilemma and the odd Markstrom out

It’s very possible that in a couple years we are going to look back and thank Mike Gillis for how he managed goaltending for the Canucks (note: signing Ryan Miller pretty much totally invalidated that thought, and much of the basis for this article). Trading Schneider and Luongo was a mess and if not for that fiasco Gillis probably still has his job as the Vancouver GM. However, he has left the Canucks with three very promising young Swedish goalies costing the team a combined 3.275 million  per year – an enviable situation. As Cam Charron wrote about some time ago, having effective goaltending for so little in the way of a cap hit is an enormous boon to the organization and changes the complexion of how the team can be built. Two of the ‘Three Kings’ have obvious roles for the Canucks. Lack (Markstrom’s old backup for Brynas IF), is the incumbent starter coming off of a solid rookie season. Eriksson is going to continue to start in Utica after a respectable rookie season of his own. Markstrom, however, doesn’t obviously fit in any one spot in the Canucks organization.

Jacob Markstrom has, to this point, been a brutal NHL goaltender. He has more than a half-seasons worth of games under his belt, and so far he has performed like a significantly below replacement-level goalie. If you believe that he is going to continue performing this way going forward, his 0.896 sv% isn’t worth paying a single cent for, not to mention his 1.2 million dollars against the cap.

The curious thing about Markstrom is that he has excelled at every level up to the NHL. In 131 AHL games, he has a 0.918 save percentage. If we ignore his first AHL season (his first in North America), that improves to a 0.922 save percentage in a 94 game sample. This is, to put it simply, really good. Eddie Lack, in his three healthy AHL years (I’m discounting the season following his hip surgery) left the AHL with a 0.926 save percentage and was suggested to be one of the best goalies in the league by some. Jonathan Bernier, in his 115 games in the AHL, also had a 0.926 save percentage. Braden Holtby pulled a 0.917 in 132 games, the Ducks’ much heralded John Gibson put up a 0.919 this season, and Corey Schneider had a career 0.921 save percentage in his AHL career. These are all goalies with elite AHL pedigrees, and Markstrom is right up there with them.

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