Everything Else

Time to get down again. For those who are new to our deranged family, every so often I like to delve into what the end-of-season awards would look like if everyone actually paid attention to what was really going on during the NHL season. This will always remain my wish, but hey, it’s fun to dream and hope. So let’s get to it.

Hart – This one’s pretty simple. You hand it to Nathan MacKinnon, or Nikita Kucherov if you’re feeling spicy. I don’t think either is a wrong choice. You could even make a case for Phil Kessel, who has kept the Penguins afloat while they try and figure shit out and kick through some fatigue. MVP is still kind of easy to measure. Goals are how games are won, and whoever is scoring and creating most of them, with the least help, probably should get the award.

Vezina – Easy as well. Hand it to Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s got the league’s highest save-percentage, and the second biggest difference between his actual save-percentage and his expected. So he’s not benefitting hugely from a great defense in front of him.

Calder – Again, this isn’t hard. Mathew Barzal. He’s on pace to have the greatest rookie scoring total in over a decade. He’s made the Islanders relevant, and even interesting even though they can’t play defense worth a shit.

Selke – Ok, this is where the rubber meets the road. As we’ve previously stated, this award always goes to a center that everyone knows, who wins a lot of draws and scores a lot too and has developed a reputation as a defensive center simply because everyone says so. And that center is always Patrice Bergeron. And that’s not entirely wrong. You can make a solid case for him every year. You can for this one. When we looked at this in mid-December, we were actually making a case for Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry. Let’s see if that’s still the case.

For best defensive forward, we should really look at who is holding down attempts against and limiting chances against. When it comes to the top five in attempts against per 60, it’s still Lowry, Bergeron, Tanev, Backes, and Marchand. Strange that they all play on the same lines, eh? (except for Backes). When it comes to types of chances against, the top five in expected goals against per 60 at evens is Mikko Koivu, Lowry, Granlund, Tanev, and Jason Zucker. Again, all linemates. So let’s try and suss it out from who’s benefitting from playing on a great defensive team. Let’s get relative.

When it comes to best relative marks to their team in attempts against per 60, Lowry leads the pack again. He’s followed by Andrew Ladd, Koivu, Brandon Martinook (huh?) and Tanev. When it comes to relative xGA/60, your leaders are Lowry, Hagelin, Kase, Martinook, and Koivu. Again, it looks like Adam Lowry should be getting some votes here. As far as context, Bergeron plays much harder competition than Lowry, but Lowry starts in the offensive zone much less than Bergeron (40% to 60% for Bergeron, though that could be that the Bruins and Bergeron in particular are always driving the play into the offensive zone). Whatever, get original and give it to Lowry.

Norris – This one’s harder. You can’t just give it to the best defensive d-man because driving the play from the back has become so important in today’s game. But it’s gotta be more complicated than just handing it to the d-man with the most points, which would be John Klingberg. If you were going simply by who let up the least chances and attempts, you’d be handing this thing to Dan Hamhuis. Do you really want to do that? No, of course you don’t. If you were going by relative marks to their team in those categories, Hampus Lindholm would have that claim.

When it comes to total contribution, possession-wise, because that’s the entire job description, the leaders in CF/60 relative to their teams are HAMPUS! HAMPUS!, Giordano, Hamilton, Karlsson and Werenski. When it comes to relative xGF%, the only names you’ll see on both lists HAMPUS! HAMPUS! and Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton faces slightly tougher competition than Hampus, and both start in the donkey end the overwhelming majority of the time.

But neither are anywhere near the top of the scoring charts, so you can forget that.

 

Everything Else

While it’s hard to do, the following is going to do its best to ignore the off-ice story of Brian Boyle this year. Which isn’t fair, because it is a good story for what everyone agrees is a pretty good guy. Boyle was diagnosed with leukemia before the season, and is playing through the treatments, essentially. We’ll put that to the side.

Boyle signed as a free agent with the Devils this summer, after stops in LA, New York, Tampa, and a rental for the Maple Leafs last year. When you think of a checking center, or a center who coaches love because they simply win draws, kill penalties, and play reasonable defense, Brian Boyle is probably near the top of the list.

One of the reasons that hockey analytics has failed to catch on in the mainstream, or at least embraced by teams wholly (and they haven’t) is that there really is no way to evaluate a player like Boyle. Yes, he wins a lot of draws and you can measure that, but we also know that winning a lot of faceoffs doesn’t really connect to winning, or even being a good possession team. Individual draws can be important in a game, and it’s certainly a plus to have Boyle around for those, but overall they’re massively overrated. But given the nature of hockey coaches, try and tell them that a defensive zone draw with a one-goal lead and 80 seconds to go isn’t important. That’s where Boyle’s value is seen.

Boyle’s metrics have always been subpar. He’s only had a Corsi-percentage above the team rate once in the past six year. Same as his expected goals, and some are really below the surface of whatever team he was on. But is that fair to him? Boyle has never gotten good zone starts, and some years saw less than 30% of his shifts start in the offensive zone. Given that he’s pretty much a clydesdale when it comes to mobility, it’s asking a lot for him to turn the ice over. It’s doubly hard when he’s usually facing the toughest competition, as he’s tended to take on first and second lines with the Rangers, Lightning, and now the Devils. There are only a very few players who can do all that, and it’s basically Marcus Kruger.

So even winning all those draws, as he does, doesn’t really ever get Boyle out of his own zone that much. Then again, imagine what these numbers would look like if he didn’t win a lot of draws.

We can try and get to the bottom of it by seeing what Boyle’s teams surrender when he’s on the ice, as he’s always been placed to play defense. The past three years has seen Boyle’s Corsi-against per 60 minutes at 41 consistently, which is very good. For frame of  reference your leader in that category this year is Adam Lowry at 38.09, and a mark of 41 would be top ten in the league. Sadly for the Devils, Boyle’s mark this year is 52.8, though obviously some of that is the possession problems overall for the Devils, including a creaking defense.

Boyle’s expected goals-against per 60 over the years has been very good as well, in the 15.-1.7 range the past three years before this one. That mark would be top ten in the league again, except this year Boyle’s at 2.46. Again, some of that is the Devils as a whole, but some of it is that Boyle is A. 33 and B. having to play himself back into shape.

Not all of this matters when you’re shooting 22% as Boyle is at the moment, and he is getting into more offensive areas as the Devils ask more of him than previous teams and coaches have. But we can safely say that while Boyle was a pretty handy 3rd or 4th center, age and health have caught up to him. And he probably can’t outshoot those problems for too much longer.

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