March 12 2009 12:16PM
Offensive production is, in many ways, the single most important attribute that a hockey player can have. It's certainly what draws the most press, and what lands rich contracts. Defensive production is not easy to define, although we’ve taken some significant steps forward in recent years with things like the Quality of Competition index over at behindthenet.ca, the Corsi measure (which reflects both offense and defense) and other things. Still, it remains difficult to quantify the difference between defensive players with similar reputations (for example, Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau).
In contrast, there are a host of ways to quantify offensive production. The most commonly used, and most misleading, is point or goal totals. They’re simple, widely tracked and allow easy comparison between players. However, if Player A scores 10 goals while averaging ten minutes of ice-time a night, he’s probably a better offensive player than a guy like Player B, who managed 15 goals while averaging twenty minutes of ice-time a night. Similarly, Player A might put up great power-play numbers but be an offensive black hole at even strength. Jarret Stoll certainly qualified in that category last year, and Ales Kotalik has a track record of being that kind of player.
To my mind, the best measure of a player’s offensive ability is Even Strength Points Per Sixty. Because only a small percentage of NHL players have a regular role on the power-play, this statistic is more valuable because it doesn’t include power-play points. It also balances for ice-time. Certainly there are other considerations (quality of competition, quality of teammates, situational deployment), most of which are contextual that it ignores, but it gives us a good starting point. Here are the numbers for all Oilers forwards who played at least twenty games in each of the last two seasons – this gives us a good idea of who is surpassing last year’s results, and who is struggling compared to last season. The first number is even-strength points per sixty from 2007-08, the second number is from 2008-09, and the third is the difference between the two:
Zach Stortini: 1.24 PTS/60 – 1.98 PTS/60 (+.74 PTS/60) Ethan Moreau: 1.21 PTS/60 – 1.71 PTS/60 (+.50 PTS/60) Dustin Penner: 1.34 PTS/60 – 1.80 PTS/60 (+.46 PTS/60) - Marc Pouliot: 1.55 PTS/60 – 1.66 PTS/60 (+.11 PTS/60) Hemsky: 2.36 PTS/60 – 2.29 PTS/60 (-.07 PTS/60) Fernando Pisani: 1.55 PTS/60 – 1.45 PTS/60 (-.10 PTS/60) - Sam Gagner: 1.96 PTS/60 – 1.55 PTS/60 (-.41 PTS/60) Cogliano: 2.28 PTS/60 – 1.84 PTS/60 (-.44 PTS/60) Brodziak: 2.09 PTS/60 – 1.39 PTS/60 (-.70 PTS/60) Horcoff: 2.59 PTS/60 – 1.46 PTS/60 (-1.13 PTS/60) Nilsson: 2.37 PTS/60 – 1.00 PTS/60 (-1.37 PTS/60)
I’ve split these players into three groups: significantly better, significantly worse, and roughly the same. Given how this team has struggled, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find most players well back of their pace from last season, but some of the names are surprising. We knew that Stortini has been having a tremendous season – a season so good in fact, that I wonder if he’s going to be able to maintain that scoring rate long term. He may only have ten points, but he’s been used so infrequently that it’s a little shocking that he has even that many.
Ethan Moreau’s having a very decent season at even-strength; he’s riding a nice save percentage and on-ice shooting percentage a little bit, but the fact that he’s getting the job done playing tough competition should not be overlooked. His frequent penalties drive me nuts, but he really does deserve a ton of credit for putting a solid season together after two poor years.
Dustin Penner, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, is having a far better season at even-strength than he did last year. It’s been lost to most observers because his power-play numbers haven’t been very good, but five-on-five he’s a vastly better player than last year. On the other hand, he does get a ton of face-offs in the offensive zone, which certainly inflates his numbers.
Hemsky, Pisani, and Pouliot are all having similar seasons to last year.
Sam Gagner’s struggled, but has come into his own of late. Lowetide did a tremendous post on how he’s progressed as the season wore on, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in a good look at his season. Suffice to say that much like last year, he’s coming on late.
I was very surprised by Andrew Cogliano’s placement on this list, but it does make sense given how he’s been used this year vs. last year; he’s averaging about a minute and a half more per game than he did last year. Like Dustin Penner, Cogliano’s benefitted from a lot of offensive zone faceoffs.
Kyle Brodziak is a player I’ve praising for a long time, and his position on this list doesn’t change my mind at all. I’m actually a little surprised that his offense didn’t drop off further. Last season, Brodziak was on the ice for 21 more defensive zone than offensive zone faceoffs (the team leader in this category last year was Jarret Stoll, with 181 more defensive zone draws – it really wasn’t coincidental that his offense dropped off the face of the Earth. The much-maligned Marty Reasoner finished 2nd with a zone difference of 141). This season, Brodziak/Horcoff has replaced Stoll/Reasoner as MacTavish’s defensive zone players. Brodziak has a whopping 158 more defensive draws than offensive draws, while Horcoff isn’t far behind with 133.
Speaking of Shawn Horcoff, he’s been used far more defensively this season than last season, and naturally his point totals have suffered. This really doesn’t excuse his massive drop in production, because he is still getting some offensive zone work with Hemsky and whichever plug MacTavish has filling in for Penner, but it does help explain some of it. Still, he’s had a bad season offensively at even strength.
Robert Nilsson’s dropped off the edge of the world, and I’m at a loss to explain it. Along with Cogliano and Gagner, he rode a hot streak (and a bunch of bounces) at the end of the year to some nice offensive totals, and was rewarded with a three-year contract. He needs to find his form, or his NHL career could be over shortly after it started.