Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter

Jonathan Willis
April 05 2013 11:58AM

The Edmonton Oilers’ most-used third-pairing this season has had some ups and some downs, but more of the latter than the former. Ryan Whitney’s ineffective play has led to him being a healthy scratch at times, while Corey Potter is often seen as a reserve defenceman who inexplicably finds himself on the regular rotation.

What’s wrong with the pairing?

The two most common explanations are typically these:

  • Both players are terrible
  • Ryan Whitney has some warts, but is being brought down by Potter

I have typically leaned towards the first explanation, but thought it might be interesting to see what the scoring chance data says.

Whitney without Potter

If Ryan Whitney is in fact a decent player shackled to an AHL’er, we would expect to see on-ice scoring chances improve in games where Potter isn’t dressed. Fortunately for these purposes, Potter has spent significant time out of the lineup, so there is a long stretch of games where Whitney played with other partners. What happened?

The following are the Oilers’ scoring chances for and against at even-strength with Whitney on the ice, first in games where Potter sat, then in games where he played:

  • Without Potter: +41/-75 (35.3% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)
  • With Potter: +68/-91 (42.8% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)
  • Total: +109/-166 (39.6% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)

In both situations, Whitney’s pairing is taken out back of the woodshed by the opposition, but it’s interesting to note that things actually get worse when Potter is out of the lineup.

Potter without Whitney

Corey Potter has not played in a lot of games with Whitney out of the lineup, so there’s not nearly enough data here to be definitive but what information there is caught my eye:

  • Without Whitney: +15/-9 (62.5% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)
  • With Whitney: +68/-91 (42.8% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)
  • Total: +83/-100 (45.4% of all scoring chances are for the Oilers)

The “without Whitney” data is so small that it shouldn’t be seen as sustainable – I very much doubt that Potter could sustain those figures, or anything close to them, over a full season played with Mark Fistric or Theo Peckham. But it does seem fair to say that Whitney suffers more from his absence than he from Whitney’s.

Valuation

Ryan Whitney’s an interesting player because the thing he does really well – provide offence – is one of those things that tend to be disproportionally valued. By that, I mean that a guy who gets two points in a 2-0 win and makes no defensive mistakes is objectively helping his team more than a player who scores three points and makes two critical defensive errors that lead to goals against in a 4-3 loss, but more often than not the latter will get more positive attention than the former.

There’s no denying Whitney’s offensive prowess. There was a certain amount of gloating on Twitter among his more fervent supporters when he ran up two points in the Oilers’ 8-2 win over Calgary. Getting less attention was the fact that Devan Dubnyk had to be very sharp in that game because the Oilers were awfully sloppy defensively – and that Whitney was more likely to be on the ice for a chance against than any other player on the team. The offence didn’t come against Vancouver last night, but once again Whitney led the Oilers’ blue line in chances against and made two very bad defensive zone turnovers.

Looking at the data, though, I can’t help but wonder if the Oilers would be better off running Potter and Fistric as their third pairing for a few games – or if not that, pushing Whitney more toward Marc-Andre Bergeron usage, where he plays the role of power play specialist and only gets spotted at even-strength (because Whitney does add value to the power play). At five-on-five, his scoring just doesn’t seem to outweigh his defensive zone work.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 John Chambers
April 05 2013, 12:04PM
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Well live and learn, I guess.*

*Tambellini never learns

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#2 Eddie Edmonton
April 05 2013, 12:04PM
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It has more to do with the forwards they play with, usually 3rd-4th lines. Too many youth and slow old guys.

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#4 Eddie Edmonton
April 05 2013, 12:06PM
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@John Chambers

Never learns what?

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#5 Yep
April 05 2013, 12:11PM
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Eddie Edmonton wrote:

It has more to do with the forwards they play with, usually 3rd-4th lines. Too many youth and slow old guys.

Disagree, Whitney is terrible clearing the zone regardless of his linemates. he is a defensive liability, now that the trade deadline has passed and the streak is over he should be a scratch for a couple more games.

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#7 A-Mc
April 05 2013, 12:33PM
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Ehhh, this is a bit of a stretch.

All 5 players come together to form a scoring chance for or against. To use that stat to pigeon hole 1 of the 5 guys on the ice isn't fair, nor is it helpful in any way.

Which ever D pairing is on the ice when the kids are chance machines is going to have very padded stats compared to the pairing that is out with the 4th line.

The very fact that 5 people are responsible for a stat used to praise or condemn 1 guy means it's accuracy is garbage and therefore should be thrown out.

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#8 Pucker
April 05 2013, 12:37PM
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It was nice to see Whitney get points against Calgary. He needs to do more of that to become an asset.

His turnovers are terrible and he doesn't seem to recover from them. One of his turnovers yesterday, he lost his stick at some point trying to recover and Schultz ended up taking a penalty. It didn't result in a goal but it seems to me this type of play happens quite often with Whitney and is the reason many fans are frustrated. We've seen him better than that. I don't think it's skating as much as making bad decisions.

He's not the best skater but he's good enough, if he'd play smarter.

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#11 Truth
April 05 2013, 12:39PM
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Well with the market high for defencemen right now and Whitney's recent surge in points, Tambellini should be able to get a couple second round picks for him at the deadline. Sure would be a shame to see him drag down the team for the rest of the season and lose him for nothing in the summer.

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#12 Jason Gregor
April 05 2013, 12:42PM
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Does scoring chances or actual goals win hockey games?

How many actual goals for and goals against has Whitney been on for compared to Potter?

I'd like to see that breakdown, because for me that would illustrate actual impact positively or negatively on the outcome of the game.

I understand the theory that chances lead to goals, but I'd rather a guy be on the ice for goals, rather than chances that never result in goals.

Can you run those numbers? For the team.

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#13 Hoos
April 05 2013, 12:43PM
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JW,

Listening to Bob Stauffer, it seems clear to that the kids are the biggest proponent of keeping Whitney on the team and in the lineup. He's made allusions to that fact many times in the face of significant fan criticism of Whitney's play.

I think one of the issues is this: having legitimate star players can be a double edged sword.

By this I mean, you cannot want Taylor Hall to actively participate in recruiting players (i.e., Justin Schultz) and the ignore his desire to have another player (Whitney)on the team.

Oiler fans watched in awe as Calgary was able to use Iginla to recruit free agents to their team. Now that it seems we are starting to build some of that ability, how much is too much?

The entire issue of Whitney and his young advocates reminds me of this scene from Little Big League:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbI9MfTn4EM&t=4m40s

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#14 Pucker
April 05 2013, 12:44PM
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Potter . . . Ralph must see something I don't because I can't think of any reason why Potter is playing ahead of Fistric. He can't still be sitting over that St. Louis gaffe - can he?

Even Peckham. The one game I seen him play, I thought he looked okay. He's going to get better as he gets in more games.

Or maybe Fistric and Peckham just can't handle that the play is in the Oiler end for 80% of the game.

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#17 Jason Gregor
April 05 2013, 12:58PM
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@Jonathan Willis

What about PP goals...They are a major factor in outcome of game.

Total goals, not just ES...I'd argue that PP goals play huge factor in games, especially for Oilers, considering they have 30 PP goals and 59 ES. In fact, per minutes played the PP goals grossly outweigh the ES ones for the Oilers.

Also, not a huge proponent of going by hour, considering each minute in game vs. Chicago shouldn't be equal to minutes vs. Calgary for example.

It would have to be game by game... Tedious yes, but for me that would give better insight.

No debate Whitney isn't great ES, none at all, but if you add goals he is on for at PP, he clearly impacts games.

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#18 Hoos
April 05 2013, 12:59PM
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@Jonathan Willis

This dependence is all fine and good for a veteran laden team, but one where no one can rent a car or buy a beer on road trips should also be considered.

Maybe Whitney is a good guy. Maybe that's what's really important to you when you're 21. Winning games with guys you like.

I don't know. It's been many years since I was 21, and I spent most of that time chasing tail with Wanye Gretz.

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#20 Ducey
April 05 2013, 01:12PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

What about PP goals...They are a major factor in outcome of game.

Total goals, not just ES...I'd argue that PP goals play huge factor in games, especially for Oilers, considering they have 30 PP goals and 59 ES. In fact, per minutes played the PP goals grossly outweigh the ES ones for the Oilers.

Also, not a huge proponent of going by hour, considering each minute in game vs. Chicago shouldn't be equal to minutes vs. Calgary for example.

It would have to be game by game... Tedious yes, but for me that would give better insight.

No debate Whitney isn't great ES, none at all, but if you add goals he is on for at PP, he clearly impacts games.

Keep trying Gregor.

Maybe you can find some stats that show Whitney is better on Tuesdays on 5 on 3's against teams in purple uni's.

You hate Potter, but he is not the problem.

Whitney is worse than Potter by Corsi 5 x 5 and 5 on 4. He is worse by goals for and against.

REL Corsi before yesterdays game: Nick S +6.3 Ladi .2 Potter 0 Petry 0 Justin -2.3 Whitney -11.4

Is not even close. He is the worst D man they have. They should have traded Whitney when they had the chance.

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#21 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 05 2013, 01:12PM
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The correlation of Shot Differential and Winning is extraordinarily high.

http://www.boysonthebus.com/2013/03/06/the-statistical-relationship-between-hits-shots-and-points/

I have no idea why we would even dismiss the notion. It's not like it's some counterintuitive revelation.

More shots equal better chance of winning equal more actual wins.

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#23 Yep
April 05 2013, 01:14PM
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I would also argue that Whitney draws few opposition but does take penalties when his defensive weakness is exposed.

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#24 Ducey
April 05 2013, 01:15PM
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Willis,

I would be interested in your thoughts on Joey Leach being signed by the Barons. (maybe do a post on it)

He was a 3rd round pick by the Flames but was not signed. He has good size 6'4" and has put up decent stats. Why wouldn't they have signed him?

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#25 Jason Gregor
April 05 2013, 01:15PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Why not just show the exact amount of goals on PP rather than using the hour?

What is the exact number of goals, not rounded up. Just straight up goals.

Seems strange to me that Potter would be that close on PP since he's only played 19 minutes on the PP. How many actual goals has he been on for.

I want actual, not taking Potter's 19 minutes and projecting what they might be. That is projections, not reality.

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#26 therealfoz
April 05 2013, 01:16PM
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@Yep

I completely agree with you and think that Tambellini blew an opportunity to gain something of value (even if it's only a mid round draft pick) in return for Whitney.

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#27 David Staples
April 05 2013, 01:20PM
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Jason Gregor:

Whitney has contributed to nine goals for at even strength, while Potter has contributed to three.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhMC4T3agcfmdHE4bGxpaUszOHNKUXUydkhJOGRCWEE#gid=0

Whitney had made mistakes on 12 even strength goals against (often the major mistake), while Potter has made mistakes on three goals against.

So Whitney is -3, while Potter is even when it comes to helping to create and making mistakes on goals against.

Potter plays a quiet game. Whitney is high event, mistake prone. Good passer, leaks chances and goals against.

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#28 Yep
April 05 2013, 01:21PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Why not just show the exact amount of goals on PP rather than using the hour?

What is the exact number of goals, not rounded up. Just straight up goals.

Seems strange to me that Potter would be that close on PP since he's only played 19 minutes on the PP. How many actual goals has he been on for.

I want actual, not taking Potter's 19 minutes and projecting what they might be. That is projections, not reality.

Because the numbers dont mean anything unless you normalize for TOI. Of course Whitney is on the ice for more PP goals, he is on the ice for more PP minutes. It is not about 'rounding up' it is about determining effectiveness for a given time interval, that is the only way you can compare two players that play differing amounts.

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#29 Team Hall
April 05 2013, 01:22PM
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Well, after every loss, out comes negative nancy with a scathing article.

I kind of think that the Oil have already eliminated Whitney for next year, and Potter will be our 7th dman or callup.

Don't worry, I think signing a UFA or two is already in the plans.

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#31 mlcsellil
April 05 2013, 01:23PM
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I agree that there are times that Whitney and Potter can both be an asset, but those times are few and far between. I can understand Tambellini wanting to stay loyal to the team on trade deadline day, however I don't think he did the Oilers any favors by not sending them elsewhere. Both of these guys are turnover machines and that doesn't usually end well for us. Being so close to getting in the playoffs, it's a shame the Oilers didn't bring in a reliable defenseman, because Potter and Whitney, either together or separately, are too inconsistent to bring much confidence to this die hard fan. Hopefully over the summer, changes are made and we get lots better on the back end. In the meantime I'll continue supporting our beloved Oilers and hope for the best.

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#32 Yep
April 05 2013, 01:23PM
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Just want to add: I welcome someone to come up with a stat OR a convincing 'saw him good' that shows Whitney being an effective player for this team, this year.

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#34 Dutchscooter
April 05 2013, 01:26PM
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Let's face facts: Whitney has degenerated into a bigger, slower, more expensive version of M A Bergeron. Good at one thing (offensive plays), scary at every other aspect of his game.

And what did Bergeron garner at the trade deadline? A seventh rounder?

Welcome to your new career path, Whitney. Keep a bag packed and a cushion for the pine you'll be riding.

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#35 therealfoz
April 05 2013, 01:28PM
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mlcsellil wrote:

I agree that there are times that Whitney and Potter can both be an asset, but those times are few and far between. I can understand Tambellini wanting to stay loyal to the team on trade deadline day, however I don't think he did the Oilers any favors by not sending them elsewhere. Both of these guys are turnover machines and that doesn't usually end well for us. Being so close to getting in the playoffs, it's a shame the Oilers didn't bring in a reliable defenseman, because Potter and Whitney, either together or separately, are too inconsistent to bring much confidence to this die hard fan. Hopefully over the summer, changes are made and we get lots better on the back end. In the meantime I'll continue supporting our beloved Oilers and hope for the best.

As someone who thought Potter would be Edmonton's worst defender this season, I can understand wanting to ship both out. But, Potter is still signed next year and has shown himself to be at least as competent as Whitney, and at least as trusted as Fistric - so I can understand why he's still here.

Whitney on the other hand is damaged goods and a UFA, and if there was a return to be had at the deadline in exchange for his services, Tambellini should have pulled the trigger.

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#36 Hoos
April 05 2013, 01:31PM
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@Jonathan Willis

On this point you and I are in agreement (sad world). Dealing Whitney may result in addition by subtraction for the Oilers.

I think where we go wrong is not understanding the context with which 21 year old hockey players view these same truths. This comment isn't directed at you specifically, but hockey is rife with, "you can't measure heart" or "he's clutch" BS that I just can't get behind always.

My feelings about what is occurring are summed up here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSy1NQx2bJE

Thanks again for the great read.

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#38 Jason Gregor
April 05 2013, 01:42PM
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@David Staples

Oilers have scored 30 PP goals in 132 minutes.

They've scored 59 ES goals in 1781 minutes.

Oilers success on the PP is major reason they are in games.

ES is one aspect.

Whitney makes more mistakes at ES, don't argue that, but he also makes more plays on the PP.

Only looking at ES doesn't tell the entire picture was my original point. And your stats just made that more clear. Especially on this team that needs a great PP just to stay in games.

And that is where Whitney is better than Potter, and I'd guess makes his impact in the overall outcome of games higher. No?

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#40 FastOil
April 05 2013, 01:43PM
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I think players like seeing the weak guys go and better guys play (on the team or coming in).

I also think the players know who the weak links are and like winning more than anything else relatively speaking.

Nobody is ok with watching a player get beat or missing assignments consistently, it's frustrating for all involved - players, fans, coaches, managers, owner.

Fan and player frustration is compounded when the last three do nothing about it.

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#41 Jason Gregor
April 05 2013, 01:46PM
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@Jonathan Willis

So Whitney plays more role of a role in outcome of game...He's on ice for more goals for than against.

That was my point, using just ES, especially on this team, doesn't tell the entire picture.

Not saying Whitney is great defensively, just needed to look at overall picture.

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#42 Smokey
April 05 2013, 01:46PM
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I think with a good Whitney you got a playoff team, but hes so inconsistant that you see the sure brilliance followed by him missing his check. Hes a step to slow and unable to make defensive plays sometimes. I wish this organization had any depth to be able to get rid of him. He should not be resigbed, we bunged up getting rid of Gilbert.

Potter is a seventh defencemen. He makes bad plays all the time but he scores occasionally. Fistric who is plays one bad game and then sits, albeit the team started to win some games. Guys got sone of the best underlying numbers. I'd like to see him play over the next 12 games to see if we got a player. He needs to make the simple play rather then blowing a guy up. He's probably the best cycle breaker we got. Id of loved to see him give the Joe Thornton treatment to the Sedins and worked over Burrows The Canucks cycle kills the Oilers and you got 235 pounds of mean sitting eating a hotdog. The Oilers were attrocious in their own end for the last two games, a firedrill at best.

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#43 northof51
April 05 2013, 01:50PM
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Eddie Edmonton wrote:

It has more to do with the forwards they play with, usually 3rd-4th lines. Too many youth and slow old guys.

Out of all 8 dmen, Whitney plays with the 3rd best Quality of Teammate, while (and again, out of ALL 8 dmen) he plays against the weakest competition.

So many things have been said in the comments that speak to this, but I am in the JW camp - Whitney is a major liability at even strength but can be a PP asset.

The question for management will be, does his liability out weigh his gains?

The answer to me seems clear (despite JG's comments) - No. Whitney can only be used in a Bergeron role and if we can't afford him that opportunity, he should be gone.

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#44 northof51
April 05 2013, 01:55PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Favourite comment from the Journal Player Grades, "(Whitney) looked more like Cam Barker than Cam Barker did".

I shared this with some Canucks fans and they almost died laughing. While they found it humourous, they appreciated the depth of that statement. None of them can believe how far a former 3rd overall pick has fallen. (Barker that is)

They also agreed that Whitney was noticeably bad last night.

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#45 The 'Real' Ron Burgundy
April 05 2013, 02:02PM
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All this posturing over a couple of 6/7 defensemen seems to just bring forth the real route of the problem, we are severely lacking in that department. So long as either of these two are relied upon to have functional minutes in any game we will be hovering around the playoff cut line and will not do any real damage if we were to even sneak in.

And no, Mr Staples, Fedun is not an option, ever. No matter how bad the stats read.

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#46 Mannificent
April 05 2013, 02:07PM
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I can't take it anymore, JG - you actually made me register to comment. Big ON reader for years. Why are you defending Whitney?? He, literally, cost the last 3 losses before he was benched. PP proficiency is a small part of the game, that I think is driven more by the forwards and we would be fine playing J. Schultz more on the PP. Whitney is costing us goals against which turn into losses when scoring is so low and close. All the advanced stats just underline the obvious - he has to go. Continue to play him, we are out of the playoffs. Seriously - cherry pick stats all you want - he is a defenceman that costs goals - their job is to stop them from happening!

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#47 OilClog
April 05 2013, 02:08PM
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Whitney is terrible, case closed.

Potter is terrible, case closed.

Our 5-6 would be better with

Fistric/Fedun.

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#48 oilerjed
April 05 2013, 02:08PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Oilers have scored 30 PP goals in 132 minutes.

They've scored 59 ES goals in 1781 minutes.

Oilers success on the PP is major reason they are in games.

ES is one aspect.

Whitney makes more mistakes at ES, don't argue that, but he also makes more plays on the PP.

Only looking at ES doesn't tell the entire picture was my original point. And your stats just made that more clear. Especially on this team that needs a great PP just to stay in games.

And that is where Whitney is better than Potter, and I'd guess makes his impact in the overall outcome of games higher. No?

Wasnt that a major problem with the oil for the first 2\3 of the season, lots of PP goals and no ES offence. With that in mind it seems very clear that Whitney is not as useful as Potter since by the end of the year PP's dry up massively heading into the playoffs. Im still wondering how bad Fistric's numbers must be that he has sat out as long as he has when RK's plan was to keep everyone fresh. Whats the deal?

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#49 Randaman
April 05 2013, 02:14PM
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I would personally like to see some physicality from one or both. They both have the size obviously. If they won't provide it, insert Fistric or Peckham. I would like to see some oppoosing players pay the price at least before they score on our pourus defence.

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#50 Sliderule
April 05 2013, 02:16PM
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I would like to know what the oilers were offered for Whitney if anything.

Boston was supposedly the destination but were not even scouting him.

It wouldn't surprise me if the best offer was not much say third rounder and minor prospect that was surplus.

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