Ryan Whitney’s Career Offensive Season

Ryan Whitney is a very good offensive defenseman. He was taken with a lottery pick in the 2002 NHL Draft precisely because he married strong offensive ability to a 6’4” frame, and he’s shown time and again that he is well above average in the NHL at recording points from the blue line.

During his early years in Pittsburgh, Whitney showcased that skill, most memorably with a 59 point effort in 2006-07. That mark stood as the best of his career until this past season, which I think we must note as being superior. Through 35 games prior to injury, Ryan Whitney led the Edmonton Oilers in scoring with 27 points.

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How much better was Whitney’s offensive performance this year than his previous high in 2007-08? The best way to look at it is probably percentage of team offense. As of December 28, Whitney’s last game before losing his season to injury, the 15th-place Edmonton Oilers had scored 91 goals, meaning that Whitney had recorded a point on 29.7% of Oilers’ scoring plays – nearly one-third of all goals. This contrasts to his performance in 2007-08, where Whitney figured in on 21.5% of Penguins goals.

That’s a pretty big jump and I think it’s appropriate that we acknowledge just how good Ryan Whitney was last season. His offensive performance was comparable to this year’s scoring leader among defenseman (and the man Whitney was traded for), Lubomir Visnovsky, who recorded points on 29.3% of all Anaheim Ducks goals.

The question that needs to be asked is this: does Whitney’s spectacular 2010-11 performance seem likely to be repeated? Was this a one-off, or can the Oilers bank on this level of production from Whitney whenever he’s healthy?

To shed some light on that question, I thought it would be helpful to go back over Whitney’s career and review his ice-time, as well as to see how he’s scored in different situations.

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Whitney’s Career Ice-Time

Season Games EV Minutes/GM PP Minutes/GM SH Minutes/GM
2005-06 68 14.93 4.53 4.33
2006-07 81 15.67 5.98 2.26
2007-08 76 14.97 5.23 2.23
2008-09 48 17.66 4.46 1.70
2009-10 81 18.41 3.72 2.50
2005-10 Avg. 71 16.33 4.78 2.60
2010-11 35 18.32 4.32 2.70

We can see that Whitney’s even-strength ice-time has jumped since leaving the Penguins. 2008-09 was the first season where Whitney topped 17 minutes per game, and he’s topped 18 in the two seasons since. His power play ice-time has taken a hit, possibly as a result; after back-to-back seasons of more than five minutes per game, Whitney’s been below that mark for three consecutive seasons. His short-handed ice-time peaked this year to its highest level since Whitney’s rookie season.

Whitney’s Scoring

2005-06 21 16 1 1.24 3.12 0.20
2006-07 25 33 1 1.18 4.09 0.33
2007-08 17 22 1 0.90 3.32 0.35
2008-09 12 11 0 0.85 3.08 0.00
2009-10 22 17 0 0.89 3.39 0.00
2005-10 Avg. 19 20 1 1.01 3.51 0.20
2010-11 18 7 2 1.68 2.78 1.27

A quick glance at the bottom two lines shows us that Whitney’s big offensive breakthrough came almost exclusively at even-strength. In less than half as many games, he came within a single point of hitting his career average even-strength point production.

On a per/60 basis, Whitney’s even-strength scoring had been in decline since his rookie year (I’d suggest, although the data isn’t available to prove it, that this is at least in part a result of playing tougher minutes at evens), settling in at between 0.85 and 0.90 over the last three seasons. It nearly doubled this season, jumping to 1.68 PTS/60. How good a number is that?

From Behind the Net, the defensive league leaders (min 40GP) in 5-on-5 PTS/60 since 2007-08:

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Season Player 5v5 PTS/60
2007-08 Niklas Kronvall 1.61
2008-09 Mike Green 1.58
2009-10 Mike Green 1.77
2010-11 Brian Rafalski 1.66

Put another way: it’s a number so good that only one defenseman in the last four seasons has been able to top it.

Based on the twin facts that Whitney’s even-strength point production this season was a) nearly twice his average over the last three seasons and b) better than anything anyone not named Mike Green has managed over the last four years, I think the conclusion is obvious: It is highly likely that Whitney’s even-strength scoring will regress next season.

What about Whitney’s power play scoring? After all, it hit the lowest level of his career this season, surely there’s room for improvement there?

Yes and no. Before I clarify, a look at the power play units that Whitney has been a part of over the course of his career:

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Season Team PP Efficiency NHL Rank PP Goals
2005-06 Pittsburgh 19.0% 6th 94
2006-07 Pittsburgh 20.3% 5th 94
2007-08 Pittsburgh 20.4% 4th 77
2008-09 Pittsburgh 17.2% 20th 62
2008-09 Anaheim 23.6% 5th 73
2009-10 Anaheim 21.0% 5th 63
2009-10 Edmonton 17.3% 18th 52
2010-11 Edmonton 14.5% 27th 44

It’s not a coincidence that Whitney’s power play numbers took a dive after coming over to Edmonton: this was the first time in his career he’s had to spend his whole season on anything other than an elite NHL power play.

Therein lies the problem: to put up a lot of power play points, a player needs to play on a good power play. Certainly there’s reason for optimism in Edmonton; between advancement from young players like Hall, Eberle and Gagner and the awful year Hemsky (and others) had on the man advantage, there’s little place to go but up. However, there’s little reason to believe that the Oilers are going to have a top-five power play in the near future.

The other issue is that teams get less power play time now than they did at the start of the post-lockout era. A look at the above chart clearly shows that – in 2006-07, the league’s fifth-best power play scored 94 goals; in 2009-10 that number had dropped by one-third, down to 63. Fewer power play opportunities mean fewer points for players like Whitney.

Finally, a note on the short-handed scoring: yes, Whitney’s per/60 number is insanely good, but the fact that it will drop doesn’t matter because short-handed scoring is such a tiny part of Whitney’s point production (two of his points this year came with the Oilers down a man). 

  • Ender


    Nice numbers and an interesting read. You may be missing the biggest factor, though, which is that a man without sound feet does not score points in the NHL.

    If the surgeries are a complete success and we never hear about Whitney’s feet again, then I leave it to the number-crunchers to prognosticate whether we should be counting on him to be a go-to guy. In the meantime, however, I simply find myself hoping he can keep a pair of skates attached to the ends of his legs next season. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

  • 24% body fat

    Imagine if Hemsky, Horcoff and Whitney played 80 games a piece.

    No one knows, but I think we’ll see tham pop in and out of the roster from here on in, hopefully more in.

  • 24% body fat

    There’s no doubt Whitney is a great defenseman when healthy. The healthy part is a concern now. Will he pull a Bobby Orr and be damaged goods? Will he pull a Hemsky and play 40 games a season. (The Hemsky hattrick – a goal, an assist, and an injury).

  • 24% body fat

    btw, I hated the Penner trade at the time, but it’s looking better with each passing day. I think there’s a bit of attitude there, Murray has him on the 4th line, logging few minutes. We might have just committed robbery of Los Angeles.

      • Itsbitsman

        A healthy AHL scratch and a 1st round pick.

        If you were a Kings fan would you not be upset at giving up a 1st for a guy who hasn’t produced and is now playing 4th line minutes?

        • Peterborough

          The Los Angeles Kings’ second-rounsd pick will go to the Edmonton Oilers as the result of a trade on February 28, 2011 that sent Dustin Penner to Los Angeles in exchange for Colten Teubert, a first-round pick in 2011 and this pick (being conditional at the time of the trade).[1] The condition – Los Angeles reaches the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs – was converted on April 6, 2011

          —from wiki

          Okay that’s a win. A first a second and Teubert (its early on him yet, but even if he’s a bust that’s a win for ole fat and soft and uninterested)

          Dustin penner = the pilsbury power forward . . . all soft and gooey, a good guy and a good interview but he lack of try is contagious and had to go.

  • Ender

    I remember a few months back when Brownlee heavily, heavily criticized me for saying that Lubomir would outscore Whitney for the remainder of their current contracts.

    I also suggested that Lubomir might outscore Whitney on their next contract as well. Even though Lubes would be pushing his late 30’s.

    I can’t see Lubomir slowing down anytime soon playing in Anaheim.

    The trade worked out pretty good for both teams. I really like Whitney. Can Petry be the perfect fit with him on the top pairing? Not sure Gilbert can be that guy.

    • I got heat from RB over Whitney vs Lubo as well. I like both players but to think that we gave up Lubo AND a pick to get Whitney is pure crazy-sauce. Anaheim should have been giving us the extras to get Lubo, not us to get RW.

      *corrected later that we were the ones who received the 6th round pick. That’s like getting the dealership to throw in an air freshener for free after you pay more than the asking price of a used car.

  • Jonathon

    Always enjoy reading your number crunching While reading these numbers I noticed something a little odd.Last year the Oilers powerplay was 18th clicking almost 3% higher than this year.The powerplay also seemed to improve a little the last 12-15 games.So what I “seemed” to have noticed…is the Oiler powerplay better without Hemsky than with?

    • That’s an article in itself, jbh.

      However, Hemsky’s PP performance this season was one of the worst of his career. That entire top unit (83, 89 and 27, along with the defense) was snakebit to start the year and only really pulled out of it at the end.

      Historically, Hemsky’s a high-end producer, and my personal feeling is that the blame for the Oilers PP falls more on the rest of the personnel than on him.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    If Ryan can stay healthy and produce like he has over a 75 game season then we may have got the best in this deal. If he can’t stay healthy this is just one more example of a short sighted epic fail decision. Even the media knew he was damaged goods when he got here, how can Oiler management be so uninformed.

    • Dan the Man

      How many games has Whitney missed with the Oilers due to his foot problem? Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think he missed any.

      He was out this season due to an ankle injury he suffered during the course of a game and while ankles are located close to feet, it wasn’t a pre-existing injury.

      Unless Oiler management has psychic abilities how could they be blamed for Whitney twisting his ankle?

      • Ender

        Brownlee’s take:

        He missed part of one season after having off-season surgery to repair what, essentially, is a birth defect — improper alignment of bones in his feet. He had off-season surgery last spring to repair the same condition in his other foot.

        Having the ankle let go this season — we still don’t know if it’s related to the foot problems but I suspect it’s a factor — is the first major “injury” he’s had. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be concern, but Whitney certainly hasn’t had anywhere near the same list of issues Hemsky has — shoulder, groin, concussions.

        That’s a pretty impartial observation and Brownlee certainly isn’t going out of his way to point at Whitney as being damaged goods; quite the opposite, he’s saying only time will tell if it’s even an issue. It’s a good point, though, that someone with chronic foot problems is much more susceptable to related injuries. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be an ongoing concern.

        • Dan the Man

          Yes it’s POSSIBLE the foot was a factor but there has been no confirmation that I am aware of.

          Players without foot problems hurt their ankles all of the time, has Whitney missed time for a bad ankle in the past?

          Anything is possible but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen of Whitney up to this point and I’m hoping he has a long career here in Edmonton.

          • Dan the Man

            Exactly we are talking one of the most common injury in hockey. Assuming that he was more suceptable is a wonderful assumption but unless it is based on some kind of medical evidence it is just an assumption based on conjecture and nothing more.

            Many players have hit a rut and injured their ankle, it is a very common injury.

      • Wax Man Riley

        What Dan says.

        I like the Whitney trade. Bigger, younger, less expensive, Olympic defenseman. The Oilers also received a 6th round pick in the deal.

        I think (not sure) that the pick turned into Brandon Davidson or Drew Czerwonka.

        He broke an ankle, and we might not know (until he does it again?) if it is due to his foot surgery or not. I don’t believe that it was, but then again, I missed that day in Podiatry class.

        **Goes back to hide under previous coats**

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I know from watching the Oilers powerplay all season long what I seen wrong with it. Lack of booth player and puck movement, not outnumbering opposition for loose pucks, not enough plays down low. But I’m curious what the math guys saw. Did the Oil suffer from decreased shooting percentages? or an above average save percentage by other teams goalies? There may be an article on this somewhere else that I haven’t browsed yet? If anyone knows can you post the link?

  • @ Peacecountry:

    I’m in agreement with those points you note. The Oilers unwillingness to consistently threaten down low rankled all season long.

    That said, there were definitely players with shooting percentage issues. Early on, the top unit couldn’t buy a goal to save their lives while the second unit (particularly Horcoff) were putting pucks in at an incredible rate.

      • I’m not sure I understand this thing you have with Whitney.

        Even on your last “Whitney’s not that good” post you adjusted to numbers down for me and he was still miles ahead of the rest of the D. Is he not a solid building block for this team going forward?

        He still looks like a pretty good hockey player to everyone else, but for some reason you’re disappointed he’s not Mike Green.

        • I’ve actually got nothing against Whitney.

          What I have is a fear that his excellent part-season has given people a distorted view of the player. His boxcar numbers over 35 games this season make him look like a Norris-calibre guy. I just don’t want to get a bucnh of ‘what’s happened to Whitney?!!’ style comments next year when he can’t sustain.

          This isn’t personal. It’s just about honestly evaluating the players and trying to forecast where their performance will end up next season.

          • This isn’t personal. It’s just about honestly evaluating the players and trying to forecast where their performance will end up next season.

            I never thought you had anything against him personally, I just don’t understand why you’ve been going back to it when there are plenty of other players to evaluate. 2 of your last 5 or 6 articles now have been “Whitney isn’t as good as you think” stories.

  • Dan the Man

    “It is highly likely that Whitney’s even-strength scoring will regress next season.”

    I think you’re wrong to be constantly ragging on Whitney.

    John McKinnon told me this week that Whitney is the only decent defensman the Oilers have.

    Anyone could see it.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    My problem with the pp this season (and the last few) is that when a set up man like Hemsky and now Omark are along the boards everybody else just stands in thier “spot” waiting for the perfect pass from Hemmer and or Omark i.e Horcoff at the dot on the opposite side of the offensive zone or Foster and before him Souray at the point. Any team in the timbits league could have picked up on those “plays” and cover thier man so that Hemsky and Omark cant pass them the puck without giving it up, the coaching staff HAS to get those other players to move around so they’re open to recieve the “sweet pass” and get the opposing d doing spins on the ice to make sure they have a man covered.

    • Crash

      Good point, but further to that, in this day and age you have to have at least one guy on top of the blue paint and pound pucks at the net. They don’t even have to be hard shots as long as there is traffic.

      The Oilers PP actually seemed to get better at the end of the year when they were forced to use guys like Jones and Hartikainen who would actually stand where the goaltender couldn’t see the puck.

      It won’t matter who they use on the PP, if they don’t have traffic screening the tender, they won’t score.

      EDIT: LOL, I see you kind of addressed this in your second post…exactly, shoot the damn puck, but even shooting does nothing without the traffic, rebounds, deflections, screens.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        EXACTLY!!! Penner did that(stand in front) for the most part while he was here IMO, but even that didnt help on most nights just from lack of shooting. My question is this, is lack of shooting a coaches fault or players just wanting to be hotdawgs on the late night highlights on tv and looking for the “sweet play”?

  • a lg dubl dubl

    and for the love of GOD players on the pp have to learn to shoot the damn puck at the goalie and get some greasy goals not all of them have to be highlight reel goals!!