“Some Semblance of Risk”

On Wednesday, the Edmonton Oilers sent Magnus Paajarvi and a second round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for David Perron. Robin Brownlee had the initial write-up here, and Lowetide opined here. But I really wanted a chance to dig into the trade a bit myself; and in doing so found myself thinking back to Craig MacTavish’s first day on the job.

Magnus Paajarvi is a quality NHL player in the here and now; he brings a lot and probably ends up being a useful NHL player for the next decade or more. It’s easy to understand the Blues’ reasoning on the swap – they added a younger, cheaper, bigger player who can play top-nine minutes now and doesn’t have the concussion history that David Perron does. St. Louis still has to ink Chris Stewart and Alex Pietrangelo; between their cap constraints and the extra second round pick this is a trade that makes a great deal of sense for them.

With that said: the Oilers took home the best player in the deal. They made their team better. Perron is 25 years old, contributes at both ends of the rink, and is signed at a reasonable price point for three more seasons. The injury history adds some risk, but as Craig MacTavish said in his introductory press conference, “We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion.”

Cost and risk are both part of this deal, but the amount of both is reasonable.

Finishing Ability

One of the blind spots people who spend a lot of time looking at possession numbers (I’m in that group, by the way) can have is a tendency to entirely discredit finishing ability because so much of it is unrepeatable. To a certain degree, that’s valid – as a “for instance,” the pessimistic predictions of Jordan Eberle’s goal totals after his 18.9 shooting percentage season were pretty much bang on, despite the amount of anger they generated last summer – but sometimes it isn’t. Different players have a genuinely different level of finishing ability, and by the look of it there’s quite a gap between Perron and Paajarvi.

  • Perron career NHL shooting percentage: 13.5 percent on 622 shots
  • Paajarvi career NHL shooting percentage: 7.8 percent on 334 shots
  • Paajarvi career AHL shooting percentage: 5.9 percent on 186 shots
  • Paajarvi career SHL shooting percentage: 6.9 percent on 288 shots
  • Paajarvi career professional shooting percentage: 7.1 percent on 808 shots

Shooting percentage doesn’t typically improve with age either; it’s steady through the mid-twenties and then falls off. We’re still in relatively small samples for both Perron and Paajarvi, but as professionals Perron’s shooting percentage is nearly double that of the player he was traded for, and that’s before taking into account that Perron’s shooting percentage is entirely from NHL hockey while we’re looking at other levels too with Paajarvi. Could the gap be smaller than it appears to be? Sure. But it seems extremely likely to me that there is a real difference between these two players in finishing ability.

Other Numbers

Perron:

Season QC Rk. ZS RelCorsi PTS/60 5v4 P/60
2007-08 9th 50.6 9.7 1.95 2.39
2008-09 10th 61.0 6.4 2.32 2.65
2009-10 10th 54.6 4.7 1.82 3.09
2011-12 3rd 47.3 -3.7 2.07 3.38
2012-13 4th 50.8 2.5 1.58 3.09

Paajarvi:

Season QC Rk. ZS RelCorsi PTS/60 5v4 P/60
2010-11 7th 51.6 3.2 1.36 3.45
2011-12 9th 47.7 6.6 0.75 2.84
2012-13 6th 51.0 -1.6 1.54 2.05

I know, it’s a wall of charts. Here’s a quick rundown on what the numbers mean.

QC Rk. Where each player ranked among eligible forwards (20 game cutoff) on their own team in Behindthenet.ca’s “Quality of Competition” metric. What it shows is Paajarvi mostly playing third-line opposition, and Perron jumping from depth opponents to real quality the last two seasons.

ZS. Short for “zone starts”, another BtN statistic. A number over 50 percent indicates more time in the offensive zone; a number under 50 percent more time in the defensive zone. Not a lot to choose between these players, really.

RelCorsi. The possession number of choice; this is a plus/minus of shots, missed shots and blocked shots adjusted for team strength. Neither player has world-beating numbers, but both Paajarvi and Perron have over their careers demonstrated an ability to outperform their team averages. Put another way: with either guy on the ice, his team generally outshoots the opposition.

PTS/60 and 5v4 P/60. Two scoring measures – the first 5-on-5 points per hour played, the second the same except for 5-on-4 situations. Paajarvi and Perron have both been underwhelming power play scorers over their careers, but while Paajarvi has also struggled to score at evens the offence has come much easier for Perron – a career average in the 2.00 range is quite good for an NHL forward, and represents the primary area of upgrade for the Oilers.

Linemates It isn’t shown above, but the players Perron and Paajarvi have played with are available. There isn’t a whole lot to choose from – Paajarvi has mostly been Sam Gagner’s wingman, while Perron has played a lot with Patrik Berglund which is, if not a saw-off, at least in the range. Paajarvi has had things a little rougher because St. Louis has been a better team than Edmonton over this stretch, but it’s difficult to make a case that linemates are responsible for the differences between the two.

My View

The risk is two-fold: that Paajarvi suddenly discovers a scoring touch or that David Perron gets hurt again. Given Paajarvi’s long-term record, going back to his days in Sweden, that’s a risk a team can reasonably take for a superior scorer like Perron. The concussion worry is another reasonable risk: Perron suffered one big concussion that basically cost him the 2010-11 season and a bunch of 2011-12, but he’s also played 120 consecutive games since that point. The risk needs to be acknowledged, because it’s happened once before; on the other hand, it would be a mistake to label Perron as “injury prone” because it’s very difficult to know to what degree that concussion has elevated the chances of him suffering others relative to other NHL players. He could be significantly more at risk, but still unlikely to suffer another serious concussion; everyone seems to agree that one concussion increases the chances of having another but nobody can seem to put a firm number on exactly how much that risk has increased.

Those are fair risks to take, given that Perron makes the Oilers a better team than Paajarvi did.

Recently around the Nation Network

At NHL Numbers, Rex Libris reviews the NHL Entry Draft from 1990 to 1999:

All in all, the 90s were a lost decade for anyone cheering for a team in a new or smaller market as well as those fans of the NHL Entry Draft. I don’t have a definitive answer as to why it happened, but suffice to say that it may well happen again and fans would do well to temper their enthusiasm amid the seasonal hype that surrounds the NHL Entry Draft.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • DSF

    Great article JW. I was wondering if you could comment on this statement by MacT: “It’ll be a good test for our analytics guys. They have him with some of the game’s elite. He’s right up there with controlling the play and shots for and against differential.”

    If you were one of his ‘analytics guys’, would you agree with that statement?

    • No, I wouldn’t. I think he’s a very good player – particularly for a second-line winger – but I don’t see anything in the statistics that makes me want to put him in the same category as the game’s elite.

      I’d love to know exactly what it is they’re looking at.

      • oilerjed

        Perron’s corsi numbers don’t look particularily great when playing away from Backes who has been his most consistent linemates these past two years.

        In 2012/13 Perron had a worse Corsi/60 and fenwick/60 then his 5 most common linemates.

        Apparently Perron is very good at stickhandling and likes to overhandle the puck often. Maybe Mact’s analytical guys are using stopwatches to track the amount of time Perron is physically touching the puck.

        Either way, a turnover prone player will fit in famously with the Edmonton group. 🙂

  • oliveoilers

    Yep, speculate to accumulate! My wise old pappy once said that procrastination is the worst thing you can do. Right or wrong, make a decision. Learn from mistakes and move on. Maybe we get hosed. Maybe it’s win-win for both teams. Maybe they both suck. Hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20, for those ‘Told Ya So’ people out there. You know who you are!

  • DSF

    Life is a risk; who knows what is coming at us around the next corner. It’s just a matter of measuring the risk and deciding on what one is comfortable with.

    Everyone in the league knows MacT’s agenda for this summer and none of the other GM’s are just going to be charitable and help the poor Oilers a bit.

    Given that, I think MacT is doing a great job so far. He is showing to be a great communicator and he seems like he is comfortable delegating work to people like the numbers guys and using the info he gets from them to help with his decisions.

    Like Brownlee stated yesterday, I don’t think he is done for the summer. Gagner needs to be signed or dealt; our L defence group is swollen right now; #83 needs to be traded for help.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    risk is just the cost of doing business when it comes to trades. Nobody has a crystal ball saying how things will turn out.

    I think there are 1-2 significant trades left to be made…

    Who will be traded? You have to think it’s gonna include some of our prospects, Schultz sr, hemsky, maybe gagner if contract negotiations go sour? We are loaded with depth d somebody needs to go. I have a feeling there will be some package deals..

    I hope macT has one or two more bold (but not stupid) moves in the chamber!