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Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Benning the Numbers (Part 1)

Another day, another contract!

The Oilers and Peter Chiarelli just signed Matt Benning to a 2 year contract with an AAV of $1.9M. The signing passed with considerably less fanfare and controversy than the Caggiula signing, maybe partly because everyone is distracted by the (surprisingly good) draft.

By most indicators, Benning is a third pair defender on the Oilers, though used with some regularity higher in the lineup, especially on the powerplay.

So is this contract fair value for Benning? Or another Chiarelli Overpay(tm)?

A Tragedy in Three Acts

To help get a bead on the contract, I’ll take a statsy look at Matt Benning, focusing primarily on 2017-18. I’m splitting this up into three articles, because I’m going to be throwing a lot of numbers at you!

Part 1 (this article) will provide the key individual numbers I look at when I assess a player, particularly a defender.

In Part 2, I’ll look at the key interactions to see how Benning’s numbers are affected by the players around him … especially you-know-who.

And in Part 3, I’ll use all of that mass of information to bring up comparables to use to assess the value of Benning’s contract.

On-Ice and Individual Results

As a starting point, let’s look at how Benning stacked up against his peers for both on-ice as well as individual results on the Oilers defence this last season. I will dig through a variety of what I feel are the most relevant numbers, which I’ve also provided in rank* format.

The data used in all three parts of the article is from NaturalStatTrick.com, except for the expected goals (xGF%) and RelTM metrics from corsica.hockey, and the WoodMoney QoC usage metric from the PuckIQ.com database (for which unfortunately the website update for 2017 is not yet available).

* It should be noted that the rank is after filtering for a minimum of a fairly arbitrary 400 mins of TOI. This means the rankings are out of the seven Oilers defenders who played a significant number of games this season. Dropped from the ranking group are Davidson, Bear, Gryba, and Lowe.

Time On Ice

Benning’s all-situations time on ice of 17:17 per game ranked #5 on the team, which solidifies the idea that he’s the primary defenseman on the third pairing.

Special Teams Usage

State TOI (mins) TOI/Gm (mins) TOI/Gm Rank CF/60 CF/60 rank CA/60 CA/60 rank GF/60 GF/60 rank GA/60 GA/60 rank
Power Play 65 0.88 3 114.5 1 n/a n/a 5.6 3 n/a n/a
Penalty Kill 40 0.55 6 n/a n/a 98.1 7 n/a n/a 13.4 7

The numbers indicate Benning is used with some regularity (#3) on the powerplay. When he’s on, his results say he’s an effective quarterback, with the team doing well generating shot attempts (#3) and goals (#1).

Conversely, Benning was used quite a bit less on the penalty kill, and with good reason, as his numbers in terms of shot and goal rates against is the worst in the group.

Suggestion: next season, play him a lot more on the PP and a lot less on the PK.

Points

Although points can often have questionable value in assessing depth defenders, given what we’ve seen with Benning’s powerplay role, it’s fair to characterize him as more of an attacking defender. Unsurprisingly, his point rate confirms this.

At 5v5, Benning’s points/60 of 0.8 puts his ranking second best.

Including the special teams, Benning’s points/60 jumps to 0.95, also #2.

Penalty Differential

One of the key adds over the last couple of seasons that I’ve made to my ‘statistics summary’ for defenders is in looking at penalty differential. This provides valuable context for the other numbers such as points or shot metrics.

Jan 5, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba (62) sends Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) into the boards during the third period at TD Garden. The Edmonton Oilers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The recently departed Eric Gryba is a really good example of this – his shot metrics are surprisingly good for a 7D, a reflection of his ability and willingness to stand up and rock players at the blue line. That ability to deny entries really gooses his shot metrics.

Unfortunately, that plus his slow feet mean that when he misses, he often (usually) has to resort to illegal tactics to keep from being burned. As a result, he takes penalties at a rate 3x higher (!) than his next nearest compatriot. So that provides valuable context on those otherwise good numbers!

Benning sits at -4 for all situations penalty differential (penalties taken – penalties drawn), which ranks him fourth.

Adjust this for time on ice, Benning nets out at a -0.19 penalty differential per 60, also fourth.

By the very nature of their position, most defenders tend to be on the minus side of this equation. These are good numbers, especially in light of Benning’s also-quite-good shot metrics.

Shot and Goal Metrics

OK, so let’s see how the Oilers do when Benning is on the ice, and where he ranks relative to his comrades thereon.

Metric Result Rank
CF% (shot balance)
51.5% 3
GF% (goal balance)
52.6% 3
xGF% (expected goals balance)
50.9% 6
CA/60 (shot rate against)
57.9 5

Well, now that’s kind of interesting isn’t it? I’d also bet that jives with your eye test.

When Benning is on the ice, the Oilers are actually quite effective overall, tending to outshoot and outscore the opposition.

But defensively speaking, Benning has slightly less impressive numbers on the expected goals metric (which accounts for shot location) and is ranked low on shot attempts against rate (which is something I believe defenders have the greatest control over).

The biggest complaint I hear with Benning is that he’s too slow and his defensive coverage is quite poor, and I can’t disagree. The numbers don’t either.

As with our look at the special teams earlier, though, this confirms the idea that overall Benning has a positive influence on the Oilers attack, enough to offset his defensive shortcomings.

But it’s pretty clear that his defensive comings are definitely short!

Usage

In comparing offensive and defensive zone faceoffs, Matt Benning was on the ice preferentially (56.8%) in the offensive zone. This could be considered a form of sheltering, but given Benning’s solid powerplay results, I’d say this is more a matter of playing to his strengths as much as it is playing away from his weaknesses.

Using the WoodMoney metric for usage vs quality of competition, Benning spent 24.9% of his time playing against Elite level attackers. This is a very typical number for third pairing players. His results (CF% 46.9) were very similar to the team (CF% 46.5 against Elite attackers when Benning was not on the ice), indicating he wasn’t really much better or worse than other players in this regard. I suspect that’s at least partially why Todd McLellan didn’t have much concern playing him higher in the lineup when he needed to.

What We Learned

No big surprises, right? The numbers, much like the eye, suggest that Benning is a capable third pair defender, with a skill set better suited to attacking. He has his problems defensively but the Oilers overall are effective when he’s on the ice. They should probably look to use him on the powerplay more.

In Part 2, we’ll look at some critical context for these results by pulling apart Benning’s interactions with other players. Stay tuned!

  • Drivefastfinishlast

    Good news Oilers fans. If the oilers don’t sign anybody they will have over $50 million in Deadline Cap Space.
    Since Oilers never make playoffs I will pause so you can find out what Deadline Cap Space is 😂😂😂.

    I hate seeing Benning on the PP when the Oilers us a 1-4 offence. He so bad at retrieving the puck on his backhand especially along the boards. But that’s the coaches fault for putting him in that position.

  • ed from edmonton

    I’m more of statsy kind of guy than most and I appreciate the author doing all the leg work on this. However, if Benning gets 3 articles what can we expect when Strome and Nurse are signed?

    • Drivefastfinishlast

      Abagofpucks is exactly what the oilers got for Hall, Eberle and picks #16 #33
      Flames suck and Chiarelli sucks. I like the Oilers, just don’t buy into Chiarelli’s BS. He destroyed the Oilers. Grow up and smell the roses buddy. You can’t be that stupid to look at this roster and think the Oilers are a playoff team and Chiarelli didn’t ruin the Oilers. I have nothing against the Oilers. It’s that meathead GM they have that needs to go.

    • a. As with all such ventures, I do my best to clear my head of any narrative before I do the work.

      b. I decided to avoid 2016 because I think it deserves an analysis in its own right.

      b1. It’s his rookie year, which is problematic for analysis to begin with.

      b2. But it’s a tale of two rookie seasons. The first one where he started so strongly that my friend, the normally somewhat reserved Woodguy, was answering his phone “Benning for Calder!”. The second after he collected both a head injury and a knee injury, and his results after he came back fell off a cliff.

      b3. So it is my estimation that Benning’s second year tells us reliably more about who he really is than that first year does.

      b4. I suppose I could have explained that in more detail, but I’ve already written a novel on the guy.

      In any case, I’m genuinely curious – especially after reading what I’ve written in Part 1 – exactly what kind of narrative you think I’d have on Benning.

  • crabman

    I like Benning as a bottom pair guy who can moonlite 9n a middle pair short term with injuries. I think I spent more time appriciating what he does than what he doesn’t. Sure he has his warts, if he didn’t he would be more than a bottom pair defender. At the end of the day more good things happen with him on the ice than bad and that is all that can be expected from a bottom of the roster player.
    Although he is a bit older for a 2nd year defender, he is still learning to play defence in the NHL. Part of his problem in his own end is foot speed and that isn’t going to get much better. But the other problem is with reads and positioning, something that typically gets better with experience so it is very likely his play in his own end will continue to improve.

    • crabman

      Didn’t say he can’t, but at the age of 24 his body is pretty much done developing and he should be entering his physical prime. I’m sure if he worked really hard he could become a marginally better skater but physically an athlete doesn’t develope much in his mid 20’s. Any big jump physically happens in the teenage years through early 20’s.
      If you would like to provide some examples of players that got much faster/much better skating after age 24 I would like to hear them. Not saying it can’t happen but I can’t thinknof any examples off the top of my head. At least not any players that had to lose wieght to get quicker like Maroon. Benning isn’t in that category.

      • The only thing I’d add is that I found Benning’s skating to be a non-issue or even a strength coming out of his rookie year, and a like a lot of elements of his game, it was much weaker after his injuries.

        I’m hoping – and this is very much hope, not a prediction – that Benning will have a full offseason unhampered by knee problems and his skating will look more like rookie Benning.

        That won’t be a lot faster, but perhaps more of a jump than you’d otherwise see from a 24 year old.

        And indeed, on a side note, in many sports the research does indicate that speed tends to peak between 21 and 24.

        The good news of course is that McDavid can still get faster!

        • crabman

          @OilersNerdAlert,

          Thanks for chiming in. I didn’t take into consideration injuries. As you mention a full off season of training will help but even pre injury he was an average skater at best. Average skaters need to play smarter to make sure they aren’t caught out of position and lack the speed to recover. This is where I would expect a bigger improvement in his defensive game, more than become much faster.

  • Big Nuggets

    I’d say 57% offesnsive zone starts and only 25% spent against opposition’s top forwards is pretty sheltered. You can spin it as playing him to his strengths, I think both narratives are true to an extent. Seems to be the usage that Bouchard will play when/if he cracks the line up. I like Benning but I percieve a low ceiling on his abilities. I say we do classic pump and dump this year. He has a good shot at improving this year then we trade him to make way for Bear/Bouchard a while netting a new piece of the puzzle to the line up. Unless we find a way to move Russell next offseason, in which case we may want to keep Benning.

    • crabman

      @Big Nuggets,

      I agree Benning doesn’t have a high ceiling but even if he is only ever a #5 he has value. He plays that role well and has only played 135 games. The 25% against elites is the threshold for determining that he is used as a bottom pair. If that increases to 30% that would put him in the range of 2nd pair, 4D usage. Considering he had pretty equal results against the elites as his teammates this year expanding his role isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. With another full season gaining experience with his defensive reads he has the ability to become better in his own end. This could provide the cover for Bouchard when he makes the team while still having a balanced righty lefty makeup. Unless the plan is still to find an experienced RHD trading Benning after putting 3 years into developement might be a bad decision leaving 2 rookies, Bear and Bouchard, on the right side at the same time.
      Of course everythingbI just said is speculation and blue skying the situation. A lot can change in a year. If Sekera and Russell are still here after another offseason Benning might be the odd man out. And if Bouchard plays his way into the lineup this year, I don’t expect that, He may be looking at 2RD in a year and Benning would be a very good option as the 3RD and signed to a reasonable contract.

      • Big Nuggets

        Good points. I was thinking that we can only really shelter one defensive pairing and with Bouchard and Bear coming along that is a lot of RD that will likely need some sheltering. Considering it is unlikely we will be able to trade Russell(in my opinion) the right side could be full, and the return for Benning after a decent year could be quite good. Of course if Benning shows he can defend at a high enough level and we trade Sekera next offseason, we could move Russell to the left side and put Benning in the 2nd RD spot. So in 2 years we would have
        Klef Larsson
        Nurse Benning
        Russell Bear

        Bouchard hopefully dominating the AHL. I could have time for that defense assuming Klef, Nurse Benning and Bear all take steps forward in their game. We have seen Klef play at a higher level, Nurse has taken steps between every season so far, Bear is a young up and comer, Benning I don’t know. I’m excited to see what the new coaches can do with these guys.

  • VK63

    Quoting G
    Suggestion: next season, play him a lot more on the PP and a lot less on the PK.

    G.
    As an aside.
    Don’t use this technique in the raising of your kids. I get the propensity for focusing on the “elite” part of an athletes game and sheltering him from his sketchier areas….. Heck. Taylor Hall just won an MVP and still needs a map in his own end of the ice.
    However.
    The goal, as an organization, for all of its players, should be 200 foot competence and the fact that these kids can have obvious flaws and still be called “professionals” is an indictment on (NA) coaching focus, from initiation on up.
    Just win baby.

    Of note. As a generalization, kids from the Scandinavian areas have less issues with “blind spots” in their game largely predicated by a more holistic approach to long term athlete development and complete game progressions in their player growth techniques.
    #becausecoaching
    #becausevalues

    Benning has all the tools to be a stud he just needs to play with far less fear in his game. Hopefully Yawney can ad some high octane fuel to Benny’s confidence motor as we have seen the brilliance of the young lad. There is a TON of upside left in the young steed.

    • The older I get, the better I was...

      I think the Yawney impact is hard to predict on our whole defensive group but I’m extremely hopeful that we see an uptick across the board, especially with our younger players like Nurse, Benning etc.

  • OilersBro

    I thought Benning looked good until he overhandled the puck. He’ll learn as he gets more time. He also had some very nice numbers when paired with Darnell. I think Benning’s play is highly contingent on his pairing.
    Assuming all are healthy, i’d go with:
    1: Swedish Beauties
    2: Young RFAs
    3: Overpaid (but still very useful) veterans

    The thing with these lines is that I would be comfortable with any one of the 3 lines on the ice for 22+ minutes per game.