Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hockey Mythbusters (And Flyers Lineup Volume 7)

The Flyers lost last night. They should not have lost. The skaters outplayed the Islanders and the team as a whole had a Corsi differential of +24 (per Muneeb Alam).

Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz were a defensive pairing for about ten seconds, and the Isles scored their first goal. Steve Mason got beat on a wrist shot through Michael Del Zotto's legs, and the Isles scored their second goal. Team Philly couldn't close the deal against Jaro Halak in regulation, and we lost in a shootout. That's the summary.

So our defense is crap, there is a mild goalie controversy brewing, and the Flyers lost in a shootout (scoring 0 goals, including missed attempts by a gritty power forward and a rookie defenseman). Nothing new there. But in looking at Muneeb's game summary (below) and the War On Ice report, there were a few stats that stood out to me. Let's do this Mythbusters style, because why the hell not.
Confirmed: Andrew MacDonald stinks. 

Less than one minute into his so called "tryout" to prove his case for remaining in the NHL, AMac allowed an unchallenged zone entry and an unchallenged pass to the slot. Get him the fuck off my team, or figure out a loophole to give his contract to Gostisbehere.

Confirmed: Switching goalies mid-game gives the rest of the team a boost.

One of the best myths in sports. Mason let in a soft second goal after the MacDonald/Schultz ordeal and Dave Hakstoll yanked him from the game immediately. Michal Neuvirth pitched a shutout the rest of the way and allowed the Flyers to steal a point.

The "myth" is the team gets a boost from a new goalie, similar to the boost they get from a fight. But let me throw two stat lines at you from last night:

  • Steve Mason: +1 Corsi differential (17.2 minutes played)
  • Michal Neuvirth: +23 Corsi differential (36.9 minutes played)

The Goalie Switch Boost is definitely an intangible benefit, but that's a really tangible, visible, material difference. And, of course, the team was -2 with Mason in goal and +2 after Neuvirth took over.

Confirmed: The Couturier-Read-Simmonds line is one of the best in the NHL.

Another Flyers game, another night where 24-14-17 dominated one of the most skilled lines in the league. This is especially true at home, when Dave Hakstol can deploy them after the Islanders players to ensure the matchup happens. They've done it against just about everyone, and last night they added Tavares-Nelson-Okposo to their resume.

Some Comment Section Flyers Fans will probably point out that nobody on either line scored, but ending the game +9, +13, and +15 when you spent almost the whole game playing against the Islanders' top line is incredible. It was a night where the top three lines all looked great and the fourth line chipped in a goal, but these three are really something special.

Confirmed: Intangibles like Grit and Heart and Tenacity translate to hockey success.

How about that fourth line goal? Noted Good Hockey Players RJ Umberger and Ryan White combined for some nice puck movement and a tough shot through traffic. If I were the GM of Another NHL Hockey Team I would really make a play to add Umberger before the deadline. What a pass to set up the goal! So much talent, and he's a bargain at only four point six million dollars.

 That's pretty obviously sarcastic, but props to the fourth line for contributing on the scoreboard and not getting outplayed too bad.

Guys like White and Umberger (and let's toss Pierre Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde and even Wayne Simmonds in there too) are always going to be valuable to hockey teams. It's tough to quantify from an advanced stats perspective, but "compete level" and "willingness to make the greasy plays" really do matter.

PEB and CVV led the team last night with 4 high-danger scoring chances each. Ryan White had 3 (For reference, Couturier and Claude Giroux each had 2). Those three guys - the "old fourth line" - make a combined $2.2 million. That's less than half of Umberger and Vinny Lecavalier's individual salaries. The line, combined, makes about as much money as Brayden Schenn or Nick Schultz.

There is (allegedly) a big announcement coming today from Ron Hextall regarding Lecavalier. Obviously, the hope is a mutual termination of his contract. If we turned around and used that extra money to lock 76-78-25 up for a couple (or more) years, I'd love it. I think it's much better to "overpay" someone by giving them $2 million instead of $1 million than it is to pay anyone except a franchise cornerstone almost $5 million.

Plausible: Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux should be reunited on the Flyers' top line.

Speaking of franchise cornerstones, two of ours have been separated for like a month now. Jake's been playing with Bellemare and Vandevelde, who tend to have a different style of attack than the more talented Voracek. Claude's been playing with Schenn and Michael Raffl.

As far as "style of play" goes, the easiest switch in the world to make would be flipping Voracek and Raffl. Jake thrives on controlled entries, which Giroux and Schenn prefer. Bellemare and Vandevelde tend to dump and chase, which I find Raffl doing more than he should be.

Why not ice 10-28-93 and 76-78-12? You have a juggernaut line that should be generating a half dozen high-danger chances per game (or, at the very least, occupying the other team's best defensive line), and a line that's similar to the Couturier line (although not as talented). We would still have three lines that were NHL-caliber. We wouldn't be burying our $8 million winger. And we only have another month before we have to decide if we're extending Brayden's contract or trying to trade him - so let's figure out if he's a top six forward!

Flyers Lineup Volume 7

Schenn - Giroux - Voracek
Read - Couturier - Simmonds
Gagner - Laughton - Raffl
Vandevelde - Bellemare - White

Del Zotto - Gudas
Medvedev - Schultz
Gostisbehere - Manning

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