• Markov, Second Assists and 5v4

    by  • December 20, 2013 • Hockey • 7 Comments

    I wrote a piece over on Sportsnet yesterday looking at Andrei Markov. My interest in this dates back to a discussion with Twitter’s @saskhab. His account is locked, so I’m just going to copy and paste a few tweets.

    @saskhab: (Markov) doesn’t suck. He’s an elite PP guy who trends above average at even strength. He’s garbage on the PK.

    @saskhab: Markov has a Sedin like affect on SH% on the PP.

    @saskhab: Randomness. Good one. Seriously, it’s not a fluke.

    @saskhab: I know it isn’t the same as ES, but at some point you have to realize how good of a passer and pincher he is.

    @saskhab: You’re acting like all skills are equal in all situations. Some have skills that work better when they don’t have to defend. Phil Housleys exist.

    I’ve never really understood why people see him as a big deal defenceman but “Markov makes people good” is a pretty common thing that you heard over the past five or six years. Surprisingly to me, one passage in my piece, dealing with Markov’s on-ice S% at 5v4, seemed to be particularly controversial:

    If you’re uncomfortable with this sort of an explanation (that Markov’s high on-ice shooting percentage at 5v4 wasn’t necessarily due to him) and want to believe that Markov somehow creates a high shooting percentage when he’s on the ice, there’s another way to look at it. The Habs scored 160 5v4 goals with Markov on the ice between 2007–13. Markov had 87 points. So on 73 of the goals scored when he was on the ice, Markov either wasn’t one of the last three Canadiens to touch the puck or the other team possessed the puck between his last touch and the PP goal.

    You can add to that the fact that 30 of Markov’s 64 assists were second assists. How often do you watch a goal and think, “The goal scorer would never have had that easy tap-in were it not for the guy credited with the second assist?” It’s simply not how the game works. If you think that Markov was driving the Canadiens’ shooting percentage at 5v4 to extraordinarily high levels, you have to come up with a theory that accounts for the fact that he only scored or had a first assist on about 36 percent of the 5v4 goals. Chance, or playing with extraordinarily gifted teammates on the PP, seems a better explanation. But either way, it doesn’t seem like it would have anything to do with Markov.

    From 2007-08 to present, Markov’s had better than average but not fantastic shot rates and a killer on-ice shooting percentage – no D with more than 1000 minutes of 5v4 TOI is within a point of his 15.8%. Amazingly to me, this was disputed.

    I’m a big believer in just thinking things through and asking yourself if your thinking seems reasonable. To me, having watched and played what must be closing in on 1000 hockey games, I’ve never really been a big believer in second assists telling us much about offence. Sure, you have to get the puck to another guy but it’s rarely a play that makes things happen – it’s moving the puck along.

    In this case, me and the other fellow seem to disagree on what’s reasonable. He seems to think that there are a lot more goal creating second assists that make the play than I do. So if reasonable people disagree, you go look. I’ve put together a video of as many of Markov’s second assists at 5v4 from 2007-13 as I could find. I’ve got more than 90% of them here. I invite you to watch them and, as you do, ask yourself whether his touches (all of the videos start with his touches) are creating a higher shooting percentage. Markov wears 79.

    Personally, having watched these, I think that it’s a pretty crazy thought. The vast majority of these are run of the mill move the puck along second assists. (I am incredibly impressed with Alexei Kovalev though.) There’s a bunch of assists in there where Markov makes what I would consider to be a technically difficult pass. Specifically, these are the ones I’ve marked as diagonals. I can see why people are impressed with his passing. He’s threading needles.

    I can’t say that I think they’re creating high percentage shots though. On pretty much every one of those passes, the defence have time to reset before the goal ends up coming. The puck could have been moved to that location by going Markov – defence partner – corner. It’s a gorgeous thing to watch, I just have my doubts that it’s doing anything to bump the shooting percentage.

    So what is Markov? I’m more than willing to believe that he’s a good puck mover and passer. I’m also willing to believe that, in his prime, he’d move into great locations to shoot on the PP – his shooting percentage is much, much higher than the typical defenceman on the PP. It wouldn’t surprise me if he created a better shooting percentage off his first assists than most. The second assists though? I’m not buying it. Touches that are further than that from the goal seem even less likely than me to have an impact.

    Markov was probably a very useful 5v4 contributor at one point. I’m inclined to think that because the shot volume numbers with him on the ice were good though, not because I think he’s a true talent 15.8% shooting percentage guy at 5v4 though. Montreal seems to have had good 5v4 systems and a lot of talent around him. To think otherwise basically seems to me to believe that he’s magical. Seems unlikely.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    7 Responses to Markov, Second Assists and 5v4

    1. Matt D
      December 20, 2013 at

      Thanks for doing this– it’s been enlightening.
      Two thoughts as a Habs fan. First, wow was Alex Kovalev ever good on the PP. That definitely plays into our assessment of Markov’s PP ability– we have fond memories of lots of beautiful cross-box Markov to Kovalev 1-timer goals. (And Markov is a beautiful player on the PP. That affects people’s assessment of his abilities, but ugly goals are still goals.)
      Second, I don’t really get why other Montreal fans are mad about this. It’s good new, more or less. As a fan, I’d prefer to learn that my team’s aging, injury hobbled, defensively weak ‘star’ was not, in fact, crucial to the team’s success. It’s better than the alternative. (Of course, Bergevin is liable to sign him to a bad contract, so maybe not…)

    2. PopsTwitTar
      December 20, 2013 at

      Off topic but I often say that I wish we had fancystats for Kovalev’s career. I’m biased in my belief but I do believe he would have outstanding fancystats.

    3. Saj
      December 20, 2013 at

      Pretty illustrative stuff.

      Also, hasn’t someone done research that suggests 2nd assists are pretty random anyway? (i.e. not predictive, unlike 1st assists and goals)

      • Pierce Cunneen
        December 20, 2013 at

        second assists on their own are pretty random (i.e. very little correlation form year to year). However, looking at both primary and secondary assists increases our predictive power. So points per 60 correlates better with future points per 60 than does using goals per 60 plus primary assists per 60 to predict future points.

    4. Tom Benjamin
      December 21, 2013 at

      I’m not sure that I understand the argument about Markov. Don’t we know him pretty well as a player? He has clear strengths and pretty obvious weaknesses. On the right team – one that can take advantage of his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses – he’s a valuable contributor. On a different team, not so much. Larry Murphy. Christian Erhoff. (Alexei Kovalev, too.) Same player, different circumstances = different results.

      In general, I would agree about second assists, but it is a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone. Without looking it up, I’d guess that Henrik Sedin gets tons of second assists. I doubt that in his case you would find that most of them simply involve him moving the puck along.

    5. Bank Shot
      December 22, 2013 at

      Markov’s worst season on the PP since 07-08 was 4.42 P/60. That’s very good.

      Since he missed two whole seasons in that span we are looking at 5 separate seasons where the guy has been a top 30 producer for defencemen on the PP.

      He’s maybe been a bit lucky in regards to playing on a team that has had a very strong PP over the years, but he definitely looks like a contributor to it rather then a beneficiary.

      The Habs COULD trade him, but then the problem arises of where they are going to find another consistent top 30 PP performer on defence that makes less then $5 million and is actually available.

      I’d take him on the Oilers at $6 for a year or two. Even with his flaws, he’d still be the best defencemen Edmonton has.

    6. Locky
      December 22, 2013 at

      It’d be interesting to do something like this for the Sedins. Going purely on observation, that might give an example of where the secondary assists do appear to be meaningful in creating goals.

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