• On Petry Being Good And The Defence

    by  • March 3, 2014 • Hockey • 17 Comments

    I was out on Saturday night, kind of half watching the Oilers game in a bar with some friends. I got home in time for overtime, which enabled me to take a look at Twitter after Calgary scored to win the game. I joked before doing so that Petry would be getting slaughtered; sure enough, a search for “Petry” revealed all sorts of less than complimentary things about him.

    To start with: Calgary’s winning goal wasn’t Petry’s fault.

    Here’s the puck dumped into the corner. Marincin has body position on Paul Byron, Sean Monahan is on the boards and Petry slides behind the net to give Marincin an easy out. If Marincin chips the puck to Petry, Petry’s going to have acres of ice to work with as Edmonton’s forwards push Calgary’s defence back and Monahan/Byron are on the other side of the ice.

    Marincin blows it. Some, more subtle criticism of Petry, focused on him going around the net rather than immediately heading back out front. I’m not sure what these people are on about – with his body position, he’d have to stop, turn and head out. He didn’t really have a quick route back to the front.

    He still made a race of it but too much space, too much time and Calgary wins.

    Update: The second comment has a good rebuttal to my view of things. I’m not entirely convinced by it, or at least I’m not entirely convinced that it makes Petry the goat on the play but it’s a fair point that if Petry goes around the other way, he’s in a better spot defensively.

    I was struck by the sheer volume of criticism (not to mention the extent of the collective vocabulary of Petry Hate Twitter). Searching Twitter for dumb commentary is kind of the lowest of the low hanging fruit but, to me, it was obvious what happened. If you don’t like Petry though – and an increasingly vocal chunk of Edmonton’s fans don’t – it’s an easy stick with which to beat him. To me, Marincin blew a pretty simple play, which happens with rookies sometimes, and that’s what led to the whole thing. That’s life with rookie defencemen and all you can ask is that he learns from it. And that people don’t fire bullets at bystanders.

    One of the ideas that’s aged better than some others that have been kicked around this piece of the internet over the years is the idea that NHL teams aren’t particularly great at figuring out which defencemen can play and which can’t. If you go back over the years, the NHL has a pretty spectacular history of guys who became key defencemen on good teams just being given away by some team or another. Chicago’s top four last included Johnny Oduya, acquired from the Jets for a second and a third round pick. Willie Mitchell was in LA’s 2012 top four; he was traded as a rental in 2006 when Minnesota decided they didn’t need him. Johnny Boychuk won a Cup in Boston’s top four – he was acquired from Colorado a few years earlier for Matt Hendricks. Dennis Seidenberg was in Boston’s top pairing that year; his career path is ridiculous and has seen him traded for numerous players who you don’t think of as being worth a #2 defenceman. Hal Gill played top four minutes for Pittsburgh when they won the Cup – they got him the year before for a second and fifth.

    I’ll stop but you can go back through most teams that win the Cup and find players like that. Real honest to god, no doubter number one defencemen are like gold but other than that (and there seem to be like eight to ten of them), there tend to be more guys high up the list of defencemen who’ve bounced around than you’d expect to find on a team that’s got a legitimate claim to the title of best in the world. I’ve always suspected that there’s a kind of overarching problem with evaluating defencemen: they’re basically being evaluated on their ability to avoid having something bad occur on their watch: a goal against.

    This gives rise to two issues. First, the incredible randomness of on-ice save percentage. A defenceman can see huge swings that have very little to do with him but if he’s on the ice when a goal goes in, people are going to notice. If you’re in a year where the hockey gods aren’t smiling on you, it can happen a lot. The next thing you know, you’re on a PTO in Florida, hoping to get a $900K deal. Second, it’s harder to divorce defencemen from their team, I think. If you’re in your own end 45% of the time instead of 55% of the time, it’s basically an 18% decrease in the amount of time that you’re going to spend being exposed to making a mistake. Even if you know, intellectually, that a guy on a 45% team is going to look worse than a guy on a 55% team, it’s hard to calibrate your brain to catch it. These are theories as to why this might occur but I’d be happy to defend the argument that defencemen seem to just pop up randomly and play well with pretty much anyone.

    Which brings me to Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert’s spiritual descendant. He has the same problem that Tom Gilbert had in Edmonton, which is that he’s the best defenceman on a bad team. If you’re the best defenceman on a bad team, you’re going to see the opposition’s best players and you don’t have a ton of support around you. If you’re a puckhandler, as opposed to a bang it out guy, there will be turnovers. A lot of Oiler fans seem to have this bizarre fixation on smacking people too, which is weird given the nature of the club’s glory days. Petry doesn’t fit the mold that a certain loud portion of the fanbase likes and has all the things that come with playing for a bad team to deal with to boot.

    I’ve been fooling around with visualizing data for defencemen – trying to build a table that shows who’s playing together and how they’re doing. I’ve come up with the table below. What it shows is the Corsi% for each pair of defencemen amongst Oiler D who’ve played at least 100 minutes of 5v5 TOI this year. I’ve highlighted the pairs that have played at least 100 minutes together in yellow. Light blue shows a defenceman’s overall 5v5 Corsi% for the year.

    A couple of things that catch my eye:

    *Outside of Marincin, who hasn’t been around much and has almost entirely played with Petry, Petry has the best Corsi% of the Oilers defencemen. I don’t find this particularly surprising – Petry’s usually towards the top of that list for the Oilers.

    *Just for a bit of context, Hjallmarson/Oduya have been running at 53.7% in Chicago. Marincin/Petry are two points off that when they’re together on a, well, somewhat less good team than Chicago. Granted, t’s only 280 minutes but it’s a promising looking pair, given the context that they’ve played in. The answer to the question “Can Jeff Petry be part of a good second pair on a good team?” seems likely to me to be yes, at the very least.

    *Ference has done better with Petry than he’s done with Nick or Justin Schultz.

    *That’s quite the eye popping number that Belov and Petry have together – I was so surprised by it that I went back and looked to make sure it’s right. It is. They have, however, only played 126 minutes together and I doubt that they’d be the best pairing in the NHL. That being said, I find it interesting that, if you scroll down that chart, Justin Schultz and Belov have also been fairly respectable together – Justin’s 49.2% Corsi% in 211.63 5v5 minutes with Belov crushes his 42.2% Corsi% in 360.65 minutes with Ference or his abysmal 38.6% Corsi% in 247.32 5v5 minutes with Nick Schultz. In Justin’s short NHL career, he’s never had a defence partner for any significant time with whom he’s put up such results.

    *Nick Schultz is finished. Boston’s been scouting him according to Jim Matheson, and Bruins fan Joe Haggerty has dropped Schultz’ name a few times. If Edmonton can sell him off to Boston, I’ll be amazed.

    *Boy was that Larsen/Belov pairing a disaster. 112.2 minutes of 36.4% Corsi% hockey.

    Just circling back round on Belov – it’s intriguing to me that he’s got about 330 minutes of good looking results with Justin and Petry. I’ve done a little digging into that and it’s actually kind of interesting. I’ll throw something up about it later today. As far as this post goes: people should really ease off Petry. The Oilers’ goal should be to have him be their fourth best defenceman, not create a new hole by ditching him that has to be filled.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    17 Responses to On Petry Being Good And The Defence

    1. flyfish1168@gmail.com
      March 3, 2014 at

      thanks for your insight and defense of Petry on the O/T goal. Monahan should have been covered by our Centerman. I believe it should have been RNH. Didn’t get to PVR it but it looks like a bad line change and he was late coming.

      Petry would look very good on a good team that gives him some teammates for support.

      • Cory
        March 3, 2014 at

        I like the effort to defend Petry as he is sometimes the whipping boy for no reason. However he shoulders part of the blame. In frame two he needs to get back out in front or get on the other side of the net. These are the basics of being a dman and reading the play. Four on Four hockey, you play the percentages as a dman and the percentages quickly changed and he didnt adjust.

        Now Petry wasn’t alone. Marincin needs to win that battle or pin the puck on the boards and wait for help to collapse. I also would like to see both forwards collapse a little lower in that situation.

        This wasnt a good game for either defender but I am also not going to punish the guys having to tow a lot of the load with these forwards.

      • Bruce McCurdy
        March 3, 2014 at

        The centre — as much as there is an actual “centre” in 4v4 — was Gagner. Not that you can see any evidence of him in any of the three frames shown here.

    2. Coach
      March 3, 2014 at

      Tyler, I enjoy the statistical side of your writing, and have been reading this site for years. To preface this, I will say thanks for your work on that side of the ledger. But having both played & coached at a high level of hockey, I will submit to you that in this instance, you are incorrect. Mr. Petry is indeed part & parcel in this goal, and I would like to share why from my playing & coaching experience.
      Your first frame shows Marincin having body position on Byron – but not full possession. This is key, as that is your first indicator to your partner as to what his actions should be – not the potential of what they could be. Keep in mind, playing defence is about defending first (especially in 4/4 play), thus the frame begs the question: if Marincin is in a puck battle, why does his partner have his back to both the play and the only other forward capable of attempting a play towards the net? Sean Monahan is on the boards and Petry should be cognizant of that, but instead slides behind the net on a guess… instead of the closest goalpost to give MM a quick 5 foot chip and release. Indeed, If Marincin chips the puck to Petry there at the close goalpost, Petry is STILL going to have a stride+ of ice to work & the net as a turn shield to move up ice if he chooses.
      The difference?
      If Marincin loses said puck battle, Petry is at the close post, ready to defend either the pass or Monahan coming into the play. Circling behind the net away from both creates the space required to allow for Monahan/Byron to do their thing, while taking Petry away from what should be his original intent – defending. A small positioning difference – but in the NHL, that 6 foot difference dictated the result.
      To be objective, for sure Marincin blows an aspect of that play. But saying that Petry’s body position doesn’t matter is akin to saying that it matters not where Bryzgalov is in the net when a shot comes. Eakins surely doesn’t coach his Dmen to make 15-20 foot passes in their own zone – I am sure he would prefer a much shorter & more sure position of support in this instance. Body position, support, angles… these things are everything to a Dman. And while I concur that Marincin blew a play, to have that kind of position knowing that you should be supporting a rookie is also a mental error on Petry – which happens with vets & rookies alike – and is why Petry’s play on that goal is nearly as grievous as the rookie’s himself. Sometimes, the little things are everything. To me, Petry does these small errors a lot which lead to people tee’ing off on him, likely more than they should a Dman learning his craft at this level. I am not sure the vitriol helps a player either – guys like Poti & Gilbert took far more abuse than they deserved when in Edmonton. In a good team environment like Chicago, LA, etc, I think Tom would be a decent 2nd or 3rd pairing guy, who should deservedly get some PP time (don’t get me guessing the hows or whys of Eakins’ PP time distribution). And I think the numbers support his useful game – but let’s not pretends these kinds of gaps in thinking & practice do not exist.
      Thanks for the place to chime in, Tyler.

    3. Josh
      March 3, 2014 at

      Tyler you’re a fucking moron.

    4. Sleeper
      March 3, 2014 at

      “A lot of Oiler fans seem to have this bizarre fixation on smacking people too, which is weird given the nature of the club’s glory days.”

      To listen to the average Oiler fan, you’d swear it was Dave Semenko putting all those beautiful Gretzky passes in the back of the net and Jari Kurri was just some Euro scrub.

    5. GriffCity
      March 3, 2014 at

      I’m sick of Petry and of people justifying the errors he makes time and time again. He’s just not very good, especially in a top 4 role, there is just no way. Ask yourself this about Petry: Is he a physical player? NO. Is he good defensively? NO. Is he a smart positional player? NO. Is he good offensively? Not really, but that has to be his selling point, all 14 pts of massive offensive output. So his mediocre offensive upside combined with his porous defensive play and weak overall demeanor totals one mostly lousy defenceman.

      • Tyler Dellow
        March 3, 2014 at

        Why do you think that the Oilers always do better in terms of shot attempts when he’s on the ice than when he’s not?

        • GriffCity
          March 3, 2014 at

          Because as you so aptly noted in your column, Petry has logged a lot of top-paring minutes. That means while he is “shutting down” the other teams top line he is also getting to play with ours. So saying that shot attempts are higher while he’s on the ice with our best players is a pretty bland statistic.

    6. GriffCity
      March 3, 2014 at

      It should also be noted that the Oilers have the very worst shots for per game #’s and among the highest shots against #’s in the NHL.

    7. carson
      March 3, 2014 at

      Dellow gets it exactly right at the end. Petry is the Oilers No. 1 D-man, but that doesn’t make him a No. 1 D-man. Management’s job is to push him down the order. Create a situation where Petry a No. 3 or 4 and, boom, all of the sudden he will look like a No. 1.

      • May 6, 2014 at

        In response to pinedr, Ottawa did exactly that a few seasons back. Yashin was looking for a reworking of his contract (for the 2nd time in 3 years) and they told him “tough, you’re under contract”. Yashin tried to hold out but the Senators were even more stubborn, which lead to him coming back to play (complete with nightly chastising from the hometown crowd). More teams need to do this.I’d like to see Pronger return to Edmonton, but if that doesn’t happen I’d like to see them get equal value from another team. Luongo’s already been traded, but in the new NHL you never know what’ll happen.It’s just too bad that the days of players spending their entire career wearing one uniform are long gone. The Yzerman’s of the world are even more rare a breed.

    8. March 4, 2014 at

      The brain calibration problem might be a hardware issue?

    9. Art V
      March 4, 2014 at

      When Dmen bat too high in the order, they get exposed. The Oilers have to put someone out there playing top-pair minutes, but haven’t had any legit top-pair D since Pronger.
      Signing a 4 like Ference, or counting on a 3 like JSchultz, or praying for Klefbom or Nurse or Eckblad when they’ll likely take a long while working themselves up from the 7-hole, is why the Oilers contiue to pile up the Ls.
      Bite the bullet and trade for a legitimate No. 1. If the braintrust can’t do that, despite having on the asset side of the ledger a bunch of No. 1 overall picks up front, then get a new braintrust.

    10. Shawn
      March 5, 2014 at

      “The next thing you know, you’re on a PTO in Florida, hoping to get a $900K deal.”

      Hypothetically of course.

    11. Johnny
      March 6, 2014 at

      The first issue is the very reason that this article exists — quality (or lack thereof) of comments on Twitter. These “fans” very likely have little hockey knowledge and, as evidenced by their generally poor communication skills, are uneducated in the areas of thought, analysis or communication. Any response to such “fans” is a waste of time and simply engages their simple minds in an argument based on nothing of substance.

      The fundamental error you have made is possibly assuming that the commenters to whom you refer are similar to you. If they were, they would write well-reasoned and thought-provoking articles that are based on fact and careful analysis. Please don’t acknowledge idiocy anymore.

      “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference” — Mark Twain

    12. May 6, 2014 at

      For goodness sake, you would think he was pullnig a TO and having his agent whine for more money, instead of putting his wife’s concerns ahead of those of the fans’. Who is REALLY being selfish–the woman who may have tried to make a go of it in a strange city, only to not be able to make it work, or the fans who for the sake of the team they root for would happily have a family be miserable? The level of vindictive hatred is astounding.Also, just consider what might have happened if this hadn’t been made public. Odds are that Pronger would have been quietly traded during the summer and the GM would have justified it by pointing out that the offer was too good to refuse. At least Mrs. Pronger wouldn’t be vilified for not adjusting to a new city.

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