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 firstname.lastname@example.org