Ray Ferraro went on TSN in Edmonton the other day and, according to Jason Gregor, said “(Anton) Stralman is a solid #4, but I think he is a candidate to be grossly overpaid. He had 1 goal. He won’t bring much offence.”
I have to quibble with the “won’t bring much offence” bit. It depends on what you mean by offence. Let’s compare Stralman with Ryan McDonagh and talk about 5v5. McDonagh puts up way more points at 5v5 than Stralman does. Over the past two seasons, McDonagh has scored 0.93 PTS/60. For Stralman, that number is 0.60. McDonagh has scored .23 G/60. Stralman has scored .14 G/60. You can fairly say that McDonagh gets about 50% more points and 50% more goals than Stralman.
So is Ferraro right that Stralman doesn’t bring much offence? Well, I’m not so sure that he is. See, the thing is this: the Rangers have scored more often when Stralman’s on the ice (2.6 GF/60) than they have when McDonagh is on the ice (2.4 GF/60). Part of that edge is due to the S% when Stralman was on the ice – the Rangers shot 7.7% when he’s on the ice and 7.3% when McDonagh was on the ice, both slightly below the league average of about 8%.
The Rangers got slightly more shots when Stralman was on the ice though. In fact, amongst defencemen who played at least 1000 minutes between 2012-14, only six defencemen saw their team get more shots when they were on the ice than Stralman did.
To me, this raises a question that has to be answered if you want to suggest that Stralman is lacking offensively: why does he team score so much when he’s on the ice? Why, despite the difference in points, does his team score more when he’s on the ice than it does when McDonagh’s on the ice?
Part of the answer is simple: his team had a better S% when Stralman was on the ice than it did with McDonagh was out there. I give Stralman no credit for that because I buy the research that says that defencemen have a negligible impact on S%. That still leaves the fact that the Rangers get more shots when Stralman’s on the ice than they do with McDonagh. I do give Stralman credit for that.
I think it’s important to remember this: points aren’t offence. Points are an attempt to divvy up credit for offence according to crude mechanical rules that may or may not bear any resemblence to who deserves the credit for the offence. We know that there are cases in which points don’t accurately reflect someone’s offensive contribution. To pick an easy example, there are many players who played with Joe Thornton who saw their points spike: Glen Murray, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Bill Guerin all spring to mind.
Did those players just suddenly get better when they played with Thornton? I doubt it. I think that what happened was that Thornton creates buckets of offence and our archaic system of crediting players for offence inappropriately credited some of the players who played with him with offence that was actually created by Thornton.
If you accept that this is a thing that happens and that hockey’s system of crediting people for offence can credit people with offence for which they aren’t responsible, does it not also seem plausible that hockey’s system of crediting people for offence can fail to credit people for offence for which they are responsible?
On that line of thinking…Craig MacTavish talked to Mark Spector about various things the other day and said this:
“We need a puck-moving defenceman, another one,” says the second-year GM. “Justin (Schultz) is developing, and is going to be very good at that. But we need somebody to challenge open ice, and open up ice for our forwards.
I’ve made my own thoughts on the Petry/Schultz thing pretty clear. This is not unlike the McDonagh/Stralman thing. Schultz gets more 5v5 points than Petry. The Oilers score marginally more goals when Schultz is on the ice, which is due to an on-ice S% edge that Schultz has had which we shouldn’t bet on going forward. They get slightly more shots when Petry is on the ice. Who’s the better offensive defenceman? Schultz needs to win this by a lot to be in the discussion with Petry, I’d think, because nobody’s saying he’s in Petry’s league defensively.
It’s MacT’s language that I find interesting there: “a puck-moving defenceman.” I would think that if Schultz is so good at moving the puck, the Oilers would get more shots with him on the ice than they do with Petry. They don’t. I think that phrase tends to get used as code for “defenceman who gets points.”
Is getting points necessarily the same thing as moving the puck? I’m not so sure that it is. If we look just at this year, we see that Justin had 19 5v5 points to Petry’s 12 5v5 points, with the rates being as summarized above. I had a suspicion that Justin was getting more points not because of his superior puck carrying ability but because of his willingness to jump into the offensive zone, so I took a look at them both, with some comments afterwards.
Justin shoots, misses the net and then Ference scores from the other point on the ricochet.
Justin knocks down puck in neutral zone, steps up and makes pass to Gordon for the goal.
After play on the left boards, Schultz slid down, took a pass and set up Hall for a goal.
Justin jumps into play as puck moves up the left side of the ice and Capitals switch off.
Coyotes collapse to left wall, Schultz provides outlet, three on one created.
Oilers win DZ faceoff, creates 3 on 2. Backchecking winger gets puck focused, leaving Schultz alone on right side.
Pretty standard defenceman in the offensive zone play, puck comes to point.
Standard breakout pass. Offensive wizardry from Perron, who goes length of ice and scores.
Schultz pinches deep, passes behind net leading to goal.
Hall gains blue line after Coyotes clear, Schultz drives net, Hall sets him up for goal.
Standard D shot from point, tipped into the net.
Hawks collapse to left side, Schultz slides down vacated right side, Hemsky finds him with pass, Schultz goes back to Hall for goal.
Stars collapse to left side, Schultz slides down vacated right side, takes pass and scores.
Oilers cycle the puck in the corner, Preds’ high man dozes off, Schultz slides into the slot unmarked, scores.
Standard slapshot from the point.
Schultz (pinning man against wall) shovels puck forward, Oilers go up ice and score.
Standard breakout pass.
Schultz jumps into space between three Coyotes who were back and the two forwards doing a sloppy job of backchecking, takes pass from Hall and scores.
Schultz jumps into breakout as puck comes out from congested left side of ice. Play goes up ice and fizzles, before a rebound ends up lying in crease that Schultz shovels in.
Oilers controlling puck down low, Petry slides past a sleeping Ovechkin (Petry comes in on the left for some reason) and makes pass across to Acton.
Standard shot from point.
I put two pictures in for this one because it was a pretty nice play. Petry moves the puck up to RNH (out of the shot in P1) and then beats the player in front of him to the net. RNH feathers it back, Petry scores.
Soft chip off boards to Hall
Jets kind of fall asleep, Petry sneaks down the right side, finishes Yak missed shot.
Petry keeps play alive by rolling puck into corner, Smyth puts it out front and Oilers score.
Petry sends in Hemsky, who scores a wondergoal.
Standard shot from point, deflected in.
Petry jumps into rush, finishes a kind of fumbled play that ends up in the slot.
Schultzesque play where Petry activates down the right side after play goes to left, no hope shot from corner goes in.
Outlet to Hall.
Schultzesque jump into space left open as Oilers cycle in the left corner.
That’s it. So what does it all mean? Well, to be frank, there’s not a ton of difference between them numberswise. Schultz shot 14.3% at 5v5 last year – he’s not doing that going forward. I went and took a look at the individual S% for defencemen with at least 300 shots at 5v5 over the last seven years – here’s the distribution of S%.
So Schultz isn’t going to shoot anything close to 14.3% for his career. Watching the goals, I had a sense that he has a tendency to be more active than Petry getting off the blue line if the play kind of slows down on the opposing boards, giving the Oilers an option if they get control. I’d guess that that’s why he gets more points than Petry.
I was struck, as I went through this, by the lack of points that Schultz generated by skating and creating plays from his own end: the number was roughly zero, same as Petry. I suspect that if I went through Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban, I’d find that the number was different. I’ve actually sort of done this with Karlsson before and found lots of assists where he drove the play up the ice before getting the assist.
I guess what I struggle with, in terms of labelling Schultz a puck mover, is why there doesn’t seem to be anything as far as data that supports the argument. The Oilers don’t get a lot of shots when he’s out there. His points don’t particularly seem tied to puck moving as opposed to a willingness to jump into the offensive zone from the blue line. The goals he scored this year are at least partly due to a shooting percentage spike. Where’s the evidence that this guy is a puck mover?
This question, figuring out what makes a defenceman a puck mover as opposed to a point getter (and whether there’s value in being a point getter who isn’t really a puck mover), is obviously one that people in hockey grapple with. I’m not convinced that they’re entirely sure how to make this assessment either – I don’t think Ferraro’s views on Stralman are particularly out of step with those of the NHL as a whole and I’m pretty sure Schultz is seen as a puck mover – but I can’t see a way that the numbers support it. What’s more, when you go and look at the video, it doesn’t really seem to support it either.
It’s a conundrum. We’re getting better at figuring out forwards with numbers but the contrast between what hockey people say about defencemen and what the numbers say still frequently has a big gap between it, particularly with guys who drive possession without getting points (Stralman/Petry) and guys who seem to do less in terms of driving possession but get points (McDonagh/Schultz). If the argument in favour of those guys is that they get points, I think we may need to consider whether or not the system of awarding points that we use accurately captures offensive contributions.
Obligatory: Schultz is a young player who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the NHL. That said, college career or not, he’s 24 years old entering next season. If he was going to be a real deal puck mover, I think we’d see signs of it by now and I don’t see it. I’m nowhere near writing the guy off but it concerns me a little bit that the Oilers are talking about getting a puck mover to add to Justin Schultz rather than getting a puck mover in case Schultz isn’t one and letting Schultz, Petry and new RHD (hey, Stralman is UFA!) engage in a knife fight for ice time.
Of course, talk is cheap. The contract that the Oilers and Schultz ultimately agree on will tell us a lot more about where they see him at this stage than whatever MacTavish is saying now. That said, MacTavish is sort of like Kevin Lowe was as GM, in that there’s not a lot of verbal misdirection and I think you can reasonably read things in to who they talk about (Schultz) and who they don’t (Petry). I sure hope they’re right.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org