There’s a Vic Ferrari dictum about fourth line players that’s something like “Fans worry way too much about fourth line players when it’s the guys further up the lineup who are killing the team.” Generally speaking, I agree with this. On occasion though, I think it makes sense to talk about this. In the case of the Oilers, where the plan is that the top six forwards will be awesome when they get to it and not as a result of the team making moves, it seems to me to spend some time thinking about this.
If you keep your eye on the Corsi numbers, you notice that Lennart Petrell is posting a spectacularly bad number – his Corsi% is currently 32%. Last year, he was at 39.6%. This got me interested in something: what happens to sub-40% Corsi guys? Looking at seasons of 300 minutes or more, there are 29 of these guys in the BTN era, which started in 2007-08.
17 of these guys are no longer active in the NHL. For eight of them (Jeff Cowan, Jim Dowd, Jeff Giuliano, Byron Ritchie, Scott Thornton, Dan Hinote, Todd Marchant and Jon Sim), a sub 40% Corsi season was the end of the line.
Another five played one more season after a sub-40 season. There’s a pattern here that I’m going to point out: an excellent way to survive a sub-40 season is to have a contract already for the next year. All of Niclas Havelid, Dan Hinote and Yan Stastny had deals with one year left when they posted a sub-40% Corsi; all disappeared from the NHL when that season was done. Those with long memories will remember Don Cherry flipping out on Coach’s Corner about Johnson’s Corsi number – despite’s Cherry’s assertion that “here’s a guy that every coach would want,” all Johnson could get was a one year two way deal in Chicago and he disappeared after 34 games. The other guy to disappear one year after a sub-40 season was Jason Strudwick, who played for the Edmonton Oilers and was re-signed. Keep that in mind.
Three guys made their careers last for two years after a sub-40 season. One of them was Ryan Johnson (the first of a two year deal in Vancouver, he got slaughtered again in the second year, prompting Don Ch…oh right). Another was Liam Reddox who the Oilers let hang around until he was arbitration eligible and could possibly have hung them with a one way deal. Finally, there’s Taylor Chorney, who played 15 games over two years after posting his sub-40.
There’s one guy who lasted three years after a sub-40: Zack Stortini. He seems to have done this the classic way: have a contract that extends for two more years and then get your shot with another organization. Stortini got his shot with the 2011-12 Predators and played one game before disappearing from the NHL.
Two guys lasted four years: Raitis Ivanans, who wasn’t in the NHL because he could play hockey and Jeff Taffe. In Taffe’s case, the four years thing is a bit a misleading. Taffe posted his sub-40 with the 2007-08 Penguins in 45 games. He played 74 games in the AHL the following season and 8 in the NHL. Florida signed him before the 2009-10 season to a two year deal, with the second year being a one way year in the NHL at $600K. He spent most of 2009-10 in the AHL, playing only 21 games for the Panthers and was dealt to Chicago before the 2010-11 season. He played one game in the NHL and the rest in the AHL. Currently, he’s in Minnesota’s system and has played five games for the Wild this year.
12 players with a sub-40 season on their blotter are still active. Three of them aren’t in the NHL to play hockey: Brad Staubitz, Eric Boulton and Darcy Hordichuk (who isn’t even in the NHL right now). Zenon Konopka is pretty close to belonging on this list too. Another, Manny Malhotra, isn’t really active after he was basically shut down by his team and, as we’re all aware, Malhotra is basically the poster boy for starting in the defensive zone, which would explain some of the Corsi problems.
That leaves me with Adam Hall (07-08), Maxim Lapierre (07-08), Nate Thompson (09-10), Brandon McMillan (10-11), Colton Gillies (11-12), Jay Pandolfo (11-12) and Lennart Petrell as guys who’ve had sub-40 seasons and are still active.
Gillies had the good sense to have his sub-40 last year in the first year of a two year deal. He’s getting put to the sword again in Columbus this year and having a tough time getting into the lineup. We’ll see if he survives this off-season. Pandolfo is on a two way deal and has barely played in Boston. McMillan had his sub-40 season when he was 20 and basically hasn’t progressed from that point – he’s only played 27 games in the NHL since the 2010-11 season and a lot in the AHL.
Hall’s an interesting case – he somehow got a three year deal for $600K per out of the Lightning the summer after posting his sub-40. To his credit, he’s been a 47.9% Corsi guy ever since and the fact that he’d been a regular in the NHL before suggests he might have been a good player in a bad situation – he barely cleared my 300 minute threshold and had a groin injury that wiped out 33 games and presumably was causing him problems before then. Of interest, to me anyway, is that he, like Jeff Taffe, got absolutely buried on that 2007-08 Pens team. The Pens – sometimes cited as a model for the Oilers – appear to have had a lot of dead weight at the bottom of that team which they responded to by getting rid of.
Hall’s teammate Nate Thompson is also an interesting case. In his case, he was waived after playing 39 games for the 2009-10 Islanders, who were horrible. He had a wildly low zone start number (27.8% of his zone starts were in the offensive zone) and was playing with terrible players on the Island. His numbers in Tampa improved immediately.
That leaves just Lapierre and Petrell. Lapierre had his really bad year at a relatively young age – 22. His ZoneStart was reasonably difficult – 39.7%. I would guess that he’s improved – he’s nowhere near the 40% line despite getting much tougher ZoneStarts in Vancouver.
If you work your way through this list as I’ve done, I think it becomes apparent that there are basically four groups of players who can have a bad ZoneStart and survive: goons, guys on long term deals or who can be renewed on two way deals, young guys and Edmonton Oilers. Outside of that, it seems to be a pretty tough thing to do. Lennart Petrell’s in a pretty special group in being active in the NHL on a one way deal right now despite being a player who isn’t there to break faces and having had no contract after having a sub-40 season: only he, Hall, Thompson and Lapierre can make that claim.
Petrell’s ZoneStart probably explains a lot of his Corsi% drop from last year to this year – he’s gone from 48.7% offensive zone draws to 29.1% – but even at 48.7% offensive zone draws, his numbers were abysmal. If you look around the NHL, even the guys with the tough ZoneStart numbers don’t get butchered at ES the way that Petrell has when he’s on the ice.
What does this mean? Well when you’re a team that’s struggled forever, it strikes me as being noteworthy when you do things that are out of step with NHL norms. A good management team should know what those norms are and be cognizant of those teams that they’re deviating from them – if you’re departing from the conventional wisdom, you want to have a good reason for doing it; at the very least, you want to be aware of what the conventional wisdom is. The conventional wisdom means finding a one way deal is pretty tough for guys like Lennart Petrell when they’re coming off a sub-40 season; the Oilers, for whatever reason, disregarded that, as they did with Strudwick, Reddox, Chorney and Stortini and he’s back in town.
Petrell was 28 when the Oilers signed him last summer and he’s unlikely to get any better. They didn’t really change their group of forwards last summer, which means that they didn’t really do anything that suggests that they had identified a source of Petrell’s bad numbers – even if they don’t think it’s on him, they still went into this season with basically the same group of characters. The results have been disastrous.
I’m not one to advocate for moves for the sake of moves and I tend to agree that people need to be patient with turning the team around, although I think some lack of patience is understandable when certain outlets were pointing out when Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray came on board that they weren’t going to turn the Oilers around. Patience with the development of the younger players who make up the top six forwards at the moment like MPS, Gagner, Yakupov, Hall, RNH and Eberle is one thing though – patience with the inability of the management group to build a supporting cast that can actually provide some support is quite another. They simply have not done this and haven’t really made any efforts to do so, despite the fact that guys getting hammered at ES to the extent that Petrell got hammered at ES is usually a Very Bad Career Sign.
To be clear, I’m not saying I’m convinced that Petrell has no place on an NHL roster, although that’s probably the case. What I am saying is that when things as bad as his numbers are happening on the bottom of the roster, something needs to happen to address it. Taylor Hall or RNH or Sam Gagner or Nail Yakupov turning into stars doesn’t address it. It just means you have stars saddled with a bad team. It’s unfathomable that the Oilers haven’t tried to fix this.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org