Ramblings: Some words on Byfuglien; power play stats for Zucker, Mantha, Konecny, Skinner, and Couture – April 21

Michael Clifford

2020-04-21

Last week, defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets came to an agreement to terminate his contract. That means he's free to sign wherever he wants for the 2020-21 season. Whether he wants to play or not is still up in the air, but at the least, his time as a Thrasher/Jet has come to an end.

It's hard to blame him if he wants to hang up the skates. He has tens of millions in the bank and a Stanley Cup to his name. He's both ensured the financial future of his family and has reached the pinnacle of the sport. There's nothing left to prove, and if he doesn't want to keep rehabbing injuries, no one can blame him.

It's still a sad day for hockey fans in general. For me, personally, Byfuglien was one of the defencemen I loved to watch. You know how people wax poetic about Evgeni Malkin and that when he decided to take over a game, there was nothing the opposition could do? I feel the same about Byfuglien on the blue line. When he decided no one was getting past him, when he decided that he was going to rush the puck, when he decided he wanted to get to the net, no one could stop him. Now, it's hard playing at 100 percent effort when you're like 6'5 " and 250 lbs, but when he had the energy, he could dominate all facets of a game like few modern-era defencemen.

Let's not forget his versatility. This is a guy who played both forward and defence, and played the latter at times to a Norris-level (in fact, from 2011-2017, he finished in the top-15 of Norris voting five times, and I believe he was greatly short-changed in a few of those seasons).

I don't want to say we won't see another defenceman like him, but guys his size playing that position that well just doesn't happen that much anymore. There are guys like Erik Cernak and Colton Parayko, but even they're probably 30-40 pounds lighter than Byfuglien. Doing what he did at his size is just so, so hard to pull off.

All in all, he was a special player in more ways than one and if this is the end, it'll leave a Big hole in the NHL. All the best to him and his family with whatever the future holds.

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Sometimes, as someone who writes about fantasy hockey, I tend to gloss over certain things. When you get very comfortable writing about a subject, sometimes it's easy to forget both the audience and the components of the material. What is meant by that is things can't just always be summed into one number or explained away in a single paragraph. Breaking down the numbers further while adding some context should always be the goal.

I bring this up because I often just gloss over power-play points and its components. Too often, I make this mistake of just listing a player's PPP totals over a given timeframe and then moving along. The reality is that PPPs are made up of shooting percentages and IPP and on-ice shooting percentages and shot rates and virtually everything else that comprises point tallies at other strengths.

Let's go through some interesting players and stats from the last year and see if we can find anything that stands out like a sheepdog herding the flock.

 

Jason Zucker shot 50 percent

This is a case where looking how things were broken down in one area helps with another. On the power play in 2019-20, Zucker shot an even 50 percent, scoring seven goals on 14 shots. When looking at his overall shooting percentage, he shot an even 18 percent, the highest of his career. Some people might look at his 18 percent shooting at all strengths and assume that he's due for some big goal regression next year. Well, his shooting percentage at 5-on-5 in 2019-20 was lower than it was in 2017-18 and 2016-17. So, yes, his shooting percentage on the power play will decline, but if he can find an uptick in shots or minutes, it could easily balance out for him. That's why he's a good bet to get close to 30 goals again next year. Well, that and the fact that he's in Pittsburgh.

 

The Zero Percent Club

There were 249 players with at least 100 PP minutes in 2019-20 and seven of them shot zero percent. Five of those seven players were defencemen, so we'll set them aside for now. The two forwards who shot zero percent on the power play in 2019-20? Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture. On 72 combined shots, two guys who've cracked the double-digit PP goals mark before in their careers (and Couture has done it multiple times) failed to score once.

When discussing Skinner's down year following that 40-goal campaign, there are a lot of reasons to review. Let's leave most of those aside and focus on the power play. For one, he lost a lot of PP ice time as the year wore on; he dropped from 3:51 per game in the first quarter of the season to 1:24 in the third quarter and 1:43 early in the fourth, according to our Dobber Frozen Tools reports. The team had been running two defencemen often on the top PP unit, bumping Skinner down to the second unit. Assigning a four-time 30-goal scorer who is still just 27 years old to the second power-play unit in favour of Rasmus Ristolainen is something I wouldn't do, but I'm not an NHL coach.

Anyway, if Skinner just averages is PP goal output from the prior three seasons, he's close to 20 goals and that's with pathetic usage and line mates. He'll be a good buy-low candidate next year, obviously. Let's just hope he's not banished to the netherworld as he was for most of 2019-20.

As for Logan Couture, well, San Jose's power play was generally bad, ranking between Nashville and New Jersey in terms of goals per 60 minutes. That's quite the change for the Sharks, who'd been a top-10 team by PP goals/60 over the previous three seasons. He won't score zero PP goals again, but there's a big difference between scoring 5-6 PP goals and scoring 10-11. If we hope to see him flirt with 30 goals again, he needs the latter and not the former. His shot and expected goal rates aren't a problem so expect a big rebound in 2020-21.

 

Anthony Mantha likes to shoot

Of the aforementioned 249 players with at least 100 PP minutes this past year, Mantha was 11th in shot attempt rate, sandwiched between Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews. If you want to score goals, doing things that put you in that kind of company seems like a good idea.

Including a 10-game stint in 2015-16, this was Mantha's fifth year in the league. In that span, his shot rate on the PP has climbed every season, and that tracks for a guy we know is a good goal scorer getting to his mid-20s. Had he played all 82 games this year, there would have been a reasonable chance at double-digit PP goals. And he posted seven PP goals last year and nine the year before. It seems reasonable to assume he can actually get to double-digit PP goals in a full 2020-21 season.

I am intrigued to see where Mantha's ADP will end up for 2020-21. He's a guy who can throw up 30 goals, 70 points, 250 shots, and 100 hits, and those types of players don't grow on vines.

 

Travis Konecny… assist machine?

In our sample of 100-minute players, Konecny came in at 8th in assists per 60 minutes while on the power play. His rate was higher than guys named Mitch Marner, Nikita Kucherov, and Brad Marchand. That's pretty good!

One thing that worries me about saying he'll be a great playmaking PP forward in the coming years is that he had a very high IPP this year on the power play. IPP, for the uninitiated, is the rate at which a player garners a point when a goal is scored for his team with him on the ice. A rate of 82.1 percent would constitute a career-high for him, which isn't a huge problem in and of itself. The problem is just how high that is, as most of the forwards above him are the elite like Malkin, Kane, Kopitar, MacKinnon, and Eichel. Over the last three years, there were 107 forwards with at least 500 total power-play minutes. Of those 107 forwards, only one had an IPP above 80 percent, and it was Connor McDavid. The next three names on the list are Kopitar, Hall, and Kucherov, all between 77-80 percent. In other words, expecting Konency to repeat anywhere near an 82.1 percent IPP is expecting too much.

That's why just extrapolating Konecny's 23 PPPs to next year probably isn't a good idea. There's going to be some pullback, it's just a matter of how much.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency ANA Players
18.1% DAVID BACKES NICOLAS DESLAURIERS CARTER ROWNEY
16.9% ADAM HENRIQUE RICKARD RAKELL JAKOB SILFVERBERG
16% MAX JONES KIEFER SHERWOOD SAM STEEL

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