Cage Match: Reilly Smith vs. Viktor Arvidsson

by Rick Roos on October 17, 2018


Although the NHL season is only two weeks old, already you might be entertaining trades or thinking about who to add or drop. These tasks are made more difficult when it comes to players with uncertain track records, like this week’s combatants – Reilly Smith and Viktor Arvidsson. Let’s see if Cage Match can paint a clearer picture of how each player will do this season and long term.

Career Path and Contract Status

Smith, 27, was selected 69th overall in 2009 by Dallas, but ended up playing a mere 40 games (nine points) for them before being dished to Boston as part of the 2013 Tyler Seguin trade. Although Loui Eriksson was the marquee player coming to the B’s in the deal, Smith made an immediate impact of his own with 51 points in 2013-14. But after slumping to 40 points in 2014-15 Smith was traded again, to Florida, where he followed a similar trajectory of a strong first season (50 points) but disappointing second (37 points), leading to him being dealt – with Jonathan Marchessault – to Vegas on the day of the 2017 expansion draft. With Vegas last season Smith set a career high of 60 points in only 67 games, for a 73 point full season scoring rate. Poolies are of course wondering if Smith will disappoint yet again in his second season with a team. Although he had six points in four preseason games like other Knights forwards, he has struggled out of the gate for 2018-19 (two points in his first six games).

Arvidsson, 25, was drafted 112th overall in 2014 at age 21 after 40 points in 50 games in his fourth Swedish pro season. Arvidsson came stateside for 2014-15, posting 55 points in 70 games in the AHL. Earmarked for more AHL seasoning in 2015-16 after four NHL games, Arvidsson dominated to the tune of 18 points in 17 games, earning him a promotion back to the NHL. And despite only posting 16 points in 56 games, Arvidsson had impressed the Preds enough to earn him a permanent NHL spot. And from there he thrived, with 61 points during the 2016-17 season, leading many to believe he was just starting to scratch the surface of his full potential. But then when the dust settled on 2017-18 Arvidsson had posted an identical 61 points, causing some to worry whether his spot on the team’s top line was secure or at risk to upstart Kevin Fiala. He too has thus far done his best to silence critics and reassure poolies with – like Smith – six points in four preseason games, but also five points in five games to start 2018-19.

Smith is inked through 2021-22 on a deal signed while in Florida which has a cap hit of $5M per season, while Arvidsson parlayed his breakout 2016-17 into a seven year deal that runs through 2023-24 and carries with it a 15% lower annual cap hit of $4.25M.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

17:55 (R.S.) – 2nd

17:45 (V.A.) – 2nd

2:22 (R.S.) – 6th

2:31 (V.A.) – 3rd

1:40 (R.S.) – 2nd

1:20 (V.A.) – 6th

2016-17

18:21 (R.S.) – 3rd

17:09 (V.A.) – 4th

2:25 (R.S.) – 7th

2:00 (V.A.) – 6th

1:43 (R.S.) – 4th

1:04 (V.A.) – 6th

2015-16

18:37 (R.S.) – 2nd

12:24 (V.A.) – 9th

2:34 (R.S.) – 7th

0:20 (V.A.) – 9th

2:17 (R.S.) – 2nd (tied)

0:06 (V.A.) – 11th

2014-15

15:24 (R.S.) – 7th

1:48 (R.S.) – 7th

0:01 (R.S.) – 17th (tied)


Smith had his most productive season in 2017-18 despite lower ice times – both ES and on the PP – per game than his seasons in Florida. While some of the shed ice time was SH, it’s still concerning – in terms of sustainability – to see someone score at a 73-point full season pace without taking the ice for even 18:00 per game nor 2:30 on the PP. With the success Vegas had last season, chances are its ice time philosophy won’t change for 2018-19, which in turn means Smith probably will be deployed similarly. Whether or not we can expect similar scoring is the big question, not just due to his low ice times but also his “second season with a team” curse that’s plagued him through his career to date.

Arvidsson saw jumps in all his ice times from 2016-17 to 2017-18, albeit minor ones except for power-play time and becoming a member of PP1. Although the gains in power-play time weren’t substantial enough to expect a major boost in production, the fact he was stuck in neutral is concerning. This is especially the case since he’s entering his prime and even with similar ice times should be expected to see gains, plus what with Nashville as a team scoring 10% more goals in 2017-18 versus 2016-17 (261 vs. 238).

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.36 (R.S.)

0.46 (V.A.)

0.59 (R.S.)

0.38 (V.A.)

0.36 (R.S.)

0.66 (V.A.)

2.41 (R.S.)

3.16 (V.A.)

0.21 (R.S.)

0.10 (V.A.)

2016-17

0.18 (R.S.)

0.35 (V.A.)

0.93 (R.S.)

0.28 (V.A.)

0.41 (R.S.)

0.56 (V.A.)

2.00 (R.S.)

3.07 (V.A.)

0.12 (R.S.)

0.11 (V.A.)

2015-16

0.38 (R.S.)

0.62 (V.A.)

1.03 (R.S.)

0.48 (V.A.)

0.47 (R.S.)

0.62 (V.A.)

2.11 (R.S.)

2.48 (V.A.)

0.13 (R.S.)

0.01 (V.A.)

2014-15

0.24 (R.S.)

0.91 (R.S.)

0.47 (R.S.)

1.76 (R.S.)

0.13 (R.S.)


Looking first at Arvidsson, his glaring issue is PP production, having yet to reach double digits in PP scoring. While that may’ve been something we could look past for 2016-17 since it was his first full season and he wasn’t on PP1, last season he had neither excuse. Why might he be so inept on the PP? Nothing jumps off the page, but It could be he’s not shooting enough. For a player who averaged 3+ SOG in each of the past two seasons, his percentage of shots on the PP in 2017-18 was 10.9% despite 14% of his ice time being on the PP, which was actually a bit worse than 2016-17 when 9.7% of his SOG came on the PP despite his PP time representing 11.6% of his overall ice time. This in and of itself doesn’t explain why Arvidsson is so unproductive on the PP, but it also doesn’t necessarily bode well for improvement, nor does the fact that Nashville has Fiala who could displace Arvidsson on the first unit.

One seemingly silver lining of Arvidsson’s PP struggles is it means he produced well at ES and even on the PK. But that might be more bad news than good, as for a player to rise above 60 points a chunk of those points must come on the PP. After all, if we look at forwards who, since 2005-06, have scored 65+ points there’ve been a total of 481, yet a mere four did so without scoring 10+ PPPts that same season, and none of the four went on to have a 70 point season in their careers. Therefore, if Arvidsson cannot produce on the PP, he’ll likely lose his chance to do so and end up being a longshot for 65+ points.

On the other hand, if we look at players who also since 2005-06 averaged at least three SOG per game in two separate seasons by age 25, we find three others who fit the criteria: Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty, and Zach Parise, with two having hit 82+ points in a season at least once and the other (Pacioretty) being a 30G, 30A player in three straight seasons. Perhaps Pacioretty might be the most comparable, as he has never topped 17 PPPts in a full season. Of course Pacioretty was able to keep a top line spot these past few seasons, mainly due to the lack of other offensive weapons for the Habs, whereas Arvidsson is on a deeper team with talent in the form of not just Fiala but Eeli Tolvanen as well, both chomping at the bit to take on a larger role.

Turing to Smith, his PP scoring rate last season was over 50% higher than his previous best, helping to explain/justify his increased scoring rate yet also raising questions about sustainability. But he also fired more pucks at net than ever, even going back to his successful first campaign in Boston in 2013-14. So with Smith being an apparent fixture on the Vegas top line at ES and getting a regular PP shift, that bodes well for him continuing to do well as opposed to seeing his scoring drop as it previously has for his second year on a team. That being said, we can’t make any final conclusions on this until we see his luck metrics, so we’ll turn to those next.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

13.6% (R.S.)

11.7% (V.A.)

10.79% (R.S.)

9.08% (V.A.)

69.8% (R.S.)

61.6% (V.A.)

50.5% (R.S.)

55.9% (V.A.)

28.6 (R.S.)

32.6 (V.A.)

39% (R.S.)

59% (V.A.)

2016-17

9.4% (R.S.)

12.6% (V.A.)

6.2% (R.S.)

9.57% (V.A.)

60.0% (R.S.)

70.1% (V.A.)

47.8% (R.S.)

55.7% (V.A.)

28.4 (R.S.)

28.6 (V.A.)

59% (R.S.)

53% (V.A.)

2015-16

14.5% (R.S.)

5.8% (V.A.)

9.14% (R.S.)

5.32% (V.A.)

62.5% (R.S.)

72.7% (V.A.)

47.7% (R.S.)

51.3% (V.A.)

28.0 (R.S.)

33.5 (V.A.)

32% (R.S.)

37% (V.A.)

2014-15

9.1% (R.S.)

7.94% (R.S.)

61.5% (R.S.)

52.6% (R.S.)

29.5 (R.S.)

37% (R.S.)


It’s pretty simple to tell the seasons in which Smith excelled versus slumped. Look no further than his up and down personal and team shooting percentages, even going back to 2013-14 with Boston (13.7% personal, 9.63% team). So how is it a player can have such widely varied metrics between his first and second years on the same teams not once but twice? It’s difficult not to conclude that Smith simply became complacent on his previous teams, and his effort level dropped. After all, nothing else here suggests otherwise, since his ice times, IPP and OZ% were consistent year-to-year with his prior teams.

What does that mean for 2018-19 Smith? That remains to be seen; but the presumption, until proven otherwise, is he’ll do worse, perhaps markedly so. Then again, maybe due to his current role, the Vegas coaching staff, or other factors, his effort level will stay high this time around. For certain this season will go a long way in proving the type of player Smith is – a solid contributor who overcame ups and downs, or the next Michael Ryder who does well his first year on a team then lousy as he sticks around.

Turning to Arvidsson, his numbers from 2016-17 and 2017-18 were by and large stable, other than IPP, which has been trending down since his rookie season. Combine that with his two full seasons of high secondary assists percentage, and it’s difficult not to conclude he’s a player who isn’t as directly involved in the offense as one who’s capable of scoring at a 65-70+ point level. And this also might rule him out as being the next Pacioretty, who had six consecutive seasons of 70%+ IPP, suggesting he was a points magnet who only didn’t reach the 70 point mark because of his team and linemates.

Who Wins?

Truth be told, I’m not too keen on either player, and would consider selling both in a keeper or one-year league. In terms of who wins the match, it’s Smith simply because his cost is less (Arvidsson was drafted around pick 71 in Yahoo drafts, versus 118 for Smith) and also since he could still succeed in Vegas.

With Arvidsson, there are PP struggles to be concerned with, plus other players threatening his “spot” on the top line, which, if lost, could see Arvidsson’s production crash. That being said, Arvidsson is still young enough to turn things around, as shown by others who, like him, averaged 3+ SOG and 60-65 points twice before age 25. But those players hadn’t scored more by age 25 mainly due to their team, whereas with Arvy it’s because of his PP struggles, so I’d unfortunately liken him more to the four who posted 65+ points without 10+ PPPts, none of whom ever reached the 70-point mark. And Smith already posted a 70+ scoring pace last season, underscoring why he’s the winner.