By: Spencer Fascetta Twitter: @PuckNerdHockey
I cannot count the number of times I have watched a Bruins game and been frustrated by the limitations in the skillsets of Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. To the naked eye, they just do not seem to be in the mold of the modern-day NHL defenseman – a good skater who can make a good first pass and is excellent traditionally. Instead, both McQuaid and Miller are big, tough-nosed, stay-at-home defensemen, and, with both of them locked up long term and Colin Miller lost to the Expansion Draft, I decided to delve a little deeper into McQuaid and Miller to see if there was something I was missing in their play. Was I being blinded by my own prejudices, and are they truly worth the contracts that they are currently under?
I first started with their possession metrics. For the uninitiated, Corsi is a statistic used to measure shot attempt differentials while at even strength. It compiles shots on goal, missed shots on goal, and blocked shot attempts towards the opposition’s net minus the same shot attempts directed at your own team’s net. Fenwick is a similar statistic, but it eliminates blocked shots from the formula. A player with a positive Corsi or Fenwick is one generating more shot attempts for his team than he is allowing against his team, and one with a negative Corsi or Fenwick is allowing more shot attempts against his own team than he is generating offensively. This translates to what we can call “puck possession,” as these statistics are a relatively simple analog to how often a player has control of the puck. A player who is in control of the puck more than not will usually generate more shot attempts than he allows, as the other team cannot generate shot attempts if they do not possess the puck. For the sake of this article, I will look specifically at Corsi rather than Fenwick, as, in my personal opinion, it offers a more accurate depiction of a player’s puck possession ability. The Corsi For %, or CF% is the ratio of shot attempts for divided by the total number of shot attempts, and Corsi For % Relative is the CF% for the player while he is ON the ice as compared to the CF% for his team when he is OFF the ice. Below are the two charts for McQuaid (top) and Miller (bottom).
Obviously, McQuaid has a much larger sample size than Miller at this particular point in his career, but regardless, the results aren’t too promising for either individual. McQuaid’s CF% relative for his career sits at a -3.7 in 424 career NHL games. In 217 career NHL games, a little more than half of McQuaid’s total career games, Miller’s CF% relative sits at -2.5. A word of caution about Miller’s number would be that his 2013-14 season was absolutely abysmal, and that outlier significantly skews the data. He is still a career negative CF% relative player, but that season drops his career number to well below where it should be. There are no real arguments about McQuaid, however. In a much larger sample size, he has consistently been a supremely negative possession player for his team, even though his career best mark in this category occurred this past season (-1.8).
Possession metrics are only a portion of the story. Two other statistics are housed in the above tables – PDO and Zone Starts. PDO is the sum of a team’s even strength save percentage and a player’s even strength shooting percentage. Ideally, a player’s PDO will fall around 100. Anything below a 98 usually is indicative of a player who is better than their statistics would appear, and anything over 102 usually is indicative of a player who is likely to see a stark decrease in production. McQuaid’s career PDO is 101.6, which indicates that he essentially is what he is at this point. The production we have seen from him is what we should expect. Miller’s PDO is slightly more concerning, as his career mark sits at a 102.3, which tells me that he isn’t just as good as he is going to get, but he is likely to see a decrease in the near future. Zone Start statistics are fairly straightforward, as they measure the percentage of shifts a player begins in the offensive and defensive zones at even strength. Players who are deemed as defensively minded or defensively proficient (think Patrice Bergeron-esque) will generally see more defensive zone starts, whereas a younger player who is a dynamic offensive talent but has not fully developed their defensive game will usually see most of their shifts start in the offensive zone (i.e. Ryan Spooner). Based on what we already know about these two players, one would assume that they receive a large share of their zone starts in front of the Bruins’ net. For McQuaid, you would be correct, but only by a fractional margin. Interestingly, he saw his offensive zone starts to increase this year tremendously, clocking in at 52.4% of his zone starts coming in the offensive zone, only the 3rd time in his career where more of his shifts have started in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. Miller’s career numbers in this regard are more befuddling. He doesn’t just see a fraction more of his zone starts happen in the offensive zone, he does so by a wide margin. In his career, he has seen 53.5% of his shifts start in the offensive zone and has seen an offensive zone start more times than not in his career in 3 out of 4 seasons. For a player who is relied upon more for his defensive capabilities, this is a concerning trend in his usage and could contribute to his perceived inadequacies.
Next, I looked into each player’s hero chart. A hero chart provides an easy to read summary of a player’s ice time relative to his team, goal production, assist production, shot generation and shot suppression. A full and much more detailed explanation can be found at the home of the hero chart, www.ownthepuck.blogspot.ca. I compared the two players to each other, then compared them to the archetypes of a 2nd pairing and a 3rd pairing NHL defenseman.
As you can see, both are better than average at shot suppression. Miller is significantly better at goal generation, and the two line graphs beneath the bar graphs, which show their shot impact per hour and primary points generation per hour show that Miller is unequivocally the better player offensively. He is marginally better regarding shot suppression, both receive similar ice time, and McQuaid is (somehow) slightly better at shot generation.
When compared to a typical 3rd pairing defenseman, it is clear that both McQuaid and Miller pass the test. Both are much better at shot suppression than your average 3rd pairing D-man and aren’t significantly weaker in their other skill sets to indicate that they should not be receiving 3rd pairing minutes.
Because they were so clearly at minimum 3rd paring players, I wanted to see what they would look like when compared to 2nd pairing defenseman. As you can see below, McQuaid is definitely not a 2nd pairing player. He is far too weak offensively to garner those kinds of minutes. Miller is, in my estimation, a fringe 2nd pairing defenseman. He shows enough offensive upside that I believe he could reasonably be expected to play 2nd pairing minutes should the situation arise, and he is at the very least an elite 3rd pairing defenseman in this league.
Unfortunately, zone entry and zone exit data is not readily available to us common folk. Most of it is proprietary to each individual team or company tracking it, so the only way to collect such data is to track it yourself throughout the season. Clearly, I was unable to do this. However, for the sake of argument, let me walk you through what an ideal defenseman does in this context. An ideal modern-day NHL defenseman is able to successfully complete a pass or skate the puck out of his own zone on a consistent basis, and, likewise, either can skate the puck into the offensive zone, or make the correct pass to create a controlled zone entry. Essentially, you do not want your players to chip or dump the puck out of their own zone, and dump and chase hockey should be a thing of the past. I cannot say with any certainty that McQuaid or Miller are adept or poor zone entry and exit players, so I hope this little tidbit can inform your own viewing at home to come to your own conclusion on this matter.
Now, at the start of this incredibly long soliloquy, I posed a few questions. One is there something in the underlying numbers that suggests to me that Adam McQuaid and/or Kevan Miller are better than the eye test would suggest and two, do they warrant the contracts that Don Sweeney signed them to. In McQuaid’s case, no. I see a mediocre at best 3rd pairing defenseman who likes to play physical. There is nothing inherently wrong with that player type, but he should not be making $2.75 million for over the next two seasons. The production and ability simply do not support that price tag. In Miller’s case, I find his ability a bit more nuanced. I was surprised to find that he actually is decent regarding offensive generation, and is actually better at shot suppression than McQuaid. His career negative possession metrics still concern me, and that is, in my opinion, reason enough to prevent him from receiving 2nd pairing minutes, but as a 3rd pairing defenseman, I actually like him. Is he worth $2.5 million over each of the next four seasons? Probably not. But I am much more willing to give that contract to him than Adam McQuaid. Perhaps if he were provided with more defensive zone starts than offensive zone starts, his talents would begin to show themselves on a much more consistent basis.
All Hero Charts were found at ownthepuck.blogspot.ca
Possession Metrics found through hockey-reference.com
Please follow my on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey for more content, and subscribe to my YouTube channel, @PuckNerd, for hockey-related videos and analysis. Please like, share, subscribe, etcetera!