I might need to preface everything I say about Jake Gardiner thusly: I think he’s a talented, exciting defenceman who will be a good Top Four option in the NHL one day. The other thing I need to say is that it just won’t be now.
Young defencemen, particularly those who score a few pretty goals (such as the one after the jump), have a way of making us dream. The harsh reality is that defencemen develop a little slower than forwards and their actual impact on an NHL team won’t be felt for some time.
|TOI/GP||Corsi ON||Rel QoC||Ozone%|
(Team rank out of 7)
(Team rank doesn’t include Jay Rosehill)
“Corsi ON” indicates that when Gardiner was on the ice, the Leafs had 0.28 more shot attempts (shots on goal, misses and blocks) per 60 minutes directed at the other team’s net than against. That only includes 5-on-5. But as the other two numbers show, this is not as impressive as it looks. For starters, Gardiner started 56% of his shifts in the offensive zone and played the second weakest competition the opposition had to offer, so we’d expect positive possession from Gardiner.
He does do this:
But it’s at the expense of the Leafs putting a No. 5 defenceman in the No. 3 slot. It’s good that the team has found a lot of easy minutes for Gardiner to play, but that puts a tremendous burden on the top pairing for the Leafs.
An article written by Eric. T at our sister website NHLNumbers.com yesterday on the real impact of quality of competition numbers, concluding the following:
These competition metrics provide valuable insight into what a coach thinks of a player and how he tries to use them, but in practice they do not show differences large enough to have significant impact on the player’s results.
What, for instance, is the difference between Gardiner’s -.3 Rel QoC and Dion Phaneuf’s +1.4 Rel QoC? Eric suggests that “such small corrections are scarcely worth the effort” but I disagree with this in principle.
Without taking quality of competition into account and correcting Corsi for only zone starts, that would lead one to the conclusion that the Leafs were better with John-Michael Liles on the ice than with Dion Phaneuf. That’s despite Phaneuf being on the ice for many of the tough match ups.
Consider Jason Spezza, who I consider to be the top offensive talent in the Northeast Division. The Leafs faced Spezza’s Ottawa Senators six times this season. Splitting up how much time Spezza played against Phaneuf, Gardiner or Liles is critical, as well as their third- and fourth-line centre men, Zack Smith and Zenon Konopka:
You can see here that Phaneuf played an hour of even strength time against Spezza, compared to Gardiner’s 16 minutes and Liles’ 20. This is tremendously important when deducing a player’s impact. Gardiner played the majority of his Ottawa minutes against Zack Smith, Phaneuf played against Spezza.
The Senators have the puck 50.2% of the time when Smith is on the ice without Gardiner. The Senators have the puck 53.4% of the time with Spezza on the ice when he isn’t matching up against Phaneuf. I think the distinction is important, perhaps not so much in telling whether a defenceman is a good two-way talent, but in determining his overall level of importance to the team.
Eric does go on to say that these match ups do determine Corsi rates over fairly small samples, like shot quality, they’re determined over the span of a game, or six, but if the coach is successful at getting the best match ups for his team, I think you’ll see a much larger effect. A lot of the top offensive talent isn’t necessarily the best possession talent:
In every year of the Behind the Net era, Spezza is dominant when it comes to “goals for per 60 minutes” but not Corsi. He’s a little more average there and was even beaten by Smith in 2011. Over a run of years like this, I’m quite certain that the shots taken by the Ottawa Senators with Spezza on the ice have a much better chance of going in than when Smith is.
David Johnson at Hockey Analysis frequently uses goals for and against in his analysis. Here at the Leafs Nation and many other blogs that frequently use advanced analytics, we tend to use Corsi rates a little more often because there are more Corsi events than goals. I think a mix of the two is required, goals for on offence, Corsi on defence, to determine how strong a player truly is.
For Gardiner, as much as I like him, his ability to drive play is lacking, and he doesn’t play against top offensive talent. The first half of the season will be very important for him in establishing exactly where he fits in the lineup. I don’t think the Leafs will continue to be able to get him 17 minutes a night against the third and fourth lines of the world, which is what makes him successful.
He will improve this season, I’m sure, but by how much? The Leafs have a No. 1 defenceman, but after that, they have a No. 3 playing as a No. 2, a No. 5 playing as a No. 3 and so on. They still need to acquire another top talent to push everybody down the depth chart and into the minutes they can appropriately handle as NHL defencemen.