Why Dave Poulin is wrong about Nazem Kadri

When Dave Poulin was fired from his role as Leafs assistant General Manager in July of 2014, many thought that it would be the last time we’d hear him say silly things about the team. After all, this was a man who considered pointed to the standings as his retort to any questioning of the team in his final year (until, they, of course, fell off a cliff and took his employment status with him).

Enter Dave Poulin, Broadcast Television Analyst. 

For those who don’t want to risk losing this clip to the Google Gods, don’t want to use their data, and/or just don’t like the sound of his voice, here’s what Poulin had to say about Nazem Kadri before tonight’s game:

“I think this another step in the transformation of Nazem Kadri’s game, I really do. It wasn’t happening for him early in the goal department at all. He was on the right side of the puck, he was winning his faceoffs, he was doing the defensive things. But if we look at these goals in St. Louis, look at where they’re scored from. He’s getting in better areas around the net. He’s getting in tight, here.”

Not a bad start. Faceoffs might be a bit over-valued by some in terms of their impact on shot and goal generation, but his numbers are indeed going up. Teams are attempting shots against him at the lowest rate in his career, and the percentages are in his favour. Combine that with an uptick in high-danger shot generation, and you have a player who is having a solid year with some bad puck luck. Finally, after years of us doubting him, Poulin is starting to underst-

“I think what happened with Nazem early on… so, the goals weren’t happening early on, and all the focus became put on how many shots he was getting. And, that Corsi stat, at the end of the game, when you can look at that page and say ‘Puck Possession, Corsi’. So, that fed on itself, and he took more and more shots. It was very similar to when we were younger, and there were just box scores, and we’d take a penalty late in the game so our parents knew that we played. I mean, if you have a good Corsi stat, you did ‘something’ that night, and I think that really fed on itself, and as the shots got higher and the Corsi rating got better, it was one thing to hang his head on. Now the goals are starting to come, and I do think they’ll come more and more.”

Where do I start? Hmm.. let’s take the obvious route.

This is objectively not true

Let’s assume that Poulin is seeing three different Nazem Kadri’s. One who was was getting his season started throughout October, another who felt the struggles into November and tried to deceive Hockey Twitter for the next two and a half weeks, and the one who came into the game against Carolina with a new lease on life, scored a goal, and lived happily ever after.

If only there was away to take these three Kadri’s and put them against each other, to see what type of shots they were taking. Oh wait, there is!

threekadris
Kadri’s Individual (“i”) attempt generation at 5 on 5. CF = Corsi (Attempts) For, SC = Scoring Chances (see next paragraph), HD = High-Danger Chances (shots in the region of the crease) 

Kadri is indeed attempting fewer shots on goal now, but if anything, the drop in “quality” by location actually occurred after since he pulled the monkey off his back. Kadri’s ratio of attempts being scoring chances (off the rush, rebounds, in front of the net) was actually at it’s highest in the “desperation” stretch, along with his raw frequency of scoring chance generation. Furthermore, his ratio of attempts-to-chances has out-paced that of his teammates on the whole, much like it has in every season of his career.

differntial

Basically, if Nazem Kadri wasn’t trying to get up close to score, and was simply feeding the charts to give excuses for himself, he didn’t do an overly convincing job. Yes, he may have attempted more shots before the goal than afterwards, but they were coming from even more lethal spots and at a better clip than his peers. 

While We’re Here

generation

You may have noticed in the previous chart that Kadri’s ratios of scoring chances and high danger chances are shockingly close to his career averages to start the year. The raw numbers, however? You see a sharp deviation from years prior; in all three areas, he’s generating offensive opportunity better than he ever has.

The only year that really competes with this one is the 2013 half-season, where Kadri shocked the hockey world by putting up nearly a point per game. While the scoreboard output, like much of the team’s success, was driven by puck luck, there may have been some reasoning behind his success at getting the opportunities to create lucky moments. Kadri had played more hockey leading into the season than most as a full-time member of the Toronto Marlies and at the age of 22, his body was ripe enough to not feel tired yet. This gave him a running start; pair that with his line being a less than primary focus for the opposition and the rest was history.

This year, he isn’t afforded that. Kadri is young, but not youth. He didn’t have a head start on his year, and teams are targeting him. So, why the gap? Rather than blame it on Corsi-padding like Poulin, it’s likely that this comes from the shift in breakout style from Randy Carlyle than Mike Babcock. Like I mentioned in my post on Leo Komarov and will likely keep mentioning, Babcock would rather a forward, typically the centre, carry the puck into the zone, whereas Carlyle preferred to enter the zone through dump-ins from the wing.

In Komarov’s case, Babcock’s breakout helped him get to the front of the net rather than behind it. But nobody is benefiting more from it than the centres, especially the top sixers. Tyler Bozak has gone from “replacement level” to “decent transitional rebuild piece” overnight, and in the case of Kadri, it allows him to create offense the second the puck crosses over the blue line. Kadri, who is unafraid to attempt to score, has been shooting more, as a result, and is generating the above numbers as such. So, yes, he’s taking more lower percentage shots, but he’s taking more of the higher ones as well. He’s shooting the puck at the net rather than around it, which, even if his shooting percentage is currently at a career-low, is still a more effective way of scoring in the long run.

Back To Poulin

Poulin’s overall theory here is that Kadri is making up for his lack of production by shooting just to say he played, which create’s non-production, which creates a need to do the same thing again. The infinite loop was only broken once a puck happened to go in and now Kadri is doing great, or so the story goes.

That sounds a lot like a few great lines from him in reaction to Toronto being one of the worst defensive teams in history in 2013/14. From “Loiselle and Poulin’s Greatest Hits“: 

  • “We see teams that generally don’t take a lot of shots launch a lot when they play against us, because that’s the scouting report.”
  • “In some ways, the fact that we allow a lot of shots against is a self-fulfilling prophecy”

These points never really held much weight, given that a team is always looking to generate the most opportunity to score, and won’t just “shoot more” because they hear the other team will let them. Further to the point, the Leafs had strong enough goaltending in both years of this baffling era that teams wouldn’t roll the dice on weak chucks at the net in hopes for a goal. But Poulin was adamant that there was no problem with the team, in its roster or on its bench. There was no consideration of systematic flaw, or that being bullies on the ice wouldn’t stop the other team from trying to win the game against you.

I’m not sure how to feel about Poulin’s continued belief that shot generation is self-fulfilling. Either he remains as willfully ignorant about relatively basic concepts in 2015 as he was in 2014, leading one to question why he’s on broadcast television analyzing the sport, or he’s bitter about losing his old job to somebody half his age who knew enough to realize that the status quo wasn’t a good roadmap.

Whatever the case, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a player alive who would rather boost his tables on War-on-Ice over actually helping his team win. Nazem Kadri is not that. He’s a player who has benefitted from a new system, poured all of his effort into thriving in it, and as the percentages even out, he will.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Great article. Poulin’s remarks are mindless. What’s incredible is that Kadri is developing well in all departments and it’s yielding some reflected glory for the likes of Komarov.

    Poulin’s nonsense about shot quality over quantity brought the Leafs so much such distinction the past few years! We fans miss it so much, like that disco song you can’t get out of your head. Thank goodness we still get to hear about it on TV.

      • Gary Empey

        That is correct Polak is Toronto’s best defensive defenceman. Babcock thinks so as well.(Rielly is not quite there yet, but soon will be) He blocks the most shots. Makes the most hits. Always plays the penalty kill. Nobody can cycle past him. He leads the team in plus minus of plus five.(one of only three leafs in the plus column) If I remember correctly defense is still 50 percent of the game.

        I like Kadri and consider him a valuable part of the team. He worked hard over the summer to improve and it shows on the ice. He is winning faceoffs (very important with 40 second shifts). He is stronger and a little bit faster.
        His 200 foot game is very much improved.

        I posted his stats as a sort of reality check.

        The top scoring center in the league has 15 goals and 24 assists.

  • Bob Canuck

    This is a terrific piece: it dismantles false narratives with facts and logic.

    Poulin’s “analysis” unfortunately is all too common. Hopefully, as time passes, mainstream media will come to understand the relevance, importance, and limitations of “fancy stats”. Not to mention that, with the availability of data to the public, mainstream media types will recognize that it easy for anyone to fact-check silly comments. If all that occurs, our understanding and appreciation of hockey will be enhanced because the analysis provided by “the insiders” will have more value.

    Well done!