Let’s talk about Martin Marincin’s under-appreciated game

Martin Marincin has never been described as a standout offensive dynamo — this much is clear.

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This season, through 22 games, he’s been held off the scoresheet every single time, registering 0 goals and 0 assists. The Leafs aren’t exactly swimming in offensive talent, and Marincin put up just 11 points in 85 games over two years as an Edmonton Oiler, but 0 points for any player over 22 games is quite low. Marincin’s one of just three players in the league this year to have at least 20 games with a goose egg in the point column.

And yet, somehow, he’s been among the Leafs’ best defensive players, and arguably one of the top defensive players in the league. He’s doing things virtually no one else is doing. No, seriously. At just $700,000 on a one-year deal, Martin Marincin is an absolute statistical anomaly right now.

Let’s dive a little deeper to understand Marincin’s game, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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Martin Marincin – is he elite? (No, seriously.)

There’s 209 defencemen in the NHL who have played at least 150 minutes this year at 5 on 5 play, which will be the sample size compared for the remainder of this article. All stats via puckalytics.com

One of the largest challenges in hockey analytics is to discover a proper stat to analyse defensive performance by itself. It’s easy enough to look at how a forward is doing, and though no one can really explain seemingly massive variance sometimes, it isn’t really that hard to explain which goalies are doing well and which are not. 

I’m not pretending to be pulling anything world-changing here as I’m an amateur statistician at best- but noted some very, very interesting things about Marincin’s defensive game while poking around online. 

A personal favourite stat of mine to evaluate defensive play is to isolate a player’s shots on goal against/60 minutes (SA60). It’s not perfect, but it does explain one thing- how frequently their goaltender is required to be ready for a save when they’re on the ice. I favour this over models that other shot attempts- unblocked or otherwise- as the stat is narrowed down to just shots on goal, which gives you the greatest understanding of the end performance of what’s happening on the ice. It combines both traditional and advanced stats, and gives a pretty good indicator of a player’s defensive impact. The stat tells a pretty convincing story.

Of teams in the bottom 10 in preventing shots (that’d be the NY Rangers (21st), Columbus, Detroit, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Edmonton, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Ottawa (30th)), there’s just four defencemen in the top 50 in this category (approximately the top quarter).

There’s Marincin at ninth, Jakub Kindl at 28th, Dylan McIlrath at 43rd, and Fedor Tyutin at 45th. From those teams, that’s it- and Marincin is leading this pack. The next Leafs defenceman is Jake Gardiner at 126th, for comparison.

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So let’s look at where Marincin stands at ninth: behind 5 Nashville defenders, and a player each from Carolina, St. Louis, New Jersey and Anaheim. If you look at the top teams in the NHL for preventing shots, you’ll find Carolina (1st), New Jersey (2nd), Nashville (3rd), St. Louis (4th), and Anaheim (7th). Keep going along this list- and not surprisingly, the top end’s riddled with defencemen from the league’s best defensive teams- and then there’s Marincin, in a category seemingly of his own.

What perhaps best indicates Marincin’s season to date is a related category — SA60 Relative to Teammates. In short, these stats measures how a player raises up or drops down the level of their teammates’ play based on a weighted average of their time spent together.  (For the exact definition, read here).

At -8.06, Marincin ranks first in RelTMSA60 category, above every single other defenceman in the league. That means, one way or another, he’s pushing away 8 less shots from his net every 60 minutes than his teammates would do on average without him on the ice.

As the Leafs are taking 33.3 percent of the faceoffs he’s on the ice for in the offensive zone- (86th among this sample), it’s not like he’s just riding heavily sheltered shifts, either.

One thing is clear- he’s making an absolutely massive impact to the Leafs’ defensive efforts just about every time he steps on the ice.

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Marincin also ranks 8th in this sample for defencemen at goals against/60 minutes at just 1.23- meaning his job of keeping shots off of his goalie has been matched by his ability to keep pucks out of the net.

What does it all mean?

It’s hard to exactly say. Marincin didn’t exactly put up stellar fancy numbers last season in Edmonton, so this kind of performance is largely unprecedented for him. He’s obviously not offensively gifted at the NHL level, so the fact he’s been so proficient defensively is relatively inexplicable right now.

So is it a matter of usage? Coaching? Is it heavily influenced by quality of competition? Dumb luck? Is it going to regress with more ice time? What exact things is he doing better than everyone else to create these numbers?

These are all questions which could be used for further research in a PhD on Martin Marincin with more statistical knowledge than me. More likely than not, we’ll need more play from Marincin to revisit exactly what’s going on, and see if we can get an explanation. I’ll certainly be watching him more closely from now on.

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But the bottom line is, whatever exactly Marincin’s doing defensively in his time in Toronto, he’s doing an absolutely fantastic job at it. 20 games is far from a tiny sample, and Marincin’s in an elite group of defencemen right now for keeping the puck away from his goalie and his net. No one’s talking about it, because it’s really hard to notice, but Marincin deserves major kudos for this aspect of his game, even if the offensive one’s at the other end of the spectrum in the league. It’s still too early to make real judgement calls, but he’s proven to be quite the asset so far. If anything, it’s probably good to have at least one defenceman like Marincin on this team. Perhaps he’ll never be a star, but right now, Marincin’s impact should be appreciated more than it has been, as it’s incredibly notable what he’s doing on the Leafs.

Toronto’s had its fair share of defensive woes this season, and has been utilizing a defence corps that doesn’t exactly look like a contender. Maybe Marincin’s performance just doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s okay. He’s doing what’s asked of him in a limited role, and for a guy who’s been competing for a roster spot over the last few seasons, that’s more than alright. Marincin’s 0 points won’t win you any hockey games, but as long as he’s on the ice, he’s not likely to lose you very many, either.

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  • Benjamin

    Great article, Adam. I’m beginning to think we’re witnessing the emergence of a premier shut-down defenceman, seriously. If I may piggyback onto your article, his qualities become readily apparent when we compare them to his teammates and his historical numbers.

    For starters, Marincin plays the most low event hockey of any Leafs defenceman by a country mile. Looking at unblocked shots against/60 and for/60 (i.e. Fenwick/60), from the most ‘exciting’ to the most ‘boring’:

    Rielly = 87.9 unblocked shots for and against per 60 minutes;
    Gardiner = 87.5;
    Phaneuf = 86.9;
    Hunwick = 86.6;
    Polak = 83.3;
    Marincin = 77.1

    These numbers make sense too. Rielly and Gardiner are your high octane, high event defencemen, Polak is your traditional stay-at-home defenceman. But Marincin is on another planet, Polak is closer to Rielly (4.6 shot difference) than he is to Marincin (6.2 shot difference)!

    Even better, Marincin is mostly suppressing these shots in his own end. The Leafs still generate more shots with him on the ice than they do with Hunwick and Polak.

    And the best part? He’s been getting better like clockwork, both at suppressing shots against and generating shots for, ever since he joined the league (http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=1873).

    His lack of offensive instincts will likely keep him in the bottom 4, but maybe that’s a good thing. Low point totals means a cheap contract. If the more important elements of his game continue to grow (he is a defenceman after all), he’d be filling a very important role, exceptionally well, for a bargain.

  • Benjamin

    and i see a lot of people saying get rid of marincin or bench him because he appears to do nothing… he has looked solid to me! no points but that’s not important when you look very good with polak and even make him look decent! i love his short, clean and crisp breakout passes to exit his own zone and he always keeps the puck moving. the only pairing that is stuck in their own zone are rielly-hunwick. he should be paired with rielly on the 2nd pairing while rielly provides offence. they’d be a nice duo. sometimes not being noticed means you’re doing your job. i hope we keep him! he is exactly what everyone claims polak is. a real shut down defenceman.

  • ushaped

    Nice to know that we have our third pairing of the future with Marincin, Hunwick and Corrado. Just need to find a top-3 kind of guy to fill in with Rielly and that’s a pretty solid defensive core.

    • giproc

      hunwick is not the future. he’s a stop gap. he may not even stay after this year when the deadline rolls around but he’s not staying after his contract is up next year. gardiner, rielly are for sure top 4. dermott has a chance to be top 4 as well. the rest is all up in the air. corrado/marincin can be bottom pairing defencemen and we still have harrington. we need another dynamic top pairing defenceman with rielly.

      • giproc

        Zaitsev might be that possibility if the Leafs indeed have a deal in place for next year.

        Strong on the PP, not sure how his 5v5 game translates but he can’t be half bad after making the Russian squad and captaining his club team.

        • giproc

          i don’t know if he’s top pairing but he has top 4 upside. i doubt he’s a top pairing guy but he could play on the pp and play on the 2nd pairing. we need a dynamic defenceman to play with rielly on the 1st pairing soon.

  • ushaped

    Thank you for the interesting article. Like many Leafs fans, I wondered why the coach continued to write Marincin in the lineup and now I have an idea why. I had noticed that his name is rarely mentioned when a goal is scored against. I’m going to start watching him more carefully. What has been a pleasure this season is noticing the quiet, incremental improvement in the team and your article shows that Marincin is a very positive factor in that improvement. Great work!

  • Benjamin

    I am still not as confident when Marincin is on the ice… his skating is far from elite, and though it may not result in shots against (or for), he just seems to fail to make the right decisions under pressure (though there is nothing wrong with constantly defaulting to the ‘safe’ play), which contributes to why he doesn’t seem to create positive events for his team while on the ice… however I do see the inherent value in players who are able to eat up minutes and essentially ensure that things neither good nor bad happen while on the ice.

    I also find it interesting that the statistical categories that Marincin seems to be doing well in are dominated by what most would define as defencemen who are not in the “elite” category, and may benefit from good matchups (though admittedly I haven’t checked the stats on all of them)…

    All things considered, he is still relatively young, and defencemen tend not to really hit their comfort zone in the NHL until their mid 20’s… there may be something there yet, and they certainly are taking an approach that is confidence-friendly in terms of his development – I guess I just find it frustrating because it seems like he has a longer leash when he does make mistakes, and I don’t like that Corrado is just sitting idle in the press box…

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Actually if you DO check Marincin’s possession, zone finish and luck stats stats on behindthenet.ca you find the following when compared to 186 other D-men who have played 20+ games:

      Rel Corsi -27th/187.

      Corsi On – 22nd

      O-Zone Finish % – 49th

      PDO – 141st meaning he does NOT benefit from luck (or high shooting % or high SV%)

      stats which ALL make him seem very good…..

      BUT his Rel Qual of Comp Corsi ranks 182nd meaning he plays against other teams’ worst possession players, so he’s not actually great.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    I agree with Dan, the stats might say positive things
    about Marincin but my eyes says something else.

    At the moment he is Torontos’ weakest defenseman by a wide margin. He might get better in the future as he is young but at the moment IMO, this article is just pumping tires.

    Hunwick is not going anywhere IMO -Babcock obviously like his leadership as he has the A on his sweater and he plays an important role on the team.

    And Polak is not just your average “stay at home defenseman” Several times every game he pinches and
    ends up around the oppositions’ net creating scoring opportunities. As well he has a cannon of a shot-which he almost never uses.

    Everyone says Polak and Uncle Leo are going to be traded at the deadline, but I disagree, unless the Leafs get late first rounders or very early second rounders for them . They are both solid character players that bring a lot of intangibles to the team.
    These are the players that help make the Leafs hard to play against.