A Statistical Look At Matt Martin

Matt Martin’s contract with the Leafs seems to be one of the most divisive additions the team has made in the post-Nonis era.  Many fans are excited about a player Mike Babcock described as “a real good skater, real good forechecker.”  Babcock added that he sees Martin as a player who will “keep the flies off our team and give us a presence out there.”  The Leafs Nation’s own Jess Pincente reflected the other side when she described the signing as “questionable” and “somewhat hard to justify.”

Whatever the case, the Leafs have Martin on a 4-year contract now, so it’s worth trying to figure out what exactly they can expect to get for $2.5 million per season.  Some people, like Babcock, see Martin as bringing qualities in terms of his personality and style of play that will help the Leafs’ younger players adjust to and excel in the National Hockey League.  I’ll leave that kind of analysis to others.  What I’m going to take a look at here is how Matt Martin stacks up statistically.  In particular, I’ll look at him from three angles: offensive production, puck possession, and neutral zone play.

OFFENCE

Matt Martin was not signed to score goals, but it’s still worth seeing how much offence he can be expected to contribute.  These statistics are from 5v5 play and are listed as rates per 60 minutes of ice time, which helps us to compare players with differing levels of ice time.

Year G/60 P1/60
2013-14 0.58 0.94
2014-15 0.57 0.78
2015-16 0.67 1.11
Average 0.6 0.94

Martin’s goal-scoring is better than you’d expect from someone who plays 4th line minutes.  Last year, 0.6 goals per 60 minutes would have been right around the 2nd/3rd line cut-off, which is pretty respectable for a guy who mostly plays defensive minutes with linemates who don’t score very much.

His three-year average primary points per 60 minutes is also pretty respectable, coming in right around what you’d expect for a 3rd liner.  If Martin’s expected role is to play defensive minutes on the 4th line, his offensive output seems to be pretty solid for those kind of minutes.

It’s worth noting that Martin’s on-ice S% last season saw a huge jump over the previous two seasons.  In those two years, his on-ice S% hovered around 6.5%, while last year it was way up at 9.25%.  Given that Martin’s played most of his minutes in all three seasons with Casey Cizikas, and nearly all of the last two with Cal Clutterbuck, it seems quite likely that the big spike last season was just good luck.  Because of that, we should expect that last year’s boost in scoring for him was temporary and he’s more likely to fall back a bit this year.  That being said, he’ll have new linemates and a new coach this year, and those factors are going to have a lot to do with what kind of numbers Martin can put up this season.

POSSESSION

The next thing we’ll look at is what the Corsi numbers have looked like over the past few years with Matt Martin on the ice.  I’ve broken it down by offensive zone (CF/60) and defensive zone (CA/60) performance. “On” means the numbers when Martin was on the ice, while “Off” represents the shot attempt rates while he was on the bench.  Negative numbers are good for CA/60 Rel (ie. fewer shots were allowed with Martin on the ice than on the bench).

Year CF/60 On CF/60 Off CF/60 Rel CA/60 On CA/60 Off CA/60 Rel
2013-14 48.9 59.3 -10.4 60.0 56.7 3.3
2014-15 52.2 64.7 -12.5 49.7 56.0 -6.3
2015-16 51.8 57.1 -5.3 53.2 57.6 -4.4
Average 51.0 60.3 -9.4 54.3 56.8 -2.5

Two things are pretty clear here.  The first is that the New York Islanders have typically done a good job of limiting shots attempts against their own net while Martin is on the ice.  The second is that they’ve typically done a very poor job of generating shot attempts for themselves.  Depth players shouldn’t be expected to generate the same shot volume that a team’s top players do, but even taking that into consideration, Martin’s offensive abilities do not look particularly good here.  The Islanders have been badly outshot with him on the ice the past few seasons; whatever good he does defensively seems to be wiped out by the lack of offensive opportunities that are generated when Martin is on the ice.

NEUTRAL ZONE

We’ll split up neutral zone performance into two categories here: offensive zone entries and defensive zone exits.  This data all comes from the 2013-14 season, which is the only season for which I have neutral zone data.  It comes from Corey Sznajder‘s All Three Zones project.  Let’s start by taking a look at how Matt Martin performed compared to his Islanders teammates in terms of zone entries:

Player Failed Entry% Control Entry%
John Tavares 13.8% 73%
Frans Nielsen 9.4% 68%
Thomas Vanek 14.4% 64%
Brock Nelson 10.6% 64%
Michael Grabner 8.2% 62%
Kyle Okposo 10.3% 60%
Ryan Strome 8.8% 54%
Peter Regin 9.3% 46%
Josh Bailey 8.3% 46%
Casey Cizikas 7.1% 46%
Cal Clutterbuck 6.6% 42%
Matt Martin 7.0% 31%
Colin McDonald 2.2% 29%

It’s evident that, at least in 2013-14, Martin really struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone while maintaining possession of the puck.  31% is an exceptionally low controlled entry rate.  In the same season, Jay McClement’s CE% was 39%, David Clarkson’s was 40%, Dave Bolland’s was 41%.  That roughly lines up with what we see for the Islanders; Martin’s two most frequent linemates maintained control on over 40% of their entries.  This suggests that Martin’s low number really is reflective of his own play, and not just that the Islanders 4th line was playing in a particular way.

Next up are zone exits:

Player Exit% Possession%
Michael Grabner 50.7% 48.5%
Kyle Okposo 49.9% 46.7%
John Tavares 48.2% 46.1%
Thomas Vanek 49.8% 44.8%
Cal Clutterbuck 51.8% 44.6%
Brock Nelson 41.4% 39.7%
Josh Bailey 40.2% 37.7%
Peter Regin 40.4% 36.8%
Colin McDonald 40.4% 36.4%
Ryan Strome 37.7% 35.7%
Frans Nielsen 37.8% 35.3%
Casey Cizikas 37.2% 34.1%
Matt Martin 34.3% 27.2%

Once again Martin’s numbers do not inspire much confidence.  His rate of defensive zone exits where the Islanders maintained possession of the puck is by far the lowest on the team.  Like zone entries, his numbers are much lower than his linemates’.  Martin’s numbers here are comparable to Colton Orr and David Clarkson.

The sum total of the neutral zone numbers suggest that there might be good reason to be concerned about Martin’s play.  It looks like when the puck is on his stick, it’s unlikely that his team will keep possession of the puck for very long.  That’s likely a big reason why the Islanders have generated so few shot attempts while he’s on the ice: he can’t get the puck up ice or into the offensive zone while maintaining possession of the puck.

It’s possible that the difference in coaching styles between Mike Babcock and Jack Capuano will help mitigate some of these problems.  The Leafs finished higher than the Islanders in score-adjusted Corsi last season (50.5% to 49.5%), which I think speaks to a coaching gap given that the Leafs were working with a significantly less talented roster.  But even if Martin’s numbers improve, we should be prepared for him to struggle with the puck.  His performance in recent seasons suggests a player who has difficulty carrying play, even relative to the 4th line linemates he’s spent most of his ice time with.

  • Hockey Hoser

    Matt Martin is a new era goon who will “keep the flies off our team and give us a presence out there” but can also skate a shift or two and contribute in other ways without being a total pylon.

    Other teams will look for any weakness to get an edge. We need a guy like this to deter other teams from taking liberties and to give the rest of a team some confidence. Personally I’m not a fan of the goon but it is what it is. Accept him for what he is and we’ll be ok. Promise.

  • Gary Empey

    Who is Leafs’ Nations own “Jess Pincente” and what does she have to do with this article? Other than you share her opinion and haven’t the cojones to say so yourself.
    More redundant navel-gazing on an insignificant signing.

  • Hockey Hoser

    Could we infer from the above that maybe Martin’s linemates were stifling his productivity?

    If his G/60 and P1/60 are strong, but his CF/60 ON is poor, does that not largely reflect on his linemates (with points and goals acting as a control)?

    The CF number represents the cumulative performance of all players on the ice while the primary production numbers are a reflection of what he does that leads to offense.

    I know you alluded to a high On-Ice Shooting Percentage but with the three years of strong (by relative standards) P1/60 numbers, it seems like Martin may have a little untapped offense, if he plays with linemates who drive the CF/60 numbers a bit better.

    Just a thought.

  • DragLikePull

    Good stuff here. Hard to support this signing.

    Speaking of advanced stats, the Habs let go of their analytics guru, apparently for strongly advising them against the Weber trade.

    Wouldn’t it be sweet for the forward-thinking Leafs to scoop up this Montreal castoff and have him help them get back to glory days?!

    http://thecomeback.com/puckdrunklove/2016-articles/the-canadiens-let-go-of-analytics-specialist-matt-pfeffer.html

  • DragLikePull

    Any chance of an article on the likelihood of Lupul bounce back if fit? I’d love to run the numbers and comparisons myself but i know my limits with regards to analytics

  • silentbob

    DragLikePull – are there any 3-4 line players, who play the game/bring to the table what Martin brings who also have positive numbers? It seems like most (not all) of the guys you are comparing him too are more skilled and play higher up on the roster.

    It seems that almost all players of this ilk do poorly when evulated this way. Am I wrong? If not, I think the real question/debate then becomes do players like Martin bring anything of value to a team.

    Personally, I think the “fancy” stats are a fantastic tool that should be used to change how a team judges players and team preformance, however it doesn’t make “the eye test” meaningless. Even if a player like Martin doesn’t stack up well in this way doesn’t mean he has no value or brings nothing to a team. If we look at Baseball, the teams that have been most successful are the ones who incorporated the Money Ball style of looking at players and it along side the “old school” way of looking at players.

    • DragLikePull

      “Are there any 3-4 line players, who play the game/bring to the table what Martin brings who also have positive numbers? It seems like most (not all) of the guys you are comparing him too are more skilled and play higher up on the roster.”

      It’s definitely unfair to try to compare depth players to guys who are expected to play a lot of minutes. A good 4th liner is still worse than a bad 1st liner (unless you’ve got some weird roster choices going on), so we should set expectations based on a player’s role.

      That’s why I pointed out that Martin’s point production is quite good for a 4th liner (even though it would be quite bad for a guy playing 20 minutes a night).

      It’s also why I tried to keep my comparisons to players with similar roles to what Matt Martin plays, like his own linemates or Jay McClement. And what I see, at least in terms of the neutral zone data, is that Martin struggles with some aspects of the game even relative to the expectations we should have for a depth player who gets limited minutes.

      • Jeremy Ian

        I like this piece, BTW.

        To me, the last table is the worrying one. It makes me wonder why rely on MM to exit the zone at all — and whether we might learn something from Capuano’s decisions here?

        On the other hand, these are averages. It may be that absolute sums are low, that Capuano relied on guys like Clutterbuck (who’s numbers look much better) to carry the puck out of the zone. (Though even then MM’s exit zone % overall look not so hot).

        A lot will depend on linemates and usage. Could be that shots for could rise with the right mix. Because of where I live now, I’d catch the occasional Islander game on MSG2. My impression was that Capuano used his 4th line as a classic shutdown line. Played ok against Florida but got pretty outmatched against Tampa Bay.

        It’s worth adding that MM did start out as more of an enforcer, but realized that survival in the NHL meant developing his skating. Which he did. In 4/5 of the years entering last he never topped 14 points. Last year more than doubled, hits up and his PIM down. But there is a limit to what you can learn.

      • silentbob

        So my three questions would be

        1) Who should the Leafs have gone after instead of Martin?

        2) How much better and more expense would those players have been?

        and still

        3) Is it completely fairly to judge the value of a 4th liner brought in to “skate, force check and add presence” using the “fancy stats” you’ve used here?

  • DragLikePull

    I understand the signing of Matt Martin is a bit of a departure from this management group and that people don’t like the 4 year contract. However, do we really need so many articles on a 4th line energy player? I’m sure this artical is well written and researched and I know there isn’t much to talk about in July but how many more articles on Matt Martin can we expect prior to the start of the season?

  • DragLikePull

    I prefer Dubas and Charron statistical analytsis to this presentation of Martin. Martin represents a market inefficiency that the leafs were one of the few able to exploit.

  • DragLikePull

    This will be my last post here.Why is it you keep on about Matt Martin?Can’t you people wait until you see what role he is going to play before you make anymore comments?The organization must think he’s useful or they would not have taken him on.Give it a rest already.

    • Gary Empey

      Well it’s summer. Don’t quit posting.

      Re- Matt Martin…. He was signed to add some weight, speed, and checking, to the line up.

      Compared to some on last years roster his offense is better.

      Matt Martin 10 goals

      Byron Froese 2 goals

      Tyler Bozak 12 goals

      Michael Grabner 9 goals

      Peter Holland 9 goals

      Brad Boyces 8 goals

      Winnik 4 goals

  • Trevor5555

    Martin might not be a possesion driver or the most offensively skilled but he has other skills that make him useful on a 4th line. He skates well, plays physical and has decent scoring touch. 26 goals in the last 3 years, 365 hits last year, 10 fights, 10 minutes a game. Normal stats give a better picture of what Martin brings every night.

    Martin is a pretty good depth forward who has good speed, brings great energy and physicality and can pot 10 goals playing 10 minutes a night.
    There could be more upside as hes 27 and could get a bit better. At his current level with his skillset and the fact that he will drop the gloves make him perfect for a bottom 6 checking line. He puts the checking in a checking line.

    If stylistically he plays more of a dump / chase game his controlled entries will be way down. His linemates may have had PP time to boost their clean zone entry rate or they may be a bit more skilled but this one stat doesnt stand out as something that should be a red flag or outweigh all of Martins positive qualities.