Possession Metrics: Brandon Saad is Great

This is probably something I should have mentioned before beginning this series. My goal is to provide some context for fans. This isn’t for the mathematics majors or those who are aggressively seeking to quantify hockey. I respect what those people are doing to help us further our knowledge of the sport. Essentially, I’m just trying to cherry-pick the basics of hockey analytics and present them here for you.


In my previous post I was using an older method to take a “litmus test” of how well each player was performing in possession metrics. This post is intended to help add some more context to those numbers. Thus giving us a more realistic basis for judging each player’s worth.

The general consensus is that it is unfair to judge a player based on corsi alone. It is worth while to add context using several different factors:

  • Usage/zone starts
  • Quality of teammates
  • Quality of Competition
  • Score effects etc.

Plus, when we’re using all situations to gauge a player’s corsi we’re also looking at totals accrued while on the penalty kill and on the power play. Some players are used shorthanded and never used on the power play, and vice versa.

Anyway, let’s get in to it.

Who’s Driving Possession – Hint: It’s Brandon Saad

I’ve always thought that forwards had an easier time of it when they were on the ice. They don’t have to play as many minutes as the defense and their mistakes are not scrutinized quite as harshly as a defenders. A turnover in the offensive zone isn’t as big a deal as a turnover in the defensive zone. (I believe Dellow coined the phrase “The Big Mistake” for such situations.)

Yet, without skill and intelligence up front a team isn’t going to score very many goals. Plus it’s on the forwards to maintain possession once it’s been taken. As a winger you’re entire game could be played along the boards in both zones and as a center you’re required to take away the middle of the ice in both zones; plus cycle and work the puck along the boards.

Regardless of how I feel about the game, what I’ve set out to do in this series is find out who’s really driving possession on the Columbus Blue Jackets this season and one of the biggest standouts so far has been Brandon Saad.

When Saad was traded to Columbus there was a bittersweet reaction around the fanbase as Marko Dano left the organization. If we were being honest with ourselves we weren’t sure what the Blue Jackets were getting in Saad. He was compared to everyone from Marian Hossa to James Neal, with some even saying that Marko Dano was sure to be a better version of what Saad already was.

Fortunately, Saad has proven to be one of the most rock-solid players in the Blue Jackets lineup this season.

The Data

Brandon Saad 5v5 12-6-16

Brandon Saad 5v5 as of 12-6-16

Using a mixture of data from Corsica and Puckalytics I can present you with a basic amount of context.

Corsi for percentage is the sum of all shot attempts for divided by the sum of all shot attempts for and against. For example when Brandon Saad is on the ice 56.47% of shot attempts that are taken are directed toward the opposing team. CF% has been shown to loosely correlate with scoring and winning percentages.

A relative CF% is how well a player is doing compared to the average CF% of the entire team. CF/60 is how many shot attempts the Jackets are generating per 60 minutes with Saad on the ice and CA/60 is how many shot attempts are being taken against per 60 minutes with Saad. Points/60 is a combination of Saad’s goals and assists per 60 minutes.

In each category I’ve presented, Saad is leading the way except in CF/60. Any guesses to who is in front of him? It’s not who you’d expect: Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner.

Saad’s CF% is good enough to put him in the top 20 in the league, just behind players like Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar.

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The Graphs

Hockeyviz is an incredible resource developed by Micah Blake McCurdy to help us visualize the data surrounding the game of hockey. One of my favorite ways to determine a player’s worth is to look at their WOWY, or With or Without You. The “with” is a player’s CF% while on the ice with another player. The “without” is a player’s CF% while on the ice without that player. In this graph we can see every player’s CF% with and without Saad on the ice plus Saad’s CF% without that player. Anything above the red line is good. Anything below the red line is not so good. Top left indicates low event hockey, bottom right indicates high event hockey.

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Click to enlarge or visit the source which will be updated throughout the season http://www.hockeyviz.com/static/img/player/wowy/1617/CBJ/wowy-1617-CBJ-saadxbr92-shots.png

In every instance (except with Ryan Murray) you can see that a player’s CF% takes a bit of a dive without Saad on the ice. In fact, without Saad on the ice, the Blue Jackets are only averaging a CF% of 49%. That’s a sharp dive from the 56% they enjoy while he is on the ice. (There are only two other players who have that sort of impact on this team: Zach Werenski and David Savard. But I’ll cover that in the future.)

Usage

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ZSR: Zone Start Ratio; The percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts (OZS/(OZS + DZS)) – Corsica

TOI.QoT: Time On Ice Quality of Teammates; The weighted average TOI% of a player’s teammates – Corsica

TOI.QoT essentially measures how good a player’s linemates are. The theory is that the first line gets more ice time because they are better players and that is generally true. ZSR is how often a player begins his shifts in the offensive zone (scoring) versus the defensive zone (shutdown).

Brandon Saad scores high on both of these axes which does help to make his job a little easier. It doesn’t completely disqualify all of the metrics we’ve looked at up until this point, in fact those metrics do a good job of standing on their own.

Conclusion

Brandon Saad is the best player on this team at driving possession among the forwards. He makes everyone on the ice better when he’s playing. After some of the brilliant moves that this club has made over the past offseason to become a potential playoff team again, news like this is incredibly disconcerting. There are a handful of players around the league who could make the same sort of impact on this team that Saad makes. When you factor in salary cap hit that number dwindles. Saad is only 24 years old with the prime of his career a few years down the road. A cap hit of six million dollars is a very fair wage for his skillset. It’s incredibly unlikely that another Seth Jones – Ryan Johansen opportunity will present itself.

The Blue Jackets have, for the time being, found their underrated star.

 

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