Best In The Game
This is a photo of Zetterberg and Lecavalier from a game last month in Detroit. Vinny played sixteen shifts at even strength, all of them featured Zetterberg on the ice for some or all of it. Zetterberg played 17 minutes of 5v5 ice time, a cracking 15.1 minutes of that vs Lecavalier.
Of Vinny's 16 EV shifts, 11 of them came immediately after a Brad Richards shift, which is Tortorella's modus operandi from past years. Richards took ten draws in his own end, and one in the offensive zone. Lecavalier took 5 draws in the offensive end (all against Z's line) and 5 in his own zone. There just aren't that many offensive zone faceoffs available when you play Detroit.
Detroit won the game, in spite of the fact that Z had a rare minus night. -1 vs Vinny's line and -1 vs Richards. On this night Zetterberg, Lecavalier, and Richards all had Corsi numbers a touch in the red. They hurt each other's results a lot. And it's a certainty that if Babcock had gone old school with a checking line against Lecavalier, that both Z and Vinny would have looked a lot better to our eyes.
The reason I write this though, is that I saw a poll on TSN or Sportsnet the other day, one of these "who is the best player in the NHL" things. The poll of the hockey writers, one from each NHL city, ended up with Lecavalier as the runaway winner with 17 votes. Zetterberg got 4 votes, Iginla and Kovalchuk were next I think, with a couple each.
This surprised me, now maybe I have a Western Conference bias, but to my mind Zetterberg is a much better player. Last time I checked these two were nearly identical in goals and points, both are obviously terrific on the PP as well, and have the benefit of some good linemates. And I think that one of them makes a lot more difference to winning games than the other one does. So I'll attempt to build a case briefly here, with some context, numbers that represent the underlying results that really matter.
First up, shots for/against:
When Zetterberg is on the ice at even strength:
- EV+ 30, EV -16
- Shots for: 352
- Shots against: 169
When Lecavalier is on the ice at even strength:
- EV+ 33, EV -29
- Shots for: 261
- Shots against: 260
And now the faceoffs:
I wrote a php script a while ago to scrape info off of the play by play sheets. Since then I've been tweaking it to get different things. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that crudely written page of code. :)
One thing I wanted to look at was changes in zone, the guys who are getting the puck going in the right direction. And since the NHL doesn't publish their zone time information any more, I just went by faceoffs. If a shift started in the defensive zone the the player gets a plus, and a minus for starting in the other end of the rink. Also if your shift ends in the offensive zone you get a plus, and you get a minus if your shift ends at the bad end of the ice.
If you do this for every player in the NHL, the worst player in the NHL by this crude possession metric is Vincent Lecavalier. A staggering -78. Also, Lecavalier was on the ice for 62 more offensive zone draws than defensive ones, the most favourable start to shifts of anyone on his squad.
The second best player in the NHL by this crude possession metric is Henrik Zetterberg, trailing only Bobby Holik. A whopping +80. Also, Zetterberg was on the ice for the same number of offensive zone draws as defensive ones, granted that's just average, but on this very strong DET team that's the toughest start to shifts of anyone on his squad. And a big part of the reason that everyone else on the roster starts more of their shifts in the offensive end of the rink is because the Zetterberg line keeps finishing there, and usually while playing against the other team's best.
As talented as Vinny is, as fun as he is to watch play the game, as much as he creates offensively, he gives almost as much back at the other end of the rink. And this isn't just a recent thing. Plus, if you're a Lightning player coming onto the ice as Vinny leaves it, chances are that shift won't start well. All of the opposites are true for Zetterberg, and this isn't a new thing either.
To me, Zetterberg is the MVP, and it ain't close.
Trivia #1: Lidstrom is +63 at this new made-up possession stat of mine (not including tonight's game) that is not the best defenceman number in the league though. To test your eyes, can you name the NHL defender who is edging out Nicklas? Hint: Plays for a Canadian team.
From the 'this can't be right' file: Marc Savard is +67 at this. And has been taking a ridiculous amount of own zone draws, and according to Desjardins has been playing against good players. I'll be damned, that's a leopard who I thought would never change his spots. Who's coaching the Bruins now, anyways?
Achilles heel: As good as DET is, their 10 through 15 forwards have been a gong show in every measurable way, much of what the Z line creates gets given back by this crew, and all with limited icetime.
Trivia #2: Red Wing tough guy Aaron Downey has been on the ice for 71 faceoffs at even strength so far this year. How many were in the defensive zone?