Peeking at new stats: What is Doug Weight's ideal role?

Islanders games were a shooting gallery last season, with our guys typically on the losing end. The Islanders gave up 4.6 more shots per game than they delivered (33.5 SA vs. 28.9 SF). Only Florida was worse (34.7 SA vs. 29.4 SF).

But what does "worse" mean? The Panthers lost out on the 8th seed by virtue of a tie breaker. They were no dynamo (Moscow or otherwise), but the Panthers were by all measures quite a bit better than the Tavares-landing Isles.

(While we're wondering: Was the Isles' shot differential due to Scott Gordon? His "overspeed" style? The players' adjustment to it? The fact that everyone was injured, so the lineup was constantly in flux, and thus no one adjusted to it? Just a weak roster, period? Talent-wise, who are the roster's biggest culprits?)

This, friends, is why statheads are always trying to delve deeper into advanced stats to uncover truer quantitative reflections of what's going on in this very fluid, very qualitative game. It's a topic James Mirtle coincidentally brought up today -- so see that post if the "new metrics" are completely foreign to you.

I've been meaning to bring it up because of an interesting post at Objective NHL that supports what I think about Frans Nielsen and Trent Hunter as hockey players, but leaves me wondering what to think about Doug Weight (who, of course, was injured three times last year, so...). If metrics like "Corsi" and "zone start" scare you, your are not alone: I beg you stick with me for a moment: I'm no stathead myself -- as with home improvement, I can try it myself, but I know an expert will do it 10 times faster with 1/10th of my mistakes. So I'm solely a stat consumer, looking for another bit of context for a game that is mercy to injury, ice time, coaching and your linemate's hangover.

Which brings me back to Doug Weight ...

I know from observation and production figures that Weight was valuable to the power play last year -- a distant but definite second in importance to Mark Streit, but still a key at the point. When Weight was missing, the power play suffered; when Streit was missing, it was a disaster.

But what of Weight at even strength? We think of the Islanders as suddenly deep at center: Nielsen will be very good for a third-line center; Josh Bailey will probably be a very good second-line center; John Tavares should be a very good scorer, though it's in question whether he can best fill that role (eventually) as a first-line center. Which means no one (including Weight, 38 and past his prime) is an ideal #1 center right now.

But Weight might draw those important #1 center minutes -- even if at even strength he may not be the best to handle them. Consider:

In the Objective NHL post I was referring to, you can see (one measure of) each team's top 5 and bottom 5 performers at even strength. So, the Islanders' top 5 and bottom 5 line up like this (with Hilbert being 5th best, despite his "minus"):

Top 5
McAmmond 112.7
Nielsen 40.5
Hunter 30.8
Bergenheim 19.1
Hilbert -33.6
Bottom 5
Weight -247.6
Bailey -258.8
Callahan -259.5
Sim -272.6
Comrie -307.9

 

The intent is to see who performed best by their Corsi number adjusted for zone start (i.e. adjusted for a big factor that is beyond players' control: What zone they start their shift in).

[Wait! Before I lose you, in layman's terms: Corsi is like a more informative +/-: Instead of basing the +/- on goals scored alone, it is based on shots directed at the net (including blocked and wide shots), which means you are not statistically penalized for having a weaker goalie (say, an injured Rick DiPietro) who lets in bad goals, instead of a good one (say, a hot Yann Danis). But (this is the "zone shift" part): Like every coach, Scott Gordon puts some guys out more for defensive zone faceoffs, so they're naturally going to have more shots directed at the net on their watch than a sniper who is inserted more often for offensive zone draws. The adjustment for "zone shift" -- how much guys play and which part of the rink their shift starts at -- is an attempt to control for this. And that control is no small matter: See how Derek at Copper & Blue pointed out that men with small Corsis have small ears -- I mean, draw the tougher assignments -- which is probably why Brendan Witt (despite his -34 and -356 "raw" Corsi) does not show up on this adjusted bottom 5 list.]

Now, the above exercise isn't perfect -- no metric is, but particularly so in hockey's fluid, overlapping positional game. Still, it gives us a little context, something to chew on.

But in simplified terms, all things being "equal" (ha!), only four Islanders were typically on the ice for more even-strength shots for than against last season, and one of them was a Senator for most of the season. It doesn't surprise me one bit that this measure favors Nielsen, Hunter and Bergenheim: They are well-rounded, smart hockey players, and Hunter is the perfect example of a player who lacks speed but can still handle Gordon's system responsibly. (Food for thought: But is this metric just accidentally backing up my existing bias?)

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the spectrum, we know Mike Comrie was a walking, hip-rehabbing ghost, Jon Sim was in the doghouse, Callahan had some very rough moments early on before coming around, and Josh Bailey likewise had several stretches of being a bit lost (understandably) during his rookie year.

But what about Weight? Has he become an even-strength, defensive liability -- as can be said for his miscast time in Anaheim? Is this just a reflection of giving him more ice time than he can handle at this age? Is it affected by the fact he had three separate injury spells last year -- and the "slow road back" involved when playing his way back? He managed 38 points, in only 53 games, so injuries are as much a part of his 2008-09 story as the power play is a part of his point production.

And if any of those factors "explain" his poor number by this metric, does that change the idea that he's an older veteran who has lost a step, can still do very things for your power play, but shouldn't be given a season-long load of first-line, important minutes? In other words, he is good at what he does, perhaps in brief bursts, as long as you know his body is at the age where his speed and health is prone to injury interruption.

I'm curious about any opinions you have on Weight or the Islanders center situation -- stat-based or otherwise. Is he the de facto #1 center? Given his age, do the Isles need to be careful about spreading the center minutes around? Have a different read? Have at it in comments.

Again, my intent isn't ever to turn every post into a haven for grids and tables of advanced metrics (You gotta stick with what you do best. On that note, if that's something you do well or are into, have at it with a FanPost and I'll front-page it.). But while I don't fill this site with stats galore, I do cruise the stats-heavy blogs, because I love the context and perspective they provide as they try to figure out just what we can "know" about this confounding game, which defies capture by numbers the way baseball is digested.

Plus, one day soon we'll be able to look at some of the "new stats" and see more pluses next to the Islanders players, so we won't be able to explain away every metric with "Well sure it looks bad, but look at his teammates."

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