New York Islanders fans were put into a bit of a panic (well, more of a panic than usual) Monday with the announcement of Kyle Okposo being out 6-8 weeks with an upper body injury. Okposo picked a pretty interesting time to be out long-term, as he just put up five goals and two assists in the last thre games before the break, and of course is near a point per game for the second straight season. So to someone not looking very closely, it might seem like Okposo's absence from the team would be a pretty big loss.
Upon a deeper inspection, the Isles' aren't really in as much trouble in the short term.
The Islanders basically have 10 top-six forwards - John Tavares, Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolay Kulemin (the prior 9 all have 53.8% or better Corsi percentages since their lines were formed on Dec. 29) and Michael Grabner (at 50.4% during his last seven games and likely to get better based on past experiences).
Yet the Isles have never played more than nine of these in a game, and the injury to Okposo means that won't change till near the playoffs -- so in terms of top-six guys, the Isles will still be playing nine of them even without Okposo.
Okposo vs Grabovski on Tavares' right wing
Moreover, let's look at the guy who replaces Okposo back in the lineup: Mikhail Grabovski (at even strength, anyway; i expect Ryan Strome to be the likely guy replacing Okposo on PP1, which I doubt will hurt very much). Grabovski is probably not as good a scorer as Okposo at even strength, as the below #s show:
- Grabovski (last 3.5 seasons): 0.8 G/60, 1A/60, 1.7P/60*
- Okposo (last 3.5 seasons): 0.9 G/60, 1.3 A/60, 2.2P/60
*There's some rounding at play here.
Grabovski has never had as good a playmaking linemates as Okposo, who's had 1.5 seasons of Tavares as a center, but the gap is large enough that we can probably guesstimate that Grabovski is at best going to put up 75% of KO's point output on Tavares' wing.
Here's the key though: Hockey games aren't won by individuals racking up points, but by the collective team putting up more goals than the opponents.
This is one reason we focus upon Corsi in analytics - it shows a good approximation of offensive zone possession with a large sample size, and is very predictive of future goals scored by the team and their opponents. But in this case, we really don't need to rely on Corsi: We can look at any advanced metric to find that while Mikhail Grabovski trails Okposo in point scoring, he's WELL ahead in driving possession:
Grabovski (last 3.5 seasons)
- Scoring Chance %: 51.8%, Rel Scoring Chance% 3.8%
- Corsi: 51.4%, Rel Corsi 3.9%
- Fenwick: 50.4%, Rel. Fenwick 2.9%
Okposo (last 3.5 seasons)
- Scoring Chance %: 50.1%, ,Rel Scoring Chance% 0.1%
- Corsi: 50.7%, Rel Corsi 1.5%
- Fenwick: 50.5%, Rel Fenwick: 0.1%
For those who are unfamiliar, the first measure here is the measure of the statistic, while the second measure, the relative measure, measures how good each player's stat is compared to how their teams have done without them on the ice. So what you see is that whether you use Corsi, Fenwick, or scoring chances, Grabovski significantly makes his team better by being on the ice, while Okposo just barely does so. And these numbers are with Grabovski playing significantly harder minutes: with much less offensive zone draws and much worse teammates (particularly in toronto).
These numbers are still lopsided if you just use this year, by the way: Grabovski has been one of the best possession players in the league this year - Okposo a bit less so and again has had far easier minutes.
So what does this mean for the Isles first line?
Well, they're probably going to get less goals from the right wing position than they would with Kyle Okposo there. That's plain. All that said, Grabovski's better possession play is likely to make up for it and then some in two ways:
- Increasing the time Tavares and Bailey spend in the offensive zone, increasing THEIR goal totals (even if Grabovski isn't getting an assist on each of those points.
- More significantly, decreasing the amount of time Tavares is caught in the defensive zone defending play.
In short, having Grabovski there instead of Okposo means the first line -- which is not a particularly great defensive line -- should spend less time defending, and thus give up less shots and goals. So even if the goals-for go down, opponents' scoring should drop by a greater amount.
So are the Isles better with Okposo hurt?
Uh, no. Of course not. In theory, at some point the Isles are going to play all 10 top-six forwards at once, and knock one of the grinders off the fourth line. That'll make them even better of course. So Okposo's injury delays that even longer, although the team was taking their sweet time making that a reality anyway.
But the bigger issue is that all of the above assumes no one else is hurt. With 10 more-or-less healthy top-six forwards, like the Isles' basically had prior to this injury (as Grabovski was basically ready to return), the Isles could afford to lose one of their forwards for a few games (as they did with Grabovski or Grabner or Bailey or....) and would be more than fine.
Now if there's another injury to the top line, we're looking at an Eric Boulton appearance or a player like Cory Conacher or Colin McDonald coming back up, which is obviously suboptimal. So while Okposo being out is fine for now, it puts the Isles at greater mercy of the hockey injury gods, who have never seemed to like them. Fortunately, even dropping one more forward from this top 10 shouldn't kill the Isles too much, and the Isles do have a good point lead for now on the division.
All in all, this injury tests the Isles' depth, but for now, the Isles shouldn't really miss a step (even more so if Lubomir Visnovsky is back for Brian Strait). This was a top-five NHL team last week with Okposo and without Grabovski or Visnovsky, it's a top-five team without Okposo and with those two guys back.