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What’s Happened to Nick Leddy?

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An analytical look at how the Isles’ top pairing defenseman has played this season

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Peruse the Islanders corner of the internet and you’ll find a lot of negative feedback about Nick Leddy’s first handful of games. (It’s been a topic here, both on the latest Islanders Anxiety podcast and in Travis’ analysis of the Isles’ first seven games.) None of this criticism is necessarily unfounded, as Leddy is clearly struggling coming out of the gate.

If we deep dive into his game, we can start to tell a story as to what specifically Leddy is struggling with.

Within this analysis, we’ll go through a few different facets and attempt to discern what is going on with the veteran defenseman, specifically production, possession, and with-or-without-you metrics.

This disclaimer (so to speak) will be referenced multiple times throughout the article, but it is important to note that seven games is not an appreciably large sample size. Things at this point of the season are volatile and can still wildly change as the year goes on.

Leddy’s Production

Let’s start by looking at raw point production. For the last three seasons, Nick Leddy has eclipsed the 40-point mark, scoring 10 or more goals twice during that span. He’s been tasked as a top pairing defenseman (over 22 minutes per game since 2015-16) and as the quarterback of the team’s powerplay. None of that has changed this year, as his powerplay usage and even strength usage have remained largely the same under Barry Trotz.

However, the points have not come — literally. Leddy does not have a single point on the season and only has four shots in seven games. Furthermore, we look below at a three-year comparison of some shot generation metrics, we can see a foundational decline related to Leddy’s production since 2014-15.

Nick Leddy Production Metrics Over Time
Data as of October 23, 2018

If we blend this with other areas of the game, we can look at Game Score (one of my favorite metrics). Created by Dom Luszczyszyn, Game Score sets out to measure single-game productivity over multiple facets and is another way to determine a player’s effectiveness beyond counting stats like points and possession metrics like Corsi.

Nick Leddy Game Score
Data as of October 23, 2018

This visual above shows Game Score/82 (or season Game Score projected out over 82 games). Over Leddy’s time with the Islanders, we can see a fairly linear fall from his outstanding 2014-15 campaign, culminating in somewhat of a large crater so far this year. Obviously, this is an extremely small sample we’re dealing with in 2018-19, but like some of his shot generation metrics above, there’s some clear concerning signs from an overarching production standpoint. Simply put, Leddy is not currently playing at the level he was even dating back to last season.

Leddy’s Possession Metrics

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Leddy’s game right now are his possession metrics. Similar to what we’ve seen on the production side, there’s been a pretty linear inverse relationship between time and shot suppression. What that means is that when Leddy is on the ice, the Islanders are giving up a lot more shot attempts than they are taking.

Unfortunately, the story does not get more positive when looking at scoring chances or high danger chances, as they both show similar declines. And all three of these key performance indicators have produced progressively worse results each season he’s been with the team.

Data as of October 23, 2018

This steady decline has ultimately culminated in the Islanders giving up 8.41% more shot attempts against when Leddy is on the ice versus when he is off the ice. That is the worst mark of all defensemen on the team (and third worst overall behind Komarov and Filppula). And if we look below, we can see Leddy at the bottom left quadrant of Islander defensemen, showing visually how detrimental his play has been from a shot attempts perspective this season.

Islanders Defense Shot Rates
Data as of October 23, 2018

Interestingly, Leddy is only getting 40% of zone starts in the offensive zone, but it’s still too early in the season to gauge whether this is variance or strategic deployment. And for what it’s worth in these early stages of the season, that actually ranks third among Islander defensemen (which is somewhat of an indictment on the team at-large).

With-Or-Without-You (WOWY)

With or without you metrics are helpful in understanding teammate impact, which Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) has shown to be extremely relevant to overall performance. So, this gives us a real understanding at a base level of how much a player can impact others around them.

In the case of Nick Leddy, it’s not good news. Granted, and this is an important disclaimer, a sample size of seven games is nothing to sound the panic alarm over. But, it is enough to look at things and start to raise some concern over what is happening. And that’s especially because of the context that this player, in particular, has been in the bit of a decline over the last three seasons.

Nick Leddy 2018-19 WOWY
Data as of October 23, 2018

So, if we were to look at players Corsi For percentages with and without Leddy, we can begin to understand that Leddy’s impact on his teammates this season is tangibly hurting both shot generation. The two bars side-by-side create somewhat of an ugly story, essentially showing that almost every player who has played with Leddy for over 20 minutes this season has not been better off for it.

Nick Leddy 2014-15 WOWY

At this point, I want to compare to where Leddy was after the 2014-15 season, which was only a handful of years ago. In this view, we can immediately notice how almost every player that played over 100 minutes with Leddy was better off. So, while there has been a gradual decline from Leddy, it’s still a drastic turn of events over a fairly short amount of time - especially because this is all happening during the presumed prime of an NHL defensemen, ages 23-27 seasons.

Summary

I think it’s important to call out there are still a lot of positives to Leddy’s skillset. He remains one of the smoothest skaters in the league and as of last year was still one of the best transition players in the NHL. He possesses a seemingly innate ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and has the skating ability to recover and close gaps defensively. There’s nothing visibly obvious that is alarming in his game from a pure skills and attributes perspective.

Where the water gets muddied is within performance itself. It’s no secret the Islanders’ roster has been fairly unstable since the 2015-16 season. The roster on the ice today has minimal resemblance to the ones that played to consecutive 100 point seasons (and not in good ways, either). Additionally, the Islanders are somehow on their third coach in three years and have twice turned almost their entire assistant coaching staff over, too.

So, there are some contextual nuances at play here. And Leddy is not the only player that’s potentially been impacted by the swirl around the team either, as others have struggled to regain form from those two seasons as well.

But, the fact remains that there are some legitimate red flags to take away from the first few games of the season. Yes, the Islanders have had a tough schedule - including a four game West Coast road trip out of the gate. And yes, the Islanders’ roster is not as skilled as it once was. Still, to see Leddy’s game disintegrate to the point where it is right now is cause for — at the very least — conversation. The understanding that he is not producing points, not generating shots, and allowing more shots than he ever gets that conversation started.

Ultimately, the Islanders made a big investment in Leddy. Seven games does not change the fact he is counted on as a top pairing defenseman for their team. And seven games is not even necessarily predictive of the next 75 to come. But for now, it’s fair to look deeper into his peripherals over the last few years and wonder what exactly is going on. Because at the end of the day, the Islanders will need him to be a productive core player if they are going to succeed this season.

All stats are from Natural Stat Trick, unless otherwise noted in the visualizations above.