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# Using Game Score to Grade the First Quarter of the Islanders Season

Defining expected Game Score per dollar, and a deep dive into who is hitting expectations relative to their contracts.

Happy Thanksgiving Week! Most teams are approaching the quarter pole mark of the season, and as they have played 19 games, the Islanders are no different. Off to a fairly surprising 10-7-2 record, Barry Trotz has led the Isles to second in the Metropolitan Division amidst a ton of talk about PDO and luck.

This will be the first of four report card pieces for the year based off of player performance versus their cap hits. For this, I created “Game Score Efficiency,” which is the differential of actual game score and expected game score per dollar. This is based off of Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score metric.

First, let’s look at the league at large using a Cap Hit vs. Game Score visualization.

There is a modest correlation (0.55) here with some predictability to it (r^2 of .30). The data is statistically significant, as the p-value is less than .0001. This isn’t going to be an overly statistical post, but I’m showing this to simply want to call out the data reasonably suggests that higher paid players should have higher game scores.

(Entry level contracts somewhat limit the effectiveness of that theory (the correlation is .64, with the r^2 being .41 without them)

The above highlights all of the Islanders and which quadrant they are placed in based on league averages. It’s a bit messy to read, but we can discern a few things. Based on league averages, Islanders with less than a \$3.065 million cap hit will be to the left of the vertical line, and Islanders with a Game Score of less than 6.55 will be below the horizontal line.

The diagonal line measures the expected game score per million dollars, so anyone above that line has a Game Score better than their expected rate given their cap hit. And that’s what leads us to Game Score Efficiency - the formula is as follows:

GS Eff = Actual Game Score - Expected Game Score

Note that this report card measures a player’s performance relative to their cap hit, not their performance in isolation. Now let’s dive in!

A Grades: Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Thomas Greiss

There should not be much in the way of surprise here. Mathew Barzal leads the way in Game Score Efficiency for the Isles, mostly due to him still being on his entry level contract. Even so, he’s outperforming expectation by 8.43, which is quite good. Although he only has two goals, the Isles are getting what they need from him given his role and the contract he’s on.

Anders Lee pulls in second on the list, as he is out performing his expected game score by 5.71. Still on a very modest \$3.75 million cap hit, Lee’s continued prowess at getting shots on net and being on ice for high danger chances propel him to the highest game score on the team (14.80). Although he is below pace on actual goals, he does a lot of other things well to - once again - make him a big time value for the team.

Finally, the reclamation of Thomas Greiss has been one of the biggest stories for the Islanders. He’s out performing his expected Game Score by 3.82, in large part due to a .925 save percentage in 10 starts. He’s 6-3-1 for the season and has looked more like the 2015-16 version of himself than whatever it was we saw last season.

B Grades: Josh Bailey, Robin Lehner, Scott Mayfield, Brock Nelson

Josh Bailey leads the team in points and is second on the team in Game Score (14.56), but he headlines the B group due to his new UFA average annual value of \$5 million. His Game Score is still 3.52 above expectation, which is quite good, and is proving to be a valuable keep for the Islanders in the early going.

The goaltending for the Islanders has been the strongest part of their game all season. As noted above Thomas Greiss has been excellent, but newcomer Robin Lehner has been solid too. Sporting a .915 save percentage on an affordable \$1.5 million salary, Lehner’s Game Score is 2.39 above expectation planting him firmly in the second tier.

Perhaps no Islander has been more surprising than Scott Mayfield this season. The second round draft pick has 3 goals already this year and has a Game Score that is 2.37 above the expectation of a player earning \$1.45 million on the cap. One of Garth Snow’s last major moves, this one seems to have a decent chance of panning out.

Finally, Brock Nelson falls into this tear as well. Fresh off his almost-did-not-avoid-arbitration \$4.25 million one year deal, Nelson has definitely stepped up this season in an elevated role. He currently has a Game Score that is 1.97 over expectation, which is something to build on. There’s some hesitancy given how his seasons usually transpire, but he’s looking closer to the 2014-15 upstart than he has since.

These are the players that fall closest to expectation of anyone on the team. Since we’re grading on a curve, having a C grade here is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply calls out that for what the Islanders are paying, these are the players that are basically giving them just enough value to justify it. And when you think about it, all of these players have positives and negatives.

Casey Cizikas has been outstanding this season, but is currently out for at least half a month with a lower body injury. His Game Score is currently 1.22 above expectation, but injuries do count here, so that number will diminish the longer he stays out of the lineup. Adam Pelech has recently been in-and-out due to some shaky play with (and without) the puck, and overall has been unspectacular on his modest \$1.6 million contract.

Anthony Beauvillier got off to an extremely slow start, but now has 4 goals in 2 games, so he’s potentially coming around. This is a big one for the Islanders, given that Beauvillier is still on his entry-level contract and is a regular skater for the team. This is one of the players that should be earmarked for efficiency improvement as the year progresses.

Finally, Valtteri Filppula has had a real interesting year for the Islanders, but he’s producing almost exactly to expectation given his salary. By no means a strong possession player nor a good skater, he’s been almost impeccable with the puck on his stick and has 12 points in 19 games despite very little powerplay time. Basically the definition of the new-age half court player, it will be interesting to see if he’s able to keep this level of production up.

D Grades: Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Martin, Thomas Hickey, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Pulock, Cal Clutterbuck

This group looks like it’s all over the map, and that’s because it is. Made up of depth players and presumed core players, none of these players are performing up to expectation relative their salary. Without going through the pros and cons of each player, here’s some quick insights from the above chart.

Tom Kunhnackl has only played in 9 games this season, so his opportunity to reach value is lower than other players. Should he stay in the lineup, it’s quite possible he reaches expectation.

Matt Martin is in the same boat as Cizikas, missing a lot of time to injury. But he was really good before that and should he return soon, it’s possible he can get back to expectation assuming he contributes at similar rates.

Thomas Hickey actually has been quite good from a possession perspective relative to his teammates. But he has 0 goals on 23 shots and just three points for the season. If the offense comes, he’s a candidate to hit expectation.

Jordan Eberle, frankly, is having a bit of a rough season. He has just 10 points in 19 games and was not able to cement a spot next to Mathew Barzal in the early portion of games. Given that he is a \$6 million player, the Islanders are going to need a lot more from him going forward for the salary to match the production.

Ryan Pulock is another candidate to get to expectation. He has just 1 goal on 39 shots, which given his prowess in that regard is unlikely to hold. He’s playing first pairing minutes and while his possession game has not been up to snuff, once his offense takes hold there’s little reason to think he won’t outproduce the average \$2 million player.

Cal Clutterbuck is also here, which is somewhat surprising. Ultimately, Clutterbuck is not an offensive driver and has already been through a 17 game goal drought to start the season. Given his possession metrics, it’s hard to complain about his play too much. But will he ever produce like the player of which his cap hit is? That’s unlikely.

F Grades: Leo Komarov, Luca Sbisa, Andrew Ladd, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy

Now that we are deep into this, I’m not going to really go into each individual player. But these are all UFA contracts making solid money (outside of Sbisa, who rarely plays), and all of them either have injury problems or production problems. Nick Leddy is obviously the most egregious name here, given how prominent of a player he’s been for the Islanders (more on him here), but it’s still hard to imagine any of these players hitting expectation for the season.

Incomplete: Tanner Fritz, Stephen Gionta, Ross Johnston, Michael Dal Colle

These are players who have played less than five games.

Summary

This was a lot of words, but I hope it provided some color in terms of how production can tie closely to tied to cap hit. At the end of the day, teams need to get the highest possible production from the money they are spending. Considering only ten Islanders are above expectation (some of them ever so slightly), I’d say the team is not quite there yet.

The next report card will take place at the halfway mark, which will be in January.

All data for this piece is from Corsica Hockey