Monday, May 10, 2010

The Spacek Debt

In the summer, I was amazed at the reaction to the Canadiens signings. There was at once unbridled optimism and unchecked pessimism. Every fan content only to occupy one extreme or the other.

While, divergence of opinion seemd to reign over Gomez, Higgins, McDonagh, Gionta, Kovalev, Cammalleri, Koivu and Tanguay there was also broad convergence for others. Jaroslav Spacek, for example, was almost universally ignored. Funny so much ink was spilled over departing Komisarek, unsigned Beauchemin and yet so little reserved for another top 10 option UFA Dman.

At the time, I wrote on the subject in great detail, such was my amazement at the coverage. I pointed out how he had always climbed through hi teams’ depth charts, was always missed when he left and how generally he was the prototype for underrating in this league.

"No one really knew how good of a hockey player he was because he was playing for obscure, losing teams," agent Stephen Freyer said from his office in Beverly, Mass. "The exposure in Edmonton helped, but the new NHL was incredible for his game. He's the prototypical post-lockout defenseman. He can skate, pass, get the puck out of the zone. He's got a boomer from the right point." (Source article here)
Well, here we are once again in media report melee. Once again, there’s ten stories a day with plenty of optimism and pessimism from all quarters. Gill is getting well deserved praise, as is Gorges. Markov’s injury is being watched as closely as possible through the iron curtain. Once again, Spacek in injury as in play, or in signing is being largely overlooked.

Over the year, I kept some interesting statistics that weren’t available on the NHL website. There was the Goals Created project that LIW undertook, but on top of that, I played with plus/minus figures to deconstruct and reconstruct stats I thought might be more meaningful.

We hadn’t really had any Spacek time at that point of his signing. We’d known him from Buffalo and from Corsi leader charts, but not much else. A season into his tenure in Montreal, we are now in a better position to confirm or adjust what praise we offered in the summer. While he came to the team as Buffalo’s offensive engine from the back, the year did not play out in the same way as it did in Upstate NY for Jaro. His points totals were down, his goals were minimal, his PP contribution was near meaningless. By conventional statistical methods he was a bit of a bust at the salary.

Strangely though, he still stood out and was an interesting player to watch in my spreadsheets over the year.

#3 choice defenceman

Even strength minutes per game, for example. Spacek was second to his partner with 18.56 minutes a contest. Hamrlik and Markov the horses, again, but Jaro was third in overall TOI/game as well.

On the ice

Good things also seemed to happen when Spacek was on.

He led the team in even-strength goals he was on the ice for with 64 (a whopping 9 more than Cammalleri, Hamrlik and Gomez). He led the team in 5-on-5 GF and 4-on-4 GFwith 52 and 7 respectively. By minute, he can’t approach the forwards rates of production, but trails only Markov in making good things happen per game (2.796 ESGF/60 vs. 3.442 ESGF/60).

Solid foundation

I am not sure what to make of all this quite yet, but like the Corsi adherents, I think there’s a lot of credit gone missing for players who are on the ice for goals, yet only contributing through their sound positioning, back-checking, coverage and other non-offensive play.

Spacek is the poster boy for the silent contribution. In all, he was on the ice for a whopping 51 goals without statistical credit (other than +/-). The next closest teammates were on for 39 and 38 (Hamrlik and Gorges), after them Markov at 29 and then a sharp drop to 20.

Better than team average at D

All that might be for naught if he was Shawn Belle going backwards. But he wasn’t. On the ice for 65 goals against, all told, his GAA translated to a respectable 2.42. At even strength, considering he was on for nearly a third of every game, his 2.19 GAA was a very welcome addition to the Habs team.

Continued in the playoffs

The cherry on this cake is that Spacek continued his steady excellence into the playoffs. Over 3 games, he managed to find himself on the ice for 3 more ESG and though matched against Ovechkin and Backstrom was not torched for GA.

On the eve of the crunch game of the year, a game against most peoples’ Eastern power, the wire is all aflutter with injuries and possible returns. As Spacek looks set to lace up, I present to you a large dose of optimism as to what this means for the team. We get a leader back, a top-tier pairing and a complement for Hamrlik who thrives with support.

I’ll be watching intently to see if this other Jaro can weave the magic that led to 54 goals at even strength so far this season as the Habs try to break the ice and then break the back of the game.

Enjoy the show. GHG.

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