Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hierarchy Of Canadiens Forwards

The other night David Desharnais was the best player on the ice for the Canadiens. Undrafted, discarded, discounted, hardened by challenge and 18 games into an NHL career, David became the top rookie forward on the team with that display.

It seems Jaroslav Halak provided an ironic parting gift. The return on his trade is facing a Carey Price scenario from an undrafted Halak emulator. The first rounder is tested by the untouted, and results are starting to trump sentiment just as before.

Desharnais's stats are staring to impress. These are his stats and rankings among Canadiens forwards compared to those of his fellow rookie:

Desharnais has great numbers, and he’s displayed some great talent the past couple of games. But though it’s pretty certain he could at least survive in this league now, what’s not clear is how this looks after a big slump to match his hot streak. I like his attitude and I like his creativity, but I wouldn’t like the team’s chances really if they entered the playoffs with DD on the second line.

Like Plekanec, Eller has shown the ability to put distance between himself and teammates (only in the opposite direction). Whatever he is doing hasn’t been working. The lessons he is being exposed to are good, but he must show he can learn from them. The only category where he even flirts with the position he currently occupies in the top 6 is Corsi. Corsi is useful for some things, but when every other indicator tells you something else, you dismiss it. Eller is not just unlucky, he’s unprepared.

At this point, a healthy Cammalleri and a much more enticing Desharnais mean Eller will be demoted and won’t see NHL playoff action. This may be good for Eller, it will certainly be good for the Habs.

Habs forwards by tiers

Interesting as this is, how one rookie fares against another for this Canadiens team is probably about as important as Guy Carbonneau's playoff ties at this point. The really important stuff will happen with the non-rookie forwards, particularly those on "scoring lines".

Eller is relevant within this conversation, as he currently occupies a plum position on what some may still be calling the second line. Desharnais' recent displays vault him into consideration here too.

For forwards entering into scoring line discussions, I looked at much the same stats as those above and have included the ranks below. Using those, I broke the forwards into tiers. There's no big surprises (bar maybe one), but the numbers might interest some of you, and certainly fuel some discussion.

Star forward

1) Plekanec
(2nd goals, 1st points, 1st GC, 1st ESGC, 3rd GC/60, 2nd ESGC/60, 6th GF/60, 2nd ESGF/60, 9th CORSI, 1st LIW/60, 8th GA/60, 7th ESGA/60, 2nd ES+-/60)

Plekanec is pretty much the best forward from both an offensive and defensive perspective this season. This makes him by far and away the best forward on the team, probably even the best player at any position, and certainly the only star forward on the team at the moment. It’s impressive that he has been able distance himself like this from his peers, even with all the continued PK duty that he was supposed to be relieved of. The C isn’t sewn on his chest, but it is on his heart.


2) Cammalleri
(3rd goals, 2nd points, 3rd GC, 5th ESGC, 6th GC/60, 8th ESGC/60, 5th GF/60, 8th ESGF/60, 10th CORSI, 5th LIW/60, 2nd GA/60, 3rd ESGA/60, 4th ES+-/60)

Cammalleri isn’t even having a particularly good year by his standards, but his numbers still show that he’s a cut above the rest, even if he’s a cut below Pleks. Playing with Plekanec has its benefits, as Camms defensive numbers show, but he’s no disaster on defence, as he obviously plays the winger’s assignment better than others.

3) Gionta
(1st goals, 2nd points, 2nd GC, 2nd ESGC, 8th GC/60, 3rd ESGC/60, 8th GF/60, 10th ESGF/60, CORSI, 3rd LIW/60, 7th GA/60, 9th ESGA/60, 8th ES+-/60)

Gionta is the second best offensive forward and has been average in the defensive aspects of the game this season. His clutch play is second to none sometimes, yet when he’s not needed to score a clutch goal, it seems his luck has been averaging out. Add to this, the distinct lack of assists, and he is a clear level below Plekanec.

Scoring forwards

4) Kostitsyn
(4th goals, 4th points, 4th GC, 3rd ESGC, 7th GC/60, 4th ESGC/60, 9th GF/60, 9th ESGF/60, 8th CORSI, 2nd LIW/60, 3rd GA/60, 4th ESGA/60, 6th ES+-/60)

Considering lines have yet to be juggled to get the most from the Belarussian, he’s done OK. Goals created at ES is a strength for him, and defence is near top among forwards. The deciding factor to elevate Andrei is his ability to be the best forward on the ice. Not an ability shared by all on this team.

5) Pouliot
(5th goals, 6th points, 6th GC, 4th ESGC, 4th GC/60, 1st ESGC/60, 7th GF/60, 6th ESGF/60, 4th CORSI, 8th LIW/60, 5th GA/60, 8th ESGA/60, 5th ES+-/60)

Stats show Pouliot has been very proficient considering his lot this year. Without significant time with a full-time passer, he’s slowly made a season for himself and pretty consistently now heads out on the second best line of the night. Tobalev and I think he should proclaim his total disinterest in playing anything but first line hockey. Seems to be a strategy that can work.

6th forward

6) Pacioretty
(6th goals, 9th points, 8th GC, 8th ESGC, 2nd GC/60, 10th ESGC/60, 1st GF/60, 4th ESGF/60, 2nd CORSI, 4th LIW/60, 11th GA/60, 13th ESGA/60, 9th ES+-/60)

Pacioretty is in a class of his own I feel. Since his renaissance, he has been quite a spark offensively. He currently leads the team in goals for when on the ice. However, unlike Kostitsyn and Pouliot, he hasn’t shown sustained offensive generation on his own. Nor has he shown that he can limit the risk he takes up from to curtail goals against. He’s young, this is normal.

Second tier forwards

7) Gomez

(9th goals, 4th points, 5th GC, 7th ESGC, 9th GC/60, 12th ESGC/60, 10th GF/60, 12th ESGF/60, 7th CORSI, 7th LIW/60, 9th GA/60, 11th ESGA/60, 13th ES+-/60)

Slump once, bad luck. Slump twice, start looking for reasons. We know that Gomez can do lots right. He has a knack for skating through the neutral zone, he can pass very well, and he knows the time to hold the puck at the back end instead of starting a dead-end rush. These he can do. He sits here at second tier forward because over time that is proving to be too little. His defenders will invoke luck, but his shooting percentage isn’t lacking a regression to the norm because he’s bounced too many shots of goalies flailing stick nubs, it’s because his shots are easy to save. If you invoke luck after 60 games, you’d better have a pretty good explanation as to why Mathieu Darche is miles better at GF and GA/60, as to why those who supposedly play better competition anyway are putting better numbers at both ends. Sooner or later, the answer has to be the player himself. The case is mounting here. And Gomez is falling behind three forwards he was previously ahead of.

8) Darche
(7th goals, 7th points, 7th GC, 6th ESGC, 5th GC/60, 5th ESGC/60, 2nd GF/60, 5th ESGF/60, 5th CORSI, 9th LIW/60, 4th GA/60, 2nd ESGA/60, 3rd ES+-/60)

Darche at any time is probably the 6th best forward on the team. He is pretty reliable for a good shift at both ends, and the numbers show that. The reason he will never jump a tier is that he rarely exceeds this sort of baseline scoring forward play. Others beat Darche for the exceptional games, and the potential that those are around the corner at any time. A team needs reliable forwards. On the third line. That’s where Darche fits.

9) Desharnais
(Stas above)

Needs work

10) Eller
(Stats above)

No need to mention

As a group the rest have proven very well that they occupy the checking role and shouldn't be asked to take on more. Halpern, Moen, Pyatt and White are all useful players, but not in a discussion about scoring.

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