Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ideal 20 Goalscorer

The other day I watched a video with Brian Wilde, Arpon Basu and Bob Harwood. After a brief discussion on Carey Price, they moved on to talk about Andrei Kostitsyn, his recent streak, and speculation on his future use to this team. Arpon acknowledged the recent streak, but left his thoughts on resigning Andrei pretty clear:

“I don’t know if this is the type of player you want for that level of production. You’d rather have that production spread out over the season.”

Would you?

Remember the question isn't would you rather have a 30 goalscorer or a 50 goalscorer than a 20 goalscorer. Of course you would. The question is whether scoring 20 goals in some other fashion would be better somehow.


Streakiness

Andrei Kostitsyn’s streaks seem to get pretty hot and pretty cold. To start the season, he accumulated 5 goals and 8 points over one 5-game stretch. He’s doing 3 goals and 8 points over 6 right now. That said, he’s gone as many as 12 consecutive games without a goal and as many as 9 games without a point.
There are two things to consider here.

1) His goalscoring-capable teammates on similar goals and points pace get just as hot: Mike Cammalleri scored 5 goals and 8 points over 7 games at one point and 4 goals and 8 pts over 9 games at another. They don’t seem to get quite as cold: Pouliot has gone 11 games sans goal, next is Cammalleri with 9. Pouliot has gone 9 games without a point as well.

2) He wasn’t always playing badly when he didn’t get points. I pointed this out in the past, but gamelogs that only show points and PIM just aren’t good indicators of much at all. He’s often enough been among the best 3 forwards when he hasn’t scored and occasionally been the player of the game.

I’ve often said show me a goalscorer and I’ll show you a streaky player. Andrei is no exception. But really what are we looking at here in terms of streakiness.

Arpon suggested that he would like his 20 goalscorer to score at a more even rate.

You can’t get more even than 1 goal in 20 different games. 62 games without a goal. Andrei has scored 16 goals. He’s scored them in 15 different games. You could hardly ask for better consistency. So with Andrei it appears that the games in which he scores are just too close together, creating long gaps between.

Does this matter?

I guess that depends on your point of view.

Would you rather have a player who gives the opposing coach fits because he can get so hot to score at a goal-a-game pace for a while. Or would you rather have a guy that an opposing coach can count on to go scoreless 75% of the time like clockwork, so leave alone if he’s just scored in a couple of games that were close to each other?

I think you know what I’d want. Would Arpon really crave the latter? Does that player even exist?
Andrei Kostitsyn is consistently a 20 goalscorer according to his last 3 seasons. The critics call him consistently inconsistent. But this may be the glass half empty on the 20-goal man, because couldn't you also say he's a consistent 20 goalscorer who consistently has extended periods of dominant play?


Goals created

As you know,since the beginning of last year, we have been collaborating with a small group to score each Canadiens goal for individual contribution and recording this as the Goals Created (GC) stat.

Andrei Kostitsyn has created 16.08 goals this season. To put that in context, Plekanec has created 20.79, Gionta has created 17.25, Cammalleri 14.41, Pouliot and Gomez 12.00 apiece. Pacioretty on half a season has created 10.08 so far.

Prorated by minutes, AK46 is 4th on the team with 0.953 GC/60, behind Desharnais (1.122), Pacioretty (1.047) and Pouliot (0.966). He’s well ahead of Gionta (0.805). This is because the Belarussian can pass as well as shoots (Brian!?!).

One of the interesting things the GC record allows us to do is to see whether a player’s points total is accurately reflecting his offensive contribution. A survey of the hockey blogosphere gives a pretty good indication that most people see goals as being 50% attributable to goalscorer, with the other 50% going to assists. Standard methods of dividing the spoils range from 25% each assist to 30% and 20% for first and second.

Even if I don't agree with this attribution, I note that this is the way people see things (goals worthy of 2 assists, no difference between assists). If I were to cite the general trend on how this method gets it wrong, it would be that forwards points totals generally underestimate the role they played in manufacturing goals, while defenders (with their taps out of the zone) get an overestimated slice of the credit.

The specific trend is that Kostitsyn has the biggest difference along with Pouliot between contribution and points. As it turns, out, the Canadiens top 6 are all undersold. Gionta’s contributions as a goalscorer (some of his goals have been Herculean efforts) more than account for 50% share of 23. Plekanec, Gomez, Pouliot and Kostitsyn are all undersold by a fair margin.

When looking at an overcontributor, one must compare apples to apples. You can’t simply, in other words, do projections on Hamrlik to demonstrate Kostitsyn’s shortfalls. You can't only compare him to forwards like Pacioretty whose goals total more than amply represents his entire contribution. The contribution that is hidden by being the 4th man on the play, or by making the pass that is worth more than the goalscoring portion of the goal is important in evaluating a top forward’s worth.

When I look at a 20 goalscorer, I would think the upside on such a scorer would be greater if he made a hidden contribution. As the current edition of the team goes, it seems that Andrei is actually making a big hidden contribution, something that simply consulting a gamelog can’t show.

On the strength of this alone, he deserves a bit more credit than he gets.


Important goals

A 20 goal-guy who scores 20 times by netting goals 6 and 7 in 7 goal routs of bottom-dwelling opposition is not the kind of guy I necessarily want to commit big money to. I think you’d agree that the more important goals there are amongst the 20, the better the weight of that player’s case.

I think of important goals like this. Important goals include any goal in a game that is close. Very important goals are first goals, game-tying goals and game-winning goals. I think the same can be said for assists, contributions to important goals are more important.

Andrei Kostitsyn has 5 GWG, 2 GTG and 3 first goals. 10 very important goals (out of his total of 16).

Gionta can rival this with 5 GWG, 4 GTG and 2 first goals for 11, but that’s out of 23 (and his substantially bigger slice of credit). Red hot Pacioretty’s the other man, with 2 GWG, 1 GTG and 4 first goals already.

62.5% of Andrei’s goals this year have been very important. No one really comes close to this proportion (Pouliot is next at 54%). Sure we’d like more goals, but I think he’s done his share on scoring in the clutch.
It’s much the same with points. 20 of Andrei’s points have been on very important goals (54% of his total). Pouliot and Plekanec are next nearest just under 50%.

I think it’s only fair this is taken into account if he’s being evaluated. He's scored less than we all would have wanted, but in important goals, he's pulled his weight.


Opponents

With his recent success, it occurred to me that Andrei might really only thrive when opponents are at their weakest. At the beginning of the season, he was hot when opposition was not hot, again right now.

While it’s true that Andrei has had a ton of success against the Senators and Islanders (were the Senators considered horrible right from the start?), he hasn’t dropped off the face of the earth against playoff caliber competition.

This is his black mark, however, if there has to be one. Of the top scoring forwards, he drops off the most against top opposition (from 19.9 to 17.6 goal pace, and from 46.1 to 43.9 point pace). In fact, some of the other guys actually do more when the opposition is “tougher” (Cammalleri, Gionta, Pacioretty).


A better 20 goalscorer?

I think it's fair to say that Andrei Kostitsyn isn't the dream 20 goalscorer. Nobody would put 11 game droughts on a wish list, and it would be better if he picked it up against the best teams like his teammates. Even his biggest fan admits he's had a few games to forget from the 65 he's laced up for.

However, I think we're deluding ourselves if we think that it's easier to watch 62+ games without a goal done in an ever so slightly different way. 62 games without scoring is still 62 games, whether evenly spaced or mostly in December and January. We're always going to be seeing the potential of a guy who scores a nice goal to score the same way on every shift, or at least every 20th shift. Dealing with disappointment and expectation is the tease of the 20-goal man.

Given the fact that Andrei can pass and has many important goals and assists over the season, you'd also have to admit that he's not the worst kind of 20 goalscorer that one can find either. My personal feeling is that his potential to dominate at times is a positive, not a negative aspect to hold against his pointless performances. His defensive record is surprisingly exclellent. And he has shown he can make an impact when he doesn't score. All this, I haven't even said anything about the linemeates he has been gifted for long periods.


We started the piece by asking whether you'd "rather have that production spread out over the season". Knowing a little bit more about the statistics that aren't on Andrei's homepage, would you?

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