Monday, July 18, 2011

Not Yet Time To Write Off AK46

Just today, there were a couple of good articles on the Habs. One looked back at the Corsi-related stats for the Habs over the 2010-11 season, the other anticipated 10 possible surprises for the upcoming season. Read both. They’re good summer reading for hockey fans.

Both articles, whether intentionally or not, ignored/slighted Andrei Kostitsyn.

In the first, the author looked at Andrei stats and concluded that he was an adequate (“fairly solid” actually) top 6 forward. Nothing wrong with that on its own.

The second article is only fun speculation, I’m aware. Yet in keeping with popular trends, the surprises weighed heavily on Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty, even Erik Cole. In fact, the article mentions every top forward on the team except for Andrei Kostitsyn. Pacioretty is the top potential surprise, Eller #3, Gomez is in there, and the others could all benefit from Cole.

I don’t wish to pick on articles that took summer air and made it into readable articles on the Habs, but I use them to introduce what I have been noticing as a trend among summer Habs fans.

When it comes to scoring lines and Andrei Kostitsyn, it appears that the majority are simply brushing him aside, some even actively writing him off.

How many times have I read that Pacioretty will benefit from Cole on his line? Or that Eller will be ready to step in for Gomez? How many times have I seen comment on the soon-to-be miraculous influence that 3-time 20-, 1-time 30-goalscorer Erik Cole would have on this team? And how many times have we heard that Andrei might not be a complete write-off because he had some late season chemistry with Lars Eller?

In a summer of gushing positivity, the stream has been diverted around the Belarussian.

I am here to defend Andrei’s case (yet again), because I just don’t think it’s time to write this guy completely out of the plans yet. By all means take the evidence and arguments presented elsewhere into your consideration. But to fill in the information gap, please also consider this:

1) Same pace as Erik Cole over the last 4 years

Andrei Kostitsyn (2007-2011): 292 GP, 84 G, 88 A, 172 Pts (0.29 G/G, 0.30 A/G, 0.59 Pts/G)

Erik Cole (2007-2011): 275 GP, 77 G, 84 A, 161 Pts (0.28 G/G, 0.31 A/G, 0.59 Pts/G)

Both players have had the benefit of some great scoring linemates (Kovalev, Staal) and both have had moments on less productive units. Still, at the end of the day, they both produced at an uncannily similar rate. These guys are even the same weight.

2) Even strength scoring strength

15 goals, 13 A1, 6 A2 for 34 points at even strength.

It doesn’t sound that impressive, but considering that puts him 3rd in goals, 1st in assists and 2nd in points on the team, it’s not shabby. Even despite Pacioretty’s streaky greatness, Andrei actually rivaled him at ES with 1.85 vs. 1.93 Pts/60 and 0.82 vs. 0.84 G/60. He was also a fair shade better than Cammalleri, Eller and (of course) Gomez in this regard.

3) Passing to Plekanec

We dwell on goals sometimes if we label someone a goalscorer, and that’s fair. But if we want one of our centres to continue being a 20-30 goal threat, someone has to do the set-up work. Now Cammalleri is a fine and underrated passer, but so is Andrei.

Because 17 of Andrei’s 25 assists were first assists, he ended up creating more goals than one would expect from a 45 point getter. His 0.981 goals created/60 was second on the team to only Pacioretty, and at even strength, he outdistanced everyone with 0.923 GC/60.

4) Important goals

I addressed this before (The Ideal 20 Goalscorer), but it’s worth reiterating. A large percentage of Andrei’s goals were important goals: 6 GWG, 2 GTG and 3 first goals. Totals that put him in the top 3 on the team in each category (first in GW, tied with Gionta).

5) Chances generated

In the age of advanced stats, we have been lulled into comparing elements like Corsi and Team chances for and against as readings for players. There is nothing wrong with this, but we must remember that Corsi and chance differentials were built as extra tools to be taken into account with all the other measures, not as exclusive “be-all, end-all” metrics.

So it’s worth throwing in another advanced stat for Andrei here. Chances on net released from his stick. I believe there is something to be said for getting into position and actually being able to direct what Olivier deems to be a chance against a goalie.

Andrei was 3rd on the team in absolute chances by my count and 2nd in chances per 60 minutes behind Brian Gionta (7.94 Ch/60 vs. 7.69 Ch/60).

Based on these things, and a history of watching this player, I’m suggesting it’s far too early to write Andrei Kostitsyn out of the Canadiens plans for the roster, the top two lines or indeed the top line.

Cole is an interesting addition and Pacioretty and Eller gave us all something to be optimistic about at times last season, but all the while Andrei was there – scoring 20 goals and providing an ES threat even in what people called an off season.

I think this is a positive. If Cole plays as well as he can and still only cracks the third line, he will no doubt still be an upgrade on Moen or Darche for all the reasons that have been expounded over the past two weeks. If Pacioretty needs more time to grow and has to eat his pride a bit while playing in the bottom six, he too will still be an improvement on the options that were available last season.

Of course, it could be that it will be Kostitsyn patrolling the third wave with Eller or Gomez. It’s just me and some of the evidence don’t see things turning out that way.

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