When anyone asks for my opinion on the season’s downturn for the Dallas Stars, I always reply with something along the lines of “our best players aren’t our best players.” A pretty common expression that covers any sort of slump a team can be going through, both in the long term and the short term. I want to look a little deeper though, and find if these claims have numbers to back them up, and explore what kind of reasons could be behind a forgettable season thus far.
(First I want to make it known that any analysis done below will be using Dallas’s numbers before the All-Star break so that we can accurately compare the same time frame season to season.)
With a little fun math, I calculated the Points Versus Threshold (PVT) for all forwards in the current season and the previous season up to this point. PVT is sort of a broad statistic that measures the offensive player’s effectiveness for their time spent on the ice, as far as point scoring goes. If you look at the 2015-16 graph below, basically what it is telling you is that if Jamie Benn was replaced by a totally average player for the same amount of time he spent on the ice, the Stars would have 16.3 fewer points. I utilized calculations and concepts discussed in Rob Vollman’s book “Stat Shot”. The formula is discussed in greater detail in this Performance Driven Analytics blog post. It’s worth the read. Now we can take a look at who was scoring and the value of their time on the ice.
In the above graph, we can see that there were some serious rock stars on the team. Some good players had negative numbers, but that doesn’t mean they were not useful. It simply means their contribution compared to their time spent on ice did not measure up to the dominance happening in the top two forward lines.
Now for this year’s graph. A lot more spotty, and nobody is really taking things to the level that top players were last year (that said, Patrick Eaves really showed up to play). What can we take from all this? I can echo what I said at the beginning, our best players are not our best players. Offensively speaking we are seeing a severe downturn in performance from Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. For Jamie Benn, we could possibly attribute this change to his off-season core surgery and for Spezza, he scores with others. He is a creative and strong player who scores often when others are matched to his level of creativity and speed. This year, a young and injured team is not providing that assistance. I watch his zone entries and effort and don’t believe age has caught up with him just yet.
Additionally Cody Eakin missed much of the season to an early injury and has been slow to recover, and while still producing well, Patrick Sharp has missed lots of time due to concussion issues. While John Klingberg is a defenseman and therefor not mentioned on these graphs, he was a point scoring master last season with 40 going into the All-Star break. He now sits with 27 points for this season.
This is not to say the Stars have bad players or that chances of victory are all gone. Generally speaking, players will revert back to their average production given enough time. This works both on the positive end as well as the negative. Last year’s success may have been an anomaly, but this year’s struggles fall into that category as well. Barring injury, players should revert back to their normal selves and while that “normal” is not the conference topping team we saw last year, it is still an exciting and winning team. Fans can still have hope that some sort of turn-around will come after the All-Star break weekend.
There are more things to dive into, like defensive roster changes and goalie consistency, but I only wanted to address the offense this time around. As the season progresses we will have more data to look at and can better analyze what is going on behind the blue line.
Photo credit: Dallas Stars website