Saturday, 2 January 2016

Some Thoughts on the Drouin Demotion

Jonathan Drouin was sent down to the Syracuse Crunch today.  And, according to Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, he wasn't too happy about it:
Erlendsson also had the opportunity to grab quotes about the move from both head coach Jon Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman.  From his Tribune piece this morning:

"This is specifically to get him some playing time," said Yzerman.
"We have to go get him some games," said Cooper.

The motive here appears to be fairly clear: Yzerman wants him to play.  It sounds like a nice and noble goal on the surface, but does the way in which the team is going about it make a lot of sense?  Not even a little bit.

I don't blame Yzerman here.  Unless he wants to get into a situation where he starts making on-ice decisions and taking away autonomy from the coaching staff (a slippery slope for any general manager), he doesn't have much of a choice.  He can watch his prized 3rd overall pick from the 2013 draft waste away in the press box or on the fourth line, or he can make this move and give the player a chance to play.  I'm not going to blame Yzerman because Cooper, for whatever reason, is unwilling to play Drouin.

"Whatever reason" might not be a fair statement, actually.  We know at least part of the reason Cooper hasn't been playing Drouin.  It's all about the defensive game, right?  Recall this loaded statement from Cooper during the playoffs:
This from someone who played Brenden Morrow religiously during the that run to the Stanley Cup Final.  To be fair, Morrow had plenty of practice playing near his own net...

So, the argument is that Drouin isn't quite strong enough defensively to get a regular shift in the Lightning's top-six.  Does that argument hold water though?  Let's take a look at some numbers from the 2015-16 season.

One of the first things to look at when deciding whether the coach's argument has any merit is how often the opposition is scoring when Drouin is on the ice.  It's true that judging performance based on goals scored for or against is a formula for weak analysis, but it's also true that the coach's perception of Drouin will likely be impacted, rightly or wrongly, if he consistently sees Drouin on the ice when opponents are scoring goals.  The potential for bias is there, and so looking at goal metrics isn't totally valueless.  Maybe it will give us a window into the mind of Jon Cooper.

Is Drouin consistently pulling the puck out of his own net, then?  Far from it:

At five-on-five, among forwards who have played at least 200 minutes, Drouin has one of the better goals-for percentages on the team.  Only Tyler Johnson and J.T. Brown, who I wrote about last month, put up better numbers in that department.  More than 60% of the goals scored with Drouin on the ice at five-on-five are Lightning goals.  He's hardly hurting the team on a simple goals for, goals against basis.

But, what about the process?  As mentioned, judging performance based on goals isn't always the most effective way of conducting analysis.  We have other metrics that better represent how a player is performing on the ice.  I'll often mention Corsi-for percentage in this blog, as an example.  Shot attempts correlate well with possession, and possessing the puck gives you more of an opportunity to do good things with it and less of an opportunity for your opponents to do bad things with it.  Let's take a look:

Drouin's CF% this year isn't as strong as some of the other top-six forwards.  It's above 50%, but it doesn't scream "SUPREMELY EFFECTIVE" at five-on-five like Nikita Kucherov's.  But, CF% consists of two components: Corsi events for and Corsi events against.  Cooper's critique of Drouin has always been on the defensive side of things, so let's zoom in a little closer and see what looking at Corsi events against tell us about Drouin's performance:

Note that a lower number is better here - this is a measure of how many shot attempts the opponent is generating per 60 minutes of a player's five-on-five ice time.  And Drouin's is low.  Really low.  On this chart, only Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn allow fewer shot attempts against per 60 minutes.  Drouin allows fewer than Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan, and Filppula.  That's.... good.

Basically, Drouin appears to be a lower-event player than some of the other Lightning forwards.  For a young, small, skilled guy adjusting to life in the National Hockey League, Cooper should be perfectly comfortable with Drouin being a low-event guy in the defensive zone.

And then there's the offensive side of things...

He doesn't play as much as the other guys pictured here, so that number would likely regress with increased usage, but the fact remains that Drouin has been more than effective when it comes to tallying points so far this season.  The team shouldn't have any concerns with his offensive game.  This is especially true when you consider just how starved the 15-16 version of the Lightning have been for any type of offense.

HockeyBuzz's Ryan Wilson wrote a piece on Drouin this morning and suggested that the Penguins should take a run at him.  In that piece, he said this:
Some people have criticized Jonathan Drouin's ability to play a 200 foot game but I always have found that line of thinking funny because it never seems to apply to players who are completely inept offensively. It is one of those silly double standards that punishes skilled players. Hockey is so weird like that.
And it's so true.  It's not just "people" who have criticized Drouin's ability to play a 200-foot game - it's the Lightning coach, too.  The trouble with that narrative is that it appears to be largely unwarranted.  Drouin is a young player.  He'll make mistakes.  There will be hiccups.  Anyone can go into the archives and find situations where he should have done this differently or done that differently.  That's not the point.  The point is that, on the whole, Drouin has been effective enough to earn himself a chance at some legitimate ice time.  My argument in this piece isn't to suggest that he's the next coming of Wayne Gretzky, but it's impossible to look at his body of work and argue that he doesn't deserve a shot.

In conclusion, Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman are absolutely right when they say that Drouin needs to play.  The trouble is that he needs to be playing in the National Hockey League, a place where they seem unwilling to make room for him.  Let's hope things don't turn too sour:
As always, thanks for reading.

(All numbers cited in this piece are courtesy of, a premier source for hockey analytics.)

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